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Might be time to leave the U.S., Highland Park locals muse after July Fourth rampage



HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — It was 10:17 a.m. on the Fourth of July, central daylight time, when Shelly Sella’s cellphone rang. She remembers the time precisely.

What she heard — it was her daughter, Lauren — she will never forget.

“Screaming: ‘There’s a shooter, there’s a shooter, you gotta come get us, you gotta come get us,’” Sella recalled.

“There’s no mother on planet Earth, I don’t care how old your child is, that wants to get that call.”

Lauren and her friend Amanda Levy, who was visiting from Connecticut, were at the Fourth of July parade Monday in the tony Chicago suburb of Highland Park when the shots rang out.

“I think I blacked out,” said Levy, 28, as she described seeing some of the floats in the parade come to an unexpected stop.

“I was confused. And then we saw the band running on the sidewalks. And that’s when I looked at (Lauren) and we saw a cop running the opposite way.”

Seven people were killed and 38 people were injured Monday when a lone gunman, perched on a rooftop and disguised in women’s clothing, opened fire on spectators while they were watching the Fourth of July parade pass through the suburban downtown.

At the intersection of Central Ave. and Green Bay Rd., where journalists and local residents mingled awkwardly Tuesday in what is becoming an uncomfortable U.S. ritual, the detritus of an abandoned national holiday was still on display.

Upturned folding chairs, miniature flags flapping in the breeze and a child’s pink bicycle were still visible behind police barricades, a testament to the moment the community’s festive, patriotic fervour dissolved into abject panic.

A collection of flowers and handwritten expressions of grief steadily grew throughout the afternoon as residents and visitors stopped by the scene, stepping over a gauntlet of police tape to pay their respects.

Sella and Levy were part of the crowd of onlookers who cheered with relief Tuesday as prosecutors announced seven first-degree murder charges against Robert E. Crimo III, the alleged perpetrator.

Crimo, 21, faces the prospect of life in prison with no chance of parole, as well as “dozens” more likely charges, said Lake County state’s attorney Eric Rinehart.

Authorities also released the identities of six of the seven victims: Katherine Goldstein, 64; Irina McCarthy, 35; Kevin McCarthy, 37; Jacquelyn Sundheim, 63; and Stephen Straus, 88, all from Highland Park; and Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza, 78, of Mexico.

Christopher Covelli, a spokesman for the Lake County Major Crime Task Force, said police first responded to Crimo’s home in April 2019 after learning he had attempted suicide a week earlier.

The next interaction happened in September of that year, when a family member reported that Crimo had a collection of knives and that he was threatening to “kill everyone.” No charges or complaints were filed.

Crimo legally purchased five guns, including the rifle used in the attack and one found in a vehicle with him when he was arrested, as well as handguns and other firearms seized at his father’s home.

The violence in Highland Park came just six weeks after a deadly elementary school rampage in Uvalde, Texas, killed 19 children and two teachers, shocking — but not surprising — a country now utterly awash in staggering firepower.

Covelli said the suspect planned the attack for several weeks and wore women’s clothing to conceal his facial tattoos and to blend into the crowd as he fled the scene.

He said the shooter, armed with a high-powered rifle, used a fire escape ladder to climb onto the roof of a business along the parade route before he fired more than 70 rounds into the crowd.

When it was over, the attacker allegedly abandoned his rifle and escaped, blending into the crowd as if he were an “innocent spectator.”

Police have no information that it was religiously or racially motivated, said Covelli, describing the attack as “completely random.”

“What should have been a celebration of freedom has ended in despair for our community,” Rinehart said, a battery of officials, investigators and police behind him.

“All of the people who died steps from here lost their freedom — all of it, every ounce of freedom that they had. The freedom to love, the freedom to learn and the freedom to live a full life.

“Their freedom matters too.”

These days, in the country known for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that freedom may well include leaving for good.

“I don’t like this world that we live in at all,” Sella said.

“I have serious concerns about where we’ve been, where we’re going. And quite honestly, I have contemplated several times recently leaving this country.”

So, too, has Jim Perlman, a lifelong Highland Park resident who said he’s not alone in considering his options.

