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Too many guns vs. mental health supports: in Highland Park, ‘why can’t it be both?’



HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — The man in the fluorescent green baseball cap nervously eyes the video camera, then politely declines to be interviewed.

Instead, he listens intently, edging ever closer as his friend Irwin Silbernik, 70, talks about guns, politics and the deadly mass shooting that shattered the heart of this idyllic bedroom community Monday.

Finally, the man — he identifies himself only as Jerry — musters up the courage to step in front of the lens.

“I want to say something on camera: I think the gun issue here in America is a severe mental health condition problem,” Jerry says.

“I actually have kind of a mental condition myself, and I know people right now that are dealing with conditions. There’s nowhere to go, nobody for us to talk to, nobody to reach out to, it seems.”

In the United States these days, the intersection of deadly weapons and mental health is a tricky one to navigate.

As Democrats — progressives and moderates alike — take direct aim at gun rights after each mass shooting, Republicans of all stripes often use the perpetrator’s state of mind as a weapon of their own.

That’s what Donald Trump did at the annual convention of the National Rifle Association just days after 19 children and two teachers were gunned down in an elementary school classroom in Uvalde, Tex.

“We need to make it far easier to confine the violent and mentally deranged into mental institutions,” Trump said.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz described the Uvalde gunman as just one of the many “lunatics and monsters” behind America’s mass-shooting epidemic, insisting gun control would have made no difference.

“That son of a bitch passed a background check,” Cruz said — something that also happens to be true of the man police say was behind the Fourth of July massacre in Highland Park.

But the partisan side of the mental health discussion is a “red herring,” said Alexandra Filindra, a political science professor at the University of Illinois Chicago who specializes in gun control issues.

For one thing, while there’s a wide variety of conditions that meet the definition of mental illness, it’s less clear which ones — or what sort of combination thereof —might be grounds for denying gun ownership.

“What exactly is a mental health condition, and under what circumstances does that make one so dangerous?” Filindra said. “As with criminality, we define these things after the fact.”

Then there’s the issue of age.

In Uvalde and in Buffalo, N.Y., where 10 people were gunned down in a supermarket, both suspects were just 18. The man behind the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 was 20. The alleged shooter in Highland Park is 21.

“Adolescence is a time of extreme emotions, and kids can act out,” Filindra said.

“Depending on the kinds of tools they have at their disposal, they can break things, or they can shoot. And adolescence is not a medical condition.”

Silbernik and Jerry break it down this way: “Why is it either a mental health issue or a gun issue? Why can’t it be both?” Silbernik says.

“It is both,” Jerry replies. “But to get the AR-15s away from people would help the situation a little.”

The gun safety bill signed last month by President Joe Biden, the rare bipartisan product of a core group of Democrats and Republicans spurred into action by Uvalde, stopped short of raising the age limit for buying an assault weapon from 18 to 21.

But it does provide $250 million for states to expand access to mental health care for school-age children, to better train the adults who work with them, and to ensure struggling students have access to care.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act also includes funding to expand mental health services in schools, improve training for primary and pediatric care providers and bolster treatment options for victims of trauma.

“The bipartisan bill, it is something that will make a difference, (but) it won’t make a difference for mass shootings,” said E.J. Fagan, a professor of political science at UIC.

“It really is focused on where the biggest, kind of less flashy part of the American gun violence problem is, which is on domestic violence and the day-to-day kind of violence that we see from guns.”

At the same time, however, the final product proved more expansive than most experts were expecting, Fagan said.

The fact that Sen. John Cornyn, a longtime champion of gun rights on Capitol Hill, helped lead the charge on getting the bill passed is another sign that the rampant violence is even getting through to some Republicans.

“It’s not a coincidence that John Cornyn, who’s a senator from Texas, was the leader on the Republican side of that bill,” Fagan said.

“I think it affected him as much as it affects people on the street.”

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


James McCarten, The Canadian Press


International support for miners rescue was ‘heartwarming,’ says company president



OTTAWA — The recent successful rescue of two miners trapped in a mine in the Dominican Republic for more than a week was made possible thanks to support from the international community including direct assistance from the Royal Canadian Air Force, according to the president of the company at the centre of the incident.

