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UK PM Johnson refuses to resign over lockdown parties

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday rejected opposition calls to resign for attending lockdown parties but accepted that a rule that ministers should lose their jobs if they had knowlingly misled parliament applied to him.

Johnson, who in 2019 won the biggest Conservative majority in more than 30 years, is braced for the publication of an official investigation into claims that there were multiple boozy Downing Street parties https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/lockdown-party-allegations-facing-uk-pm-johnson-2022-01-13 during lockdowns. He told parliament no rules were broken.

It was not immediately clear when the results of that investigation by Cabinet Office official Sue Gray would be published, especially as police have opened their own investigation.

Asked by the opposition Labour Party Keir Starmer leader if the ministerial code, which says that ministers who had knowingly misled parliament should offer to resign, applied to him Johnson said: “Of course.”

“If he’d misled parliament, he must resign,” Starmer told parliament. “Will you now resign?”

“No,” Johnson replied.

He said he could not speak about investigations into the alleged parties. Johnson said his government was focused on driving economic growth and leading the Western response to the Ukraine crisis.

Johnson has given a variety of explanations about the parties: first he said no rules had been broken but then he apologised to the British people for the apparent hypocrisy of such gatherings.

He has denied an allegation he was warned that a “bring your own booze” lockdown gathering on May 20, 2020, which he says he thought was a work event, was inappropriate.

ITV reported on Monday that Johnson and his now wife Carrie had attended a surprise party of up to 30 people for his birthday in the Cabinet Room at Downing Street in June 2020, when indoor gatherings were banned.

PARTY CULTURE

British police on Tuesday said they had opened their own investigation into lockdown events at Downing Street, upping the pressure on Johnson.

Some of his lawmakers have already demanded he resign but to trigger a leadership challenge, 54 of the 359 Conservative MPs in parliament must write letters of no confidence to the chairman of the party’s 1922 Committee.

The number of letters submitted is kept secret until the threshhold of 54 is reached.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, tipped as a possible future prime minister if Johnson is toppled, said Downing Street had not yet been given the findings of the Gray report but that it would come out very soon.

Asked about the claims that Johnson and his staff had partied at the heart of the British state while ordinary people were banned from even bidding farewell to their dying relatives in person, Truss said some of the reports were concerning.

“There clearly needs to be a change in culture,” Truss told the BBC. “We need to get the results of the report, we need to look at the results and fix the issues there are.”

Asked if she had leadership ambitions, Truss said Johnson, 57, had done a great job as prime minister by delivering Brexit and responding to the COVID pandemic. Truss said she was 100% supportive of Johnson.

 

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alistair Smout; Editing by William Schomberg and Philippa Fletcher)

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Supreme Court of Canada to rule on sentencing for Quebec City mosque shooter

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OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada is slated to rule Friday on the sentencing of a man who went on a deadly shooting spree at a Quebec City mosque.

The decision in Alexandre Bissonnette’s case will determine the constitutionality of a key provision on parole eligibility in multiple-murder convictions.

As a result, it will also reverberate far beyond the case before the court.

In March 2021, a judge found Alek Minassian guilty of 10 counts of first-degree murder, three years after he smashed into people with a van on a busy Toronto sidewalk. The judge decided to delay sentencing until after the Supreme Court decision.

At issue is the tension between society’s denunciation of such horrific crimes and the notion of rehabilitation as a fundamental value in sentencing.

Bissonnette pleaded guilty to six charges of first-degree murder and six of attempted murder in the January 2017 mosque assault that took place just after evening prayers.

In 2019, Bissonnette successfully challenged a 2011 law that allowed a court, in the event of multiple murders, to impose a life sentence and parole ineligibility periods of 25 years to be served consecutively for each murder.

A judge found the provision unconstitutional but saw no need to declare it invalid and instead read in new wording that would allow a court to impose consecutive periods of less than 25 years.

Ultimately, the judge ruled Bissonnette must wait 40 years before applying for parole.