“The way the momentum is going, a lot of people are talking about it and people want to leave,” said Perlman, whose apartment is less than two blocks from where the shooting occurred.

“They don’t feel safe. Children don’t feel safe at the schools … it’s just like a snowball going down a hill and getting worse and worse.”

Where would they go? Sella said she has family in Israel, a country with its own reputation for violence, “but it’s more predictable,” she said.

“This is what it looks like, what it feels like to live in Israel.”

As for Perlman, he’s thinking closer to home.

“Everybody talks about Canada,” he said. “We may be up there.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 6, 2022.


James McCarten, The Canadian Press


Passport delays: Canada opens new service sites – CTV News




The federal government is adding new passport service locations across Canada as a backlog in processing applications continues.

Social Development Minister Karina Gould announced Wednesday that people can now apply for and pick up passports at Service Canada centres in Red Deer, Alta., Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Trois-Rivieres, Que., and Charlottetown, P.E.I.

That’s on top of five new locations added in July, and Gould expects to bring another seven to nine locations into the program soon.

“I think this is a really important and long-overdue change,” she said in an interview. “Those of us who live in more urban areas, we don’t realize that we’re so lucky to be close to a passport office.”

The additions should make it easier for people outside large centres to access services and ease stress on offices in regional hubs, she added.

No new federal money was required to make the change, Gould said. Resources come out of a revolving fund made up of passport fees.

Gould said the current crisis and complaints over long wait times have accelerated the work but she was already looking at bringing passport services to more locations before the backlog.

She visited Sault Ste. Marie in April, before media began reporting on complaints over wait times. The local Liberal MP, Terry Sheehan, told Gould that people in the Sault had to drive seven or eight hours to Thunder Bay or Toronto to visit a passport office in person.

Until Wednesday, there was no passport office on Prince Edward Island.

“So I was starting to already look at who is not close, and how can we fix this,” she said. “And then it became that much more acute.”

Nearly 1.1 million applications for new and renewed passports have been filed since April as pandemic restrictions loosen and Canadians resume travelling.

More than one-quarter of those hadn’t yet been processed as of early August.

Government statistics show the system is starting to catch up with demand, as the gulf between the number of passport applications each month versus the number of passports issued is getting smaller.

Call centre wait times have gone down significantly and “triage measures” were implemented at 17 passport offices to mitigate in-person headaches.

Gould said 442 new employees were hired so far this summer and 300 are already trained and working.

But a large backlog remains.

In the first week of August, the number of passports issued within 40 business days of an application fell to 72 per cent from 81 per cent the week before.

That is largely because of mailed applications.

During the first week of August, passports from in-person applications were issued within the government’s 10-day service standard 95 per cent of the time, a rate that has remained steady throughout the summer.

For mailed applications the service standard of 20 days was met only 40 per cent of the time in early August, down from 53 per cent in late July. The government also warns it can take more than 13 weeks to get your passport by mail.

The overall numbers aren’t materially better than in June, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was forced to respond to growing complaints and called the system’s performance “unacceptable.”

The week of June 20, 76 per cent of passports were issued within 40 business days.

The processing times also don’t take into account the wait to get an in-person appointment and there are only a limited number of walk-ins available.

Proof of upcoming travel is required to get service within two months at offices with 10-day processing times, including those announced Wednesday.

Urgent services for people who can prove they need a passport within 48 hours are only available in bigger urban centres — Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Gatineau, Que., and Quebec City.

As the backlash over the wait times continues, some reports suggest Canadians are making “fake” travel plans to show to passport officers, then cancelling their flights once their application is in the queue.

Gould said she’s not aware of this being a “widespread issue” but she has heard about it anecdotally. “I strongly discourage Canadians to do that. It’s unfair, it’s unkind and it’s unnecessary,” she said.

Gould said at the morning press conference that the government failed to predict to what extent demand would sharply spike earlier this year. She insisted an unexpected glut of mailed-in applications is the main culprit in the passport delays.

Although she wouldn’t comment on the specifics of its deliberations, she said a cabinet committee stood up earlier this year — the Task Force on Services to Canadians — is looking at how to make sure that services under federal jurisdiction are being delivered in “a timely and effective way” that takes the toll of the pandemic into account.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 17, 2022.

