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Crown acknowledges that sentence of N.B. Mountie killer should be reduced

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Mountie killer

Crown prosecutors have formally acknowledged that the sentence for a New Brunswick man who fatally shot three Mounties must be amended so he can apply for parole after serving 25 years.

Justin Bourque was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years after he pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder after targeting RCMP officers in Moncton, N.B., on the night of June 4, 2014.

Bourque’s lawyer applied in December to the New Brunswick Court of Appeal to have the precedent-setting sentence reduced after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law that made it possible for judges to extend parole ineligibility periods beyond 25 years for people convicted of multiple murders.

The Supreme Court’s decision involved the case of Alexandre Bissonnette, who murdered six men in a Quebec City mosque in 2017. He was originally sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 40 years, but the high court lowered the parole eligibility to 25 years.

A written submission from Crown attorney Patrick McGuinty on Jan. 20 to the Appeal Court said Bourque’s sentence must be similarly amended.

“In particular, the Crown recognizes Bissonnette has binding and direct implications for Mr. Bourque’s appeal,” McGuinty said.

“In light of Bissonnette, the Crown acknowledges that Mr. Bourque’s sentence appeal must be allowed, and his sentence be amended to a sentence of life imprisonment without eligibility to apply for parole for 25 years.”

Bourque’s case was on the Appeal Court docket Wednesday but no oral hearing was held and no decision released.

Angela Gevaudan, whose husband, Const. Fabrice Gevaudan, was among those killed in the shootings, said in a written victim impact statement that her physical and emotional health have suffered lasting damage.

She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder within months of the shooting and has suffered physical illnesses ever since, including chronic inflammation in different parts of her body, she said.

In addition, she said, her difficulty sleeping has returned since the court decision last year that led to the potential earlier release of Bourque.

“I wake up in the middle of the night, unable to breathe,” she said. She said she had hoped to make progress, but the potential of being notified of parole hearings for her husband’s killer — and the awareness he may now be released — “made our worst nightmares a reality.”

She said that while she doesn’t believe in vengeance, she thought the original sentence made sense considering all the lives lost and altered. She noted her husband was 45 years old when he died, and that Bourque — who was 24 at the time of the killings — would not be much older when he can apply for parole if his sentence is reduced.

In a telephone interview Wednesday from her home in Ontario, Gevaudan said she believes Parliament needs to make legal changes that can withstand constitutional challenges to allow for longer sentences in cases of multiple murders.

“Now that we know so much more about trauma and its lasting impact on a victim of violence, I think our justice system isn’t reflecting a balanced approach in dealing with violent crimes,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2023.

— With files from Michael Tutton in Halifax

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Harvey Weinstein due in NYC courtroom for hearing tied to upcoming retrial

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NEW YORK (AP) — Harvey Weinstein is scheduled to appear in a New York court Friday ahead of a planned retrial on rape and sexual assault charges.

The former Hollywood movie mogul’s pretrial hearing in Manhattan criminal court will address issues related to evidence in the case, including text messages.

At a hearing last week, prosecutors said they anticipate a November retrial. They told Judge Curtis Farber they are still actively pursuing new claims against Weinstein, though the prosecutors conceded they hadn’t yet brought any findings to a grand jury.

Weinstein’s lawyer, Arthur Aidala, argued the investigation was simply a delay tactic.

New York’s highest court threw out Weinstein’s 2020 conviction earlier this year, ruling that the original trial judge unfairly allowed testimony against him based on allegations that weren’t part of the case.

The conviction had been considered a landmark in the #MeToo movement, an era that began in 2017 amid numerous allegations of sexual misconduct against the once powerful studio boss behind “Pulp Fiction” and “Shakespeare in Love.”

Weinstein had been convicted of rape in the third degree for an attack on an aspiring actress and of forcing himself on a TV and film production assistant in 2006. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors have said one of the accusers in that case, Jessica Mann, is prepared to testify against Weinstein again. Gloria Allred, a lawyer for the second accuser, Mimi Haley, said last week that her client hadn’t yet decided whether to participate in the retrial.

