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Pakistan releases Chinese national charged with blasphemy

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PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — A Chinese national who was arrested in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy has been released from a high-security prison after a court granted him bail, a defense lawyer and local police said Friday.

Atif Khan Jadoon, the lawyer for the man who has been only identified as Mr. Tian said the Chinese national was granted bail by a judge in the northwestern city of Abbottabad on Thursday.

Tian was released after he filed a surety bond of 200,000 rupees ($700), Jadoon said.

The latest development comes weeks after Tian, who worked on a dam project, was detained after hundreds of residents and laborers in the town of Komela in northwestern Pakistan blocked a key highway and demanded his arrest. They alleged that Tian used insulting remarks about Islam, a charge the man denies.

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Tian was part of a group of Chinese working on the Dasu Dam, the biggest hydropower project in Pakistan. He was accused of blasphemy on April 15 after he criticized two drivers working on the project for taking too much time to pray during work hours.

Authorities say Tian was briefly hospitalized on April 17 as he was not feeling well.

Tian pleaded not guilty during his earlier appearance before the court. He also insists that he did not insult Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, according to his lawyer and local police officials who questioned him.

Beijing has said that the Chinese embassy in Islamabad was looking into the matter.

According to police, they arrested Tian to save him from a potential attack by angry residents. The arrest of Muslims and non-Muslims on charges of blasphemy is common in Pakistan, but foreigners are rarely among those detained.

In 2021, a mob lynched a Sri Lankan man at a sports equipment factory in the eastern Punjab province. It later burned his body in public over allegations he desecrated posters bearing the name of the Prophet Muhammad.

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Air Canada issues: Passengers to be compensated – CTV News

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MONTREAL –

Air Canada says it made a mistake in rejecting some compensation claims from the thousands of travellers affected by delayed flights due to computer malfunctions.

In messages to some customers, the airline initially said the information technology fumble was out of its hands, relieving it of obligations to pay them compensation.

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“In this instance, the compensation you are requesting does not apply because the disruption was caused by an event outside of our control. This flight is delayed due to an unforeseen technology issue, impacting one of our suppliers, which is impacting our operations,” the airline said Thursday in an email to passenger Douglas Judson.

Judson said he arrived more than three hours late after his June 1 flight from Winnipeg to Toronto was delayed due to the IT defect.

“I find the dishonesty and disrespect of it the most galling,” he said in a phone interview. “Some really interesting logic puzzles at Air Canada as to when something is actually their fault.”

While denying his compensation request, Air Canada offered him a 15 per cent fare discount on any upcoming flight as a “goodwill gesture.”

When contacted by The Canadian Press on Friday, the Montreal-based airline said the response stemmed from an error.

“Air Canada is offering compensation in line with APPR (Air Passenger Protection Regulations) compensation levels for flights which were affected by the IT outage. Some passengers had received erroneous responses from us, and we are in the process of re-contacting them with the correct responses,” spokeswoman Angela Mah stated.

The country’s largest carrier has struggled with intermittent computer problems over the past few weeks.

On May 25 it delayed more than half its flights due to a “technical issue” with the system that the airline uses to communicate with aircraft and monitor their performance. On June 1 it delayed or cancelled more than 500 flights — over three-quarters of its trips that day, according to tracking service FlightAware — due to “IT issues.”

That same day, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra stressed the carrier’s compensation responsibilities to its guests.

“Air Canada has obligations to passengers who are impacted because it is caused by things that the airline has control over,” he told reporters June 1, hours after the IT issues resurfaced.

Alghabra spokeswoman Nadine Ramadan said in an email Friday the minister’s office had been in touch with the company, which assured them it will compensate the affected passengers.

Gabor Lukacs, president of the Air Passenger Rights advocacy group, said the airline’s response “rings hollow.”

“We are hearing about too many of these ‘errors’ to believe that it was a genuine error,” he said in an email.

Lukacs suggested Air Canada’s response — including the discounted fare offer — marked “an attempt to make passengers go away and not pursue their rights.”

It was not clear whether the thousands of passengers whose flights were delayed or cancelled the day after the June 1 computer problem — Judson’s included — due to what the airline deemed “rollover effects” would receive compensation.

“They said in their official communications to passengers that it was maintenance. I do not believe it was maintenance. I think it was a direct consequence of their IP issues,” Judson said, noting that his return flight to Winnipeg landed more than three hours behind schedule.

Air Canada’s Mah said the airline would “investigate to determine the root cause of the cancellation and handle accordingly.”

At least 144 of its flights, or 27 per cent of the airline’s scheduled load, had been delayed as of late afternoon on June 2, along with 33 cancellations, according FlightAware.

In April, Alghabra laid out measures to toughen penalties and tighten loopholes around traveller compensation as part of a proposed overhaul of Canada’s passenger rights charter.

If passed as part of the budget bill, the reforms will put the onus on airlines to show a flight disruption is caused by safety concerns or reasons outside their control, with specific examples to be drawn up by the Canadian Transportation Agency as a list of exceptions around compensation.

“It will no longer be the passenger who will have to prove that he or she is entitled to compensation. It will now be the airline that will need to prove that it does not have to pay for it,” Alghabra said on April 24.

Currently, a passenger is entitled to between $125 and $1,000 in compensation for a three-hour-plus delay or a cancellation made within 14 days of the scheduled departure — unless the disruption stems from events outside the airline’s control, such as weather or a safety issue including mechanical problems. The amount varies depending on the size of the carrier and length of the delay.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.

