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Ottawa withdraws controversial amendments to firearms law

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The Liberal government has withdrawn a series of controversial amendments to pending firearms legislation, Bill C-21, that some firearms owners say would have unfairly targeted hunters and farmers.

Faced with fierce opposition from Conservative, NDP and Bloc MPs and firearms rights groups, Liberal MP Taleeb Noormohamed said Friday the government is withdrawing a long list of guns that would have been classified as “prohibited” as part of a push to ban “assault-style” weapons.

The amendments, which were quietly tabled by a Liberal backbench MP in November, would have banned these weapons under the Criminal Code, rather than through regulation. That change would have made the prohibition much more difficult for future governments to reverse.

The government is scrapping clauses that effectively would have banned any rifle or shotgun that could accept a magazine with more than five rounds — whether it actually has such a magazine or not.

The government also intended to ban long guns that generate more than 10,000 joules of energy, or any gun with a muzzle wider than 20 millimetres — two rules that would have rendered many firearms illegal.

These amendments would have had the effect of banning a number of long guns in wide use by hunters.

C-21, as originally drafted, was designed to ban handguns. The amendments expanded its scope.

Because the amendments strayed so dramatically from how the bill was initially written, opposition parties questioned whether the changes were even admissible under parliamentary rules. Those concerns are moot now that the government has backed down.

The government will still push ahead with C-21, which enacts a handgun sales ban, cracks down on gun smuggling and automatically revokes firearms licences held by domestic abusers.

While backtracking on some of the more contentious elements, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Friday the government would try to revive some parts of the now-defunct amendments package.

Among other changes, the withdrawn amendments would have defined “assault-style firearm” — a term often used by the government that has no definition in law.

In an interview with CBC’s Power & Politics, Mendicino said the government will pursue some sort of ban on firearms “designed for the battlefield that have no place in our communities.”

What’s needed in this minority Parliament, Mendicino said, is support from either the NDP or Bloc — parties that withheld support in the face of backlash from rural dwellers and some Indigenous peoples.

Mendicino conceded the government bungled the process.

“We’ve got to accept responsibility from where we’re at. The step we’ve taken today is about resetting the narrative,” he said, promising the Liberal government still intends to ban firearms used in mass casualty events, like the semi-automatic weapon used in the Quebec City mosque massacre.

Mendicino had defended the amendments before Friday, saying the changes were necessary to reduce gun violence in Canada.

Critics said a ban on popular hunting rifles would do little to make Canadians safer when many crime guns are handguns illegally smuggled over the U.S. border.

Mendicino said the proposed amendments prompted “considerable discussion about the best way to move forward” and “legitimate concerns” were raised by critics “about the need for more consultation and debate.”

“We hear those concerns loud and clear, regret the confusion that this process has caused and are committed to a thoughtful and respectful conversation that is based on facts, not fear,” he said.

Mendicino said the government didn’t draft the amendments to punish rural Canadians, hunters or Indigenous people who rely on these firearms.

“As we’ve said time and again, the government’s intent is to focus on AR-15s and other assault-style weapons. Hunting isn’t just a proud Canadian tradition, it’s a way of life for communities across this country. Bill C-21 isn’t about targeting hunters. It’s about certain guns that are too dangerous in other contexts,” he said.

PolySeSouvient, a gun control group, said it was “shocked” by the government’s decision.

“It is clear that the misinformation propagated by Conservative MPs and the gun lobby has won,” said Nathalie Provost, a spokesperson for the group.

Provost said she wants the Liberal government to work with the NDP and Bloc Québécois to table legislation to deliver on its promise to ban assault weapons.

The Liberal government has already banned what it calls “assault-style” firearms through an order-in-council — a directive from cabinet enacted in May 2020 after the Portapique massacre in Nova Scotia.

The intent of the now-withdrawn Bill C-21 amendments was to codify that assault ban in law (an order-in-council can easily be revoked by another government) and add many more makes and models to the list of illegal firearms.

MP Holland: ‘More work had to be done’ on gun amendment

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Government House Leader Mark Holland said the government “needs more time” to consult with the firearms community before reviving some of the amendments that were scrapped — including a section that would have banned “ghost guns,” which can be bought online and assembled at home.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, a firearms lobby group, called the Liberal reversal “a small win in a bigger battle.”

