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Two Sikh rally organizers say they were wrongly arrested amid Parliament bomb scare

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OTTAWA — Two organizers of a Sikh event near Parliament Hill on Saturday say they are still in shock after being wrongfully arrested in connection with a bomb threat, an experience one of the men described as “disrespectful” and “harassment.”

Officials have released few details about the “potential threat” that prompted an evacuation of Parliament and closure of surrounding streets for several hours on Saturday. Police only said later in the day their investigation had concluded and no threat to public safety was found.

Manveer Singh and Parminder Singh say they are speaking out about the arrests in order to defend their reputations — and they are raising questions about who gave their names to investigators and why, as well as how police handled that information.

“It doesn’t make sense because I know I am not involved in anything. I’m proud as a Canadian Sikh. I love this country, I will do everything to protect this country,” said Parminder Singh.

“Why am I arrested? Because I’m wearing a turban and my skin is not white? What’s going on?”

The two men are organizers of a remembrance rally for the victims of the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in India. The group had received a permit to gather on the Hill, but when members arrived, they were told they were not allowed to be there because of an ongoing threat in the area.

They relocated to the lawn in front of the Supreme Court of Canada nearby to hold their event.

Harpreet Hansra, another rally organizer, said an officer sought to speak with him and asked him to identify Manveer Singh, who was designated as one of the MCs for the event.

A few minutes after the rally got underway, Manveer Singh said police arrested him and told him they had “credible information” that he was connected to a serious bomb threat on the Hill.

“They believed that I’m the one who’s gonna do that. I was shocked. I’m gathering my community here to bomb them?” he said, adding that police searched him, handcuffed him and brought him to the police station for questioning.

He said police asked to frisk his turban while searching him outside the Supreme Court.

“If I don’t obey their instructions they could have done anything to me, because the threat was very big, it was a security threat to the national Parliament.”

Parminder Singh said he was arrested not long afterward by Ottawa police, who told him that his name was connected to an alleged bomb threat of Parliament.

Ottawa police did not answer questions about the men’s account of events, saying only that the investigation into the matter is now concluded and no charges were laid.

The two organizers said that police also searched their cars for explosives.

The remaining organizers decided to wrap up their event sooner than planned due to fear of the ongoing threat and the fact that two of their members were taken by police, Hansra said.

Hansra went to the police station afterward with two other organizers, he said.

When in police custody, both men said officers had them take off their turbans. Manveer Singh said he was also made to remove other religious symbols including a bracelet called a kara and a ceremonial sword known as a kirpan.

“They wanted me to untie my turban because they have to search very closely … Because I believe that I was the terrorist at that time in their eyes,” he said.

After being in custody for a short while, Parminder Singh said police released him and apologized, adding they arrested him based on wrong information.

“We spoke to the officers that were there and they were very clear. They apologized profusely and said, ‘Sorry that this happened, and we know you guys have nothing to do with it,’” he said.

Both the men who were arrested said police told them that the information that connected them to the threat came from the Canada Border Services Agency.

“They said they have no further knowledge about who or what contacted CBSA, but the information was so detailed that it warranted them to take immediate action at Parliament,” Hansra said.

Rebecca Purdy, spokesperson for Canada Border Services Agency, said in a statement Monday that the agency works regularly with law enforcement to ensure border security, including intelligence and enforcement.

The RCMP said Monday that it can only confirm details related to criminal investigations where charges have been laid.

Ottawa police said in a statement Saturday that they received information about a potential threat near the parliamentary precinct, prompting them to close some surrounding streets to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

The Parliamentary Protective Service also ordered an evacuation of Parliament Hill, issuing an alert to all members of Parliament and staff and noting all buildings in the precinct were to be under shelter-in-place orders until further notice.

Both of the rally organizers say they are worried about the damage done to their reputations as a result of being arrested in connection to the explosives threat.

Although police said they were conducting an investigation and if they did not find anything, they would release him, Parminder Singh said they should have done an investigation before arresting him.

“It’s deeply hurt my kids, my wife and also other community members,” Parminder Singh said, calling the experience “disrespectful” and “harassment.”

He said his group began organizing these rallies in 2017, to gather Sikhs from across Ontario and Quebec. Events have been cancelled over the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You’re arresting me doing a peacefully rally? I’ve been doing this for almost my whole life.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 13, 2022.

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

 

Erika Ibrahim, The Canadian Press

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Passport seekers face heartbreak, hop provinces as government promises help is on the way – CBC.ca

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Aly Michalsky was supposed to be on a plane Thursday en route to her dream vacation, a two-and-a-half week tour of Thailand with a friend.

Instead, the teen was sitting at home in Montreal after she couldn’t get her passport in time, despite applying for it 12 weeks ago. She’s one of many Canadians who’ve had to postpone or cancel travel plans in recent months amid massive backlogs at passport offices across the country.

