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Clean-up underway after storm leaves at least eight dead, thousands without power

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Emergency crews rushed to restore power and clear roads on Sunday a day after a deadly and destructive storm swept across southern Ontario and Quebec.

The true toll of Saturday’s storm is still unclear, but police say at least seven people died from falling trees in the strong winds while an eighth died when the boat she was in capsized on the Ottawa River near Masson-Angers, Que.

As of Saturday the known victims in Ontario included a 44-year-old man who died in Greater Madawaska west of Ottawa, a woman in her 70s out for a walk in Brampton, a 59-year-old man on a golf course in Ottawa and one person killed in their camping trailer near Pinehurst Lake in Waterloo Region.

On Sunday, provincial police said the storm had also caused the death of a 64-year-old woman at a home in North Kawartha Township and a 74-year-old woman in Port Hope, while Durham regional police said a 30-year-old man had died in Ganaraska Forest east of Toronto.

The widespread damage from the storm has led the Ontario towns of Uxbridge, north of Toronto, and Clarence-Rockland, east of Ottawa, to declare states of emergency, while hundreds of thousands across both provinces remain without power.

“We have numerous buildings damaged and people displaced,” said Uxbridge Mayor Dave Barton.

The downtown core sustained significant damage, including to several residential buildings and a brewery, while the town is still experiencing significant power outages, said Barton.

“The largest pressure is actually the lack of power and infrastructure. At the moment, we don’t know what we don’t know. Because most phone lines are down, we don’t know who needs assistance and who doesn’t.”

Hydro providers say they have hundreds of crews out working to restore services, but are warning that it could take days for some to get power back.

“Between trees, branches, broken poles and wires down, it’s really a very very messy messy cleanup,” said Hydro One spokeswoman Tiziana Baccega Rosa.

She said while it’s not unusual to have such high numbers of people temporarily without power, which for Hydro One stood at about 260,000 Sunday afternoon, the extent of the damage, including the toppling of metal transmission towers in the Ottawa area, is notable.

“That is unique, and it tells you sort of the severity of the storm,” she said.

Hydro Ottawa said the damage, including more than 200 power poles down across the city, is much more widespread than a 2018 tornado that left half the city without power, meaning it will take longer and be more difficult to fix. As of Sunday afternoon there were still close to 175,000 customers without power.

Across the city, roof repairs were underway and chainsaws were buzzing as cleanup continued. The City of Ottawa has opened at least three emergency centres at community centres for people to charge their devices, take showers and, in some cases, access some food.

East of Ottawa in Navan, Ont., a mare and her newborn foal were trapped though unhurt when a barn collapsed around them. In nearby Sarsfield, the steeple on the Paroisse Saint-Hugues church was thrown off the building and lay in a destroyed heap in the parking lot.

Across the provincial border, Hydro-Québec said that at the peak the storm cut power to 550,000 customers from Gatineau to Québec City, while as of Sunday afternoon there were close to 350,000 customers still cut off.

Sophie Desjardins, who lives in Lachute, northwest of Montreal, posted a photo of what was left of her truck after a tree crashed on the vehicle while she was driving back home with her boyfriend.

“The sky turned so dark, and the wind was so intense,” Desjardins said on Sunday.

“We felt a huge impact and the window shattered … When we saw the condition of the truck, we realized we had gotten pretty really lucky. If the tree had fallen two seconds earlier, it would have fallen directly on us … The furniture that was in the back of the truck was completely destroyed.”

The level of damage across the two provinces came in part from the nature of the storm, which looks to have been what is called a derecho, said Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Gerald Cheng.

“When they say derecho, it’s widespread, long-lived wind storms that are associated with rapidly moving thunderstorms, and that seems to be what we had yesterday,” he said. “Because when you look at the damage, that was widespread, it wasn’t just one track.”

The storm, with measured winds of up to 132 kilometres per hour, was severe enough to trigger the agency’s first use of the broadcast-interrupting weather alert system for a thunderstorm, said Cheng.

Wind speeds could, however, have reached much higher based on some of the concentrated damage, said David Sills, executive director of the Northern Tornadoes Project at Western University.

“We’re seeing evidence of some damage, such as roofs off and hydro towers crumbled, that kind of thing that gets more into …. 180 to 220 kilometers per hour.”

He said teams from the project have gone to the Uxbridge area as well as to southern Ottawa over suspicions that they could have been hit by tornados or elevated winds.