Paul Marinko, head of the Dominican Mining Corporation known as Cormidom, said Canada played a critical role in transporting equipment that was ultimately used to help liberate the men from the Cerro de Maimón operation.

The miners’ ordeal saw Gregores Mendez and Carlos Yepez spend 10 days trapped 31 metres under the surface from July 31 to Aug. 9.

Marinko said domestic support for the rescue effort was strong, with Dominican President Luis Abinader calling every day to check in on the status of the rescue and various government departments providing direct support on the ground.

But he said experts from the U.S., Canada and the U.K. were also involved, and the Canadian government played a key role in obtaining and providing equipment for the rescue operation.

“It was heartwarming to actually see that response,” Marinko said in a Zoom interview.

Marinko said the company swung into action immediately after the “fall of ground” that left the miners confined in a 400-square-meter space. Within 15 hours of the incident, he said crews involved in the rescue had established a hole through which they delivered water, food, walkie-talkies, entertainment and a light source.

Nonetheless, Marinko said the experience would have been terrifying for the two men.

The miners eventually reported rising water levels that eventually reached waist level, but Marinko says they were able to pump the water out at a speed six times the rate of the inflow.

“You could imagine being trapped, seeing rising water and knowing that rescue is not going to be quick. So they went through some terrifying moments,” he said.

After assessing what equipment would be needed to safely rescue the miners, Marinko said the company began trying to track it down abroad.

Machines Rogers International, a mining company based in Val D’Or, Que. agreed to lend the necessary machinery to Cormidom and the Dominican government got in touch with Ottawa for assistance in transporting the gear.

“The problem for us was to transport … was just beyond our resources, we didn’t have the capacity to do that,” Marinko said.

The Royal Canadian Air Force transported the mining excavation system to the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo on Aug. 7. Two days later, the miners were rescued with assistance from a team sent over by Machines Rogers International.

Defence Minister Anita Anand issued a tweet on Tuesday thanking the Royal Canadian Air Force personnel involved in the mission.

“To our aviators – you make Canadians proud, and we are grateful for your service,” Anand wrote.

Marinko said the two miners were released from hospital on Thursday and are now with their families.

The rescue comes after the collapse of a coal mine in Mexico that left 15 miners trapped, with five escaping with injuries. Rescue divers’ first attempts to reach the remaining 10 miners failed, Mexican authorities said on Thursday.

“I think of those poor men trapped in Mexico,” Marinko said. “We were lucky.”

The cause of the incident at Cerro de Maimón is currently under investigation and the underground mine is temporarily closed.

“When the authorities and more importantly, when I’m satisfied it’s safe, we’ll go back in,” Marinko said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2022.


Nojoud Al Mallees, The Canadian Press

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One dead & 40 injured at Medusa Festival in Spain



Cullera, Spain- One person has been confirmed dead, a 22-year-old male, and 40 injured after the main entrance and the main stage of the Medusa Festival collapsed in the wee hours of Saturday.

According to Spain‘s paramilitary police unit, the stage collapsed due to a strong gust of wind which had reached more than 51mph (82kmh).

In addition, the Valencia section of Spain’s national weather service (AEMET) said that warm breezes were producing very strong gusts of wind and abrupt increases in temperature. At one point the temperature was a blistering 40.5 Celsius (104.9 degrees Fahrenheit) at the Alicante-Elche airport, just south of the concert site.

Videos posted on social media early Saturday showed strong winds and structures falling from the stage as large crowds of festival attendees were evacuated. The videos also showed the moment when the venue’s structures, including the main stage, fell on people in the front rows.

“A terrible accident that shocks all of us. I want to extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends of the young man who died early this morning at the Medusa Festival in Cullera,” said Ximo Puig, president of the Valencia regional government.

Meanwhile, organizers of the festival, which was supposed to see a total of 320 000 attendees over three days from Friday through Sunday, said they are completely devastated and dismayed at what happened this morning and said they had suspended the festival.

“At around four in the morning, unexpected and violent strong winds destroyed certain areas of the festival, forcing management to make the immediate decision to vacate the concert area to guarantee the safety of attendees, workers and artists.

Unfortunately, the devastating meteorological phenomenon led some structures to cause unexpected consequences. All our support and affection for those affected in these difficult and sad times.

