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‘In a crisis’: Deaths of Indigenous women in Winnipeg spark calls for safe housing

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Lori Ann Mancheese always wanted a home.

But the 53-year-old mother of five from Manitoba’s Ebb and Flow First Nation died before her dream could come true.

Earlier this month, her remains were found in a farmer’s field outside of Winnipeg.

“She tried her best to be happy even though she didn’t have a home,” said Norma Mancheese, Lori Ann’s sister.

Mounties have said, at this point, her death doesn’t appear to be criminal. But Lori Ann’s family say they cannot understand how she would end up left at that location.

Her death is now one of five women in the span of about a month being grieved by members of the province’s Indigenous community. Winnipeg police say three of those women were murdered.

At least 11 Indigenous women and girls have been murdered in the city since June 2019, when the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report, according to an analysis by The Canadian Press of homicides reported by the police service.

Immediate action is needed to make the province safer for Indigenous women, including better access to safe housing, which can be life-saving, said Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, chair of the National Family and Survivors Circle.

The need extends beyond offering more overnight emergency shelter space, she said, and includes more transitional and longer term housing options that offer the proper cultural and social supports.

What Anderson-Pyrz finds lacking is political will.

As an example, she points to the response mounted by the government against the COVID-19 pandemic, which demonstrated how fast decision-makers and bureaucracies can move.

“This is very similar,” she said. “We’re losing human lives.”

The survivors circle was established in response to the 231 calls to justice made in the final report from the national inquiry, and is designed to provide advice to Ottawa on implementing the recommended changes.

Last month, Anderson-Pyrz’s niece Tessa Perry was among those killed in Winnipeg.

“There’s been so many losses, it seems like we’re in a perpetual state of grief,” Anderson-Pyrz said. “We’re in a crisis.”

Carolyn Bennett, former federal minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, called the city “ground zero” for the country’s awareness around murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.

It was near a dock in Winnipeg when in 2014 the tiny body of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down by rocks, was pulled from the Red River.

The death of the First Nations teen sparked outrage and led to louder demands for Ottawa to probe the level of violence perpetrated against Indigenous women and girls, which it did after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected the following year.

But those in the city say the danger has only increased.

In her sister Lori Ann’s case, Norma Mancheese said a lack of housing on her First Nation meant she never had a home of her own and would sometimes stay with friends and family in the community.

Never wanting to overstay her welcome, Norma said her sister would eventually travel to Winnipeg where she would be homeless or stay with friends downtown.

She had health and mobility issues, so it wasn’t an easy life, Norma said.

Despite cries from advocates for urgent action, Ottawa has yet to spend any of the $724-million fund it announced in fall 2020 to support the creation of new shelter and transitional housing spaces for Indigenous women and girls trying to escape violence.

Judy Hughes, special adviser to CEO of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said that shows “they just don’t care.”

“There’s no excuse whatsoever for that funding not to be handed out,” she said.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Women and Gender Equality Minister Marci Ien’s office said applications for the first round of funding recently closed, and an announcement of where it would flow would be made over the summer, with implementation expected to begin in the fall.

“Undeniably, there is still a long way to go, but we are moving in the right direction,” Johise Namwira wrote, saying “the violence that we have seen in Winnipeg is heartbreaking.”

“We know that Indigenous voices must lead the way and we will continue to work closely with Indigenous Peoples, families, survivors, communities, and provinces and territories as equal partners.”

Hughes said when it comes to Indigenous women living in cities, a major challenge remains finding housing that is not just affordable, but is located in areas that are safe.

“We still have many landlords that refuse to rent to Indigenous women,” she said.

“They’ll take the appointments for Indigenous women, we go look at it, and then they phone us back and it’s no longer available … in a number of occasions, we know that it’s just the case that ‘Oh, they seen the colour of her skin.’”

Norma Mancheese said her sister made her way to Winnipeg in late May and had a coffee with a friend in early June.

Her body was discovered four days later.

“We are just wondering and not knowing anything,” Norma said. “The police aren’t telling us anything.”

The RCMP has said it is awaiting the results of an autopsy but it appears the death was non-criminal.

Norma said Mounties informed her Lori Ann was wearing a hospital bracelet, but her family hasn’t been allowed to see her body because of the state of decomposition.

She has many unanswered questions about her sister’s death and said it’s left the family in unimaginable grief.

But Norma is sure that if her sister had a home, a place to be safe and happy, it would have made a difference.

She’s now worried for other Indigenous women who are in the same position as her sister.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2022.