“It’s imperative we crush #C21 in its entirety. The Liberals are retreating, now is the perfect time to push forward and #ScrapC21 altogether,” Tracey Wilson said. “Good work. Now, let’s refocus and scrap it all.”

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said Friday he “forced Trudeau into a temporary and humiliating climb down.”

“He desperately wanted to ban hunting rifles — it was a sucker punch to our lawful and licensed firearms owners,” Poilievre said of the amendments. “He’s doing this because he got caught. We will not let up. Conservatives will never allow Justin Trudeau to ban hunting rifles.”

Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre says his team forced a temporary halt to the contentious firearms legislation amendments.

Poilievre said he described the Liberal backtracking as “temporary,” adding he expects Trudeau will be back with another plan to target rural Canadians, Indigenous peoples and sport shooters who used these firearms.

“God forbid if he ever got a majority — he’d ram it through,” Poilievre said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he supports both a national handgun ban and a move to restrict “assault-style” weapons, but he described the government’s management of the file as a “failure.”

Liberal management of firearms file was ‘horrible’

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh reacts to the withdrawal of gun legislation amendment that would increase number of prohibited firearms.

“It is clear that the Liberal government did not do the necessary work and they mismanaged the entire issue. That is clear,” Singh told reporters, adding the government bungled Indigenous consultation on the issue.

“They endangered the work we need to do to protect our communities.”

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Joy in Newfoundland after ‘Lucky 7’ fishers survive harrowing days lost at sea

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NEW-WES-VALLEY, N.L. – There was a powerful word being repeated in the joyful Newfoundland community of New-Wes-Valley on Sunday: “Miracle.”

Over and over, residents out walking or chatting to one another in local stores said the fact that seven fishermen from the area had somehow survived roughly 48 hours in a life raft in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and were found by search and rescue crews was nothing short of miraculous.

“It’s once in a lifetime you’ll see something like this, when all the people survive,” said Frank Granter, who worked for the Canadian Coast Guard for 35 years. He was out walking through the sunny, seaside community on Sunday afternoon, stopping to talk to neighbours about the rescue ahead of an evening parade to celebrate the men’s survival.

Daphne Crocker leaned over her balcony and spread out her hands. “What a mighty God we serve,” she said about the fishermen coming home.

Granter agreed it was a miracle the Lucky 7 returned. “But October, November, it would have been a different story,” he said.

The Elite Navigator fishing boat and its crew seemed to vanish on Wednesday night. The craft was reported missing on Thursday after transmitting its final signal at around 8:30 p.m. the night before, the Canadian Coast Guard said. The vessel had caught fire and sank, forcing the crew to hastily disembark and wait for rescue on the life raft.

A massive search soon followed, involving four coast guard ships, a Cormorant helicopter, a Hercules aircraft and many local fishing vessels.

In New-Wes-Valley, which is an amalgamation of three small fishing communities along Newfoundland’s northeast coast, people braced for the worst. Fishing is among Canada’s deadliest professions, and tragedy is a common thread linking people in fishing communities across Atlantic Canada.

But on Friday night, out on the Atlantic ocean, searchers saw a light from a flare. It brought them to a life raft, where the seven fishermen — the Lucky 7 — were waiting.

Fisher Toby Peddle was among them. He said he was terrified as he jumped off the sinking fishing boat as it was pulled down into the depths. He can’t swim, he said, and he didn’t have a survival suit on.

“It was either jump and risk drowning or stay and be burned,” he said in an interview Sunday. “There was no time to think about it. I just knew I had to jump.”

He said the captain and another crew member, Jordan Lee King, had made a plan to reach him as soon as they hit the water.

“Jordan had said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll catch you before you even get in the water,’” recalled Peddle.

Sure enough, when Peddle jumped, King kept him afloat and quickly brought him to the raft, the fisherman said.

“I was relieved I made it to the raft. I couldn’t swim a stroke to save my life,” he said.

Peddle praised the actions of the captain.

“He did the best job he could have possibly done. He kept everyone calm in the life raft for over 48 hours. He’s a hero.”