“It was something that I saved up for, for over two years,” Michalsky, 19, told CBC News Network about the non-refundable tour she booked with a friend.

Christine Paliotti, Michalsky’s mother, said she started the process of applying for her daughter’s passport on March 17 and it was supposed to be mailed by May 3. When it didn’t arrive, that was the beginning of a slog of phone calls — where there could be 200 to 300 people already in the queue, Paliotti said — waiting, being told they needed a transfer, and more waiting.

They even got their local MP involved, who Paliotti said put in calls “almost every day” for them.

Aly Michalsky, right, and her mother, Christine Paliotti, tried everything they could to get Michalsky a passport before her dream vacation Thursday. She was forced to cancel her non-refundable trip to Thailand when she couldn’t get the travel document on time. (CBC News)

Their efforts were in vain. On Wednesday, they headed to the Laval passport office in a last-ditch effort, but Michalsky said that after four or five hours, they were told there would be no appointments. That was when she realized she wouldn’t be able to go. 

Paliotti said the trip itself cost over $4,000, but she estimated that total costs, including pre-travel vaccinations and shopping, were at least $5,000.

“I worked very hard for my money and I took the first opportunity I had to do something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Michalsky. “It’s just devastating to have to tell my friend that I couldn’t go with her.”

Triage system

The federal government has attributed the lines snaking around passport offices across the country, including in Vancouver and London, Ont., to an “unprecedented surge” in applications as travel opens up again after two years of pandemic restrictions.

People camp overnight in line outside a Service Canada passport office in Vancouver on Wednesday. Long lines and wait times are the result of a massive backlog of applications at passport offices across the country. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The sheer level of demand isn’t the only issue. Families Minister Karina Gould, the minister responsible for passport services, told reporters in Ottawa on Thursday that 85 per cent of requests are for new passports, and of those, 43 per cent are for children, both of which entail a more complex application process.

Gould said the government is adding more staff on the ground to help curb the chaos, with Service Canada deploying managers to walk the lines and speak with passport seekers before they reach a customer service agent.

This triage system will help ensure people who are in most urgent need of a passport based on flight time — those flying in the next 12, 24, 36 and 48 hours — get priority service, she said.

Gould also said more passports will be printed in bulk at the Gatineau, Que., processing centre and sent to other locations to take some of the stress off smaller passport offices that don’t have large industrial printers.

WATCH | Government’s latest efforts to address the backlog: 

Government adding more staff to address passport delays

1 day ago

Duration 1:12

Karina Gould, minister of families, children and social development, told reporters on Thursday the government is increasing the number of workers and has made the printing of passports more efficient to address backlog issues that have frustrated travellers for months. Still, she says there is ‘no easy solution.’

Waiting for days in the rain

The government’s new triage strategy was met with some frustration on Thursday at Montreal’s Guy-Favreau complex, which Gould has said is experiencing the worst delays in the country.

Hundreds of would-be travellers have lined up for days in the rain, and police have been called in to help with crowd control.

Antoinette Corbeil, who had been waiting in line for 36 hours, was unhappy with the shift from a first-come-first-serve system to one based on flight times.

“We organized ourselves last night in line with our numbers … and they’re letting other people in in front of us,” she said. “That’s not fair.” 

IN PHOTOS | Long waits in the rain at Montreal passport office: 

After the triage system began in Montreal, it was extended to Toronto on Thursday and will be rolled out in Vancouver on June 27.

While Gould said Montreal was seeing “much better progress” on Thursday, the government website that tracks wait times at the 35 specialized passport offices nationwide was still warning people to expect delays of at least six hours at the Guy-Favreau complex.

Other busy sites like Ottawa’s only passport office on Meadowlands Drive showed similar wait times.

Going the distance

Some passport seekers are literally going the extra mile to get their travel documents in time.

In Montreal, François Gamache had to leave Thursday for a three-week trip to France to bury his father-in-law. After being told by a Transport Canada agent on Saturday it would be “almost impossible” for his file to be processed in a week, he went to Chicoutimi, 200 kilometres north of Quebec City.

François Gamache of Montreal holds the passport he managed to get after driving to Fredericton. The government says the ‘unprecedented surge’ in applications for travel documents came after two years of pandemic restrictions. (François Gamache/ Submitted)

There, he waited 30 hours over two days, with no success.

On the advice of a client, he drove to Fredericton, almost 800 kilometres away, to try his luck at the passport office there. He finally got his passport on Wednesday after a three-hour wait.

Gamache estimated he spent nearly $1,000 on food, hotels and gasoline during the saga.

At the end, “I was really exhausted and I was even very emotional. I fought so hard to get it,” he said.

Despite their efforts having been in vain, Paliotti said she doesn’t blame the passport agents “who have to deal with all the pressure of the people getting angry at them” and are putting in extra hours. 

