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Rumours swirl after dismissal of Canadian commander in Afghanistan

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard – who was fired late Saturday as head of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan because of alleged sexual misconduct – is the first Canadian general officer to be dismissed on the battlefield since the Second World War.

Menard had been named to lead a critical NATO campaign against the Taliban in Kandahar – a task that will now fall to his stopgap replacement, Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance, who was in charge of the 2,800 Canadian troops in Afghanistan until six months ago, and will take over again until another general arrives at the end of September.

Only a few hours after Lt.-Gen. Marc Lessard, the leader of Canadian Expeditionary Force Command, announced Menard’s precipitous fall from grace, the “one leaf” general quietly boarded a CC-130 Hercules transport in 41 C heat to begin the 11,000-kilometre journey home to Canada and a potential public court martial.

The woman allegedly involved with Menard was also sent back to Canada.

Menard – who had four months left in his 10-month deployment to Afghanistan – is being investigated by the military’s police’s National Investigation Service, which is charged with investigating “serious and sensitive service and criminal matters” for the forces, according to its website. The NIS has the power to lay charges, as does a commander or someone deputized by him.

“Sexual activity or any other form of intimate contact in any context,” is strictly forbidden for Canadian troops in Afghanistan, according to standing orders on personal relationships that every soldier receives before deploying to South Asia.

As explained in the five-page document, the reason is that soldiers in Afghanistan “work, train and live together in conditions of close physical proximity with minimal privacy and separation from partners and loved ones,” according to the document. “(Therefore) certain restrictions must be placed on their conduct to ensure operation effectiveness through the maintenance of discipline, morale and cohesion.”

The exit of the 42-year-old infantry officer from the Royal 22nd Regiment and the reasons for it were the subject of intense speculation Sunday – not only among the 1,000 Canadian soldiers based at Kandahar Airfield, but the thousands of NATO troops from other countries stationed here.

Rumours were rampant about what may or may not have happened and with whom. The firestorm was fuelled by remarks by an aide to Defence Minister Peter MacKay who infuriated officers here by alleging in Ottawa that Menard had an improper relation with a member of his staff, thereby throwing a cloud of suspicion over a small group of women working in the headquarters here.

Told of Menard’s dismissal and alleged misconduct Sunday morning at Kandahar Airfield moments after leaving his sleep tent to grab a shower, a soldier of junior rank shook his head in disgust and said, “First Col. Williams and now Gen. Menard. What is the public to think?”

The soldier was referring to Col. Russell Williams, former commander of Canadian Forces Base Trenton, who was charged in January with two counts of first-degree murder in the sex slayings of two Ontario women. One of the victims was an enlisted woman under his command.

A senior Canadian officer said he was “shocked” by the allegations against Menard and worried because this is “not a great spotlight to cast on Canadians in theatre.”

A captain promoted from the ranks with decades of service, said that what had happened was “a shame.” But the rules regarding personal relations were well known, he said. “This case demonstrates that none of us is above military law.”

Menard is married to Maj. Julie Fortin, who commands a logistics company at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier in Quebec. They have two children.

Military officials confirmed that the woman allegedly involved with Menard was also under investigation although if charged, the general’s alleged offence would be considered to be more serious misconduct because as commander he was her superior.

The allegation, which falls on the heels of a conviction last week against Menard for negligent use of his rifle two months ago in Kandahar, is an almost certain career-ender for the soldier.

Until Saturday, the general, who was well liked by his troops, had been clearly identified by the military as one of its highest-flyers and was a strong bet to be promoted into the most senior ranks in the next few years.

Menard’s signature project during his tour has been the establishment of “a ring of stability” around Kandahar City, which both NATO and the Taliban consider to be the vital ground in their long conflict. In several interviews two months ago, the general spoke of “breaking the back” of the insurgency.

Chosen in his 20s for a prestigious cross-posting with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, Menard also served in Germany, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Haiti.

