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Blair insists he ‘did not ask’ RCMP to release information about N.S. shooting guns



OTTAWA — Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair is sticking to his stance that he did not interfere in a police investigation into the Nova Scotia mass shooting of April 2020.

Blair, who was public safety minister at the time, told a House of Commons committee Monday that he has never directed police to disclose information pertaining to an investigation, including in this case.

“I did not ask them to release any specific information,” he said during the committee meeting.

“The independence of police operations is a principle that I have not only respected but vigorously defended over my nearly four decades in law enforcement, and throughout my subsequent career as a federal member of Parliament and minister.”

The Opposition Conservatives have called for the resignation of Blair and RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki following the recent release of recordings of a tense conference call between Lucki and senior staff in Nova Scotia.

During that April 28, 2020, meeting, Lucki said she understood the police force couldn’t release certain details about the investigation into how a gunman killed 22 people during a 13-hour rampage.

However, she told officers in Halifax she was frustrated upon learning that the speaking notes used for an RCMP news conference earlier that day did not include basic information about the killer’s firearms.

During the call, she said that her desire to publicly share these basic facts was in response to a request she received from a minister’s office, though she did not specify which minister or the exact nature of the request.

Appearing at the Commons committee Monday, Lucki recalled that Blair’s chief of staff at the time had asked if information about the guns would be included in the news conference.

“There was no political interference. I was neither asked, directed nor pressured by government officials to release information specific to the firearms used by the perpetrator in these horrific attacks,” Lucki said.

“I did not interfere in the investigation. I did not receive direction.”

During the April 28 conference call, Lucki said she “felt completely disrespected” by the fact that she was told that RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell was going to talk about the guns used during the shooting spree in his speaking notes, “and it wasn’t there.”

“I don’t know what happened, but I think we have to do better.”

Conservative MP Raquel Dancho suggested to Lucki on Monday that the recording of the call makes it clear that the issue was very important to her. “It was a big deal to you, wasn’t it? That’s why you called that meeting.”

Lucki said 90 per cent of the call was about issues regarding the flow of information from the start of the horrible incident. “There were several requests for several different kinds of information that I wasn’t receiving in a timely manner. Some of the information wasn’t completely accurate.”

Campbell’s handwritten notes from the April 28 call, released in June, sparked allegations of political interference because they indicated Lucki had assured Blair and the Prime Minister’s Office that the RCMP would release information about the firearms in a bid to support the government’s coming gun-control legislation.

While both Lucki and Blair have consistently denied that there was any political pressure, the recordings indicate Lucki was conscious of the federal gun-control efforts.

“Does anybody realize what’s going on in the world of handguns and guns right now?” Lucki asked Mounties on the call. “The fact that they’re in the middle of trying to get legislation going. The fact that the legislation is supposed to actually help police.”

In May of that year, shortly after the call took place, the Liberal government banned some 1,500 models and variants of firearms, including the AR-15 and Ruger Mini-14, through an order-in-council on the grounds they have no place in hunting or sport shooting.

New Democrat MP Alistair MacGregor suggested Monday to Blair that it would be logical to infer the “request” from his chief of staff to Lucki was tied to creating a public narrative related to the coming ban on firearms.

Blair responded that “it was no secret that our government had made a commitment” to introduce new gun-control measures.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2022.


Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press


NBA says it has signed new 11-year media rights deal with Disney, NBC and Amazon



The NBA signed its 11-year media rights deal with Disney, NBC and Amazon Prime Video on Wednesday after saying it was not accepting Warner Bros. Discovery’s US$1.8 billion per year offer to continue its longtime relationship with the league.

The media rights deals were approved by the league’s Board of Governors last week and will bring the league about $76 billion over those 11 years.

WBD had five days to match a part of those deals and said it was exercising its right to do so, but its offer was not considered a true match by the NBA. That means the 2024-25 season will be the last for TNT after a nearly four-decade run.

“Warner Bros. Discovery’s most recent proposal did not match the terms of Amazon Prime Video’s offer and, therefore, we have entered into a long-term arrangement with Amazon,” the league said Wednesday. ““Throughout these negotiations, our primary objective has been to maximize the reach and accessibility of our games for our fans. Our new arrangement with Amazon supports this goal by complementing the broadcast, cable and streaming packages that are already part of our new Disney and NBCUniversal arrangements. All three partners have also committed substantial resources to promote the league and enhance the fan experience.”

Amazon Prime Video will carry games on Friday nights, select Saturday afternoons and Thursday night doubleheaders which will begin after the conclusion of Prime Video’s “Thursday Night Football” schedule. Prime Video will also take over the NBA League Pass package from WBD.

