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Chicago cops acquitted of alleged coverup in black teen’s killing | USA News

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Activists and relatives of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager in the United States who was killed by a white police officer more than four years ago, have decried a court ruling that acquitted three current and former Chicago officers of conspiring to protect a white colleague by lying about the circumstances around the fatal shooting.

The October 2014 killing of 17-year-old McDonald, which was captured on police video, triggered months of protests and became emblematic of longstanding police abuse in Chicago, the country’s third-largest city.

On Thursday, Judge Domenica Stephenson acquitted officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney and detective David March of trying to cover up the shooting, dismissing as just one perspective the shocking dashcam video of McDonald’s killing that also led to a federal investigation of the police department and the rare murder conviction of an officer.






White Chicago cop convicted of murder in shooting of black teen

In casting off the prosecution’s entire case, the judge seemed to accept many of the same defence arguments that were rejected in October by jurors who convicted officer Jason Van Dyke of second-degree murder and aggravated battery.

He is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, facing up to 20 years in prison for the second-degree murder conviction and up to 30 years for each of the 16 counts of aggravated battery, one for each shot he fired at McDonald, who was carrying a knife.

The judge said the video showed only one viewpoint of the confrontation and that there was no indication the officers tried to hide evidence.

“The evidence shows just the opposite,” she said. She singled out how they preserved the graphic video at the heart of the case.






THE LISTENING POST: Cops, lies and videotape: the death of Laquan McDonald (9:05)

‘Sad day for America’

McDonald’s family questioned how the two cases could produce such different decisions.

His great uncle, the Reverend Marvin Hunter, told reporters that the verdict means “that if you are a police officer you can lie, cheat and steal”, adding that it proved the city’s legal system was “corrupt”.

“This is not justice,” he said. “To say that these men are not guilty is to say that Jason Van Dyke is not guilty,” Hunter added, describing the verdict was a step backward for the black community’s struggles for justice.

“It is a sad day for America.”

Karen Sheley, of the ACLU of Illinois, said in a statement: “The court’s decision does nothing to exonerate a police department so rotten that a teenager can be murdered – on video – by one of its officers.”

The case has provoked periodic street protests since 2015, when the video came to light, and the acquittals could renew that movement.

Eric Russell, executive director of Tree of Life Justice League, a police accountability advocacy group from Chicago’s West Side, said he and other leaders expected hundreds to protest the verdict on Friday before Van Dyke’s sentencing.

“We will be down here tomorrow by the hundreds, and we will cry out for justice for Laquan,” Russell said.

Special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes said she hoped the verdict would not make officers reluctant to come forward when they see misconduct. Her key witness, officer Dora Fontaine, described how she had become a pariah in the department and was called a “rat” by fellow officers.






Videos of US police killings fail to bring justice (2:11)

The trial was watched closely by law enforcement and critics of the department, which has long had a reputation for condoning police brutality.

Walsh, Gaffney and March were accused of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice. All but Gaffney have since left the department. They asked the judge, rather than a jury, to hear the evidence.

After the verdict, Walsh would say only that the ordeal of being charged and tried was “heart-breaking for my family, a year and a half”.

In her ruling , the judge rejected prosecution arguments that the video demonstrated officers were lying when they described McDonald as moving and posing a threat even after he was shot.

“An officer could have reasonably believed an attack was imminent,” she said. “It was borne out in the video that McDonald continued to move after he fell to the ground” and refused to relinquish a knife.

The video appeared to show the teen collapsing in a heap after the first few shots and moving in large part because bullets kept striking his body for 10 more seconds.

The judge said it’s not unusual for two witnesses to describe events in starkly different ways. “It does not necessarily mean that one is lying,” she said.

The judge also noted several times that the vantage points of various officers who witnessed the shooting were “completely different.” That could explain why their accounts did not sync with what millions of people saw in the video.






FAULT LINES: Confidential: Surveilling Black Lives Matter

Both Van Dyke’s trial and that of the three other officers hinged on the video, which showed Van Dyke opening fire within seconds of getting out of his police SUV and continuing to shoot the teenager while he was lying on the street. Police were responding to a report of a male who was breaking into trucks and stealing radios on the city’s South Side.

Prosecutors alleged that Gaffney, March and Walsh, who was Van Dyke’s partner, submitted false reports about what happened to try to prevent or shape any criminal investigation of the shooting. Among other things, they said the officers falsely claimed that Van Dyke shot McDonald after McDonald aggressively swung the knife at the officers and that he kept shooting the teen because McDonald was trying to get up still armed with the knife.

McDonald had used the knife to puncture a tire on Gaffney’s police vehicle, but the video shows that he did not swing it at the officers before Van Dyke shot him and that he appeared to be incapacitated after falling to the ground.

Attorneys for Gaffney, Walsh and March used the same strategy that the defence used at Van Dyke’s trial by placing all the blame on McDonald.

It was McDonald’s refusal to drop his knife and other threatening actions that “caused these officers to see what they saw”, March’s attorney, James McKay, told the court. “This is a case about law and order (and) about Laquan McDonald not following any laws that night.”

City Hall released the video to the public in November 2015 – 13 months after the shooting – and acted only because a judge ordered it to do so. The charges against Van Dyke were not announced until the day of the video’s release.

The case cost the police superintendent his job and was widely seen as the reason the county’s top prosecutor was voted out of office a few months later. It was also thought to be a major factor in Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s decision not to seek a third term.

The accusations triggered a federal investigation, resulting in a blistering report that found Chicago officers routinely used excessive force and violated the rights of residents, particularly minorities. The city implemented a new policy that requires video of fatal police shootings to be released within 60 days, accelerated a program to equip all officers with body cameras and adopted other reforms to change the way police shootings are investigated.