After pleading guilty to the gun charge last Tuesday and paying a $3,500 fine, Menard returned to Kandahar on Thursday evening.

Hours after his arrival he looked extremely happy to be back, jumping up from a table to greet a journalist and to tell him how much he looked forward to the next months of his command.

Menard’s swift ascent through the ranks ended the moment Lessard concluded Saturday that there was enough information to merit an investigation into serious misconduct.

It is understood that Lessard made the decision after consulting with MacKay and Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Canada’s top soldier. Some of Menard’s hand-picked team of senior officers in Kandahar appeared shattered by his dismissal. Many of these majors and colonels, who were mostly from Quebec, were intensely loyal to the general. Most had worked closely with Menard in other assignments and all had spent six months training intensely with him in Quebec, Alberta and California before deploying to Kandahar last November.

Menard was not the first Canadian general to leave his tour in Afghanistan prematurely. Another Van Doo, Brig.-Gen. Gerry Champagne, was not half way through his tour with ISAF’s Regional Command South last year when he suddenly returned to Canada after what was described as “a strong personality conflict” with his superior, British Maj.-Gen. Nick Carter.

Menard was to take command of Canadian Land Force Area Quebec in Montreal upon his return to Canada. It is now widely assumed that another French-speaking general will be found to fill that post.

Vance was about to become director general land capability development in Ottawa. That posting at National Defence Headquarters has presumably been delayed for some months.

HangZhou Night Net

Police searching for witness to weekend murder near High Park

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

Police are searching for the only adult to witness the murder of Ludlow Gillespie, a young father stabbed in the neck over the weekend in a car near High Park in front of his daughter.

According to witnesses, a child’s loud screams coudl be heard before the car swerved onto the curb as it drove north on Windermere Ave. near Lakeshore Blvd. Mr. Gillespie, 25, staggered out of the car, collapsed on the pavement and died of a stab wound to the neck.

Melissa Lewis, 24, is charged with second degree murder. She was Mr. Gillespie’s common-law partner. Travelling in the car with the couple was their six-year-old daughter and Ms. Lewis’s father, David Winn, 54.

Mr. Winn fled the scene with his granddaughter before he could be interviewed by police. The little girl was eventually brought to 11 Division by other family members, but Mr. Winn is still missing.

The Children’s Aid Society is currently investigating the circumstances of the incident and where the child will live in the future.

Homicide Detective Gary Giroux urges Mr. Winn to contact police for the sake of the investigation and the child’s future.

“He’s legally not obstructing justice. As a citizen, he has the right not to cooperate with investigators,” Det. Giroux said at a news conference Monday morning.

“This is different from traditional cases, but he is involved and he will be subpoenaed to a preliminary hearing and expected to answer questions truthfully. With regards to the CAS investigation, any ongoing and sustained co-operation from the family will bode well as to where the child remains.”

The only information police have at this time with regards to the nature of the dispute is based on what they learned from the little girl. The only details she provided were that she was screaming while “Mommy produced a knife and stabbed Daddy,” Det. Giroux said.

The child was extremely upset and crying during the police interview. Other family members were present.

There is a history of domestic conflicts between Mr. Gillespie and Ms. Lewis, who have been in a common-law relationship for the past seven years. Mr. Gillespie had a previous conviction for domestic violence and was prohibited from communicating or having contact with Ms. Lewis.

A post-mortem is now underway.

Mr. Gillespie’s death was Toronto’s 17th homicide of 2010.

HangZhou Night Net

Search called off for missing kayaking woman

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

MONTREAL – A woman who fell into the chilly St. Lawrence River waters near Montreal’s Old Port while kayaking Friday afternoon remained missing Saturday as a search for her was called off.

The coast guard and police did not attempt a search Saturday following a day of attempts to locate the missing woman.

A Canadian Forces Griffon helicopter, which flew a grid pattern over the site and downriver, on both sides of the Jacques Cartier Bridge, was among the search-and-rescue equipment brought in, to no avail.