“The digital opportunities with Amazon align perfectly with the global interest in the NBA,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “And Prime Video’s massive subscriber base will dramatically expand our ability to reach our fans in new and innovative ways.”

The package also includes at least one game on Black Friday and the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game of the NBA Cup.

“Over the past few years, we have worked hard to bring the very best of sports to Prime Video and to continue to innovate on the viewing experience,” said Jay Marine, global head of sports for Prime Video. “We’re thrilled to now add the NBA to our growing sports lineup, including the NFL, UEFA Champions League, NASCAR, NHL, WNBA, NWSL, Wimbledon, and more. We are grateful to partner with the NBA, and can’t wait to tip-off in 2025.”

ESPN and ABC will keep the league’s top package, which includes the NBA Finals. ABC has carried the finals since 2003.

ESPN/ABC will combine for nearly 100 games during the regular season. More than 20 games will air on ABC, mainly on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons, while ESPN will have up to 60 games, mostly on Wednesday nights with some Friday games. ABC and ESPN will also combine for five games on Christmas Day and have exclusive national coverage of the final day of the regular season.

During the playoffs, ESPN and ABC will have approximately 18 games in the first two rounds each year and one of the two conference finals series in all but one year of the agreement.

The return of NBC, which carried NBA games from 1990 through 2002, gives the NBA two broadcast network partners for the first time.

NBC will have up to 100 regular-season games, including on Sunday night once the NFL season has ended. It will air games on Tuesdays throughout the regular season, while a Monday night doubleheader would be exclusively streamed on Peacock.

NBC will also have the All-Star Game and All-Star Saturday Night. During the playoffs, NBC and/or Peacock will have up to 28 games the first two rounds, with at least half on NBC.

Amazon’s content will stream in Canada exclusively, while Peacock games will include domestic partners north of the border.

NBC and Amazon will carry one of the two conference finals series in six of the 11 years on a rotating basis. NBC will have a conference final in 2026-27 followed by Amazon the next season.



The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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N.S. murderer’s cryptocurrency stash rules out free legal aid for appeal




HALIFAX – A judge has ruled that a stash of cryptocurrency belonging to a convicted Nova Scotia murderer means he won’t be receiving free legal aid for an appeal.

Justice Cindy Bourgeois said in a decision released Wednesday that William Sandeson — a former medical student who killed another student during a 2015 drug deal — had about $640,000 in bitcoin and cash when he was jailed.

Last year, Sandeson appealed his conviction of second-degree murder in the death of Taylor Samson but was refused funding for a lawyer by the province’s legal aid agency.

In her decision denying his appeal of that refusal, the Court of Appeal judge accepted that Sandeson has expenses to pay — including a lawsuit claim from the victim’s family — but concluded “a significant balance” would remain available to him.

Bourgeois wrote that Sandeson didn’t prove his debts would stop him from obtaining counsel, or that he has exhausted all other sources of financial assistance.

Her decision noted that Sandeson had bitcoin worth “at least $443,624,” and another $198,000 in cash at the time he was jailed.

The court found that some of those funds would go toward “any ordered payment” to Samson’s family as a result of a civil lawsuit they’ve launched against Sandeson, as well as to his lawyers in that case.

However, the judge noted that Sandeson has testified “he will be left with assets of between $200,000 and $300,000 for his own use.”

Sandeson had argued before the court that he faced other debts, including capital gains tax that will become payable upon liquidation of the cryptocurrency; legal fees still owing for his first trial; a student line of credit and student loans; and $177,000 owed to his mother for earlier legal expenses.

The judge found there wasn’t documented evidence of what the tax bill would be, and Sandeson lacked documentation to prove his student debt.

She also wrote there was a lack of clarity on how much Sandeson owed his mother, saying evidence showing the mother’s line of credit wasn’t sufficient.

“Although I accept the appellant has some outstanding debts, there is nothing before me that establishes he is obligated to immediately pay out the entirety of the outstanding balances,” wrote Bourgeois.

The judge also said Sandeson provided no estimate from legal counsel of the cost of advancing his appeal.

Because of time served while awaiting trial, Sandeson’s 15-year sentence for killing Samson and then disposing of his body would make him eligible for parole in 2030.

Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Jamie Chipman ruled last year that Sandeson should spend at least 15 years in prison for firing a single bullet into the head of the 22-year-old physics student. Both men attended Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Chipman said in his decision that Sandeson “made a reprehensible and incomprehensible choice,” and as a result, instead of entering medical school, Sandeson went to jail in the summer of 2015.