Instead, she’s frustrated by what she described as a disorganized process and lack of communication by officials, as well as receiving conflicting information from passport agents.

“It’s citizens that are sharing [information]; there was a Facebook page for Montreal and surrounding area, and we got a lot of information helping each other out,” she said. “So I’m really angry at whoever’s organizing this and that they’re not doing more.”

LISTEN | Government’s preparations ‘were not sufficient,’ minister says: 

Metro Morning11:14Long wait times for passports ‘unacceptable’, says Minister Karina Gould

Thousands of people are waiting a long time for passports, threatening their travel plans. Minister Karina Gould says the government’s preparations “were not sufficient,” and says what they’re doing to speed things up.

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Public inquiry in Nova Scotia seeking explanation from Ottawa about withheld notes

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HALIFAX — The inquiry investigating the Nova Scotia mass shooting wants to know why the federal Justice Department withheld notes written by a senior Mountie for several months — and if there’s more revelations to come.

“The commission sought an explanation … about why four pages were missing from the original disclosure,” Barbara McLean, the inquiry’s director of investigations, said in an email Friday.

“The commission is also demanding an explanation for any further material that has been held back.”

On Tuesday, the inquiry released internal RCMP documents that include notes taken by Supt. Darren Campbell during a meeting with senior officers and staff on April 28, 2020 — nine days after a gunman killed 22 people in northern and central Nova Scotia.

At the meeting, the head of the RCMP, Commissioner Brenda Lucki, said she was disappointed that details about the firearms used by the killer had not been released at previous news conferences in Halifax, according to Campbell’s notes.

Campbell alleges that Lucki said she had promised the Prime Minister’s Office that the Mounties would release the descriptions, adding that the information would be “tied to pending gun control legislation that would make officers and public safer.”

The superintendent’s notes sparked controversy in Ottawa earlier this week, when the opposition Tories  and New Democrats accused the governing Liberals of interfering in a police investigation for political gain — assertions denied by the government and Lucki.

Meanwhile, the commission of inquiry confirmed Friday that the Justice Department sent 132 pages of Campbell’s notes in February 2022, but they did not include his entries about the April meeting.

The missing notes were submitted to commission on May 31.

McLean says the commission is seeking assurance that nothing else has been held back, and she complained about RCMP documents that had already been disclosed.

“These documents have often been provided in a disjointed manner that has required extensive commission team review,” McLean wrote in her email. “Our team continues to review all disclosure carefully for any gaps or additional information required to fulfil our mandate.”

Michael Scott, a lawyer whose firm represents 14 of the victims’ families, said he’s concerned about the document delay.

“Any time documents are either vetted, redacted or withheld in a way that’s not entirely appropriate, it entirely undermines the process as a whole,” he said in an interview Friday.

Scott said that on top of having to read thousands of pages of records, transcripts and notes submitted to the inquiry, “now we have to be concerned we’re not getting all the documents.”

The Conservatives released a statement Friday, alleging a federal coverup.

“Canadians will find it hard to believe that the (justice) minister’s department just happened to miss those four critical pages of evidence,” the statement said. “This is no coincidence. This was no accident.”

Kent Roach, a University of Toronto law professor, said delays in receiving information from the RCMP means the inquiry is left to grapple with important issues late in its mandate. The inquiry’s final report is due Nov. 1 and all submissions are expected by September.

“It’s unfortunate because public inquiries need the full documentary record as quickly as possible so they can make decisions on what to look at and what to not look at,” said Roach, author of “Canadian Policing: Why and How It Must Change.”

“If the mass casualty commission had known about this earlier, it might have decided to conduct its hearings and research in a different way,” he said Friday.

The professor said the comments from Campbell raise questions about the structure of the RCMP, and its competing mandates of being both a local and nation police force whose commissioner serves “at the pleasure” of the minister of public safety.

“My concern is that the citizens (of Nova Scotia) seem to be on the sidelines while there is tension and squabbling between RCMP Nova Scotia and RCMP Ottawa,” he said.

The Canadian Press requested comment from the RCMP, but a response was not immediately available.

Campbell said in an email that he would not comment. He said he is waiting to be interviewed by the commission.

“My interview has been scheduled and it will take place in the very near future,” he wrote.

“I also expect to be called to the Mass Casualty Commission as a witness sometime near the end of July and I look forward to both opportunities.  As such, it would be inappropriate for me to make any public comments prior to giving evidence under oath.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2022.

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

 

Lyndsay Armstrong and Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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Protesters descend on U.S. Supreme Court to decry decision to overturn Roe v. Wade

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WASHINGTON — Hundreds of Americans — many enraged, others elated — gathered on Capitol Hill to vent their feelings Friday after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that made it possible for women to obtain legal abortions in the United States.