Coast guard spokesperson Nathalie Letendre said the search was suspended Friday about 4 p.m. – 3 1/2 hours after the woman fell in the water from a two-seater kayak. “We only search for people who might be alive,” Letendre said.

Montreal Police spokesperson Olivier Lapointe said no additional searches would be started unless someone reports a sighting worth investigating. The river’s current is too strong and the body could be anywhere, Lapointe said.

Paddling west against the stiff current Friday in the tiny blue two-seater kayak, the woman along with a man, came perilously close to a mid-river navigational-lane buoy “but managed to pass it” when a surge in the current smashed them and their fragile vessel back and against the buoy, eyewitness Ronald Lavallee said.

“The kayak folded up (against the buoy) like a wallet,” Lavallee added.

“One second we saw them paddling. The next, they were in the water,” said Mehdi Tremblay, another eyewitness.

One of the kayakers, a man who “looked about 45,” Lavallee said, was pulled from the river, wearing a life-jacket, by a crew that rushed to the buoy on another vessel.

“He wasn’t in the water very long,” Lavallee said of the male survivor.

The woman’s life-jacket was sighted and recovered within minutes of the incident, leading to doubts about her prospects for survival in the water.

The kayaking outing went wrong just off the Quai de l’Horloge in the Old Port, roughly midway between the old clock tower and the geodesic dome on Ile Sainte-Helene that housed the American Pavilion during Expo 67.

Montreal Gazette

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HangZhou Night Net

Soldier’s murder trial moves to Afghanistan

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

OTTAWA – The second-degree murder trial of a Canadian soldier will move to the scene of the alleged crime – Afghanistan – next month.

Testimony is scheduled to resume at Kandahar Airfield, where Afghan soldiers and interpreters are to give evidence about the events of Oct. 19, 2008.

Military prosecutors contend that, during an Afghan-led military operation that day in Helmand Province, Capt. Robert Semrau, 36, of Canadian Forces Base Petawawa in Ontario fired two tracer rounds into the chest of a severely wounded, disarmed Taliban insurgent.

Semrau faces four charges, including second-degree murder, in connection with what has been described as a battlefield mercy killing. Semrau has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

His general court martial, which began two months ago, has been marked by repeated delays as lawyers argue over how the unusual case should proceed.

Military prosecutors recently concluded the “Canadian” portion of their case.

The court martial will now go into hiatus as the Office of the Chief Military Judge co-ordinates the court’s move to Afghanistan.

Since the judge, court reporter, prosecutors, defence lawyers and five-member jury are military personnel, they must all be qualified to perform first aid, fire a C-8 rifle and respond to a chemical or biological attack in order to travel to Kandahar Airfield.

In Afghanistan, the court martial is expected to hear from an Afghan interpreter, known as Max, who was with Semrau, and his fire team partner, Cpl. Steven Fournier, on the day of the alleged shooting.

Military prosecutor, Capt. Tom Fitzgerald, has told court that the interpreter saw Semrau fire the second shot into the wounded Taliban fighter, who had been left to die by the Afghan National Army. The insurgent had been blasted from a tree by an Apache helicopter.

Fournier has testified that Semrau told him and the interpreter to walk away from the wounded man. After he turned to go, Fournier said, he heard two shots in quick succession and turned with his rifle raised, fearing an ambush. Fournier said he saw Semrau standing over the insurgent with his rifle pointed at his chest.

Semrau was leader of a four-man Canadian mentoring unit embedded with an Afghan rifle company.

Fournier has testified Semrau admitted to a “mercy killing” when the mentoring team gathered on the battlefield a few minutes after the shooting.

That version of events, however, has not squared with the testimony of other team members.

Former Cpl. Tony Haraszta, testified that Semrau spoke to the team that night and told them he shot the Taliban to “put him out of his misery.”

