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Couple proceeds with wedding amid chaos in P.E.I. from post-tropical storm Fiona

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CHARLOTTETOWN — Naomi and Tyler Wheeler have lived through a pandemic, wildfires, heat waves, minor earthquakes and most recently a post-tropical storm that laid waste to huge swaths of Atlantic Canada.

As the former hurricane Fiona pounded Prince Edward Island on Saturday, devastating much of the province, the couple pledged to weather storms — and any other apocalyptic events life sends their way — together.

In front of just 16 guests, down from the 85 they’d hoped to entertain, the Wheelers professed their love for each other and exchanged rings at the Rodd Charlottetown hotel in the capital city’s downtown core.

The couple officially tied the knot in Halifax in 2017 in a small ceremony and decided to have a party later.

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“We tried to schedule it three times,” Naomi Wheeler said with a laugh. “And then COVID kept getting in the way. Of course, a hurricane happens when we reschedule.”

The couple live in the bride’s California home town, while the groom hails from Montague, P.E.I. They wanted to have a party for Tyler Wheeler’s family and other friends who wouldn’t be able to make it to Los Angeles.

They landed in Charlottetown Wednesday when Fiona was churning its way through southern waters. But as the storm approached Canada and warnings grew stringent, their friends cancelled. The couple was disappointed but understood. They wanted their friends and family safe.

“There was the whole stages of grief about it,” Tyler Wheeler said. “We’re just kind of in disbelief that this could happen.”

The couple then simply decided to go with the flow, said the bride.

“The flow is just a hurricane.”

The wedding was delayed by an hour-and-a-half while the officiant, Sarah Haberl, and the groom helped patch up a family member’s roof. The Wheelers first met as students at a 2013 party in Montreal. Later that evening, the pair recognized each other at a club where they had gone to act as “wing people” for friends.

“We were terrible wing people,” said the bride.

Nine years later, as Fiona raged, the couple finally celebrated their love and friendship with their closest friends in a storm-adapted ceremony they said was sprinkled with personal touches.

The room was lit with 30 candles and three iPhone flashlights. The invocation and vows were read by candlelight and a headlamp, Haberl said.

The ceremony included a poem, a little bit of the childhood of the couple and had some “lovey-dovey things,” she said.

The rings the Wheelers eventually exchanged were first passed around the room so guests could offer a blessing on them.

The raspberry and vanilla swirl cake was topped with fresh flowers and made by the groom’s sister-in-law.

One of the first songs partygoers danced to was the well-known sea shanty ‘Barrett’s Privateers.’

“We had to get a little bit of Nova Scotia in there,” the groom said.

Amid the celebration, the couple said there was a touch of sadness because the groom’s grandparents couldn’t attend.

Reflecting on their ceremony and the past few whirlwind days, the bride said they didn’t realize how fast and how bad things could get with the weather. But Naomi Wheeler said she also feels overwhelmed by the amount of support she got and how everyone came together.

“I think we embraced it. It was a lovely, lovely, cosy, intimate evening,” she said. “I feel very loved.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2022.

 

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

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Alberta NDP says premier’s rejection of federal authority lays separation groundwork

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Alberta’s NDP Opposition leader says Premier Danielle Smith‘s comments rejecting the legitimacy of the federal government betray her unspoken plan to lay the groundwork for eventual separation.

Rachel Notley cited Smith’s comments to the house just before members passed her sovereignty bill earlier Thursday, in which Smith rejected the federal government’s overarching authority.

“It’s not like Ottawa is a national government,” Smith told the house at 12:30 a.m. Thursday.

“The way our country works is that we are a federation of sovereign, independent jurisdictions. They are one of those signatories to the Constitution and the rest of us, as signatories to the Constitution, have a right to exercise our sovereign powers in our own areas of jurisdiction.”

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Notley, speaking to reporters, said, “At 12:30 last night when she thought nobody was listening, the veil was lifted and Danielle Smith’s interest in genuinely pursuing initial steps toward separation were revealed.

“(They) demonstrate that her view is actually that which is aligned with these fringe separatist wannabes like folks who drafted the Free Alberta Strategy.

“Those comments are utterly chaos-inducing.”

Free Alberta Strategy was a 2021 policy paper drafted in part by Smith’s current top adviser Rob Anderson.

The authors of the paper argue that federal laws, policies and overreach are mortally wounding Alberta’s development.