The last derecho storm to hit the region with such strong wind speeds was back in 1995, said Sills.

“This is a fairly rare event in Canada where it’s just widespread wind damage over a long, long track and reaching wind speeds that are quite high.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2022.

— With files from Virginie Ann in Montreal.

 

Ian Bickis and Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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Memorial service held for RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, killed in N.S. mass shooting

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HALIFAX — An RCMP officer who was among 22 people killed in the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting was remembered Wednesday during a regimental service in Halifax for her “fierce” character and brave actions.

People lined a street leading to the service for Const. Heidi Stevenson, watching as Mounties and municipal police marched, bagpipers and drummers played, and a hearse brought the officer’s urn to the ceremony at the Cole Harbour hockey arena.

COVID-19 restrictions had delayed the official ceremony, though a family funeral took place five days after Stevenson was killed.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said during the service that Stevenson would be remembered for “her courage and strength of character.”

She said the force will remember Stevenson’s “heroism that day and the bravery she demonstrated and the actions she took to protect the community she cared so deeply about.”

A public inquiry into the mass shooting has indicated that the veteran officer was racing to support an injured colleague on April 19, 2020, when the fatal encounter occurred on a highway interchange about 60 kilometres north of Halifax.

The 48-year-old officer died in a gunfight with the killer, who had jumped a lane of traffic in his replica police vehicle in order to drive the wrong way down a ramp and slam into Stevenson’s cruiser.

Public inquiry documents say bullet fragments from Stevenson’s pistol “likely” struck the killer’s head, and — about 35 minutes later — blood on his forehead tipped off an officer who shot and killed the gunman at a gas station.

The inquiry has also noted that Stevenson had at 8:44 a.m. that morning called for the public to be notified about the killer driving a replica RCMP vehicle. Her request never received a response.

During the service, four friends noted her strong personality and sense of justice.

Her longtime friend Angela McKnight described Stevenson as a “fierce woman” who chose the RCMP over kinesiology and developed physical strength through playing rugby at university.

She said Stevenson had to undergo laser eye surgery and overcome a torn knee ligament in order to make it into the RCMP following her graduation.

“Heidi surrounded herself with strong women focused on supporting each other,” she said. “I know no better … no tougher, more determined woman than her.”

Childhood friend Nona Heinbecker recalled Stevenson’s sense of loyalty to her female friends, telling those gathered how the officer had happily found a spot to sleep on a hospital floor when Heinbecker was in labour.

People watching the procession to the service also described their admiration for Stevenson, who is survived by her husband and two children.

Randy Stevenson, a military veteran, and Jan Hill, whose husband had worked with the constable, were among those waiting on the sidewalk for the procession.

The veteran, who is not related to the fallen Mountie, described her as exemplifying “what the police and the military are about,” while Hill praised the officer’s deep involvement in her community of Dartmouth, N.S.

Heidi Stevenson grew up in Antigonish, N.S., and attended university in Nova Scotia. She was with the Mounties for 23 years, developing expertise in drug recognition, general duty policing and communications. She also spent time in Ottawa as part of the RCMP musical ride, even though she had no previous experience with horses.

In a statement provided to the inquiry, the Stevenson family said community support was helpful following her killing. “There were months of meals provided and seeing the Nova Scotia Strong stickers on everyone’s car meant so much. The phone call from the Prime Minister was very personal,” the family said in their statement.

Police estimated about 1,300 people attended the ceremony, which was broadcast live.

The Anglican minister presiding at the service noted Stevenson’s Christian faith, and quoted from a New Testament text emphasizing that hope, faith and love “abide,” and that love is the greatest of the three due to its eternal nature.

Rev. Katherine Bourbonniere said during her homily that even in death, “she (Stevenson) will constantly be trying to touch you in different ways.”

She recalled accompanying Stevenson when she drove to homes to notify next of kin of a death. “I saw her love in her job and in her position many a time. She would show compassion for every person she met, and it was … beautiful,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

 

Lyndsay Armstrong and Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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Explosive devices found in a vehicle connected to B.C. bank robbers killed

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SAANICH, B.C. — Multiple explosive devices were found in a vehicle related to the two suspects who were gunned down outside a bank in Saanich, B.C.

Saanich Chief Const. Dean Duthie said Wednesday an RCMP explosive disposal unit was able to transfer the devices from the vehicle to a local landfill and destroy them.