Quebec’s Court of Appeal agreed that the sentencing provision violated Charter of Rights guarantees of life, liberty and security of the person, as well as freedom from cruel or unusual punishment.

“Parliament’s response to the problem identified is so extreme as to be disproportionate to any legitimate government interest,” the Appeal Court said.

“The judge was therefore right to conclude that the scope of the provision is clearly broader than necessary to achieve the objectives of denunciation and protection of the public.”

The Appeal Court, however, said the judge erred in making the ineligibility period 40 years.

It declared the sentencing provision constitutionally invalid and said the court must revert to the law as it stood before 2011, meaning the parole ineligibility periods are to be served concurrently — resulting in a total waiting period of 25 years in Bissonnette’s case.

The Court of Appeal noted there is no guarantee the Parole Board would grant Bissonnette parole in 25 years.

“This will depend on the circumstances at the time, including the appellant’s level of dangerousness, his potential for rehabilitation and the manner in which his personality has evolved,” the court said.

“Furthermore, as with any parole, if it is granted, it will include the necessary conditions for adequately ensuring the security of the public, failing which it will not be granted.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.

 

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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Minke whale carcass found northeast of Montreal is likely one seen near city: expert

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MONTREAL — A dead whale found in the St. Lawrence River northeast of Montreal is probably one of two minke whales seen near the city earlier this month, a marine researcher said Thursday.

Robert Michaud, president of a Quebec marine mammal research group, said experts have yet to examine the carcass found in Contrecoeur, Que., about 50 kilometres downstream from Montreal.

Michaud said a necropsy could be performed depending on that assessment, adding that the task would fall to veterinary medicine students at Université de Montréal.

Two minke whales were spotted this month near Montreal, and there were concerns for their well-being, as they were about 450 kilometres upstream of their usual range.

Minke whales are common in Quebec but don’t generally venture west of the saltwater St. Lawrence estuary around Tadoussac, Que.

Ronald Gosselin, one of the fishermen behind the discovery on Thursday morning, said he was in his boat fishing when he saw a bizarre shape in the water.

“In my life, I’ve seen maybe two or three whales, including one that beached in Contrecoeur,” Gosselin said.

A local fishing guide, Gosselin, 66, said whales are not a common sight in the area. He spotted the mammal floating in the St. Lawrence River near Île Saint-Ours.

The two Montreal whales had not been seen since mid-May.

It’s unclear why whales occasionally venture into freshwater habitats, but Michaud has said there isn’t much that can be done to help them besides hoping they turn around and head home.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Murray Sinclair honoured with Order of Canada at Rideau Hall ceremony

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OTTAWA — Murray Sinclair received the Order of Canada Thursday for dedicating his life to championing Indigenous Peoples’ rights and freedoms.

Sinclair held his wife’s hand as the award was announced in Rideau Hall, and was met with a standing ovation as he rose to receive it.

Gov. Gen. Mary Simon presented Sinclair with the award at the ceremony, which was held several months after it was announced he would receive the honour.

By accepting the award, Sinclair wanted to show the country that working on Indigenous issues calls for national attention and participation, he said in an interview.

Sinclair, 71, said at his age he has begun to reflect on his life, and he realizes that he’s had both the joy and sadness that comes with participating in this work.

Receiving the award recognizes the importance of that work, and can act as inspiration for younger people, Sinclair said.

“When I speak to young people, I always tell them that we all have a responsibility to do the best that we can and to be the best that we can be,” he said.

Sinclair led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated the experiences of Indigenous children sent to residential schools.

Sinclair said it was a particular honour to receive the award from Simon, the first Indigenous Governor General, as she is a good friend and was an honorary witness to the commission.

“As an Indigenous person, we had a unique relationship. And I think we brought it to what happened here today,” he said.

The former senator is a highly respected voice on matters of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

The Order of Canada is one of the country’s highest distinctions, for those who have made exceptional contributions to Canadian society.

Sinclair also received the Meritorious Service Cross for his role in overseeing the Truth and Reconciliation commission and producing the final report.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 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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