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Singh’s stance on Bill 21 called out by anti-hate group

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OTTAWA — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Tuesday he is trying to fight support for Bill 21, Quebec’s controversial secularism law, among Quebecers by proving to them that a man who wears a turban does in fact share their values.

But Singh is pushing back against accusations he is being less than clear about whether he thinks the federal government should help challenge the bill in court.

“One thing I want to make really clear is I don’t believe in interfering with the court decision right now,” he said at a campaign event in Toronto Tuesday morning.

Singh said if the case ends up in the Supreme Court of Canada then Ottawa “has the right to review what is going on.”

Every time he’s been pressed to say whether that means he’d seek intervener status — the right to make arguments against the bill in court — however, Singh has said he doesn’t want to “interfere.”

As the dust settled Tuesday following the chaotic English-language leaders’ debate, Singh was partly basking in opinions that he had performed well, perhaps adding some vim to his campaign at a critical juncture.

But he is being dogged by Bill 21, described by some leaders and pundits as the most racist law in recent Canadian history. It bars many public servants from wearing religious symbols or garments at work. That includes teachers, government lawyers, judges, and provincial and municipal police officers. Some Quebec residents who loathe the law are challenging it as discriminatory in a provincial court.

Though it only affects Quebec, the stances federal leaders are taking on whether they would use federal powers to challenge it as discriminatory have become an issue both within and outside Quebec in the federal campaign, a test for how far federal leaders are willing to go to support minority rights. The issue has quietly percolated throughout the campaign but was brought to the forefront at leaders’ debates in French and English in the last week.

Singh, the only one of those leaders who himself would be unable to work under the law, has been condemned for being unclear about challenging the bill. He seemed to take different stances during Monday’s debate and in the following press conference, mostly landing on saying that of course he dislikes the bill but still thinks he can’t “interfere” in the provincial case.

He was challenged on his position again Tuesday at a campaign event in Toronto, where he said the vast majority of people in Quebec like the law so he is going to work instead to convince them they’re wrong by wearing his turban proudly in Quebec as he pushes his other values including standing up for LGBTQ rights and a woman’s right to choose.

“I know this is absolutely having impact in Quebec,” he said. “We’re winning over hearts. The conversation is changing.”

Hogwash, said Fareed Khan, founder of Canadians United Against Hate. He said he is “gobsmacked” at Singh’s lack of conviction to go after the bill. “Changing hearts” is something that will take years to do, said Khan, which means Singh is willing to let Quebec minorities suffer in the meantime, or be forced to move.

“Of all the people, I would think he would be the one who would be leading the charge to say not only is this wrong but were I to become prime minister I would immediately take action legally,” said Khan.

Khan said that action could include asking for intervener status in the provincial case, or directly referring a question about the constitutionality of such a bill to the Supreme Court.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has been clear he won’t challenge the legislation now or in the future, reiterating that position during a campaign event in Toronto Tuesday.

Green Leader Elizabeth May has said something similar: that she doesn’t agree with the law but that Quebec is different and she won’t touch it. She has suggested before that she would help people who can’t work in Quebec because of the law to find jobs elsewhere.

Khan said none of the leaders can hold their heads high as defenders of minority and religious rights but he credits Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for leaving the door open widest for a federal legal case against the bill.

Trudeau nudged that door open a little wider this week, saying if the Quebec court case doesn’t overturn the legislation, if he is the prime minister he would step in to challenge it.

“I believe a federal government must always be there to defend religious rights,” Trudeau said Tuesday, during a campaign stop in Iqaluit.

But Khan said the leaders are terrified of offending voters in Quebec, which has 78 seats, almost a quarter of the House of Commons.

“Human rights should not be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency,” said Khan.

For Trudeau this campaign has become partly about proving to Canadians that he is not racist, after several photos emerged of him wearing blackface or brownface as a younger man, making it more important for him to try to stake out territory as the leader with the strongest stance against Bill 21.

He is also looking to make his stance against Bill 21 a factor in English Canada, where support for the concept of similar laws is low and some ridings with large visible-minority populations in and around Toronto and Vancouver could be where this election is won or lost.