Police had evacuated the area shortly after the shooting on Tuesday as the RCMP’s explosives disposal unit was called in.

Six officers were shot and two suspects were killed in the shootout with police on Tuesday.

Duthie said three of the officers remain in hospital, including one who is in intensive care, while another officer will require more surgeries.

He said he spoke with one of the officers in hospital and said the police department will be there to support him.

“We’re here for his family … to let him know that the policing community is behind him 100 per cent.”

The chief said police are still investigating the possibility of a third suspect, although they don’t believe there’s a risk to the public.

He said police were acting on vague information.

“Our goal was to keep the public safe,” he said of police ordering residents near the bank to stay inside on Tuesday.

Police said in a statement that they aren’t able to confirm identities, background or motive of the suspects.

Duthie said work is underway to try to confirm the suspects’ names.

Duthie has looked at much of the video footage of the incident and said it’s a miracle that no one else died.

“It’s astonishing that there was no other citizen or member of the public injured,” he said, crediting the quick actions of officers who responded.

“Both patrol officers and Greater Victoria emergency response officers (put) themselves in harm’s way to bring it to a successful and safe conclusion as quickly as possible.”

A woman trapped inside the bank during the robbery told CFAX radio she was in a meeting with the manager when she heard a loud explosion and then silence.

Shelli Fryer, 59, of Langford said she looked from the doorway and a few feet from her was “a man in full assault gear, holding an assault rifle.”

Fryer said the masked man was wearing all black, had an armoured vest over his jacket and was holding a black rifle that was shorter and stockier than what she was used to seeing in the media.

“The energy from them was completely calm,” she said.

She heard one gunman quietly say to the manager, “vault,” and the manager handed him the keys and they both walked out of the office, she said.

Fryer said the other suspect was pacing the floor, just walking back and forth past the office, “like he was going for a walk in the park, just pacing as if he was waiting for something.”

The robbers put all 22 people who were in the bank against a wall in a back hallway and they waited for what felt like an eternity, she said. “We heard nothing at all of what was transpiring outside, we couldn’t hear sirens.”

She heard in a loud voice, “Police!” and then a hail of gunfire, and everybody ran to hide.

Fryer said every one of the police officers involved in the “absolutely insane incident” handled themselves professionally, and then later treated those who were in the bank with kindness and concern.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

 

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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Montreal police announce second arrest in drive-by shooting that killed 15-year-old

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Montreal police announced Wednesday they have arrested a second person in the drive-by shooting death of a 15-year-old girl last year.

Cmdr. Paul Verreault, head of the Montreal police service’s major crimes division, said a 27-year-old man was arrested Wednesday morning in connection with the February 2021 killing of Meriem Boundaoui.

Police believe the suspect arrested Wednesday and Salim Touaibi, who was arrested Monday, were “directly involved” in the shooting, Verreault told reporters Wednesday.

“These two people were in the vehicle at the time of the event,” he said, but he declined to comment further on what role each of them is alleged to have played in the crime.

“We’re still very early in the investigation,” he said. “This is an investigation that is still ongoing.”

Touaibi, 26, faces one charge of first-degree murder and four charges of attempted murder.

Verreault said he couldn’t say when the man arrested Wednesday, whose name was not released, would appear in court. He said police arrested four other people Wednesday morning who are allegedly part of a criminal group linked to the two men.

He said the shooting came after the escalation of a conflict between that group and another criminal group, but he did not provide more details. The four other people arrested will face charges of drug trafficking, uttering threats and assault, he said.

Boundaoui was sitting in a car with another person when a second car drove up and someone opened fire. Boundaoui and a 21-year-old man who was on the sidewalk were hit by bullets. Boundaoui had no link to the conflict, Verreault said.

Montreal’s interim police chief, Sophie Roy, said she hopes the arrests will give Boundaoui’s family some comfort.

“Like the rest of the public, we were shocked by the murder of young Meriem and other young people,” she told reporters. “We may be police officers, but we’re also humans with families and children.”

Boundaoui was the first of several young people to die violently in the past year and a half in Montreal, prompting widespread concern and calls to do more to reduce gun violence in the city.

Montreal has had one of the lowest homicide rates of major cities in Canada. In 2020, the most recent year for which data was available, the homicide rate in Montreal was less than half the Canadian average, according to Statistics Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

 

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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