 

Kelly Geraldine Malone and Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

 

 

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Donald Trump loyalist, Alex Jones ordered to pay US$49 million in punitive damages

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Donald Trump loyalist, Alex Jones ordered to pay US$49 million in punitive damages

Austin, United States of America (USA)- A jury in Texas on Friday ordered Alex Jones, a loyalist to former US President Donald Trump, to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to the parents of a child who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012.

The jury announced its decision a day after awarding the parents more than U$4.1 million in compensatory damages and after testimony on Friday that Jones and Free Speech Systems, the parent company of his media outlet, Infowars, were worth US$135 million to US$270 million.

Prior to Friday’s Court proceedings, Jones told his audience that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax and that the grieving parents of those who died were actors.

The total of US$49.3 million is less than the US$150 million sought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was among the 20 children and six educators killed in the deadliest classroom shooting in US history.

“He stood up to the bully Adam Lanza and saved nine of his classmates’ lives. I hope that I did that incredible courage justice when I was able to confront Alex Jones, who is also a bully. I hope that inspires other people to do the same. This is an important day for truth, for justice, and I couldn’t be happier,” said Lewis.

Before the jurors began deliberating about the punitive damages, Wesley Todd Ball, a lawyer for the family, told the jury that it had the ability to send a message for everyone in the country and perhaps this world to hear.

“We ask that you send a very, very simple message, and that is, Stop Alex Jones. Stop the monetization of misinformation and lies. Please,” said Ball.

Jones, who has portrayed the lawsuit as an attack on his First Amendment rights, conceded during the trial that the attack was 100 percent real and that he was wrong to have lied about it, but Heslin and Lewis told jurors that an apology wouldn’t suffice and called on them to make Jones pay for the years of suffering he has put them and other Sandy Hook families through.

The parents told jurors about how they have endured a decade of trauma, inflicted first by the murder of their son and what followed, gunshots fired at the home, online and phone threats, and harassment on the street by strangers. They said the threats and harassment were all fueled by Jones and his conspiracy theory spread to his followers via Infowars.

Jones who was in the courtroom briefly on Friday but not there for the verdict still faces two other defamation lawsuits from Sandy Hook families in Texas and Connecticut.

Nevertheless, Jones has also claimed, among things, that the Pentagon was using chemical warfare to turn people Gay, that COVID-19 is not real and that September 11 was an inside job perpetrated by the government.

 

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FBI still worried of another attack from Afghan rebel groups

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Washington D.C, United States of America (USA)- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), head, Christopher Wray has expressed grave concerns over another attack from Afghanistan rebel groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS.

His comments come just days after the US killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan via drone strike.

“I am worried about the possibility that we will see al Qaeda reconstitute, ISIS-K potentially taking advantage of the deteriorating security environment, and I am worried about terrorists, including here in the United States, being inspired by what they see over there,” said the FBI director during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Al-Zawahiri was killed in a drone strike, ending a years-long manhunt which placed al-Zawahiri near the top of the FBI’s most-wanted list. The 71-year-old Egyptian national headed up the group after the death of terrorist kingpin Osama Bin Laden in an American raid in 2011 and is thought to have helped plan the 9/11 attacks.

The Department of State also cited it believes there is a higher potential for anti-American violence given the death of al-Zawahiri.

Meanwhile, the FBI is investigating a possible assassination plot against Iranian-American journalist, Masih Alinejad.

According to US news sources, a man was arrested carrying a loaded AK-47 rifle in a possible plot to assassinate her.

Alinejad herself shared security camera footage of the suspect at her front door on Twitter on Sunday, saying, “My crime is giving voice to voiceless people. The US administration must be tough on terror.”

The arrested man was taken in by Police after a traffic stop. They said he ran a stop sign and when they checked his vehicle, they found a gun in the backseat, according to the complaint filed by the FBI.

He was charged with possessing a firearm without a proper serial number. At his Friday (last week) hearing, the Judge ordered him to be held without bail.

The suspect initially claimed that he knew nothing about the weapon and said he was just in the area looking for an apartment, but later he told the investigators that he owned the gun and that he was looking for someone in Brooklyn.

In July last year, US prosecutors charged four Iranian spies with trying to kidnap Alinejad from her home in Brooklyn and taking her to Venezuela. Investigators said that they had also tried to lure her to the Middle East before that.

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Ottawa on track to spend $200M per year on cannabis for veterans

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Ottawa is reimbursing a record number of veterans for medical marijuana, with new figures showing the federal government shelled out more than $150 million in the last fiscal year — more than double the amount just three years ago.