On the flip side, the NDP are said to have lost ground in Quebec in 2015 when then leader Tom Mulcair spoke out against a federal Conservative ban on wearing face-coverings at citizenship ceremonies, a rule federal courts said was unlawful.

Khan said he thinks this issue is going to be part of the decision-making process for voters outside Quebec.

The Toronto region’s importance in the campaign was clear when all Scheer and Singh both campaigned there Tuesday morning, and Trudeau headed there for events Wednesday after spending Tuesday in Iqaluit.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 8, 2019.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press is a national news agency headquartered in Toronto, Canada. It was established in 1917 as a vehicle to permit Canadian newspapers of the day to exchange their news and information. For most of its history, The Canadian Press has been a private, not-for-profit cooperative, owned and operated by its member newspapers. In mid-2010, however, it announced plans to become a for-profit business owned by three media companies once certain conditions are met.

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First Nations displaced by storm share concerns with Scheer campaign

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WINNIPEG — Families forced to flee the Lake Manitoba First Nation are expressing frustration around evacuation efforts following a recent snowstorm that’s left thousands of people in the province without electricity for days.

Babies and seniors alike were crowded into a Winnipeg hotel lobby on Monday waiting for buses in one what woman described as a maddening series of events that have left people feeling like animals.

They said they weren’t sure where the buses would be taking them.

By coincidence, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s campaign arrived at the hotel and some of the evacuees asked for a chance to express their concerns to the media.

Margaret Missyabit’s voice broke as she described walking out of her home on Saturday when the power went out to try and find out what was going on, saying the community was given little time to gather the things they needed before leaving.

Nearly 21,000 Manitoba homes and businesses remained without power early Monday in the wake of a snowstorm that the province’s Crown energy utility said had left an unprecedented amount of damage to transmission lines, towers and more, and will take days to repair.

The Canadian Red Cross opened a warming shelter at the RBC Convention Centre in downtown Winnipeg over the weekend for the First Nations, which it said was necessary because of the potential number of evacuees as well as a lack of available hotel rooms.

Premier Brian Pallister declared a state of emergency early Sunday morning.

The move makes it easier for Manitoba Hydro crews to access private land and invokes help from neighbouring provinces and states — Ontario, Saskatchewan and Minnesota — who were being asked for workers, poles and even transmission towers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 14, 2019

The Canadian Press

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‘Save the kids!’ Dorian survivor tells the harrowing story of his wife’s death

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TORONTO — Cialin Dany knew he was in trouble when he saw a massive palm tree laying on the ground next to the Abaco Lodge.

As hurricane Dorian whirled at the door, Dany, 32, took his Canadian wife, Alishia Liolli, and two of their children and hunkered down in a room at the fishing resort where he worked. Then another tree slammed into the building.

“The bolts start popping, like popcorn, pop, pop, pop, pop,” Dany said. “Then whoosh, the roof flew off.”

The family and a friend who was with them ducked for cover under the bed and prayed. They watched as the wall in the back of the room swayed.

“Then the wall came down,” Dany said as he recalled the events of Sept. 1.

The wall pinned all five underneath the bed. Their 18-month-old son Evans and Dany’s 11-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, Kescianna, wailed with fear.

Dany’s breathing laboured — the bed frame dug into his neck and right shoulder.

“Daddy, daddy, you don’t sound too good,” his daughter said.

“Count to 500 and I’m going to figure something out,” he said.

“I say to God, ‘if you give me 45 minutes, I swear to you I can save them.'”

He grabbed a piece of wood that flew into the room, jammed it under the bed frame and hit it repeatedly. The pressure on his neck eased. He moved a bit and grabbed another errant piece of wood and smashed the wall. He kicked his way through the rubble and slipped out from underneath the bed.

He scrambled to his feet, grabbed another piece of wood to lever the bed, but the wood broke. 

“I need help,” he said to his family.

Liolli told him to get a sledge hammer that was in another room. Dany slammed the tool into the wall, trying to break it up, but the handle snapped in two.

“I’m in really big trouble now,” he thought to himself.

He tried lifting the bed near his friend, Luke Saint Victor, figuring if he could get another adult out, the two of them could save the rest. 

“I ask God for one pound of strength more,” he said.

