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Laquan McDonald: Ex-US police sentenced for black teen’s murder | News

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Chicago, Illinois – A judge in the United States has sentenced former white police officer Jason Van Dyke to six years and nine months in prison, plus two years probation, for the 2014 murder of black teenager Laquan McDonald.

It is the first time in decades that a police officer in the racially divided city of Chicago has been convicted of on-duty murder and sentenced to jail time.

But activists decried Friday’s sentence as too lenient, while the convicted killer said he “felt great” after the sentencing, according to his lawyer, who all spoke to the press after the emotional, nearly nine-hour hearing.

Van Dyke had pumped 16 shots into 17-year-old McDonald on October 20, 2014, continuing to fire after the boy’s body hit the pavement.

Van Dyke and other officers first claimed he acted in self-defence, but late last year a mostly white jury found otherwise after viewing dashboard camera footage of the incident, which showed McDonald holding a small knife while veering away from the officer.





Activists protest outside the Cook County court after the sentencing of former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke [Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP]

The footage had been withheld for more than a year after the shooting and was only released after a Freedom of Information Act request.

Once made public, the graphic video sparked outrage and protests in Chicago, leading to the firing of the city’s top cop and the Federal Department of Justice launching an investigation into the Chicago Police Department.

Van Dyke faced a sentence anywhere from probation without jail time to dozens of years behind bars, but on Friday, Judge Vincent Gaughan said he would only sentence the ex-policeman for murder since it is a more serious offence than aggravated battery.

‘Sad day for America’

Murder convicts in Illinois may only serve half their sentences, so Van Dyke, who has already served three months, may walk free in just over three years.

“This is a slap in the face for us, and a slap on the wrist for him,” William Calloway, an activist who helped file the Freedom of Information Act request, told press outside the court. “We’re devastated. We’re heartbroken.”

In his explanation of the sentence, Judge Gaughan focussed on the effect of the crime and trial on the families of Van Dyke and McDonald.

“This is not pleasant, and this is not easy,” he said. “This a tragedy for both sides.”






White Chicago cop convicted of murder in shooting of black teen (2:22)

McDonald’s great-uncle Rev Marvin Hunter told reporters after the hearing that it was a “sad day for America,” while noting the significance of a Chicago police officer going to jail.

“African American people are still being treated as second class citizens when it comes to sentencing laws,” he said, calling for changes in laws for harsher sentencing of officers. “But I want to say to everyone that if they sentenced him to one minute, it is a victory.”

Defence lawyer Dan Herbert said the sentence was a “huge relief” for his client.

“He truly felt great [after the sentencing],” he said. “It was the first time I’ve seen the guy, since this whole ordeal started, that he was happy.”

Different pictures

Witnesses at Friday’s marathon hearing painted two very different pictures of Van Dyke.

Hunter described the ex-policeman as having “cold, callous disregard for the life of a young black man”, while four other black men took the witness stand and accused Van Dyke of a pattern of violence.

One said Van Dyke held a gun against his temple and called him the N-word, another said the officer choked him in the back of a squad car, while another recounted being handcuffed and dragged by Van Dyke so badly that he required surgery and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

But defence witnesses sought to portray Van Dyke as a family man, not a serially violent, racist officer. Retired officer Kenneth Watt said Van Dyke was a “darn nice guy” and a “good police officer”.

Van Dyke’s wife Tiffany repeatedly broke down as she pleaded for leniency, describing how their two school-age daughters have been bullied and struggle to sleep without their father home.

“He is my everything. He is my other half. He is a kind gentleman,” she said, as her husband, wearing a scruffy beard and a yellow prison uniform, sat across the court and looked down at the table in front of him. “He is not a murderer.”

Van Dyke himself made a short statement, delivered in muted tones, a sharp contrast to the defiant, sharp responses he gave to prosecutors during the jury trial.

“I pray daily for the soul of Laquan McDonald, and it was due to my actions that his family suffered the pain of the loss of a family member,” he said. “I will have to live with this for the rest of my life.”

Three other officers were separately charged in covering up Van Dyke’s actions, but a judge acquitted them on Thursday.

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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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