The third team member, Warrant Officer Merlin Longaphie, testified that Semrau made no such admissions any time that day.

Semrau’s lawyers have yet to present a defence in the case, but their cross-examinations have served to highlight the inconsistencies between witnesses.

The defence has also established that it would have been next-to-impossible for Semrau to call in a helicopter to remove the injured man since the area had not been secured.

It will also be open to the defence to argue that the Taliban fighter had already died by the time Semrau is alleged to have shot him. In a cellphone video, entered into evidence by the prosecution, the insurgent lies motionless on the ground and shows no signs of life.

There are no autopsy results in the case, since the insurgent’s body was never recovered.

The court martial has also heard that Canadian soldiers were taught that a military operation should never be compromised by the administration of first aid on a battlefield. Longaphie said his battlefield first-aid course instructors stressed that, in war, “tactical realities” trump all other concerns.

The instructors, he said, suggested it was sometimes necessary to sacrifice the lives of injured combatants to ensure the success of a mission.

Ottawa Citizen

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$9B pricetag likely for Canada’s next-generation fighter aircraft

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

Replacing Canada’s CF-18s with a new generation of fighter aircraft will cost taxpayers around $9 billion, one of the most expensive military equipment purchases ever.

The Conservative government confirmed in 2008 its plans to purchase 65 fighter aircraft and is expected to approve the project some time this year, air force officials say.

The Defence Department would not provide a cost estimate, claiming that to make the figure public would undercut the procurement process for what is being called the next generation fighter.

"To date, no decision has been made by the government of Canada on the choice of a next-generation fighter aircraft or on the procurement approach," added DND spokeswoman Jocelyn Sweet.

But in April, Col. Randy Meiklejohn, of the Directorate of Aerospace Requirements, told a gathering of defence-industry representatives in Ottawa that the cost of the program would be about $9 billion. The air force, he pointed out, plans to have the new aircraft in service starting in 2017.

The figure he used would include not only the 65 aircraft but also spare parts and long-term support.

A number of different fighter aircraft could be considered as a replacement for the CF-18s, but the military has been partial to the U.S.-built Joint Strike Fighter.

The Defence Department’s claim that it cannot release any figures associated with a new aircraft purchase until the project is approved by government appears to contradict its previous position. DND documents obtained through the Access to Information law previously estimated the full cost to replace at least 80 CF-18 fighter aircraft would be $10.5 billion.

Steven Staples, president of the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute, said DND didn’t want to provide the $9-billion figure because it’s worried about a backlash from taxpayers.

"Their plan is to keep this in the backrooms and try to get this deal signed without anyone noticing," said Staples, who has spoken out against what he says are high levels of military spending. "The government wants to spend $9 billion on a stealth fighter when this country has a $50 billion deficit. They should try spending a little more on health care instead."

Staples noted that the cost of the project is creeping up without explanation – at one point the government was going to spend $10.5 billion on 80 fighters; now it is $9 billion for 65. "Who knows what this will end up costing Canadians?" he said.

NDP defence critic Jack Harris, who raised the issue of the next-generation fighters in the House of Commons Thursday, said it is not clear at this point why Canada needs to spend billions on a new fighter jets.

He pointed out that in March, the Canadian Forces received the last of its newly upgraded CF-18 fighters. That project cost $2.6 billion.

An air force study produced last year also noted the need for manned fighter aircraft will decrease starting after 2019 as unmanned aerial vehicles – or drones – and other advanced technologies became more common.

But there are those in the defence community who say the new jets are needed.

The Air Force Association of Canada has pointed out that the jets are necessary to support military forces overseas and to protect Canadian sovereignty. Piloted aircraft can’t be fully replaced by drones, the association argues.

Meanwhile, in the Commons Thursday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said a new generation fighter would not only contribute to making sure the military has the right equipment, it would also provide opportunities for domestic aerospace companies.

"There is eye-watering technology now available, and a fifth-generation fighter aircraft will be brought to Canada after the year 2017," he said.