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UK: Inflation hits 40-year high



UK: Inflation hits 40-year high

London, United Kingdom (UK)- According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) has risen to 10.1 percent in the 12 months to July, up from 9.4 percent in June and remaining at the highest level since February 1982.

Food price inflation hit 12.7 percent in July, the highest rate in the category for more than 20 years.

The biggest increases came from bakery products, dairy, meat and vegetables, which were also reflected in higher costs for takeaways. Price rises for other staple items such as pet food, toilet rolls, toothbrushes and deodorants also sent inflation soaring to the highest rate in four decades.

Driven by a summer rush, with travellers flocking to packed airports across the UK, prices for package holidays also rose, while airfares increased.

“A wide range of price rises drove inflation up again this month. Food prices rose notably, particularly bakery products, dairy, meat and vegetables, which was also reflected in higher takeaway prices.

Price rises in other staple items, such as pet food, toilet rolls, toothbrushes and deodorants also pushed up inflation in July.

Driven by higher demand, the price for package holidays rose, after falling at the same time last year, while airfares also increased.

The cost of both raw materials and goods leaving factories continued to rise, driven by the price of metals and food respectively,” said ONS’ chief economist, Grant Fitzner.

Separate ONS analysis showed that poorer households were facing greater rates of inflation than those with higher incomes because they spent a bigger proportion of their budgets on energy and food, which are rising fastest in price.

While all advanced economies have seen a rise in inflation, it has been stronger in the UK than in other G7 countries and most European nations.

This reflects the country’s greater use of gas, the underlying strong growth in spending last year, pay growth in the private sector rising above five percent and the ease with which companies expect to pass on higher costs to customers.

Many economists on Wednesday said the upward surge in inflation along with robust wage growth in the second quarter would stiffen the Bank of England’s resolve, encouraging the Central Bank to raise interest rates further and faster.

Households are expected to come under further pressure this autumn from a fresh rise in energy bills, which the Bank of England forecasts will drive inflation above 13 percent and trigger a long recession as families rein in their spending.


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UK’s water provider bans use of hosepipes



UK's water provider bans use of hosepipes

London, United Kingdom (UK)- Thames Water which supplies water to some parts of the country has said that from next week, anyone who gets their water from the water supplier would have to do away with the use of hosepipes.

According to Thames Water, anyone taken to Court for persistent breaches of restrictions on hosepipe bans including watering a garden, cleaning a vehicle or washing windows, walls, paths, and patios will face a fine of up to £1 000 (US$1 200).

“We have been working around the clock to supply everyone, and customers have been brilliant at saving water where they can but with low rainfall forecast for the coming months, we now need to take the next step in our drought plan,” read a statement from Thames Water.

Welsh Water, Southern Water and South East Water have already imposed hosepipe bans, while several others are set to follow suit.

All around the UK, water levels are struggling following record-breaking heat and historically low rainfall which has since prompted the government to declare a drought.

At a meeting of the National Drought Group on Friday, the government’s Environment Agency said the drought trigger threshold had been met in parts of southwestern, southern, central and eastern parts of the country.

The government said the move to drought status was based on factors such as rainfall, river flows, levels of groundwater as well as reservoirs and their impact on public water supply.

According to the meteorological department, the period from January to June this year saw the least rainfall in England and Wales since 1976 and every month of the year except February has been drier than average. That summer of 1976 saw the use of drastic measures such as roadside standpipes and water rationing.

“We urge everyone to manage the amount of water they are using in this exceptionally dry period,” said National Drought Group chair, Harvey Bradshaw.

Meanwhile, the Environment Agency has warned beachgoers to stay away after sewage alerts across England and Wales following heavy rainfall affecting water quality, especially in the south.

The environmental campaign group Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) has collected data that suggests storm sewage discharges have taken place on beaches in Cornwall, Cumbria, Devon, Essex, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Northumberland and Sussex.

With much of the UK in drought, the land has become less able to absorb heavy rainfall, meaning larger than usual quantities reaching drainage channels, which can cause flash floods.


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