Out in front of the high court’s towering marble facade, ringfenced for weeks by an imposing two-metre barricade, the two sides remained largely peaceful, save for the occasional shouting match, under the watchful eyes of dozens of Capitol Police officers.

Some sat to the side, weeping openly or staring at the ground. Others shouted slogans and brandished hand-lettered, profanity-laced placards, many vowing to “aid and abet” a medical procedure that’s all but guaranteed to become illegal in fully half the country.

“I can’t believe that I’m alive in this country where we’ve made some progress, and this is a huge step back,” said Libby Malditz, whose two-word placard bore a simple — and unprintable — message to the five Supreme Court justices who supported the decision.

Malditz, who closed her two D.C.-area retail shops so that employees could attend the protests, said she’s wary about what comes next in a country already wracked with division and social tension.

“Violence isn’t going to help, but we also saw through the civil rights movement that sometimes violence needs to happen for change to happen,” she said.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that, I won’t be part of that, but you know, it’s that bad in our country right now. People need to rise up. If you don’t have freedom, you have nothing.”

Three of the five justices who voted in favour of the decision — Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett — were appointed by former president Donald Trump, who promptly issued a statement taking full credit for the decision.

He called it “the biggest WIN for LIFE in a generation,” one that came “because I delivered everything as promised.”

The court voted 6-3 to uphold the Mississippi abortion ban at the core of the original case, but Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a concurring opinion against overturning Roe — “repudiating a constitutional right” the court has already recognized and reaffirmed.

Roberts also did not sign the scorching dissent penned by the court’s diminished liberal wing: justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer.

“With sorrow — for this court, but more for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection — we dissent,” they wrote.

Within hours of the decision, foreshadowed back in May when an early draft of the ruling found its way past the veil of secrecy that normally shrouds the court’s deliberations, state governments were already moving to enact abortion bans, some of which had been on the books for years.

Thirteen states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, the Dakotas and Idaho, have trigger laws that will take effect within the next 30 days, if not immediately.

Five others — Alabama, Iowa, Ohio, Georgia and South Carolina — are sure to challenge court decisions that blocked or struck down their abortion bans. Indiana and West Virginia are also widely expected to impose strict new laws.

In the trigger state of Missouri, Attorney General Eric Schmitt said officials would promptly enforce a 2019 ban on abortions except in cases of medical emergency. In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey vowed to ask a judge to lift an injunction on her state’s near-total ban.

Jamie Manson, president of the group Catholics for Choice, said she’s hoping Friday’s decision serves as a jarring wake-up call for anyone in the U.S. who hasn’t been paying close attention to what’s been happening.

“It takes us to a place that I hope is the tipping point for people in the United States who I think did not believe this day would come,” said Manson, who described the “Christian nationalist agenda” that she said is taking over the country.

“We were lulled into complacency. I think we were raised to believe that rights would always be expanded, not restricted.”

Polls have consistently indicated that fewer than one-third of Americans support striking down Roe v. Wade, which has served as both a bedrock precedent for the courts and a lodestar for reproductive rights champions for the last 49 years.

That has Democrats, who face a reckoning in the midterm elections in November, priming the pumps for abortion to be a major motivator in getting their supporters out to the polls this fall.

“This is not over,” President Joe Biden vowed Friday as he urged Congress to step up and codify in federal law the principles that Roe v. Wade had preserved.

He said the Supreme Court is clearly embarking on an “extreme and dangerous path” that could soon jeopardize other high court precedents that are not expressly preserved in the U.S. Constitution, such as the right to same-sex marriage and birth control.

“The court has done what it has never done before: expressly take away a constitutional right that is so fundamental to so many Americans that had already been recognized,” Biden said.

The decision will have “real and immediate consequences” for the health of women, he added, and leave them exposed to criminal sanction simply for doing what’s necessary to protect their well-being.

“It’s — it just stuns me.”

Vice-President Kamala Harris, speaking in Illinois, noted that women in the U.S. now have less access to reproductive health care than their mothers and grandmothers had for the better part of half a century.

“Right now, as of this minute, we can only talk about what Roe v. Wade protected — past tense,” Harris said. “Millions of women in America will go to bed tonight without access to the health care and reproductive care that they had this morning.”

That is sure to have many of them looking to abortion-friendly states like California, which is already bracing for an influx of patients, said Rep. Sara Jacobs, a Democrat who represents the state’s 53rd district, which includes parts of San Diego.

In the meantime, it’s vital for Congress to do away with the legislative filibuster so it can codify protections for abortion into law, Jacobs said in an interview in the midst of Friday’s protest.

“While we do that, we need to work with the states so that they have the support they need,” she said. “States like California, which I represent, are going to have an influx of people from other states who are coming to be able to access the reproductive health care that they deserve.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2022.

 

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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