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US Voters kick all the Republican women out of the South Carolina Senate

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The only three Republican women in the South Carolina Senate took on their party and stopped a total abortion ban from passing in their state last year. In return, they lost their jobs.

Voters removed Sens. Sandy Senn, Penry Gustafson and Katrina Shealy from office during sparsely turned out primaries in June, and by doing so completely vacated the Republican wing of the five-member “Sister Senators,” a female contingent that included two Democrats and was joined in their opposition to the abortion ban.

For Republicans, the departure of Senn, Gustafson and Shealy likely means there will be no women in the majority party of state Senate when the next session starts in 2025. It could also mean that women will not wield power for decades in the fiercely conservative state where they have long struggled to gain entry into the Legislature.

How scant has political influence historically been for women in South Carolina? Small portraits of every woman who has ever served in the 170-seat General Assembly in the 250 years it has met fit on a poster framed just outside the governor’s office.

The sudden departure of the Republican women presents a potential power issue because the Senate doles out clout and responsibility to the majority party based on seniority. Half the members in the GOP dominated state were elected in 2012 or before, so it will likely be the 2040s before any Republican woman elected in the future can rise to leadership or a committee chairmanship.

“Women, somebody else is going to have to stand up. Somebody else is going to have to come and make things right,” Senn said in her farewell speech on June 26.

Barring a woman winning a race in November in a district dominated by the other party, there will be only two women in the 46-member South Carolina Senate when the 126th session starts in January. No other state in the country would have fewer women in its upper chamber, according to Center of American Women in Politics. Women make up 55% of the state’s registered voters.

That gap should be alarming to anyone in South Carolina, said Sen. Tameika Isaac Devine, who took her seat this year in a special election and became the sixth member of the Sister Senators. Next year Devine and fellow Democrat Sen. Margie Bright Matthews will likely be the only women in the chamber.

“No matter how much empathy men can have, they have not had babies. They have not had hysterectomies. They haven’t had some of the heath care issues or the community issues we deal with every day,” Devine said.

Instead of a total ban on abortion, South Carolina ended up with a ban once cardiac activity is detected, typically six weeks into a pregnancy.

After that, the three Sister Senators — followed by two Democrats — gained international acclaim. Cover stories and TV appearances culminated with them receiving the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award for people who risk their careers for the greater good.

But that attention had another edge. Stringent abortion foes put up billboards and sent out mailers in their districts calling the three Republicans “baby killers.”

“When you’re on CNN and you’re on MSNBC and you’re on the front page of the New York Times and the front page of the Washington Post, you’re repeatedly sticking your finger in the eye of a lot of conservative folks,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said.

Massey said abortion wasn’t the only issue for the Republican Sister Senators. “Their opponents did a good job of painting them all as squishy and out of touch,” he said.

Voters in Lexington County, conservative suburbs west of Columbia, said they couldn’t trust in Shealy after electing her three times.

“She lost me on the abortion vote,” Alexis Monts said. ”And I don’t think I need to just elect a women to be represented equally.”

Historically, it’s been worse in the South Carolina Senate for women. There were no women there from 2009 to 2013, when Shealy was first elected. Her goals were protecting veterans, women, families, children and other vulnerable groups.

In her 12 years in the Senate, Shealy has made big impacts. Forty-eight of her bills have passed, including those that require a review of every suspicious child death, ban subminimum wages for people with disabilities and require the state to come up with a plan to deal with increasing cases of dementia. No senator has passed more legislation in recent years.

“We’ve helped children and helped families and helped the disabled. We’ve helped women and we’ve helped veterans,” Shealy said after her runoff loss. “And what I am so worried about is who is going to do that now?”

Shealy has made small differences, too. The women’s bathrooms in the Senate office building were gray and drab when she arrived. She brought in her own art and knickknacks and stocked them with lotions and other items.

It’s all been in an effort to drag change into a General Assembly where women have often been minimized and forgotten. On Shealy’s first day in 2013, the session opened with “Gentlemen of the Senate, please rise.”

Chagrinned, leadership changed it to “gentlemen and lady of the Senate.” Shealy said that was belittling, too, because it suggested there were different levels of membership. Sessions now open with “members of the Senate.”

Shealy often looked at the walls of the Senate chambers and saw no women honored with a portrait.

“You can tell how tough it is by some of the comments made by some of the people in the lobby. Things like, ‘Women aren’t fit to serve,’ that ‘God doesn’t want us here,’” Shealy said during last year’s abortion debate. “Well, God’s pretty smart. If God didn’t want us here, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be here.”

A group called SC Women in Leadership is in its sixth year encouraging women to run for office. They train Democrats and Republicans to become better candidates for local and statewide races and support them when they get elected. But they said getting more women in office will take time. Shealy didn’t win her first race. Neither did fellow Republican Gustafson.

Each of the Republican Sister Senators said the GOP is tougher on women because of conservative thoughts on gender roles. A man finds problems. A woman complains. A man is forceful and decisive. A woman is bossy and pushy.