“He just kept telling us, ‘We’re going to be fine. They know where we are, they’ll find us,’” he added.

He said it was very hard hearing the sound of helicopters flying overhead and realizing pilots were unable to see the life raft through fog. It was “the worst feeling of all,” he said.

They fired the final smoke flare in the boat at dusk on Friday, and it was spotted by the coast guard, he said. When he saw a helicopter flying overhead, “it was a moment of relief.”

At the wharf in New-Wes-Valley on Sunday afternoon, Peter Barfoot’s phone was pinging relentlessly in his pocket. He is good friends with David Tiller, one of the rescued fishermen, and he’d just launched a fundraising campaign to buy Tiller a new guitar.

The instrument went down with the Elite Navigator and Barfoot said it was “a no-brainer” to mount an effort to buy him a new one. He’d raised about $1,600 by Sunday afternoon.

“They’re heroes,” Barfoot said, shaking his head in disbelief. “How often do you hear this? It was a dire situation that turned into what it is now … They’re alive. They got a second chance at their life.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 20, 2024.

— With files from Michael Tutton in Halifax

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Second B.C. university issues trespass notice to pro-Palestinian protesters

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VICTORIA – The University of Victoria in British Columbia says it has begun the process of removing the pro-Palestinian encampment on campus, telling protesters they are trespassing on school property.

The school says in its latest encampment update that it has “taken a calm, measured and reasoned approach” to the protest since it was set up on May 1, but administrators “see no further prospect for a successful dialogue.”

On its social media page, protesters naming themselves “People’s Park UVIC” confirm the school has issued them a trespass notice, adding the administration has told them to “vacate by 8 a.m. Monday.”

The group did not specify their plans while asking the public to “stay tuned for updates from camp and plans going forward.”

Protesters at the university have been demanding the school cut financial and academic ties with Israeli entities due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, and the latest development comes about a week after Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, B.C. launched legal action against protesters there for allegedly ignoring a deadline to leave their camp.

Vancouver Island University says it had issued its trespass notice to protesters on July 11.

University of Victoria says in its update that the school had been working toward “a peaceful conclusion of the encampment” since June through facilitated discussions with protesters.

“Unfortunately, we have not successfully achieved agreement on the process and timeline for decampment,” the school update says. ”The university was disappointed to learn of this impasse through social media posts from People’s Park UVic.”

The protest group says on its social media page that protesters “have negotiated in good faith” but described the school’s last proposed resolution as having “no concrete commitments” and containing “ineffective policy” that fails to address what they are calling a genocide in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The group also reposted a statement from July 19, saying it is “unfortunately no surprise to once again witness our administration betraying the integrity of this process and emphasizing that these negotiations have been and always will be on their terms.”

A camp at the University of British Columbia was vacated by protesters voluntarily on July 7.

The recent developments come after an Ontario court granted the University of Toronto an injunction on July 2 that ordered protesters there to dismantle their encampment on the grounds that it is a violation of the school’s property rights.

Legal experts have said the decision sets a powerful precedent and creates a road map for other schools to follow in seeking legal recourse in removing protest encampments on campus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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With AI, jets and police squadrons, Paris is securing the Olympics – and worrying critics

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PARIS (AP) — A year ago, the head of the Paris Olympics boldly declared that France’s capital would be “ the safest place in the world ” when the Games open this Friday. Tony Estanguet’s confident forecast looks less far-fetched now with squadrons of police patrolling Paris’ streets, fighter jets and soldiers primed to scramble, and imposing metal-fence security barriers erected like an iron curtain on both sides of the River Seine that will star in the opening show.

France’s vast police and military operation is in large part because the July 26-Aug. 11 Games face unprecedented security challenges. The city has repeatedly suffered deadly extremist attacks and international tensions are high because of the wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

Rather than build an Olympic park with venues grouped together outside of the city center, like Rio de Janeiro in 2016 or London in 2012, Paris has chosen to host many of the events in the heart of the bustling capital of 2 million inhabitants, with others dotted around suburbs that house millions more. Putting temporary sports arenas in public spaces and the unprecedented choice to stage a river-borne opening ceremony stretching for kilometers (miles) along the Seine, makes safeguarding them more complex.