But MacKay also appeared to contradict DND’s claim that no decision had been made on how the procurement program for the new fighter aircraft will be handled when he said there would be an open competition.

MacKay went on to suggest the decision would be between the Joint Strike Fighter and another aircraft he didn’t name.

Alan Williams, a former assistant deputy minister at DND, said he found it strange the department was not being more forthcoming about the new fighter program.

"Whenever you’re going to be spending billions of dollars, you need to involve industry, involve the public and involve Parliament," said Williams. "It makes no sense to hide this."

He noted that when he was with the Defence Department, it was common for equipment project leaders to talk about their programs as well as give details on the rough estimates of project costs – now that isn’t being done. Williams said since he left DND in 2005, there has been a significant increase in secrecy around military-procurement programs.

HangZhou Night Net

Firefighters facing “a real monster,” Que. official says

Sunday, June 23rd, 2019

Firefighters continued to battle Monday major forest fires inching closer to the native reserve of Wemotaci in central Quebec as winds blew thick smoke hundreds of kilometres way to Montreal and Ottawa.

The province’s forest fire protection agency, the Sopfeu, said 47 forest fires were raging across the province at midday Monday and eight were considered out of control.

The overall situation has improved over the weekend, but firefighters are concerned about Wemotaci, one of the hottest spots of the province.

A fire near the reserve – which was evacuated last week – grew vigorously Sunday and firefighters were forced to retreat because the smoke was too dense. "It was infernal, we’re up against a real monster," Sopfeu spokesman Marcel Trudel told reporters in La Tuque, noting the flames were as high as 30 metres.

The Sopfeu said their teams were able to return to Wemotaci Monday morning to battle the flames surrounding the reserve. "The fire didn’t do any damage but some preventive lines didn’t hold up and we’ll have to do extra work in those places," Trudel said.

He noted the winds have shifted and died down, giving a hand to the firefighters. The Sopfeu is also hoping the light rain forecasted for the region will provide some relief.

The majority of the fires are burning near Wemotaci and La Tuque, about 300 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

The Quebec provincial police asked Monday that cottage owners and people who fish and camp in the region evacuate.

"We don’t want people to wait until the last minute. We don’t know if we’ll be able to get everyone out by air if the situation becomes critical," said Surete du Quebec spokeswoman Eloise Cossette.

Some fires are also burning in the area of Parent, in the Mauricie, and in the Abitibi region.

Over the past week, firefighters have battled 118 fires in the province and managed to put out 66. With the help of teams from British Columbia, Alberta, New Brunswick, Maine and New Hampshire the Sopfeu currently has 1,300 firefighters working across Quebec.

The smoke from the fires has drifted hundreds of kilometres away, reaching Montreal, Quebec’s Eastern Townships and Ottawa Monday.

A layer of smoke enveloped the Montreal region Monday morning and Environment Canada issued a smoke warning for Laval, Vaudreuil, Soulanges Huntingdon, Richelieu Valley, Ste. Hyacinthe, Lachute, St. Jerome, Lanaudiere, Mauricie, Drummondville, Bois-Franc and the Eastern Townships.

The City of Montreal’s air quality monitoring stations indicated the worst readings were in Ste. Anne de Bellevue and areas of downtown, where readings were above 150. Fifty-one and above is considered bad air quality.

Smog especially affects asthmatic children and people with respiratory ailments or heart disease. It is, therefore, recommended that these individuals avoid intense physical activity outdoors until the smog warning is lifted.

In Ottawa, the fire department was kept busy responding to ‘multiple calls from across the city’ about the odour early Monday.

By Monday night, the winds are expected to change again to blow the smoke north and clear of the Montreal and Ottawa region.