The Associated Press does not generally identify people alleging sexual assault unless they consent to be named, as Haley and Mann did.

Weinstein, 72, is jailed on Rikers Island. Aidala has said he suffers from diabetes, macular degeneration and fluid in his lungs and heart and has complained that Weinstein isn’t receiving adequate medical care in jail.

Weinstein also was convicted in Los Angeles in 2022 of another rape and is still sentenced to 16 years in prison in California. In an appeal filed there last month, his lawyers argued he didn’t get a fair trial in that case.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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Key events in Alexander Lukashenko’s 30 years as the iron-fisted leader of Belarus

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Key events in the 30-year rule of Belarus’ hard-line President Alexander Lukashenko:

July 20, 1994 — Lukashenko is inaugurated as president after a landslide victory in what international observers say was the post-Soviet country’s first and only genuinely free election. He previously headed the parliament’s anti-corruption committee and was director of a state farm.

1995 — A referendum is held on replacing the national flag with one closely resembling one that Belarus used as a Soviet republic. It also returns the Soviet-era coat of arms, establishes Russian as the state language on par with Belarusian and gives the president authority to dissolve parliament.

1996 — Alarmed by Lukashenko’s increasingly authoritarian turn, thousands of protesters fill the streets in what became known as the “Minsk Spring.” The human rights center Viasna (Spring) is formed. Lawmakers gather enough signatures to petition for impeachment proceedings against Lukashenko, but Russia’s prime minister and other top officials convince them to drop the effort. Another referendum significantly expands presidential powers, restores the death penalty and extends Lukashenko’s presidential term until 2001. Lukashenko dissolves parliament.

1998 — Lukashenko orders U.S. and European ambassadors to vacate residences on a compound near Minsk. Washington recalls its ambassador in protest and Lukashenko is banned from travel to the U.S. and European Union countries.

1999-2000 — After Lukashenko calls for suppressing the opposition, four prominent critics — former Interior Minister Yuri Zakharenko, former Central Election Commission head Viktor Gonchar, businessman Anatoly Krasovsky and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski — are presumed dead. A top Interior Ministry official was arrested on suspicion of involvement, but Lukashenko ordered him released and the prosecutor leading the investigation was dismissed. Investigations by the Council of Europe showed that opposition figures were killed by “death squads” connected with the state. The scandal dominated Belarus’ political landscape for years. Also in 1999, Lukashenko and Russian President Boris Yeltsin sign a treaty on forming a “union state” federation.

Sept. 9, 2001 — Lukashenko wins election to second term.

Oct. 17, 2004 — A referendum removing presidential term limits from the constitution is approved.

March 19, 2006 — Lukashenko wins a third term. Protesters build a tent camp in a central square of Minsk, but police destroy it and arrest over 400 protesters more than a week later. One opposition presidential candidate is imprisoned for over two years and another is jailed for 15 days. The EU and the U.S. later freeze bank accounts of Lukashenko and members of his government.

Dec. 19, 2010 — Lukashenko is re-elected for a fourth term. After the polls closed, thousands of protesters tried to storm the Belarusian government building, breaking windows and doors. Seven presidential candidates and hundreds of opposition activists were arrested. Several of the candidates who opposed Lukashenko were imprisoned for up to 5 1/2 years.

2014-15 — Belarus hosts negotiations to end fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Oct. 11, 2015 — Lukashenko wins a fifth term.

2018 — Seeking to reduce tensions with the West, Lukashenko appoints a reformist prime minister. Disputes arise with Russia over oil and gas duties, and Lukashenko accuses the Kremlin of trying to absorb Belarus.

Aug. 9, 2020 — Lukashenko wins a sixth term with 80% of the vote in an election that is denounced as fraudulent at home and abroad, with key opposition figures prevented from running. Huge protests break out over the balloting as well as Lukashenko’s dismissal of the COVID-19 pandemic as “a psychosis.” Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who ran instead of her jailed husband, flees to Lithuania. Authorities crack down harshly on protests that last for months in Minsk and other cities. More than 35,000 people are arrested. About 500,000 people leave the country, including significant opposition figures.

