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N.L. Liberals to announce next leader, 14th premier during atypical convention Monday

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador’s 14th premier will be announced Monday during an unusual party leadership convention coloured by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Only 50 people will be allowed inside the event to welcome the next leader of the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador due to the province’s restrictions on large gatherings. The tight limit has forced organizers to get creative and take tough decisions about who will make the list.

“It would be nice if we could have 1,000 people … with all the hooting and the hollering that goes with a leadership convention,” said Judy Morrow, a member of the leadership election committee, in a recent interview. “But you have to work with the times and the circumstances that we’re dealing with.”

Premier Dwight Ball is stepping down, and one of the two men vying to replace him as leader of the Liberals will become premier. The party’s 34,000 eligible voters began voting last week online and by telephone.

The candidates are Andrew Furey, a physician and charity founder with family connections to Ottawa, and John Abbott, a former civil servant and CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association. Neither has held elected office, and the winner will guide the country’s easternmost province through a challenging period, staring down a $2.1-billion deficit presented in a fiscal update last month.

The winner will take the stage Monday evening at the St. John’s Convention Centre but none of the Liberal caucus will be there. Ball is scheduled to make remarks virtually from Deer Lake, N.L., on the island’s west coast. 

Between candidates and their families, convention centre staff, campaign workers, journalists and party brass, “it doesn’t take long to come up with 50 people,” said Morrow, who is also a former party president.

The Liberals are considering running the show without a teleprompter — and the person required to manage the technology — as a way to find one extra place for a body. Scrutineers and the election auditor will work out of a nearby building.

Monday’s leadership election will be the first event hosted at the convention centre since the pandemic started, according to Morrow, who said planning the celebration is like working with a moving target. Those in attendance will be spaced out across the vast ballroom that was designed for bigger crowds.

Despite the challenges that come with running an election during a pandemic, registration numbers indicate people are excited to choose the next leader.

Thousands more people have signed up to vote compared with the Liberals’ leadership election in 2013, the party says. Close to 10,000 votes had already been cast by Thursday afternoon and 1,000 people were registered to participate in Monday’s virtual annual general meeting.

“These are just really, really good numbers,” Morrow said. “We’re just so thrilled and so pleased that the public are so engaged.”

After he is sworn in, the new premier is required by law to call a general election within a year.

Both candidates have said they aren’t in a rush to trigger a vote before the end of 2020, saying they will consult with the other two party leaders in the legislature to choose a date.

The opposition, meanwhile, is gearing up. The Progressive Conservative party is opening candidate nominations across the province and plans to hold a general meeting in October.

Monday’s winner will need to quickly turn his attention to the provincial budget, which is expected to be tabled in September. This fiscal year’s deficit has already jumped by $1.35 billion since the budget was tabled, due primarily to plummeting oil revenues and pandemic-related costs.

Furey, son of current Senate Speaker George Furey, is widely seen as the front-runner, following public endorsements from the sitting Liberal caucus. The 45-year-old has pledged to create the position of “chief economic recovery officer” to help tackle the province’s fiscal challenges.

Furey said working with Ottawa will be key to sorting out the province’s money woes, and he points to his experience in business, charity organizations and working with others as evidence he is prepared for the job.

“It’s a call to the best and the brightest, and I’ve seen the power of teamwork and navigating difficult situations and I think I can use that in transition to governing,” Furey said in an interview last month.

Abbott, 63, has taken a tougher stance against Ottawa compared with Furey on issues such as rising electricity rates. In a July interview, Abbott said his public service experience has shaped his understanding of the challenges facing the province and prepared him for the leadership.

“I’m looking forward to … building cabinet, working with caucus, reinvigorating the bureaucracy to look at this as a challenge for a lifetime,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published August 2, 2020.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press


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Carleton ends student placements with police over failures to address racism

OTTAWA — Carleton University’s criminology school says it will no longer place students to work with police forces and prisons as a show of solidarity with the movement to address systemic racism in Canada’s criminal justice institutions.

Carleton’s Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice said in a statement Tuesday that the move will affect about 22 student placement positions in the 2020-2021 school year.

Since its creation 21 years ago, the institute says thousands of students have gained experience in the field through placements with the RCMP, Correctional Services Canada, the Ottawa Police Service and the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre.

Faculty say the decision to end these opportunities comes in response to calls for organizations to cut ties with law enforcement agencies facing mounting public scrutiny over racist practices.

They say these institutions have demonstrated their “imperviousness to reform,” pointing to the recent string of police killings of Black, Indigenous or otherwise racialized people and those suffering from mental health challenges.

The institute says it hopes to expand student placement opportunities at research initiatives and community-based organizations working on a range of issues related to policing, criminal justice and social welfare.

Carleton is one of many schools with criminology programs that are re-examining their relationships with law enforcement as the push to reform or defund police forces gains traction across Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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Innu Nation files human rights complaint over Ottawa’s child protection funding

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — The Innu Nation has filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission alleging the federal government spends more money removing children from their homes as opposed to keeping families together.

Innu Nation Grand Chief Gregory Rich said in a statement Tuesday Canada’s child welfare system has devastated Innu families.

The complaint, which was filed in June, says the federal government gives Newfoundland and Labrador more money for the foster care system compared with the funds it provides to help families.

A 2016 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision found the federal government’s unequal funding for child welfare services discriminated against children who live on reserves.

Rich says funding remains inadequate and Innu children are suffering.

He says one Innu child out of every 10 has been taken out of their home as a result of the current funding system.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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Mother calls for strict sentence in son’s 2016 death in Halifax jail cell

HALIFAX — The mother of a man who died in a Halifax police jail cell in June 2016 has asked a judge to impose the “strictest penalty possible” on two special police constables found guilty of criminal negligence in his death.

In her victim impact statement read during a sentencing hearing today, Jeannette Rogers said she is seeking a strict penalty because living every day without her son is like a “life sentence without the possibility of parole.”

A medical examiner determined Corey Rogers, who was intoxicated, died of suffocation while lying in the cell with the spit hood covering his mouth as he appeared to be vomiting.

Crown attorney Chris Vanderhooft asked Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Kevin Coady for two-year prison sentences for Daniel Fraser and Cheryl Gardner, who were found guilty by a jury last November of criminal negligence causing death.

Vanderhooft says both failed in their duty of care by not seeking medical attention for Rogers and the sentence should reflect the principles of “denunciation and deterrence.”

The defence is expected to make its sentencing submission to the judge later today.

During the trial the jury was shown video of Rogers, 41, heaving in a cell while wearing the spit hood. The mask prevents prisoners from spitting on guards, but also comes with instructions warning against leaving it on a highly intoxicated person who may vomit.

Hours before his death, Rogers was arrested outside a Halifax children’s hospital where his wife had given birth to their child the day before.

Evidence was presented during the trial that he was extremely impaired after rapidly drinking half a bottle of whisky and that police saw him consume the liquor.

The police officers who arrested Rogers testified they placed the hood on his face after he was spitting in the police car as he was driven to the station.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published August 12, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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