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Quebec judicial council to examine complaint over judge’s sexual assault ruling

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MONTREAL — The Quebec judicial council will examine a complaint regarding a judge who granted a conditional discharge to a young engineer who pleaded guilty to sexual assault and voyeurism stemming from a 2019 event.

Quebec court Judge Matthieu Poliquin’s June decision to grant Simon Houle probation and a conditional discharge, in part because a conviction would have made it hard for him to travel for his job as an engineer, has caused an uproar in the province.

The judicial council sent a letter to the author of a petition demanding Poliquin be removed from the bench, a copy of which was shared with The Canadian Press.

The council acknowledged receipt of the complaint and confirms that according to procedure, the members of the council will discuss it at a future meeting.

The note added that, initially, the members of the council will examine if the alleged facts in the case have constituted a breach of the judiciary’s code of ethics and whether there’s reason to investigate further.

A spokesperson for the council refused to confirm the review as complaints are confidential.

The council is next expected to meet at the end of August when a decision will be made.

Kareen Emery, who posted the petition on July 7, collected more than 4,600 signatures in about a week. She said she’s satisfied that an assessment by the council will take place.

Houle pleaded guilty to sexual assault and voyeurism after assaulting an acquaintance and taking photos as she slept in 2019.

Poliquin, a judge in Trois-Rivières, Que., appointed to the bench last year, found that the victim suffered significant harm as a result of the assault, including anger, shame, fear of seeing the accused and consequences for her work and personal life.

However, he noted that the assault happened quickly, adding that Houle was a person with good morals who has taken therapy seriously and could become a useful person in his community.

Quebec’s Crown prosecutors office has said it will appeal the judge’s sentence.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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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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Montreal Pride Festival starts internal probe after embarrassing parade cancellation

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MONTREAL — Pride Montreal, the organization that runs the city’s annual celebration of LGBTQ communities, is conducting an internal investigation after it abruptly cancelled the official Pride parade on Sunday.

“Pride Montreal will release its review of the 2022 festival later this week,” Nathalie Roy, a spokesperson for Pride Montreal, said in a statement Monday. The group said it couldn’t make anyone available for an interview.

The decision to cancel the signature event came hours before it was to begin Sunday. The festival’s executive director, Simon Gamache, cited security concerns stemming from a lack of volunteers to ensure the event could go ahead safely.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said Sunday she was not informed of the labour issue before organizers announced the cancellation. The weeklong festival, which included concerts and other events and ended Sunday, received $600,000 from the City of Montreal.

Festival organizers were expected to meet with city officials Monday afternoon to explain what went wrong, according to city spokesperson Marikym Gaudreault.

This year’s festival also received more than $1.1 million from the Quebec government, and the provincial Tourism Department said in an emailed statement that it learned of the parade’s cancellation through media reports Sunday morning. It declined to comment on whether the poor organization of this year’s parade would affect future funding.

“It’s important to mention that although the event was cancelled, the majority of the other activities on the Montreal Pride Festival schedule took place,” the statement said. The department said it has asked to meet with the parade’s organizers to address the situation.

Meanwhile, one of the festival’s major sponsors, Loto-Québec, said the surprise cancellation will not affect its support of the Montreal Pride Festival next year. “Loto-Québec has been supporting Montréal Pride for several years,” Renaud Dugas, a spokesperson with the organization, said in an emailed statement Monday.

“Last week, several activities took place on the Loto-Québec stage and at the Casino de Montréal, to everyone’s delight.”

TD Bank Group, the festival’s official presenter, said it supported the decision to cancel the event and would “continue celebrating 2SLGBTQ+ communities.” The bank, however, declined to comment on if it would fund the event in the future.

“TD provides unwavering support to 2SLGBTQ+ communities, and Pride Montreal is a long-standing and trusted partner that we work with in this regard,” TD spokesperson Caroline Phemius said in an emailed statement Monday.

The Société de transport de Montréal, the city’s transit authority, said on Monday it was “disappointed with the turn of events.”

“We are partners with Pride Montreal and the parade since 2016,” said Amélie Régis, a transit authority spokesperson. “This is an important event for us.”

Pride Montreal initially wrote on Twitter Sunday that the decision to cancel the parade was made with the support of city police. The organization clarified later Sunday that police were not involved in the decision.

Montreal police said in a statement Sunday they were ready to supervise the parade, “and we will be there for every edition.”

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

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Virginie Ann and Stéphane Blais, The Canadian Press

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Saskatoon woman who had been reported missing faces charges in U.S., Canada

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SASKATOON — A woman who was reported missing with her seven-year-old son is facing criminal charges in Canada and the United States.

Saskatoon police said they have charged Dawn Marie Walker, 38, with public mischief and parental abduction in contravention of a custody order.

They said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has also charged her with the felony offence of knowingly producing a passport of another person and a misdemeanour charge of possessing identification that was stolen or produced illegally.

Walker and her son were reported missing last month, but police said they were found safe in Oregon City on Friday after allegedly crossing the border illegally.

The boy was returned to Canada on Sunday after a legal guardian picked him up, police said

Walker remains in custody in Oregon, where she was scheduled to appear in court on Monday on the U.S. charges. Saskatoon police said officials are working to extradite her back to Canada to face the other offences.

“As the criminal investigation progresses, there may be further charges that Ms. Walker will face as a result,” Saskatoon police Deputy Chief Randy Huisman said Monday.

“Investigators are looking at several different charges, and in relation to the false identity documents that were alluded to, and how she was able to prepare those documents.”

Police said they began searching for Walker and her son on July 24 after friends reported them missing.

Her red Ford F-150 truck had been found abandoned days earlier at Chief Whitecap Park, just south of Saskatoon, along with some of her personal belongings.

RCMP assisted in searching the South Saskatchewan River near the park, using land, air and water crews, while providing daily updates to Walker’s family who attended the searches.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, where Walker worked as its chief executive officer, had organized a vigil and walks through the park to raise awareness about the disappearance.

The federation also issued its own Amber Alert for Walker and her son, and asked the police to do the same. Police said there wasn’t evidence to suggest they were in imminent danger.

“An Amber Alert did not fit the criteria provincially or locally,” Huisman said. “That person needs to be at imminent risk of serious bodily injury or death, and we didn’t have that in this case. If we’re following the guidelines provincially and locally, it still wouldn’t have met the parameters.”

On Friday, two weeks after Walker was last seen at a business in Saskatoon, police announced she had been found “safe and well’ with her son in Oregon City, a community on the southern edge of Portland, Ore.

Huisman said Walker was found in a rental unit.

The boy’s family issued a statement Saturday saying that “over the past two weeks of hell” all they had wished for was the safe return of Walker and the boy.

“When we found out they were both safe, there was sobbing, laughing, dancing, shouting, throwing of shoes and hugging. Even though we weren’t together, the family celebrated together. It feels as though we can finally breathe,” the boy’s family said.

Walker, who is from Okanese First Nation, is also a well-known author. Her recent book “The Prairie Chicken Dance Tour,” published under the name Dawn Dumont, was named last week as a finalist for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour.

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

— By Mickey Djuric in Regina

 

The Canadian Press

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