With files from the Montreal Gazette and the Ottawa Citizen

HangZhou Night Net

Cull suggested for Nova Scotia’s Sable Island

Sunday, June 23rd, 2019

A federal report proposing a massive seal cull on Nova Scotia’s Sable Island has drawn the ire of environmentalists who say it is unjustifiable and would turn the famed island, known for its wild horses and isolated, windswept beaches, into an international embarrassment for Canada.

The report, prepared last year for the federal Fisheries Department, proposes the slaughter of an estimated 220,000 seals over a five-year period.

Obtained under access-to-information legislation and posted online by The Coast weekly newspaper in Halifax, the report lays out in grisly detail, potential plans for controlling the island’s grey seal population, which is estimated at 300,000.

One proposed plan is an “immunocontraceptive” vaccine program aimed at the female population of grey seals.

The other, and more attention-grabbing plan, is a cull that would kill 100,000 seals in the first year, and 30,000 in each of the following four years – the killing would take place during the winter months and involve shooters using rifles.

To avoid the animals being “spooked” by the sound of gun blasts, silencers are recommended to be used. But since silencers are illegal in Canada, the devices likely would have to be imported from the United States, where they are legal. That would, the report said, mean special permits would have to be obtained, under guidelines of Canada’s Firearms Act.

The report also recommends the killing of baby seals because without their mothers, they would be left to starve.

The report says the fishing industry blames the seal population for overconsuming fish stocks, for disturbing feeding and spawning patterns of fish, and for destroying fishing gear, among other things.

Mark Butler, the policy director for the Ecology Action Centre, a Halifax-based environmental advocacy group, said such a cull would have to be kept up for years to come to be successful, something he said simply isn’t warranted.

“I don’t think the fishing industry in justified going in there and (killing thousands of) seals when they haven’t cleaned up their own act,” Butler said.

Earlier this year, the Nova Scotia and federal governments said they would team to designate Sable Island as either a national park or a national wildlife area.

Butler said he’s dubious such a project would be undertaken in an area destined to be a national park.

“But one can never underestimate . . . there’s been some very foolish schemes,” he said.

He said that given the international opposition the seal hunt already faces, a massive cull on Sable Island would be a “gong show.”

Butler said some of the reasons species flourish is because their natural predators have been eliminated. He cited the fact that there are some sharks that hunt seals, and that sharks have been overfished.

HangZhou Night Net

Gulf oil spill threat widens, protests planned

Sunday, June 23rd, 2019

VENICE, La. – Oil from BP’s out-of-control Gulf of Mexico oil spill could threaten the Mississippi and Alabama coasts this week, U.S. forecasters said on Monday, as public anger surged over the country’s worst environmental disaster.

U.S. government and BP officials are warning that the blown-out deepwater well feeding the catastrophic spill may not be shut off until August as the company begins preparations on a new but uncertain attempt to contain the leaking crude.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will meet with federal prosecutors and state attorneys general in New Orleans in Tuesday. It will be Holder’s first trip to survey the damage before what legal experts believe will be a criminal investigation into the disaster.

The London Stock Exchange and Wall Street were closed for holidays on Monday, but BP shares in Frankfurt sank 7 per cent to close at around 5.40 euros ($6.93 Cdn) on the news of the company’s weekend failure to halt the oil leak.

BP’s stock has lost nearly a quarter of its value since the oil spill started six weeks ago, wiping nearly 29 billion pounds ($44 billion Cdn) off BP’s market value, according to Reuters data.

The disaster, in its 42nd day on Monday, is already the largest oil spill in U.S. history and officials are treating it it as the country’s biggest environmental catastrophe.

Although Louisiana’s wetlands and fishing grounds have been the worst hit so far by the spill, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said moderate southerly and southwesterly winds this week may start moving oil closer to the Mississippi Delta.

"Model results indicate that oil may move north to threaten the barrier islands off Mississippi and Alabama later in the forecast period," NOAA said in its 72-hour prediction on the expected trajectory of the huge oil slick.

Mississippi and Alabama have escaped lightly so far, with only scattered tar balls and oil debris reaching its coasts.