May 23, 2021 -— A passenger jet flying from Greece to Lithuania and carrying an opposition blogger is ordered to land in Minsk as it crosses through Belarusian airspace, with flight controllers citing an alleged bomb threat. Upon landing, the dissident blogger, Raman Pratasevich, is arrested, put on trial and convicted of organizing unrest stemming from the disputed election. Facing international outrage and further sanctions, Lukashenko threatens to flood the EU with migrants and drugs. Belarus later sends thousands of migrants toward borders with Poland and Lithuania, which block them from crossing.

2022 — Russian troops stationed in Belarus enter northern Ukraine as Moscow’s invasion of its neighbor begins. Belarusian forces do not take part directly in the war, but a Lukashenko-ordered referendum abolishes Belarus’ ban on nuclear weapons.

2023 — Russia deploys tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, raising fears they could be used in the Ukraine war. On June 23, Lukashenko plays a key role in negotiating an end to a brief uprising against the Russian Defense Ministry leadership by Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group. Belarus allows the Wagner mercenaries to relocate to Belarus in camps there.

2024 — Lukashenko announces his intention to run in 2025 for a seventh term. He releases several political prisoners with serious illnesses, but about 1,400 remain behind bars, including Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights activist Ales Bialiatski.



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Leader of Belarus marks 30 years in power after crushing all dissent and cozying up to Moscow

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TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — For three decades, European leaders have come and gone by the dozens, but Alexander Lukashenko remains in absolute control of Belarus.

His longevity is due to a mixture of harshly silencing all dissent, reverting to Soviet-style economic controls and methods, and cozying up to Russia, even as he sometimes flirted with the West.

Lukashenko, 69, was dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” early in his tenure, and he has lived up to that nickname.

On Saturday, he marks 30 years in power — one of the world’s longest-serving and most ruthless leaders.

As head of the country sandwiched between Russia, Ukraine and NATO members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, Lukashenko was elected to his sixth term in office in 2020, in balloting widely seen at home and abroad as rigged.

Months of mass protests that followed were harshly suppressed in a violent crackdown that sent tens of thousands to jail amid allegations of beatings and torture. Many political opponents remain imprisoned or have fled the nation of 9.5 million.

But the strongman shrugged off Western sanctions and isolation that followed, and now he says he will run for a seventh five-year term next year.

Lukashenko owes his political longevity to a mixture of guile, brutality and staunch political and economic support from his main ally, Russia.

Most recently, in 2022 he allowed Moscow to use Belarusian territory to invade Ukraine and later agreed to host some of Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons.

“Lukashenko has turned Belarus into a fragment of the USSR, dangerous not only for its own citizens but also threatening its Western neighbors with nuclear weapons,” said independent political analyst Valery Karbalevich.

He describes the Belarusian leader as “one of the most experienced post-Soviet politicians, who has learned to play on both on the Kremlin’s mood and the fears of his own people.”

When the former state farm director was first elected in July 1994 just 2 1/2 years after Belarus gained independence following the USSR’s collapse, he pledged to fight corruption and boost living standards that had plunged amid chaotic free-market reforms.

An admirer of the Soviet Union, Lukashenko pushed soon after his election for a referendum that abandoned the country’s new red-and-white national flag in favor of one similar to what Belarus had used as a Soviet republic.

He also quickly bolstered ties with Russia and pushed for forming a new union state in the apparent hope of becoming its head after a full merger — an ambition dashed by the 2000 election of Vladimir Putin to succeed the ailing Boris Yeltsin as Russian president.

Under Lukashenko, Belarus’ top security agency retained its fearsome Soviet-era name of the KGB. It also has been the only country in Europe to keep capital punishment, with executions carried out with a shot to the back of the head.

