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B.C. committee approves misconduct probe of top legislature officials

B.C. committee approves misconduct probe of top legislature officialsVICTORIA — Two suspended officials at British Columbia's legislature now face an independent misconduct review as well as an ongoing RCMP investigation.Members of the all-party Legislative Assembly Management Committee voted unanimously Thursday to appoint a top legal official to determine whether clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz breached their administrative duties.Lenz and James have been suspended with pay since November after members of the legislature learned of an RCMP investigation and the appointment of two special prosecutors.A 76-page report last month by Speaker Darryl Plecas outlined allegations of spending abuses by James and Lenz that included lavish foreign trips, clothing perks and topped up retirement and vacation pay outs."I think we have a path forward," said Plecas after the committee meeting. "I'm extremely happy of the decision to have a jurist who will do an independent review. I'm assuming that's going to be a rather quick path and we'll have to see where it all lands."James and Lenz have denied any wrongdoing and responded in writing earlier to the allegations.The committee voted unanimously Thursday to publicly release a second report by Plecas that responds to James and Lenz."The responses from Mr. James and Mr. Lenz attempt to create a contest of evidence between me and them, but that is not what this is about," says the second Plecas report.Plecas's report says his reports are supported by the accounts of more than a dozen witnesses who worked with Lenz and James at the legislature for years."Why are these positions so lacking in accountability and oversight compared to the conduct of employees and officials working elsewhere in government?" says the report. "Why are these officers travelling all over the world like dignitaries, spending enormous amounts of money and justifying it all by their bare assurances that the events were useful?" Plecas is chairman of the eight-member, all-party committee that oversees management at the legislature, which has a budget of $83 million.The legislature's three house leaders — New Democrat Mike Farnworth, Liberal Mary Polak and Green Sonia Furstenau — attended a joint news conference at the end of the committee meeting."All three parties around that table take this issue very seriously," said Farnworth. "We take the institution very seriously and we worked together to come up with a way forward."The committee also voted to appoint auditor general Carol Bellringer to conduct a full audit of the legislature's finances. The committee voted late last year to assign that work to an outsider auditor, bypassing Bellringer.Last November, the members of the legislature voted unanimously to put Lenz and James on administrative leave after learning of an RCMP investigation.The members also learned two special prosecutors were appointed last October to provide legal assistance and advice to the RCMP in relation to an "investigation being conducted into the activities of senior staff at the B.C. legislature."Lenz and James were escorted from the legislature by security officials.Lenz and James provided written responses earlier this month to the Speaker's first report that alleged spending abuses on trips, expenses and legislature items, including alcohol and a wood splitter and trailer.The report also alleged inappropriate retirement and vacation pay outs."The report goes out of its way to smear my character," James says in a 24-page response. "It contains opinions and innuendo which are neither accurate, nor fair. It attributes statements to me which I never made, and conduct in which I never engaged."Lenz says in his 62-page response the expenses he charged were legitimate and reasonable. He says every trip was for business purposes and he flew economy class and the legislature did not pay for his wife when she joined him."The trips that I took were not boondoggles," Lenz says in the document. "They were for important business of the Legislative Assembly — part of an ongoing program to improve security and business continuity in face of threats like the shootings at Parliament in Ottawa ... and natural disasters."Plecas said his report is based on a lengthy investigation conducted by his office and includes his personal observations.Plecas, a criminologist, was named Speaker of the legislature after B.C.'s close-fought 2017 election that resulted in the minority New Democrat government. Plecas was elected as a Liberal, but was ejected from the party caucus after he accepted the Speaker's post. He now sits as an Independent."British Columbia taxpayers deserve a legislative assembly that is accountable, transparent, efficient, fiscally responsible and fair to its employees," says the Speaker's first report. "A full inquiry needs to be conducted into these matters and changes need to be made. That is why I have brought these matters forward."The government said in this month's throne speech it will "work with this assembly to implement reforms that restore trust in this core institution, so that our democracy is stronger going forward."Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