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What started Canada’s wildfires and are they under control?

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Canada is seeing its worst-ever start to wildfire season, with blazes ravaging much of the country and creating hazardous smoky conditions across the continent and beyond.

After reaching New York earlier this week, on Thursday it blanketed Washington, DC, in an unhealthy haze, prompting many residents to stay indoors.

Here is what we know about the wildfires, their trajectory and climate change.

What started the Canadian wildfires?

Atlantic Canada received low snowfall this winter, followed by an exceptionally dry spring.

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Nova Scotia’s capital Halifax received just 120mm of rain between March and May, roughly a third of the average, according to The Weather Network meteorologist Michael Carter.

A scorching late May heatwave pushed temperatures in Halifax to 33C (91.4 F) on Thursday, about 10 degrees Celsius above normal for this time of year.

The wildfires are believed to have been caused either by lightning, as in the case of Quebec, or accidentally by human activity.

Ellen Whitman, a research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service, said there is also speculation that trees felled during Hurricane Fiona, which hit Atlantic Canada in September 2022, or killed by an infestation of forest pests may be providing more fuel than usual for wildfires, but that theory requires further investigation.

Are the wildfires under control?

Not yet.

As of early Friday, there were 427 active wildfires, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center; of those, 232 were out of control.

In the West Coast province of British Columbia, authorities reported 81 active wildfires – 28 out of control – while in the province of Alberta, authorities reported 72 active wildfires.

Quebec, on the country’s eastern side, has 128 active fires.

The fires have spread across about 4.3 million hectares (10.6 million acres), roughly 15 times the annual average of the past decade.

Where are the Canadian wildfires?

The forest fires started in late April in British Columbia and Alberta, displacing more than 30,000 people at their peak, and shutting down oil and gas production.

They have now opened new fronts, spreading to the eastern provinces of Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario.

Currently, Canada is receiving international help to battle the wildfires. Help has come from the United States, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. In Europe, France, Portugal and Spain were also sending more than 280 firefighters to Canada.

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How are the fires affecting air quality?

On Thursday, authorities in Washington, DC, issued a “Code Purple” air quality alert, warning of “very unhealthy air conditions for the entire public, not just those with respiratory illnesses”.

New York again had the worst air quality on Thursday morning, with an unhealthy Air Quality Index reading of 185, according to a website operated by IQAir.

Readings over 100 are classified as “unhealthy”, and those exceeding 300 are “hazardous”.

On Wednesday, authorities in Canada said Ottawa’s air quality was among the worst.

Experts have noted that acrid clouds of smoke and ash could continue to affect daily life for people in the US and Canada for the next several days.

Why is the smoke reaching so far away?

Strong winds high in the atmosphere can transport smoke long distances, and it is common for large, violent fires to create unhealthy conditions hundreds of kilometres away from where forests are burning.

In Canada, air is circulating counterclockwise around a low-pressure system near Nova Scotia. That sends air south over the fires in Quebec. There the air picks up smoke, and then turns east over New York state, carrying smoke to the eastern seaboard.

The smoke has now also been detected thousands of kilometres away in Norway, the Scandinavian country’s Climate and Environmental Research Institute NILU said on Friday.

“Very weak” concentrations of smoke particles have been detected since Monday, in particular at the Birkenes Observatory in southern Norway, researcher Nikolaos Evangeliou told AFP news agency.

Residents wear masks under an orange sky as New York City is enveloped in smoke
Residents of New York City wear protective masks as the city experienced its worst air quality on record due to a cloud of ash and smoke from the Canadian wildfires [Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]

What is the outlook?

Warm, dry conditions are forecast to persist for months across Canada though occasional rains and cooler temperatures are expected to bring short-term relief.

The Weather Network’s longer-term forecast expects Nova Scotia temperatures to be slightly warmer than normal for the rest of the summer.

What role is climate change playing?

Whitman of the Canadian Forest Service, said it is difficult to determine the effect of climate change on a single fire season. Atlantic Canada has been much hotter than usual and scientists expect temperatures in the region to continue to rise in the coming years.

For coastal regions, climate change is expected to bring more rain, which should reduce the risk of wildfires, but a warmer atmosphere is more efficient at pulling moisture out of soils, a factor that increases fire risk.

Widespread spring fires across the whole of Canada are also unusual, and research shows fire seasons across North America are getting longer.

A warming planet will produce hotter and longer heatwaves, making for bigger, smokier fires, according to Joel Thornton, professor and chair of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington.

 

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1 arrested after stabbing at Olive Garden restaurant in Winnipeg

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Police officers went to the Olive Garden at the corner of Reenders Drive and Lagimodiere Boulevard in the Transcona neighbourhood to investigate a stabbing around 7 p.m. Thursday night.

A black and white police cruiser sits parked in front of the windows of a restaurant at night.
A police cruiser sits outside the Olive Garden in Transcona on Thursday night. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

A person has been arrested after a stabbing at an Olive Garden restaurant in Winnipeg Thursday night.

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Police officers went to the Olive Garden at the corner of Reenders Drive and Lagimodiere Boulevard in the Transcona neighbourhood around 7 p.m.

One person was arrested but police would not provide any additional information.

They provided no information about injuries.

More details are expected to be released later in the day, police said.

 

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