In 1999 and 2000, four prominent Lukashenko critics disappeared, and an investigation by the Council of Europe concluded they were kidnapped and killed by death squads linked to senior Belarusian officials. Belarusian authorities stonewalled European demands to track down and prosecute the suspected culprits.

“Lukashenko never bothered with his reputation,” said Anatoly Lebedko, leader of the now-outlawed United Civil Party of Belarus. “He relished in calling himself a dictator and bragged about being a pariah even when he was publicly accused of political killings and other crimes.”

Lukashenko initiated constitutional changes that put parliament under his control, removed term limits and extended his power in elections that the West didn’t recognize as free or fair. Protests following the votes were quickly broken up by police and organizers were jailed.

His Soviet-style centralized economy depended heavily on Russian subsidies.

“Instead of helping Belarus, cheap Russian oil and gas have become its curse, allowing Lukashenko to receive windfall profits from exporting oil products to Europe and freeze the situation in Belarus,” said Alexander Milinkevich, who challenged him in a 2006 election. “Opposition calls for reforms and movement toward the European Union literally drowned in the flood of Russian money.”

But even while relying on Moscow, Lukashenko repeatedly clashed with the Kremlin, accusing it of trying to strong-arm Belarus into surrendering control of its most prized economic assets and eventually abandoning its independence.

While maneuvering for more subsidies from Russia, he often tried to appease the West by occasionally easing repressions. Before the 2020 election, the U.S. and EU lifted some sanctions as Belarus freed political prisoners.

The balancing act ended after the vote that sparked the largest protests ever seen in Belarus. In the subsequent crackdown, over 35,000 people were arrested, thousands were beaten in police custody, and hundreds of independent media outlets and nongovernmental organizations were closed and outlawed.

While Putin had been annoyed by Lukashenko’s past maneuvers, he saw the protests as a major threat to Moscow’s influence over its ally and moved quickly to shore up the Belarusian leader who came under Western sanctions.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who challenged Lukashenko in that election and then fled the country to lead the opposition from exile, said the vote marked a watershed as it became clear that he had “lost support of the majority of the Belarusians.”

“Lukashenko has survived primarily thanks to Russia, which offered him information, financial and even military support at the peak of the protests,” she told The Associated Press. “The Kremlin’s intervention prevented a split in the Belarusian elites. Now Lukashenko is paying back that support with the country’s sovereignty.”

Belarus’ leading human rights group Viasna counts about 1,400 political prisoners in the country, including group founder and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski, who has been held incommunicado like other opposition figures.

“Lukashenko has created a harsh personalist political regime in the center of Europe with thousands of political prisoners where civic institutions don’t function and time has turned back,” said Bialiatski’s wife, Natalia Pinchuk. “Torturous conditions in which Ales has been held are emblematic for thousands of Belarusian prisoners and Lukashenko’s path in politics.”

In one of the most vivid episodes of the crackdown, a commercial jet carrying a dissident journalist from Greece to Lithuania was forced to land in Minsk in May 2021 when it briefly crossed into Belarusian airspace in what the West condemned as air piracy. The journalist, Raman Pratasevich, was convicted of organizing protests and sentenced to eight years in prison. He later was pardoned and become a Lukashenko supporter.

The Belarusian leader is sometimes blustery and mercurial. He once praised Adolf Hitler for “raising Germany from ruins.”

Lukashenko shrugged off the COVID-19 pandemic as “psychosis” and advised people to “kill the virus with vodka,” go to saunas and work in the fields because “tractors will cure everybody!”

Amid the 2020 crackdown, Lukashenko declared that “sometimes we shouldn’t care about the laws and just take tough steps to stop some scum.”

He kept his youngest son, 19-year-old Nikolai, at his side at official events, fueling speculation that he could be nurturing him as a successor.

Lukashenko maintained a tough-guy image by playing hockey, skiing and doing other sports. After contracting COVID-19, he said he recovered quickly, thanks to physical activity.

But he’s become visibly less energetic in recent years amid rumors of health problems that he denied with his usual bravado.

“I’m not going to die,” he said last year. “You will have to tolerate me for quite a long time to go.”



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