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Montreal drag queen to meet with elected officials after library storytime cancelled

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MONTREAL — A well-known Montreal performer whose drag queen storytime event at a local library was cancelled has been invited to meet with elected officials to discuss the event.

Sébastien Potvin, who performs as Barbada de Barbades, said he learned Monday that the event, scheduled for Nov. 5 at a library in Montreal’s St-Laurent borough, had been cancelled after he was contacted by a journalist.

Except for communications with a librarian, he said he hadn’t heard from the borough until Thursday, when he received the invitation to meet with elected officials.

“That’s exactly what I want, for people to talk and people to exchange and to make decisions based on actual facts, rather than on things they’ve heard,” Potvin said in an interview Thursday.

He said he’s confident the borough council will allow the event to go ahead once they realize that it is age-appropriate and has a positive message. The meeting is scheduled to take place in early August.

Potvin has been performing as Barbada for children in libraries and schools for around five years, sharing a message that it’s OK to be different.

He said that among the stories he reads are one about a crocodile who doesn’t like water and discovers he’s actually a dragon and another about a girl who realizes she prefers karate to ballet.

“The stories themselves are important, of course, and they’re fun, but it’s mostly the little message that comes with it: that you might also, eventually, in your life somehow realize that you’re a bit different than others,” he said. “In the end, our differences are really small compared to all the things we have in common, and that’s a really important message, I believe.”

While some drag shows are aimed at adults, Potvin said the library events are for kids.

“If people think that what we’re doing in bars in front of an 18-plus audience is the exact same thing we’re going to do in front of kids, then they obviously don’t understand what we’re doing,” he said.

In June, another library storytime event with Barbada, in the Montreal suburb of Dorval, was the subject of complaints and went ahead with police present.

In the United States, several similar events have been targeted by protesters who claim the events are “grooming” children. Last month, protesters shouting homophobic and transphobic slurs — one of them wearing a T-shirt showing a rifle and the words “Kill Your Local Pedophile” — disrupted a drag queen story hour in a San Francisco suburb.

“I am a bit worried. We’re not immune to this kind of misinformation ourselves,” Potvin said. “We have to be careful. It’s not all said and done.”

On Tuesday, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante expressed her support for events like Potvin’s.

“There will always be a place for drag queens in our libraries and venues,” she wrote in a post on Twitter. “Through their presence and their art, they contribute to making Montreal a more open, fair and inclusive city.”

While Plante’s Projet Montréal party has a majority on city council, opposition party Ensemble Montréal holds all five seats on the St-Laurent borough council.

Borough Mayor Alan DeSousa did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday, nor did Ensemble Montréal, whose leader, Aref Salem, sits on the St-Laurent borough council.

Potvin appears as Barbada on the reality competition TV show “Call Me Mother” and hosts the children’s show “Barbada” on Radio-Canada’s streaming service ICI Tou.tv.

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

— With files from The Associated Press

 

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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Quebec’s chief coroner calls inquest into last week’s three Montreal shooting deaths

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MONTREAL — Quebec’s chief coroner is launching a public inquest after a 26-year-old man allegedly shot dead three Montreal-area men last week before being killed by police.

Pascale Descary said Monday that coroner Géhane Kamel will investigate the deaths of André Lemieux, Mohamed Belhaj, Alex Levis-Crevier and suspect Abdulla Shaikh.

Shaikh was killed by Montreal police Thursday morning, after allegedly gunning down the three victims on the street within a period of about 24 hours.

Provincial police have said it appears the 26-year-old, who was known to have mental health issues, chose his victims at random.

Descary said the investigation will analyze the factors that contributed to the deaths and make recommendations to prevent similar tragedies.

“The hearings will allow any person of interest to express themselves concerning the circumstances of these deaths in order to analyze all the contributing factors, and this, with a view to proposing possible solutions for better protection of human life,” the coroner’s office said in a news release.

Quebec’s mental health review board ruled in March that Shaikh, who was under the supervision of a mental health hospital, posed a “significant risk” to public safety but could continue living in the community.

The mental health review board — Commission d’examen des troubles mentaux — said in March the suspect’s psychiatrist concluded that Shaikh suffered from “denial and trivialization of behavioural disorders, violence and psychiatric pathology.”

The board recognized, however, that the suspect had shown improvements over the previous six months, and it agreed with the psychiatrist that he should remain released under certain conditions.

Quebec provincial police have said the suspect did not have a permit to carry a gun, but have not released details on how he obtained one.

Police allege Shaikh shot two men, Lemieux, 64, and Belhaj, 48, on Tuesday night in Montreal and killed Levis-Crevier, 22, in Laval, Que., around 24 hours later.

Stephanie Lefrancois, whose family has been friends with Lemieux since before she was born, said his friends and neighbours have been traumatized by the killings.