“It can be exhausting sometimes. I felt like I was always being judged in a way my friends who are Democrats were not,” Gustafson said after her primary loss.

As she gave her goodbye speech, Shealy brought out the $36,000 lantern trophy the Profile in Courage group gives to its winners. Her four original Sister Senators — only Matthews, will return next session — walked to help her as she struggled a little to get it out of its case.

“Here it is. And it’s beautiful. And I’m proud of it. I’m proud of losing this senate race just to get this because I stood up for the right thing. I stood up for women. I stood up for children. I stood up for South Carolina. And all these sister senators with me, we’re not ashamed,” Shealy said.

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Senior Quebec church leader resumes role after six-month leave due to abuse claims

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QUEBEC – Cardinal Gérald Lacroix is resuming his duties today as archbishop of Quebec City after a Vatican-mandated investigation found no evidence tying the senior church leader to sexual misconduct allegations.

Lacroix says he has resumed his role after taking a voluntary six-month absence beginning in late January when the abuse allegations first surfaced as part of a class-action lawsuit against the diocese for historical sexual abuse cases.

In response to the claims, Pope Francis mandated retired Quebec judge André Denis to investigate.

While the alleged victim did not participate, Denis announced in May that his investigation didn’t exonerate Lacroix but failed to uncover any evidence that would justify a canonical trial.

A lawyer representing the alleged victim said in May his client preferred to testify in court and did not wish to take part in the Vatican-mandated investigation because it was an internal church process that lacked credibility.

Lacroix has denied the allegations, which he has described as “unfounded,” and the claims against him have not been tested in court.

In a news release, the archbishop described the past months as a “difficult journey.” He said he’s resuming his duties because Denis’s investigation found no evidence against him and because of the support of those around him. As well, he said he is seeking status to intervene in the class-action lawsuit.

Lacroix’s name was among 15 added to a list in January of perpetrators in a class-action lawsuit, authorized by the Superior Court in 2022, alleging sexual abuse by clergy and staff dating back to 1940. The alleged sexual touching involving Lacroix took place between 1987 and 1988 in Quebec City when the unnamed female plaintiff was 17.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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Two Albertans charged in online death threats to Trudeau, other federal leaders

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EDMONTON – Two Alberta men have been charged after death threats were allegedly directed at top federal politicians, including the prime minister.

RCMP say a social media user on the platform X had allegedly posted threats in May to kill Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Twenty-three-year-old Mason John Baker of Calgary has been charged with uttering threats.

In a separate case, police say someone on YouTube allegedly posted threats in June to kill Trudeau along with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

Sixty-seven-year-old Garry Belzevick of Edmonton is charged with three counts of uttering threats.

Both men have court appearances this week.

RCMP Insp. Matthew Johnson, the acting head of the Mounties’ national security team, said words posted online are perceived to be anonymous but that is not the case.

““In the digital age, where so many interactions occur online and are perceived to be anonymous, there is a belief that virtual actions and words do not have consequences,” Johnson said in a statement Monday.

“When these virtual actions or words cross the boundaries of Charter-protected speech and constitute criminal activity, police will investigate thoroughly to hold those responsible accountable.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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Residents of Williams Lake, B.C., get front-row view of battle to save their town

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WILLIAMS LAKE, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA – Residents of Williams Lake, B.C., got a front-row look at the wildfire fight to save their community, with water bombers swooping low and dropping red fire retardant, crews spraying structure fires from ladders and RCMP evacuating residents.

The BC Wildfire Service said fire crews were “mopping up” Monday after Sunday’s dramatic battle to save the B.C. Interior community.

The River Valley fire reached the western edge of the town, destroying some structures in an industrial area and prompting evacuations as the city declared a local state of emergency.

Resident Spencer Stratton said “well over 100 people” had gathered about a block away from the fire front to watch crews battle the flames.

“Everybody was panicked, (which was) understandable because the fire was less than a road across from us,” he said.

“It was one set of buildings away from us — that’s how close the fire was.”

The River Valley fire, which the BC Wildfire Service said had grown to 40 hectares in size by Monday, is one of more than 330 blazes burning in B.C., with clusters along B.C.’s boundary with Alberta as well as in the central Interior.

Fire activity has been surging across B.C. The Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness said there are about 440 properties on evacuation order and 3,000 under alert, calling the situation “dynamic and everchanging.”

Stratton said he watched as the River Valley fire crept into the outskirts of the town by around 6 p.m. Sunday, spreading to buildings and vehicles at local businesses.

Videos shared on social media showed smoke billowing from behind businesses on MacKenzie Avenue as fire spread behind a school bus depot. Stratton said the buses were unscathed.

WL Forestry Supplies said in a Facebook post that the MacKenzie Avenue store had been saved thanks to the efforts of fire crews.

“We got lucky. Lost some equipment out back, but nothing serious,” the post said, adding that power was out and the store was closed.