Missing snowshoer found dead in avalanche debris on Vancouver's North Shore

Missing snowshoer found dead in avalanche debris on Vancouver's North ShoreVANCOUVER — Searchers discovered the body of a missing snowshoer in avalanche debris on Vancouver's North Shore on Wednesday, two days after he was swept away.Peter Haigh of North Shore Rescue says searchers made the discovery on Runner Peak, north of Mount Seymour.He says the BC Coroners Service will investigate the cause of death but the man appears to have suffered trauma when the avalanche hit.The mother of the 39-year-old Surrey, B.C., snowshoer has identified him as Remi Michalowski.The man was hit by an avalanche on Monday that pushed his 30-year-old companion up against a tree but left him uninjured and able to call for help.The younger man was airlifted out of the area late Monday, while darkness and a subsequent snowstorm forced suspension of search efforts for almost 36 hours.Searchers with specially trained dogs returned to the challenging area Wednesday morning to search through the debris pile left by the avalanche.Haigh is urging hikers to be careful on the slopes."Avalanches, they're so bloody dangerous and they're so unpredictable. It's very, very frustrating," he says.Avalanche Canada has upgraded the slide risk to "considerable" in the treeline of the south coast mountains where the man's body was found.A post on the Avalanche Canada website says "an unusual, weak layer makes steep and convex terrain features particularly dangerous."Heavy snow has fallen across southern B.C. over the last 10 days and Avalanche Canada says 30 to 50 centimetres of new snow on the south coast mountains is poorly bonded to the base, with the problem especially pronounced on the North Shore.(The Canadian Press, News1130)The Canadian PressNote to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version that moved Wednesday said North Shore Rescue was North Shore Search and Rescue.

Stabbed B.C. cop who tackled knife-wielding man called hero by police chief

Stabbed B.C. cop who tackled knife-wielding man called hero by police chiefDELTA, B.C. — An off-duty British Columbia police officer who was stabbed several times in the stomach while picking up his children outside an elementary school is being called a hero by his police chief. "I want to acknowledge the quick thinking and the bravery of acting Sgt. (John) Jasmins," Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord told a news conference Thursday.He said Jasmins intervened in a domestic dispute by tackling a man who is also accused of stabbing his wife just as children were being released from school on Wednesday."John's thought was this was an immediate circumstance that needed action and as a result he jumped in and did a barrel tackle of this gentleman while he was in the process of using the knife," Dubord said.He said Jasmins' children saw their father in an altercation outside Immaculate Conception elementary school and ran to tell adults who called 911 before police responded in just over a minute.Dubord said 49-year-old Manoj George, whose marriage was dissolving, has been charged with two counts each of aggravated assault and assault with a weapon."Police knew of the circumstance but certainly had never seen any violence that had occurred," Dubord said.George's 41-year-old wife, who was picking up one child at the school, remains in hospital in serious condition."Your heart does take a quick skip," Dubord said of hearing about the officer's situation while sitting in his office and wondering whether any kids were involved."We had another victim in this case and I certainly don't want to minimize that," he said.Dubord said he visited Jasmins in hospital Wednesday evening and the officer wanted to thank staff and parents who leapt into action by calling 911, providing first aid to him and the injured woman and looking after students."I also want to express gratitude to the Surrey RCMP and my amazing wife and children who were so brave and had the awareness and composure to run to the nearest adult and direct them to call 911," Jasmins said in the statement.Jasmins underwent surgery on Wednesday night, and the chief said the officer is on the road to a full recovery.The officer is in charge of community policing in Delta, south of Vancouver, and has been a police officer for over 13 years. The school was closed Thursday and police will be there on Friday with their trauma dog, Dubord said.The principal of elementary school said counselling would also be made available for students on Friday. Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Boy isolated 400 days: Manitoba urged to end long solitary confinement for youth