US: Chicago police accused of racist use of ‘bait trucks’ tactic (2:16)

According to the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database, at least 995 people have been killed by the police in the US in 2018. The Post found that more than 980 people were killed by police the previous year.

The Guardian identified more than 1,090 police killings in 2017

Nearly a quarter of those killed by police in 2016 were African Americans, although the group accounted for roughly 12 percent of the total US population.

According to watchdog group The Sentencing Project, African American men are six times more likely to be arrested than white men.

These disparities, particularly the killing of African Americans by police, has prompted the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, a popular civil rights movement aimed at ending police violence and dismantling structural racism.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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Canada: Significant Changes To Canada’s Federal Environmental Protection Regime Proposed

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On April 13, 2021, the government of Canada proposed significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (“CEPA”)1 through the introduction of Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (the “Amendments“).2

With these Amendments, the government hopes to modernize Canada’s environmental regime which has not undergone significant change in over 20 years. CEPA is the primary statute through which the federal government regulates and protects the environment. CEPA and its accompanying regulations regulate among other things the treatment and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste, vehicle and engine emissions, equipment and other sources of pollution, and the prevention and impact of environmental emergencies such as oil and chemical spills.

This bulletin provides an overview of the major changes to CEPA that have been proposed.

The Right to a Healthy Environment and Certain Soft Rights

Significantly, the Preamble under the Amendments will officially recognize Canadians’ right to a healthy environment. Section 2 of CEPA will require the government to protect that right when making decisions relating to the environment.3

The Amendments set out specific obligations the government must undertake to safeguard this right, including developing an implementation framework to set out how this right will be considered in the administration of CEPA as well as conducting research, studies and monitoring activities to support this goal.

In addition, the Preamble will recognize some additional considerations, including confirming the government’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as well as recognizing the importance of considering vulnerable persons, reducing or replacing the use of animal testing, and the right of Canadians to have access to information on product labels.

Project Impact Assessment

With respect to risk assessments under CEPA, under the new provisions the federal government must consider impacts on vulnerable populations and possible cumulative effects of the proposed conduct. Vulnerable populations will include groups of people with elevated biological susceptibility, such as children, and groups with elevated exposure risks, such an indigenous communities. Consideration of cumulative effects of proposed conduct takes a holistic approach to substance management by considering the compounding risks of exposure to various chemicals during daily life rather than looking at substances on their own.

Chemicals Management

The federal government has identified the management of chemicals as a key target area under the new CEPA.

The Amendments thus propose to overhaul this regime in order to better protect Canadians from the evolving risks of harmful chemicals and pollution. To accomplish this, the government has proposed wide ranging changes relating to risk assessment, public accountability, management of toxic substances and new substances, which are discussed in turn below.

Risk Assessment

The government must consult, develop and publish a Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities which will set out an integrated plan for the risk assessment of various chemical substances currently being used in Canada. The Plan will establish priorities for the management of substances, taking into account a number of factors including among others the views of stakeholders and partners, public comments, the effects on vulnerable populations, the toxicity of the substance, the ability to disrupt biological reproduction or endocrine systems, and whether there are safer and more sustainable alternatives.4 The government will also be empowered to make geographically targeted regulations to address pollution “hot spots”.

Additionally, the Amendments will establish a mechanism through which any person can submit a request to the Minister to assess a substance to determine its toxicity and risk to the environment. The Minister must provide a response within 90 days, indicating whether they intend to assess the substances and their reasons for their decision.

Public Accountability Framework

The Amendments intend to increase transparency and public participation in risk assessments by the government for the categorization and management of potentially toxic chemicals. Currently, CEPA contains a public accountability framework under section 77 and provides time limits for the government to assess substances under sections 91 and 92. However, these provisions only apply to certain risk assessments being conducted by the government such as substances placed on the Domestic Substances List that in the opinion of the Minister present the greatest potential for exposure to Canadians or are persistent or bio-accumulative. The proposed Amendments plan to amend section 77 to expand these transparency and accountability measures to all substance risk assessments for toxic or capable of being toxic substances, with the exception of assessments for new substances.5

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Scientists, Homalco First Nation team up to probe massive B.C. landslide — and its impact on salmon

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When the side of a B.C. mountain gave way on Nov. 28, 2020, crashing into a glacier fed lake and creating a 100-metre high tsunami, no one was around to see the destruction or hear the sound of rocks and trees tearing through the valley below. 

But scientists say the force, which was picked up by seismographs across North America, was the equivalent of a 4.9-magnitude earthquake. 

Fortunately, no one was in the slide’s path, but experts believe that a melting glacier likely contributed by making the slope less stable — and climate change means it is a growing risk. 

As more of Canada’s glaciers recede, scientists say there is great interest in finding out what exactly triggered this slide, and how the rocks and sediment have impacted the salmon population of nearby Elliot Creek and Southgate River. 

The mountain, which is located about 220 km north west of Vancouver, is on the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation. 

It’s an area of remote wilderness, only accessible by air or by boating 80 km up Bute Inlet.

When the slide hit last year, more than 18 million cubic meters of rock barrelled down the slope hitting the lake within 30 seconds. 

“That is the equivalent of all of the cars in Canada coming down the hill at once,” said Marten Geertsema, a geomorphologist who works with the B.C. government studying landslides. 

He is one of several scientists, along with members from the Homalco First Nation, who have been studying the landslide and its cascading environmental impact on the watershed and salmon habitat. 

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