But the NOAA forecast was a sober reminder that oil from the unchecked spill, broken up and carried by winds and ocean currents, could threaten a vast area of the U.S. Gulf Coast, including tourism mecca Florida, as well as Cuba and Mexico.

Following the failure this weekend of BP’s attempt to plug the spewing 1.6 km-deep well, public anger over the spill and how it occurred is growing, as tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents face a pollution impact on their livelihoods.

A group calling itself Seize BP, which has already staged anti-BP protests, said on Monday it would organize demonstrations in more than 50 U.S. cities from Thursday to Saturday to protest the damage from the leaking oil.

The group demands that BP’s assets be immediately seized and held in trust to pay compensation for the spill triggered by the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

"JOBS VANISHING, CREATURES DYING"

"The greatest environmental disaster with no end in sight! Eleven workers dead. Millions of gallons of oil gushing for months (and possibly years) to come. Jobs vanishing. Creatures dying. A pristine environment destroyed for generations. A mega-corporation that has lied and continues to lie, and a government that refuses to protect the people," Seize BP said in a statement.

The public anger and frustration over the spill poses a major domestic challenge for President Barack Obama, who has been forced to admit publicly that the U.S. government and military do not have the technology to plug the leaking well and must leave this to BP and its private industry partners.

Obama, who made his second visit to the Gulf disaster zone on Friday, is sending three of his top energy and environmental officials back there this week. He is trying to fend off criticism that his administration acted too slowly in its response to the spill, the worst in U.S. history.

The crisis could swell into a political liability for the Democratic president as his administration and party, bloodied by bruising health care and economic policy debates, head toward key mid-term congressional elections in November.

Louisiana’s commercial and recreational fishing industry already has been dealt a blow by the spill. Fishing boats bobbed idle on Monday at the Venice Marina in Louisiana, which would normally be a hive of activity during the long Memorial Day weekend.

"Just take a look around, it’s quiet," marina owner Bill Butler said as he sat wistfully looking at the idle boats.

As a health precaution, U.S. authorities have closed all fishing in 25 per cent of Gulf of Mexico U.S. federal waters.

The Gulf Coast is one of America’s richest ecosystems and a vital breeding ground for a $6.5 billion seafood industry.

ULTIMATE HOPES IN RELIEF WELL

BP executives say the company will try several immediate options to try to control the leak, including the planned deployment of a containment cap in the next few days, but the ultimate solution may only lie in the drilling of a relief well that is expected to be completed in August.

The drilling of two relief wells, which began in May, is an expensive but more reliable way to intercept and cap the leaking well.

The Gulf spill has surpassed the Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska in 1989 as the worst U.S. oil spill, with an estimated 12,000 to 19,000 barrels (1.9 million to 3 million liters) leaking per day.

BP is now preparing a containment cap to place on top of a lower marine riser package (LMRP), a piece of equipment that sits atop the failed well blowout preventer on the seabed.

Remote vehicles have begun cutting away pipes atop the blowout preventer to allow a tight fit with the cap, and will saw through the main riser pipe in "next day or two," a BP spokesman said on Monday.

The White House said the company would begin cutting a pipe that rises out of the so-called LMRP on Monday or Tuesday.

If the containment operation works – and BP expects to know later this week – then at least some of the leaking oil could be piped to the surface.

HangZhou Night Net

Harper regrets deaths in Israeli attack on aid convoy

Sunday, June 23rd, 2019

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement Monday regretting the deaths and injuries that occurred when Israel used military force against a flotilla of ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip, but said more information is needed to shed light on what happened.

The statement was issued by his office shortly before Harper hosted a meeting in his office with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"Canada deeply regrets the loss of life and the injuries suffered," Harper’s office said. "We are currently looking for more information in order to shed light on what exactly happened."