Last year’s trial was the second time Sandeson was tried for the crime. He was convicted of first-degree murder in 2017, but the verdict was overturned on appeal and a new trial was ordered in 2020.

The Crown argued during the trial that Sandeson was motivated by greed to kill Samson and steal the nine kilograms of marijuana he had brought to Sandeson’s downtown apartment to sell.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 24, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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B.C. man says Venable Valley locals are piecing together their losses from wildfire



Ramanath Das said he is aware that the eco-village he and his family are building in Venables Valley, B.C., may no longer exist when they return after being evacuated due to an encroaching wildfire.

“We’re ready to go back and everything is as it was with ash all over it, or nothing’s there,” said Das, who is the general manager of Vedic Eco Village.

Das, his wife and their two dogs have been camping an hour away in the Nicola Valley since July 17, after being forced from their home by the Shetland Creek Fire, the same blaze that triggered evacuation orders or alerts in communities such as Ashcroft and Spences Bridge in the B.C. Interior.

He said evacuated valley residents, many of whom live in the Saranagati Hare Krishna village where the Vedic Eco Village belongs, have pieced together that they may have lost their homes and other structures.

Local government officials have said the “aggressive” blaze burned more than 20 structures in the Venables Valley, including at least six homes.

Several B.C. communities are in the path of fire, which measured about 225-square kilometres on Wednesday. It is one of the most threatening of active blazes in the province, although 60 per cent of the more than 430 wildfires burning in B.C. remain out of control.

Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma told a news conference that there are about 550 people under evacuation order and another 5,000 on evacuation alert as of Wednesday.

She noted the number of people under evacuation alert dropped by about 2,000 since Tuesday after the alert covering Williams Lake was lifted. That change came after crews were able to contain the River Valley Wildfire that crept into the city on Sunday and it is now classified as “being held.”

“It is the case that our evacuation numbers right now are manageable for us, but that can change very quickly, which is why we continue to work closely with communities (and) continue to work around the clock on preplanning for potential evacuations,” she said.

She noted the province is seeing “nowhere near” the number of evacuations it did in 2023.

“However, for those individuals who are evacuated, the impacts are equally as harrowing when you are away from your home and you do not know whether your home and all of your prized possessions and your memories have survived,” she said.

B.C. also saw an influx of travellers from Jasper, Alta., after a fire forced park visitors and 4,700 residents to escape from the town with little notice on Monday.

Ma said the only safe route for 25,000 evacuees was to travel along Highway 16 into B.C.

“Alberta has directed evacuees to three emergency reception centres, one in Grand Prairie, one in Calgary, and another in Edmonton,” she said, noting B.C. has worked closely with Alberta to assist them in their evacuation efforts.

The BC Wildfire Service reports that 80 per cent of the current fires were started by a series of lightning storms that swept across the province in the last few weeks.

Forests Minister Bruce Ralstonsaid during the news conferencethat B.C. is facing storms, wind, lightning and drought, and “it is clear climate change is arriving faster than predicted.”

But, he said, some respite is on the way in the north, where rain and cooler temperatures are forecast.

The BC Wildfire Service also said in its report on Wednesday that much of the province is returning to more seasonable temperatures with the exception of the southeast where hot and dry conditions persist.

“By Thursday, we will be seeing the coolest temperatures in over a month across B.C.,” it said.

At an unrelated news conference Wednesday, Premier David Eby said the province is doing everything it can to adapt and apply lessons learned from last year’s record wildfire season.

“We are seeing more extreme fire seasons every single year,” he said.

“We had a bunch of fires burning underneath the snow in British Columbia, something I didn’t even know was possible, and it underlines some of the scale of the challenge that our firefighting crews face out there in order to be able to learn from last year’s record season and be ready for this year — as ready as we could be.”

On the line fighting the Shetland Creek fire, crews were using heavy equipment on the mountain slopes above Spences Bridge to prevent the blaze from burning toward the southern Interior community.

Jeff Walsh, an incident commander with the BC Wildfire Service, said in a video posted Tuesday that hot and dry conditions coupled with gusty winds have fuelled erratic and aggressive behaviour on the fire, driving its spread to the north.

Ma said during the news conference that the province is focused on the wildfire fight and returning people, like Das, safely to their communities. Until then, she said, the province won’t be able to assess the damage, but regional districts may release their own information.

Das said that once he is clear to go home, he plans to take matters into his own hands. He said the group had already been preparing to build homes “in the ground with living roofs,” and any structural lost would only speed up that process.

“The structures come and go,” he said. “I had plans to dig in and make an earth home, and as soon as they let us back, I’m going to be digging in the earth.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 24, 2024.

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