And that is only the beginning as the figures from Veterans Affairs Canada reveal the government is on track to spend nearly $200 million this year as more and more former service members ask the government to pay for their cannabis.

While experts and advocates are uncertain about the reasons for the surge, they agree about the need for more information on the real benefits and potential harms of medical marijuana for veterans — and taxpayers paying for it.

“We desperately need better evidence to understand if these policies … and if the current usage is likely to have more benefit or do more harm,” said Jason Busse, associate director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research at McMaster University.

“We don’t know that right now.”

Veterans Affairs started reimbursing a small number of former military personnel for their medical cannabis in 2008, at which point the approvals were granted on an extremely limited basis and with the approval of a medical specialist.

The move followed a series of court decisions more than 20 years ago that first allowed a legal exemption for the consumption of medical marijuana from criminal prosecution.

Then in 2014, Health Canada relaxed its rules around who could authorize the use of medical marijuana to Canadians and for what conditions and circumstances. The new rules didn’t put a limit on the amount of pot that could be authorized, or the cost.

Veterans Affairs at the time was reimbursing 112 ex-service members for their pot, at a cost of $409,000. By the following year, that number had increased to more than 600, at a total cost of more than $1.7 million — with no end to the increase in sight.

Figures provided by the department to Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay in June for questions in the House of Commons show the government reimbursed more than 18,000 ex-military members for $153 million in medical marijuana claims in 2021-22.

“For fiscal year 2022-23, program expenditures are forecasted to be $195.2 million,” adds the note.

The skyrocketing claims and costs have continued despite the Liberal government decision in 2016 to limit claims to three grams per day at $8.50 per gram, with an allowance of up to 10 grams per day with medical authorization.

Those limits resulted in an explosion of anger from veterans and advocates who said the limits would negatively affect them, though the note to MacAulay said one in five veterans was receiving more than three grams per day.

By comparison, Health Canada says the number of Canadians across the country registered to use medical marijuana, which is normally paid for by insurance companies, fell to 257,000 in December 2021 from 345,000 in October 2018.

Officials at the B.C.-based Veterans Transition Network, which provides peer support and counselling programs for former Armed Forces members, have seen the explosive growth in medical marijuana use by veterans firsthand in recent years.

“Seeing those numbers … of just the growth year over year, to my mind, it fits with what we’ve seen in terms of how commonplace it’s become in the veterans’ care landscape,” said executive director Oliver Thorne.

The network’s national clinic director Dr. Paul Whitehead estimated around half of veterans participating in the organization’s programs now use some sort of cannabis product for medical reasons, though the exact type, frequency and dosage varies significantly.

Experts cited a number of potential reasons for the increase, including the COVID-19 pandemic, broader awareness, less stigma around cannabis use, and the emergence of a multimillion-dollar industry around medical pot for veterans.

Some veterans and advocates have argued that the rise of medical cannabis has helped reduce the use of opioids and other narcotics.

While he couldn’t say whether that was true, Whitehead reported a decrease in alcohol use among his organization’s clients.

Yet he and others also pointed to the many questions that remain about if medical marijuana really helps veterans — and if so, how and why.

“We feel confident there is absolutely some benefit because veterans tell us that, and they tell us that frequently,” said Thorne. “But we don’t know the how. And I think that’s what we really need to know: how does it work? Why does it work?”

Busse has been attempting to answer some of those questions at McMaster. What he’s discovered so far is a paucity of real data about the impacts of medical marijuana, with what is available showing little to no impact on most people with chronic pain or sleep problems.

Even those studies that have been conducted have been extremely limited, Busse added, with little information about the impact on those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or even the long-term impacts of using cannabis.

The lack of concrete information comes despite the federal government having repeatedly promised over the years to fund research on the issue. Busse blamed Health Canada regulations and red tape for having prevented large-scale clinical studies.

“It was just (this week) that we finally got approval to run our first trial, despite having gotten funding for it over two years ago,” he said. “And I know that a lot of companies have simply given up on doing clinical trials in Canada.”

Veterans Affairs would not publicly speak to any anticipated changes to its reimbursement rules, but officials told MacAulay in June that as it is “an evolving area of treatment, Veterans Affairs Canada is regularly reviewing the latest available evidence and adjusting our policy as needed.”

While Thorne and Whitehead have heard veterans testify to the benefits of medical marijuana, and the Veterans Transition Network doesn’t support limiting access, there are concerns that some former service members will use the drug to avoid their psychological trauma rather than face it.

“We’d love to see the numbers of spending go up each year for counselling programs, whether it’s ours or it’s any other,” Thorne said. “We’d love to see that similar kind of uptake.”

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

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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