Prior to meeting Harper, Netanyahu gave his "full backing" to Israel’s military forces after Israeli navy commandos stormed the vessels in international waters, leaving as many as 19 people dead and others injured.

"The prime minister . . . reiterated his full backing for the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) and inquired about the well being of the wounded," his office told AFP in Ottawa.

The incident prompted a wave of international condemnation, as Israel said it was forced to board the ships to uphold its blockade of the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory.

White House spokesman Bill Burton said the United States "deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy."

Netanyahu was scheduled to meet U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday, but reports indicated the visit had been cancelled.

At the United Nations, the Security Council will meet Monday afternoon for an emergency session to discuss the attack on the flotilla, Security Council diplomats told Reuters.

They said no time had yet been set for the meeting and gave no further details.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay condemned Israel’s use of military force as "disproportionate."

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights joined calls for an "immediate and credible" inquiry into the interception and urged Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

"We need to establish exactly what happened. However, nothing can justify the appalling outcome of this operation, which reportedly took place in international waters," Pillay said in a statement.

"I unequivocally condemn what appears to be disproportionate use of force, resulting in the killing and wounding of so many people attempting to bring much-needed aid to the people of Gaza, who have now been enduring a blockade for more than three years."

According to Israel’s Channel 10 television, 19 passengers were killed when Israeli naval forces stormed the ships, although the army gave a toll of 10.

HangZhou Night Net

Canada’s economy grows faster than expected

Sunday, June 23rd, 2019

OTTAWA – Canada’s economy grew at a faster pace than expected in the first quarter of this year, led by consumer spending, increasing the possibility of an interest rate hike Tuesday by the country’s central bank.

Gross domestic product rose at an annualized pace of 6.1 per cent between January and March, the biggest jump since the last quarter of 1999, Statistics Canada reported Monday. Growth in the fourth quarter of last year was revised to 4.9 per cent from five per cent.

Most economists had expected GDP growth of 5.8 per cent in the first three months of 2010.

"Residential investment increased for a fourth consecutive quarter, as did consumer spending on goods and services," Statistics Canada said. "Export and import volumes both rose for a third consecutive quarter, with growth in imports outpacing growth in exports in the first quarter."

This marks the third straight quarter of economic growth in Canada, following three consecutive quarters of contraction.

Meanwhile, Statistics Canada separately reported that March economic growth was 0.6 per cent, after a 0.3 per cent advance in the previous month.

"While there are some questions on the sustainability of the rebound, there is simply no question that the early stages of Canada’s recovery exceeded even the most optimistic expectations," said Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.

Monday’s GDP numbers came one day before the Bank of Canada meets to decide whether to begin increasing interest rates.

Many economists expect the central bank on Tuesday will raise rates for the first time since lowering them to a record-low 0.25 per cent in April 2009 in an effort to fight off the worldwide recession. The consensus is for a 25-basis-point rise to 0.50 per cent.

"While it might initially appear unseemly for the bank to hike into a severe stock market correction, it would arguably be even more frightening to the market if a peripheral country like Canada was worried enough to defer rate hiking despite such compelling domestic arguments," said TD Securities’ Eric Lascelles. "In the event that conditions deteriorate further, the bank can always pause later in its tightening cycle, with minimum damage done."

Statistics Canada said consumer spending on goods and services rose 1.1 per cent in the first quarter, compared to a one per cent gain in the previous quarter.

"Household spending on semi-durable goods advanced, particularly for clothing, footwear, and accessories," the report said. "Expenditure on new motor vehicles grew, but at a much slower pace than in the previous three quarters."

Residential investment advanced 5.4 per cent, the fourth monthly increase in a row, while new housing construction jumped 11 per cent and renovation activity was up 6.3 per cent.

Exports were up 2.9 per cent, the third consecutive quarterly gain following five quarters of decline, the federal agency said, led by industrial goods and materials and auto products. Imports rose 3.4 per cent, again lifted by industrial goods and materials and auto products -as well as machinery and equipment.

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