“We can’t believe his life was sadly, unjustly ripped away like that, out of nowhere,” she said in a phone interview.

Lefrancois describes Lemieux, a former mechanic, as a “very generous man” who took care of his elderly mother and was always helping his neighbours with repairs around their apartments.

She said he would visit her regularly, often to watch videos of his son, professional boxer David Lemieux, of whom he was incredibly proud.

Lefrancois says she, like many others, feels more needs to be done to stop gun violence in Montreal, which she says “didn’t start yesterday.”

“They didn’t deserve to die like that, André, or the others,” she said.

Premier François Legault, meanwhile, clarified comments he made on the shooter last week, after facing criticism for saying he was happy “we are rid” of the suspect.

Speaking Monday at an unrelated announcement in Quebec’s north shore region, Legault said that he’d meant to say he was happy the suspect had been taken out of harm’s way.

“Clearly I didn’t rejoice that he was dead, we don’t want that,” Legault said. “There are people who have mental health problems.”

Legault said the investigations underway, including the one announced by the coroner, would help clear up, among other things, why the suspect had been released.

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

 

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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Bill Graham, ex-interim Liberal leader and post-9/11 foreign affairs minister, dies

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OTTAWA — Condolences from Canadian politicians past and present poured out Monday as they learned about the death of Bill Graham, who served as foreign affairs minister when the country decided against joining the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“Mr. Graham will be remembered as a master negotiator and a skilled statesman who shared his love for Canada with the world,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement Monday evening.

Former Liberal MP John English told The Canadian Press that Graham died Sunday, according to a member of his family who shared the news with him earlier Monday.

English said Graham had cancer and died peacefully after being in poor health for some time.

“He was a fun guy. I went out with him for drinks just three or four weeks ago. He wasn’t drinking … He enjoyed a good glass of wine but he couldn’t join us,” he recalled.

“He’s such a wonderful presence. So positive, so optimistic. He’s a person to be taken seriously, but he never took himself seriously. He was full of laughter. He laughed very easily.”

Graham, 83, was serving as chancellor of Trinity College at the University of Toronto. Both he and his wife, Catherine, were students there and married in the chapel. They had two children: Katy and Patrick.

Graham was first elected as a Liberal member of Parliament for the riding then known as Toronto Centre-Rosedale in 1993, after two unsuccessful runs.

Former colleagues eulogized Graham as a skilled MP, having spent time on the backbenches before entering cabinet, and someone who demonstrated a deep passion about helping those in his community.

George Smitherman, who represented the same downtown Toronto area for the Liberals provincially as Graham had federally, said Graham had a remarkable way of connecting with people, no matter their background.

Smitherman, who is gay, said he first arrived in what is now known as Toronto Centre as a kid finding comfort with his sexuality and at the time Graham and the local Liberals had embedded AIDS activism in their politics.

“That, to me, was one of the most defining attributes of the way political parties ought to operate,” Smitherman said.

“It was really a huge impact on me in my life.”

Longtime Liberal MP John McKay said Graham was a “complete politician.”

“A good constituency person, a good national person and a good international person. Not many people can say that,” said McKay, who represents the Toronto riding of Scarborough-Guildwood.

“He was (an) immensely smart, decent, classy man,” he added.

In January 2002, months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks shook the world, Graham was appointed to serve in cabinet as foreign affairs minister by then-prime minister Jean Chrétien.

At that time, Canada had to decide whether to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and then navigate its relationship with its closest ally when it opted against doing so.

Graham was roundly praised for not only assisting in that decision, but his overall handling of the role at a turbulent time in international relations.

“He was an outstanding minister of foreign affairs and a skilled parliamentarian,” tweeted John Baird, who served as foreign affairs minister under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

After his time in foreign affairs, Graham was moved to the defence portfolio.

Eugene Lang was his chief of staff at the time and said Graham, who was well travelled before entering politics, was well liked by most everyone, including MPs of different political stripes and public servants.

“He treated everybody with a huge amount of respect. There was no arrogance in Bill.”

Lang said while Graham was only in the role of national defence minister for less than two years, he had many accomplishments, including securing a funding boostand also recommending the appointment of Rick Hillier as chief of defence staff.

Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin released a statement after learning of Graham’s death, saying he “helped our government and the country navigate a challenging period of history as we deployed into Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.”

“His loss will be felt by all who knew or worked with him.”

After the Liberals lost government to the Conservatives in 2006 and Martin resigned, Graham stepped into the role of the party’s interim leader.

“The Liberal party owes him a huge debt of gratitude,” said McKay, who said he was an obvious choice for many.

Harper said Graham was the first official Opposition leader he faced after winning government.