They urge a two-track strategy to assert greater autonomy for Alberta within Confederation, while simultaneously laying the policy and administrative groundwork to transition Alberta to separation and sovereignty should negotiations fail.

The strategy was the genesis for Smith’s controversial sovereignty bill that stipulates the Alberta legislature, rather than the courts, can pass judgment on what is constitutional when it comes to provincial jurisdiction.

The bill also grants cabinet the power to direct municipalities, city police forces, health regions and schools to resist implementing federal laws.

During question period, Smith rejected accusations the bill is a separatist Trojan Horse, noting its intent is contained in the title.

“The name of the bill is Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act,” said Smith.

“The (act) has nothing to do with leaving the country. It has everything to do with resetting the relationship (with the federal government).”

Political scientist Jared Wesley said it appears constitutional chaos and baiting the federal government are the actual aims.

“When you start to deny the legitimacy of the federal government, that is part of the worrying trend that ties all of this to the convoy movement and the separatists,” said Wesley, with the University of Alberta.

“Albertans need to know those comments are inappropriate and misleading at best and sparking a national unity crisis at worst. Sooner or later, someone’s going to believe her.”

Wesley added that there is a sentiment among a small group of people in Alberta, including the premier, who “are just tired of losing and don’t want to play the game anymore,” he said.

“The sad thing is that that game is democracy and the rule book is the Constitution, and they’re just ignoring all of it now.”

Political scientist Duane Bratt said Smith was not describing Canadian federalism.

“She is confusing the European Union with Canada,” said Bratt, with Mount Royal University in Calgary. “Canada is not made up of sovereign provinces. We share sovereignty between orders of government.”

Political scientist Lori William, also with Mount Royal University, said the comment “betrays a profound lack of understanding of Canada, of federalism, of what powers belong to the federal and provincial governments.”

During question period, Smith waved away Opposition demands that she refer the bill to Alberta’s Court of Appeal to determine if it is onside with the Constitution.

Smith told the house that Justice Minister Tyler Shandro, a lawyer, wrote the bill and that the government received independent advice from constitutional lawyers to ensure it was not offside.

“The constitutionality of this bill is not in question,” Smith said.

The bill was introduced by Smith a week ago as centrepiece legislation to pursue a more confrontational approach with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government on a range of issues deemed to be overreach in provincial areas of responsibility.

It was a short, brutish ride for the bill.

Smith’s government, due to a public outcry, had to bring in an amendment just days after introducing the bill to reverse a provision that gave it ongoing emergency-type powers to unilaterally rewrite laws while bypassing the legislature.

Alberta’s First Nations chiefs have condemned the bill as trampling their treaty rights and Smith’s Indigenous relations minister has said more consultation should have been done.

Smith told the house she met with Indigenous leaders just hours earlier to discuss concerns and shared goals. She rejected the assertion the bill doesn’t respect treaty rights.

“There is no impact on treaty and First Nations’ rights. That’s the truth,” she said.

Law professor Martin Olszynski said the bill remains problematic because it must be clear the courts have the final say on interpreting the Constitution in order to stabilize the checks and balances of a democratic system.

He said Smith’s bill threatens that, perhaps putting judges in the awkward position of having to decide whether they are the ones to make those decisions.

“Can that judge exercise their judicial function without being affected by that very politicized context?” said Olszynski, with the University of Calgary.

“It essentially politicizes the judicial process.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2022.

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At least five B.C. children died from influenza last month, as mortalities spike

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At least five children died last month in British Columbia from influenza as a rise of early season respiratory illnesses added strain to the beleaguered healthcare system.

The figure marks a departure from the average of two to three annual flu deaths among children in the province between 2015 and 2019, data from the BC Coroners Service shows.

“Public health is monitoring the situation closely and is reminding people of the steps they can take to protect themselves, their children and their loved ones against the flu,” the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said in a statement.

“It is important to know that death associated with influenza in previously healthy children continues to be rare.”

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The centre said it is aware of a sixth reported flu death among children and youth under 19, but it was not immediately clear why the sixth wasn’t included in the coroners’ figures.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the children who died included one who was younger than five years old, three who were between five and nine, and two adolescents who were between 15 and 19.

“Early findings indicate some of the children experienced secondary bacterial infections contributing to severe illness, which can be a complication of influenza,” Henry said in a statement Thursday.