Olympic organizers also have cyberattack concerns, while rights campaigners and Games critics are worried about Paris’ use of AI-equipped surveillance technology and the broad scope and scale of Olympic security.

Paris, in short, has a lot riding on keeping 10,500 athletes and millions of visitors safe. Here’s how it aims to do it.

The security operation, by the numbers

A Games-time force of up to 45,000 police and gendarmes is also backed up by a 10,000-strong contingent of soldiers that has set up the largest military camp in Paris since World War II, from which soldiers should be able to reach any of the city’s Olympic venues within 30 minutes.

Armed military patrols aboard vehicles and on foot have become common in crowded places in France since gunmen and suicide bombers acting in the names of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group repeatedly struck Paris in 2015. They don’t have police powers of arrest but can tackle attackers and restrain them until police arrive. For visitors from countries where armed street patrols aren’t the norm, the sight of soldiers with assault rifles might be jarring, just as it was initially for people in France.

“At the beginning, it was very strange for them to see us and they were always avoiding our presence, making a detour,” said Gen. Éric Chasboeuf, deputy commander of the counter-terror military force, called Sentinelle.

“Now, it’s in the landscape,” he said.

Rafale fighter jets, airspace-monitoring AWACS surveillance flights, Reaper surveillance drones, helicopters that can carry sharpshooters, and equipment to disable drones will police Paris skies, which will be closed during the opening ceremony by a no-fly zone extending for 150 kilometers (93 miles) around the capital. Cameras twinned with artificial intelligence software — authorized by a law that expands the state’s surveillance powers for the Games — will flag potential security risks, such as abandoned packages or crowd surges,

France is also getting help from more than 40 countries that, together, have sent at least 1,900 police reinforcements.

Trump assassination attempt highlights Olympic risks

Attacks by lone individuals are major concern, a risk driven home most recently to French officials by the assassination attempt against Donald Trump.

Some involved in the Olympic security operation were stunned that the gunman armed with an AR-style rifle got within range of the former U.S. president.

“No one can guarantee that there won’t be mistakes. There, however, it was quite glaring,” said Gen. Philippe Pourqué, who oversaw the construction of a temporary camp in southeast Paris housing 4,500 soldiers from the Sentinelle force.

In France, in the last 13 months alone, men acting alone have carried out knife attacks that targeted tourists in Paris, and children in a park in an Alpine town, among others. A man who stabbed a teacher to death at his former high school in northern France in October had been under surveillance by French security services for suspected Islamic radicalization.

With long and bitter experience of deadly extremist attacks, France has armed itself with a dense network of police units, intelligence services and investigators who specialize in fighting terrorism, and suspects in terrorism cases can be held longer for questioning.

Hundreds of thousands of background checks have scrutinized Olympic ticket-holders, workers and others involved in the Games and applicants for passes to enter Paris’ most tightly controlled security zone, along the Seine’s banks. The checks blocked more than 3,900 people from attending, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said. He said some were flagged for suspected Islamic radicalization, left- or right-wing political extremism, significant criminal records and other security concerns.

“We’re particularly attentive to Russian and Belorussian citizens,” Darmanin added, although he stopped short of linking exclusions to Russia’s war in Ukraine and Belarus’ role as an ally of Moscow.

Darmanin said 155 people considered to be “very dangerous” potential terror threats are also being kept away from the opening ceremony and the Games, with police searching their homes for weapons and computers in some cases.

He said intelligence services haven’t identified any proven terror plots against the Games “but we are being extremely attentive.”

Critics fear intrusive Olympic security will stay after the Games

Campaigners for digital rights worry that Olympic surveillance cameras and AI systems could erode privacy and other freedoms, and zero in on people without fixed homes who spend a lot of time in public spaces.

Saccage 2024, a group that has campaigned for months against the Paris Games, took aim at the scope of the Olympic security, describing it as a “repressive arsenal” in a statement to The Associated Press.

“And this is not a French exception, far from it, but a systematic occurrence in host countries,” it said. “Is it reasonable to offer one month of ‘festivities’ to the most well-off tourists at the cost of a long-term securitization legacy for all residents of the city and the country?”

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