Due to inclement weather occurring in the early hours of Aug. 13, 2022, and with the aim of guaranteeing the security of the concert-goers, workers and artists gathered at the Medusa Festival, the festival organization suspends its activity for the time being.

The festival site is cleared as a preventative measure with the aim of facilitating the work of the emergency and security services at the Medusa Festival,” said the organizers in a statement.

There were about 50 000 people at the festival site when the incident happened, and it took 40 minutes to evacuate people from the site.

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Quebec towns protecting right to serve residents in English after new language law



MONTREAL — Quebec’s new language law has dozens of municipalities in the province shoring up their bilingual status, with few considering giving up the right to serve their citizens in both English and French.

Almost 90 cities, towns or boroughs in Quebec are considered officially bilingual, a designation allowing them to offer services, post signage and mail communications in the country’s two official languages. Jurisdictions without this status must communicate only in French, with few exceptions.

Bill 96, the new language law that came into effect June 1, proposes that a municipality’s bilingual status be revoked in places where fewer than 50 per cent of citizens have English as a mother tongue. However, a bilingual town or city can avoid losing its status by passing a resolution within 120 days of receiving notice from the province.

Scott Pearce, the mayor of the township of Gore, north of Montreal, said choosing to remain bilingual was an easy decision for his town of just over 1,700 people.

“We were founded here by the Irish in the 1800s, so it’s part of our history — speaking English and English culture,” he said in a recent interview.

While the percentage of residents in Gore who speak English as a mother tongue has dropped from over 50 per cent to around 20 per cent, he said maintaining bilingualism is popular among French-speaking and English-speaking citizens alike.

Language, he said, “has never been an issue here.”

Pearce, who represents bilingual municipalities at the province’s federation of towns and cities — Fédération Québécoise des municipalités — said most of the mayors he’s spoken with plan on passing similar resolutions, or have already done so.

“I talked to mayors from all over the province, and they’re really proud of the bilingual status and how their communities — English and French — get along,” he said.

While Bill 96 has been criticized by groups representing English-speakers, Pearce, who is married to a sitting legislature member, says he believes that in this instance, the governing party has done the towns a favour by giving them an easy way to formalize their status.

The Canadian Press reached out to all the bilingual municipalities and boroughs to ask them whether they have passed, or plan to pass, a resolution to keep their status. Of more than two dozen that responded, all but three said they intended to remain bilingual. The others said they were still studying the law or declined to comment. None said they planned to give up being considered officially bilingual.

A spokesperson for the province’s language office, the Office québécois de la langue française, said in an email that notices would be sent “shortly” to towns that no longer meet the 50 per cent threshold.

While they can offer services in English, “a municipality recognized as bilingual must nevertheless ensure that its services to the public are available in the official language of Quebec, French,” Nicolas Trudel wrote in an email.

The official purpose of Bill 96 is to affirm that French is Quebec’s only official language and “the common language of the Québec nation.” But four mayors who spoke to The Canadian Press by phone, as well as many of those who responded by email, all said the decision to operate in two languages was unanimous among city council and raised little to no debate among citizens.

“I believe the French language is already protected, and well protected,” said Richard Burcombe, the mayor of Town of Brome Lake, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. “They don’t need to eliminate services to the English population to protect the French language.”

He said his town, which falls below the 50 per cent threshold, hasn’t yet passed a resolution but will do so once it receives a notice.

Kirkland, a city in the Montreal area, described bilingualism as a “core value in all aspects of municipal life,” while Ayer’s Cliff, Que., in the Eastern Townships, said it was “essential to the character of the municipality and as testimony to the historical presence of the two communities, anglophone and francophone.”

Otterburn Park, a town 40 kilometres east of Montreal, said it wanted to keep its bilingual status despite only 5.7 per cent of its population reporting English as a mother tongue in the last census.

“The English-speaking population is largely made up of seniors,” Mayor Mélanie Villeneuve wrote in an email.

“With a view to providing quality service, particularly to more vulnerable groups of people, we believe it is important to be able to communicate with English-speaking citizens in the language that works for them.”

Several of the mayors expressed hope that the choice to remain bilingual would be accepted as permanent and that they wouldn’t have to pass new resolutions every time there’s a census.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2022.


Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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