Boy isolated 400 days: Manitoba urged to end long solitary confinement for youthWINNIPEG — Manitoba's children's advocate is urging the province to stop lengthy solitary confinement of youth in custody after a review that found one boy was isolated for 400 straight days in a cell no bigger than a parking stall.Daphne Penrose and provincial ombudsman Marc Cormier jointly investigated the use of solitary confinement, segregation and pepper spray in Manitoba's youth jails.Penrose said in a 100-page report released Thursday that the province should immediately end solitary confinement longer than 24 hours for kids in custody.She also recommended that Manitoba Justice restrict the use of punitive segregation overall and called on the province to build a facility to address trauma, mental illness and other mental impairments youth who are locked up in jail frequently live with."Some youth in Manitoba have been confined in solitary, denied their basic needs and refused meaningful human contact for days and weeks on end," Penrose said of the youth, called Colton in the report, who spent more than a year in isolation.Colton was diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, attention deficit disorder and other cognitive issues, she said, and spent a total of more than 650 days in solitary.Penrose called Colton's case "a clear violation of human rights, of international standards." "What we discovered … was extremely concerning, unacceptable and must immediately change," Penrose said at a news conference.The investigation began in 2015 after the advocate's office fielded several complaints about segregation and pepper spray in Manitoba's two youth jails: Agassiz Youth Centre and Manitoba Youth Centre.The review found that between September 2015 and August 2016, youth corrections staff placed 167 males in solitary confinement 498 times. About 20 per cent of cases lasted for more than 15 days.The advocate defines solitary confinement as being placed alone in a cell for more than 24 hours without meaningful human contact or mental stimulation.Statistics Canada data shows Manitoba has the highest rate of youth incarceration in Canada with more than 80 per cent being Indigenous.The advocate suggested use of solitary confinement and segregation is harmful to youth and hurts their chances at successful reintegration into society."Ultimately, (it) may increase recidivism and compromise public safety."Penrose did find that the use of pepper spray on jailed youth declined dramatically to two instances last year from 2010's high of 46.Staff told investigators that may be due to "alternative de-escalation methods" such as talking to youths and having patience to wait out a situation.In a separate report, Cormier made 32 recommendations on segregation, largely focused on reviewing compliance with correctional services laws and regulations.Gathering data was difficult as records weren't systematic or complete, he said. Corrections employees had a "systemic misunderstanding" about what documentation was required and that led to "miscollection" of information."Without that data collection you are making poor decisions."Cormier suggested that jails be made to have policies that make clear that segregation can't be used as discipline. He also called for changes to require youth be informed of their rights and access to services.Manitoba Justice has accepted his recommendations and will put them into place by March 1, Cormier's report said.Penrose said she has not yet heard from the department.Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said Penrose's report is still being reviewed.He said Manitoba's segregation policies changed last year and are in line with other provinces."I think it is important to know that youth in segregation are there because their behaviour poses a risk to themselves, to other inmates or to staff," he said."Every effort is made to ensure that youth go back into general population at the earliest opportunity."Cullen also said the use of pepper spray in youth facilities has declined over the past few years. He said it was only used twice last year.Cullen said segregation and pepper spray are only used as a last resort but acknowledged that more changes are needed to ensure positive outcomes."The health, safety and security of staff and inmates at our youth correctional facilities is one our top priorities."NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine said the reports are very troubling."All children must be kept safe, even those serving sentences," Fontaine said in a release."Today, the Pallister government refused to listen to the expertise of the Advocate and heed her call for better youth mental health supports. They also failed to take responsibility for the accurate and consistent reporting of these methods. Children deserve better."Last week, the province announced a review into the connection between youth justice and child welfare.One of the goals is to try to keep "crossover kids" out of jail. A study of admissions at the Manitoba Youth Centre in October showed about 60 per cent of youth facing charges were also involved with child-welfare services. James Turner, The Canadian Press

Wilson-Raybould wasn't pressured, is free to talk, top bureaucrat says

Wilson-Raybould wasn't pressured, is free to talk, top bureaucrat saysCanada's top bureaucrat launched a vigorous defence Thursday of the government's handling of the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, bluntly declaring allegations of political interference to be false and even defamatory. Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council, took opposition MPs to task for jumping on the anonymously-sourced allegations to accuse the government of obstructing justice.

Friday 22nd of February 2019 03:50:44

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