“Bill was always a gentleman,” he tweeted.

“He always kept the best interests of the country in mind.”

Former Liberal cabinet minister Ralph Goodale, who was Opposition House leader when Graham was interim Liberal leader, called his former colleague “wise and thoughtful, especially in matters of foreign policy and defence.”

“In an era of deep polarization and extremist populism, Bill’s sense of moderation, propriety and balance is sorely missed. Our love and respect surround his family, friends and colleagues,” Goodale said in a statement.

Longtime Liberal cabinet minister Carolyn Bennett said she remembers Graham as someone who was comfortable around everyone and a generous listener in conversation.

“There’s no one else you’d rather have dinner with. And I think that’s what a lot of us feel,” she said Monday.

“He just was so special. It’s just really hard to believe he’s gone,” Bennett said, her voice breaking.

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

— With files from Allison Jones and Jordan Omstead in Toronto

 

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

 

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly referred to Liberal MP John McKay, who represents the Toronto riding of Scarborough-Guildwood, as a former MP.

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Canadian warships missing from NATO naval forces for first time since 2014

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OTTAWA — For the first time in eight years, Canadian warships are not involved in either of two NATO naval task forces charged with patrolling European waters and defending against Russian threats.

The revelation has cast a spotlight on what experts say are the growing trade-offs that Canada is having to make with its navy, which is struggling with a shrinking fleet of aging ships and a lack of trained sailors.

Canada had been a consistent presence in the Standing NATO Maritime Groups since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, deploying at least one Halifax-class frigate to the North Atlantic or Mediterranean on a rotational basis.

The federal Liberal government made a point of deploying a second frigate in March as part of its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That ship had been planned for a months-long deployment in the Indian Ocean and Middle East.

But Defence Department spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande says Canada does not have any frigates attached to either of the NATO naval groups since HMCS Montreal and HMCS Halifax returned to their home port last month.

“With the return home of HMCS Montreal and Halifax on July 15, the CAF does not currently have a ship tasked to either Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 or 2,” Lamirande said in an email. “This is the first time this has occurred since 2014.”

Lamirande linked the decision not to send any new frigates to Europe to the deployment of two such vessels to the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the Halifax-class fleet’s maintenance and training requirements.

Canada has instead deployed two smaller Kingston-class coastal defence vessels to work with a different NATO naval force that is focused on finding and clearing enemy mines.

Chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre said that will help Canadian sailors gain experience in an important area of naval warfare while still showing Canada’s commitment to European security.

But he conceded in an interview with The Canadian Press on Monday, “we are stretched from a resource perspective. And so we’ve got to make those decisions as to where we invest, and when we invest.”

He added that he approved the decision to send two frigates to the Pacific, where tensions between the West and China are growing, “because we want to deliberately increase our presence in Asia-Pacific, because we are a Pacific nation.”

China last week launched a massive military exercise around Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing considers its territory, after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei. The exercise came amid growing fears of a potential Chinese invasion.

University of Calgary shipbuilding expert Timothy Choi said the decision to send two frigates to Europe at the same time earlier this year played a large role in constraining Atlantic Fleet’s ability to send another frigate in the short term.

“To my mind, it doesn’t mean the availability of the ships and crews have deteriorated over the last few years,” he said.

“Rather it’s the unavoidable consequences of forcing a small fleet to concentrate more resources into a smaller time frame which results in more time required to recuperate.”

But defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute predicted Canada will have to make increasingly difficult trade-offs in where to send its warships given the size and state of its navy.

While Canada has 12 frigates, Perry said the navy’s maintenance and training requirements mean only a handful are available to deploy at any given time. Canada used to also have three destroyers, but those vessels were retired in 2014.

Adding to the difficulty is the growing age of the frigates, which entered service in the 1990s and are becoming increasingly more challenging to fix and maintain, according to both senior officers and internal reports.

“Those decisions about trade-offs are going to become increasingly difficult because, and we’re already experiencing this, the maintenance cycle on a ship that old is becoming more intense, more labour-intensive and longer,” Perry said.

Adam MacDonald, a former naval officer now studying at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said the navy and Canadian Armed Forces are also expected to face growing pressures to maintain a presence in not Europe, Asia and the Arctic.

“It’s going to be very pressing because there’s going to be demands on all three of those geographic environments,” MacDonald said. “On top of anywhere else we operate: the Caribbean, West Africa, South America.”

The federal government is overseeing construction of a new fleet of warships to replace the frigates and destroyers, but the multibillion-dollar project has been plagued by cost overruns and repeated delays.

The navy, like the rest of the military, is also facing a severe shortage of personnel.

In the meantime, MacDonald predicted the Kingston-class minesweepers will continue to pick up more slack as the navy faces increasing demands overseas.

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

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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