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‘Pent up demand’: Calgary Stampede returns with parade, spectators and no limits

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CALGARY — The rides are going up, concession stands are waiting, stuffed animals are displayed at games tables and the Calgary Stampede is raring to go Friday in its first return to full capacity since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 10-day celebration of cowboy life was cancelled for the first time in its 112-year history in 2020.

It was back last year with a scaled-down version that included rapid COVID tests being required to enter some tents, a limit on how many people could be at Stampede Park and physical distancing guidelines.

In addition, the popular chuckwagon races were cancelled and the parade was held on the Stampede grounds with no spectators allowed.

That’s not the case this year.

“Stampede is back. It’s been a tough couple of years for all of us, so you can feel the vibe around here and we’re looking forward to the excitement,” said Steve McDonough, the Stampede’s president and chairman of the board.

“Everything is back to what you know and love, but it’s even better. We’ve taken all the learnings from last year and we’ve redesigned the Calgary Stampede for the future — it’s ready to go.”

McDonough said the event isn’t about to throw caution to the wind after COVID-19. He said there will still be hand sanitation stations throughout the park, there will be places people can go to avoid the crowds and masks are optional for people who might be a little bit nervous.

“Last year people were very, very cautious. I don’t think we’re going to break any attendance records. Last year it was at about 532,000 people,” he said.

“If we come up to the million I’ll be extremely happy.”

McDonough is relieved that the limited Stampede went ahead last year at a time when public events were unheard of.

“We’re still going to be shaking the rust off and if we didn’t have the 2021 Calgary Stampede it would have been that much more difficult,” he said.

“We were the first major group and gathering in Canada. Our protocols were used by every other sport and fair gatherings across Canada.”

Scooter (Greg) Korek, vice-president of client services for North American Midway Entertainment, will be making his 45th appearance at the Stampede.

Growing up in Calgary ,he joined the midway group as a teen. He said the return of regular fairs has been spectacular and began in Miami in March. It was most recently in Manitoba.

“I think there’s some pent-up demand out there in the community and some of these fairs, in Manitoba, hadn’t played since 2019 and we had a spectacular run and I don’t expect anything less here at the Stampede,” said Korek, who’s 62.

“We’re kind of putting the pandemic behind us and getting on with some fun.”

North American Midway Entertainment was forced to quarantine for two weeks last year before being allowed to set up shop in Calgary.

Korek said the layout of the midway will be slightly different this year to accommodate the expansion going on throughout the park. He said there are three new rides this year including the largest travelling ferris wheel in Canada

The Calgary Stampede runs from Friday to July 17.

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

 

Bill Graveland, 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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