The deaths in British Columbia suggest figures could tick up across the country given the common challenges facing health systems this respiratory season. Alberta has also recorded the deaths of two children with influenza so far this season.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, an average of five to six kids died per flu season across Canada, data collected from 12 hospitals across the country shows.

The national data was collected between 2010 and 2019 by IMPACT, a national surveillance network administered by the Canadian Paediatric Association. It was included in a research paper published in March in “The Lancet Regional Health — Americas” journal that also found no deaths from the flu among children in either 2020 or 2021.

No one from either IMPACT or the B.C. Centre for Disease Control was immediately available for an interview.

On Monday, Henry said that after two years of low flu rates, mostly due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the province is seeing a “dramatic increase” in illness and it arrived sooner than normal.

She urged parents to get their children vaccinated against the flu.

On Thursday, British Columbia’s Health Ministry announced a “blitz” of walk-in flu clinics that will open across the province Friday through Sunday. Flu vaccines are free to all kids aged six months and older in B.C.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control said getting the shot is particularly important for those at risk of severe outcomes, including those with chronic medical conditions like heart, lung, kidney or liver disorders and diseases, those with conditions that cause difficulty breathing or swallowing, those who need to take Aspirin for long periods of time and those who are very obese.

The BC Coroners Service said its data is preliminary and subject to change while investigations are completed.

The cases include those where influenza was identified as an immediate, pre-existing or underlying cause of death, or as a significant condition.

Henry said updates on pediatric influenza-related deaths will be posted weekly as part of the respiratory surveillance summaries on the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2022.

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Families of missing women deserve search for their bodies, special interlocutor says

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A Mohawk official tasked with helping Indigenous communities investigate unmarked graves says the refusal by Winnipeg police to search for the remains of missing women whose bodies are believed to have been left in a landfill is a “breach of human dignity.”

Kimberly Murray made the comment at a gathering of Assembly of First Nations chiefs in Ottawa, where chiefs plan to discuss how to respond to the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls.

Murray, a former executive director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, was appointed by the federal government to serve as a special interlocutor to help communities search for the remains of children who were forced to attend residential schools.

She told the assembly one of her office’s guiding principles is that families and communities have a right to know what happened to these children, how they died and where they are buried.

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“And I think about our women, that the Winnipeg police aren’t going to search for those remains, like that is a breach of human dignity,” she said late Tuesday.

“Those families have a right to know,” she said. “International convention says they have a right to know.”

Earlier Tuesday, Cambria and Kera Harris made an emotional plea outside the House of Commons for police in Winnipeg to begin a search for their mother, Morgan Harris, who went missing in May and whose remains are believed to be in a city landfill along with at least one other missing woman.

Police have charged 35-year-old Jeremy Skibicki with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris, Marcedes Myran and Rebecca Contois, along with an unidentified woman who is known as Buffalo Woman.

Cambria Harris called it “disgusting” police won’t search for her 39-year-old mother, and said she shouldn’t have to beg for officials to act.

“We would ask every Canadian to consider how they would feel if it was their mother or daughter or sister or best friend whose body was lying at the bottom of a landfill. Would they not demand that she be found?” said Carol McBride, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, in a written statement Wednesday.

“We can’t help but wonder if the Winnipeg police would have continued to look for Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran if they had been white.”

McBride added that if police in Winnipeg don’t have the capacity to do this work, they should look to another investigative body.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said the decision not to search sends a “dark message.”

“Human beings deserve the effort, no matter how dismal or difficult the task may seem. It is unnerving that the (Winnipeg Police Service) is creating unmarked graves in these landfill sites,” Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said in a statement Wednesday.

During Question Period Tuesday, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller told members of Parliament it is “very puzzling to hear the news that this landfill will not be searched,” saying he hoped to get clear answers from the city.

“Clearly the federal government needs to play a role in an area where jurisdiction is a poisonous word and continues to kill Indigenous women and children in this country.”

The office of Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, who is set to address the chiefs’ assembly late Wednesday, confirmed it had not received any requests for help searching the landfill.

Winnipeg police chief Danny Smyth also said he hadn’t spoken to anyone in the federal government about the matter.

The force’s head of forensics spoke to the media Tuesday to provide more details about the decision not to carry out a search.

Insp. Cam MacKid said police determined it wouldn’t be feasible given how much time has passed and how much has been dumped at the site, which is regularly compacted using heavy equipment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

— With files from Brittany Hobson and Steve Lambert in Winnipeg

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