Cariboo-Chilcotin legislator Lorne Doerkson said in social media posts that the fire “burned into our community last night very quickly,” prompting an “incredible response” from the BC Wildfire Service as a well as the Williams Lake Fire Department and other first responders.

Doerkson, who said there had been “explosions” during the firefight Sunday on the outskirts of town, said the efforts of the fire crews “had a massive impact.”

“There are some small spot fires, but I will say that there are very many groundcrews and equipment fighting what is left of this fire,” he said in a Facebook post around midnight Sunday.

In another post Monday he said fire crews from as far as Barrière more than 200 kilometres away had been involved.

Stratton said he remained calm and slept “peacefully” Sunday night at his home about eight kilometres from the fire, knowing crews were working to contain the blaze.

He said he went to MacKenzie Avenue Monday and the fire “looked contained,” although firefighting continued.

The wildfire service said firefighting aircraft would be working Monday to “cool down hot spots.”

“I believe they have it under control,” Stratton said.

But other residents weren’t so certain. Stephanie Symons said Monday that she had been getting messages and calls from friends “wondering what to do and if it’s time to pack up and go.”

“The fire is still very much active and flaring back up so I can’t tell you much other than we are all stressed and it’s not over,” Symons said in a message. “We just got a severe thunderstorm warning on top of all this so we are nowhere near in the clear yet.”

Environment Canada issued the warning just before 11 a.m. Monday. The BC Wildfire Service noted in its situation report Monday that the province had seen more than 20,000 lightning strikes on Sunday. It had previously said fires are showing up in areas that have seen dry lightning strikes in recent days.

Rob Warnock, the director of the Williams Lake emergency operations centre, said residents had been told they can go home after the tactical evacuations conducted by Mounties on Sunday.

Warnocksaid in a video posted to the city’s website last night that those homes remain subject to an evacuation alert, meaning residents must be ready to leave again quickly.

The alert spans properties along Mackenzie Avenue, Country Club Boulevard, Fairview Drive, Woodland Drive, Westridge Drive and Tolko’s Lakeview Mill.

Warnock said the blaze was sparked when a tree fell on power lines in the river valley on the city’s west side at about 5:45 p.m. Sunday, though the BC Wildfire Service website said Monday that the official cause is still under investigation.

With the winds at the time, Warnock said the fire “made a big run” down the valley on Sunday.

Earlier in the day, the city had asked residents to conserve as much water as possible for fire crews taking on the blaze.

B.C. Premier David Eby said Monday the government was bringing in all the resources it can to help people threatened by wildfires in the province.

“It’s an incredibly stressful time for a lot of British Columbians. We’ve got hundreds of people on evacuation order. We’ve got thousands on notice that they may need to evacuate their homes. And this is unfortunately, the beginning of the fire season that we were concerned about,” Eby said during an unrelated news conference.

The number of B.C. “wildfires of note,” that pose a risk to people or property or are highly visible, increased from one to four as fire activity spiked over the weekend.

A couple hundred kilometres northeast of Williams Lake, the Cariboo Regional District declared a local state of emergency due to the Antler Creek fire, issuing evacuation orders for the District of Wells and the historic mining tourist town of Barkerville over the weekend.

The evacuation was expanded Monday to include the popular tourist destination of Bowron Lake Provincial Park. Not all of the park is under evacuation order, but most of the lakes are included along with the Mount Tisdale Ecological Reserve, an area of alpine parkland.

In the southern Interior, the nearly 200-square-kilometre Shetland Creek wildfire prompted the Thompson-Nicola Regional District to expand an evacuation order along the Thompson River between Ashcroft to the north and Spences bridge to the south.

The district said about nine properties have been added to the order that now covers a total of 97 addresses, while residents of another 213 properties have been told to be ready to leave on short notice.

The BC Wildfire Service said nearly 140 firefighters and 12 helicopters are currently assigned to the blaze. The regional district has confirmed that some structures in the Venables Valley area have been lost to the fire.

The other fires of note are the Aylwin Creek and nearby Komonko Creek fires, both in the province’s southeast.

The Regional District of Central Kootenay has ordered multiple evacuation orders for both fires.

The intense fire activity across B.C. has been associated with a hot spell that sent temperatures in the Interior past 40 C in recent days. Environment Canada has 28 heat alerts in place for Interior and eastern B.C., although alerts have been lifted in western regions.

Smoke from the wildfires has also resulted in special air quality statements being issued for almost the entire eastern side of B.C., from the Washington border to Fort Nelson in the province’s northeast corner.

The B.C. Ministry of Transportation’s DriveBC information system said that Highway 1 remained closed for 39 kilometres, north of Spence’s Bridge to Cache Creek, where the wildfire service said the Shetland Creek fire had been showing “highly vigorous” behaviour on its eastern flank Sunday.

— By Brieanna Charlebois in Vancouver. With files from Chuck Chiang and Darryl Greer.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2024.

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