He moved the bed up a bit, enough for his daughter to get out, then he turned to his wife, who was pinned under the wall.

“I say, ‘Alishia, come on baby, it’s your turn,'” Dany said.

“She threw me Evans and said ‘save the kids!'”

Meanwhile, the water outside the one-storey building continued to rise.

“I’m going for help,” he yelled.

He took the children and got into his car, but glass in the doors began to burst. A shard lodged near baby Evans’ eye. Blood flowed.

“Everything was flying, shingles flying, wood flying,” Dany said.

The water rose fast. The car doors would not open, and his daughter started screaming.

“You are a track star,” he told her. “You can do it, just run. When I tell you to move, we move.”

Dany crawled out the window, took the kids and sprinted to a dumpster that had been blown on its side. They hid there for hours as maggots crawled everywhere.

A slight reprieve came when dawn broke and the sun peeked out. He returned to the lodge to try and save his wife and friend, but  he couldn’t lift up the wall.

Liolli told him to go get help.

Dany dropped his children off at their pastor’s home, found a chainsaw that he hoped would free his wife and friend, and headed back to the lodge, which by then had been flooded.

He called out to his wife and heard his friend, Luke Saint Victor, say in a faint voice “the water came up, the water came up.'”

When the chainsaw failed, Dany used an axe to cut the wall into pieces and finally removed the bed.

Underneath, his wife wasn’t breathing. He performed CPR, but it didn’t work.

“The problem was when she went under the bed, she went on her belly and Luke went on his back,” Dany said. “The water came up, not much, like an inch or two, but it was enough.”

Liolli had drowned.

“My head went blank,” Dany said. “I was crying like a crazy man, just freaking out. I held her in my arms.”

But there was no time for a long embrace. He flagged down a passing power truck, placed Liolli and Saint Victor on the flatbed and then rushed to the clinic. The chief of police, who was there dealing with a flood of bodies being brought in, saw Liolli.

“She’s already gone,” he told Dany.

Dany said he had to get back to his kids. He left Liolli there and prayed Saint Victor would pull through. His friend would die a few days later in Nassau.

After reuniting with his children, Dany called Liolli’s family in LaSalle, Ont., to deliver the news.

Dany later returned to the clinic to figure out how to get Liolli’s body off the island. The authorities moved it to a courtyard along with dozens of other bodies, hidden from the public, but it took a while for Dany to figure that out.

“Nobody would give me an answer, nobody was helping,” he said.

Time was a problem. A body doesn’t last long in the Bahamas heat.

“The smell was starting to rise up on the island,” he said. “I needed to get the boy out of there. It was crowded, dark, and I didn’t trust anyone.”

The airport and docks were overrun with crowds, so he drove to Treasure Cay where he and Evans spent two days outside, getting bit by spiders and bugs, as they waited for a flight off the island. His daughter Kescianna stayed with his ex-wife.

The pair got to Nassau, where Deny was faced with a bureaucratic nightmare that went on for days. Back in Canada, Liolli’s mom, Josie Mcdonagh, tried frantically to get the authorities to help. 

About a week later, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called the family.

“She helped a lot,” Mcdonagh said.

Liolli’s body finally made it to Nassau on Sept. 11. Dany had to identify it.

“I did not want to see her like that, but I had to,” he said. “I had to.”

Liolli’s body was too decomposed to be transported, so he and the family decided on cremation.

It took 20 days to get her remains to Canada.

“I just wanted her family to have something, so they could go somewhere and know where she is,” Dany said.

The family held a funeral and placed Liolli’s remains in a niche at a cemetery in Windsor, Ont. Afterward, they held a wedding for Liolli and Dany — they were common law wife and husband for years — complete with open bar.

“She’s home now,” her mother said.

Last week, Liolli’s family and friends gathered at Ryerson University in downtown Toronto to celebrate her life. Her former sociology professor, Jean Golden, has launched a fundraising campaign to help rebuild Every Child Counts — a vocational school for children with special needs in Abaco that Liolli helped build and run. The school was destroyed during the hurricane.

“Alishia’s dream will never be destroyed,” Golden said through tears.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 14, 2019.

On the web:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/every-child-counts-school-in-abaco-bahamas

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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