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Probe into Halifax fire that killed seven Syrian children under way as community mourns

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Dozens of people gathered outside the charred remnants of a suburban Halifax home Tuesday night to mourn the loss of seven children killed in a fast-moving fire and to show support for the injured, grieving parents left behind.

They carried flowers and wept openly in the frigid darkness, looking for solace in the company of neighbours and listening to a Christian pastor attempt to gather community strength for the Muslim refugees from Syria beginning to make a new life in Canada.

Josh Crawford sang “Amazing Grace” and said they all needed to draw upon their faith to recover from the tragedy.

“The next couple of days are going to be hard, but it’s going to be the weeks and the months to come that this family is going to need you the most,” said Crawford, whose mother teaches at the school attended by the two oldest children.

The fire struck not long after midnight on Tuesday morning. Neighbours said they were awoken by a woman’s screams and looked out to see flames that quickly engulfed the entire upper floor.

Investigators had not yet determined the cause, but spent Wednesday examining the burnt remnants of the house and fire department officials told media they had no evidence to suggest it was suspicious.

The family had only lived in the Quartz Drive home for a few months, having moved into Halifax from Elmsdale, N.S., to take advantage of language training and other immigrant services.

They had fled war-torn Syria and, with the help of a private sponsorship group, came to Canada in September 2017. A spokesperson for the group said the family had planned to return to Elmsdale next month.

Natalie Horne, vice-president of the Hants East Assisting Refugees Team, identified the father as Ebraheim Barho and the mother as Kawthar Barho. She said the children who died are: Ahmad, 14; Rola, 12; Mohamad, 9; Ola, 8; Hala, 3; Rana, 2 and Abdullah, who was born in Canada in November.

Ebraheim Barho, who was badly burned while trying to rescue his kids, was fighting for his life Tuesday. Kawthar Barho was also injured, but is expected to survive.

Meanwhile, a fundraising campaign launched to help the parents was quickly gathering support.

The GoFundMe page entitled “Halifax House Fire Tragedy” had collected more than $217,000 of its stated $300,000 goal with donations from more than 4,400 people as of 8:00 a.m. local time Wednesday.

The effort is organized by family friends and the Imam Council of Halifax.

The call to gather for the vigil went out on a community Facebook page and more than 100 people responded.

They added more flowers, candles and teddy bears to a memorial propped up against a light standard in front of the house.

“What brought me here was those children that lost their lives,” said Fran Kirby, who brought flowers. “It’s a shame for those children, and those parents. I don’t even understand how anybody could tell a parent (their children had died).”

Her friend Heather Bennett was in tears as she talked about her own three-year-old boy.

“It hit home,” she said.

Iain McLaren and Kristen MacDiarmid said they moved into the neighbourhood two years ago and wanted to show their support to the community that had welcomed them.

“When you hear about these things in the media, you think these happen so far away, but today it happened so close and to have it happen to a family that’s from Syria, it’s just a devastating blow to the neighbourhood,” McLaren said.

Crawford said the emotional gathering was an important gesture for the people who came and for the grieving parents who couldn’t.

“It speaks volumes to the family—a father who can’t be here right now and the mother who is by her husband’s side,” he said. “It just shows that we as a community are standing together and here for this family.”

A funeral for the children is expected Wednesday or Thursday.

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Students call on University of Ottawa to implement pass/fail grading amid pandemic

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OTTAWA — The University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) is calling on the university to introduce optional, one-course-only pass/fail grading for the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 semesters amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The students’ union said nearly 5,000 uOttawa students have signed its petition supporting the grading system.

In a letter to the university, the UOSU said it is asking the school to make changes to the grading structure, including allowing one course per semester to be converted to the “pass” or “satisfactory” designation.

The UOSU also made recommendations regarding a reduction of workload and course delivery.

“The adaptation to online learning during the pandemic for students has created unique challenges and disruptions that could not have been anticipated,” wrote Tim Gulliver, the UOSU’s Advocacy Commissioner. 

“The use of flexible compassionate grading options has been introduced in other universities, such as Carleton University which includes a use of Pass/Fail which we feel could be implemented at the University of Ottawa.”

Carleton University approved the use of flexible and compassionate grading for the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 terms in early November.

The UOSU also called for all grades that constitute a fail to appear as “Not Satisfactory” on their transcript, which would not be included in grade point average calculations. 

The union represents more than 38,000 undergraduate students at the University of Ottawa.

In a response to CTV News, the University of Ottawa said it is aware of the petition.

“Last spring a decision was made by the (University) Senate to allow the Satisfactory/Non Satisfactory mark to be used, given the unique circumstances of the pandemic, which hit us close to the end of the Winter 2020 semester. The University is aware of the petition and is looking into the matter.”

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OPP warn of phone scams in Ottawa Valley

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Upper Ottawa Valley OPP warn residents of a phone scam that’s been making its way through the region recently. 

Police say a scammer pretends to be from a local business and tells the person their credit card didn’t work on a recent purchase before asking the person on the phone to confirm their credit card number. 

The victim may not have even used the card at the store, but police said the scammer creates a sense of urgency. 

Police remind residents to verify the legitimacy of any caller before providing any personal information over the phone. 

Similar scams have been reported recently in the region, according to police, with scammers posing as police officers, Revenue Canada or other government agencies demanding payment for a variety of reasons. A Social Insurance Number scam has also been reported recently, where a victim is asked for their SIN number under threat of being arrested. 
 
If a scam artist contacts you or if you have been defrauded, you’re asked to contact police or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501 or visit their website at www.antifraudcentre.ca.

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The human history of Ottawa Valley is thousands of years old. Archeologists may have found a piece of it on Parliament Hill

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OTTAWA—Archeologists working on Parliament Hill have discovered a relic of Indigenous life that one Algonquin leader sees as a symbol of his people’s long history in what is now the heart of Canadian political power.

The jagged stone point was unearthed last year on the east side of Centre Block, but its discovery was not publicized as officials worked with Algonquin communities to authenticate the object, the Star has learned.

Stephen Jarrett, the lead archeologist for the ongoing renovation of Parliament’s Centre Block, said this week that while such an object is “not an uncommon find,” the stone point joins just a small handful of Indigenous artifacts ever discovered on Parliament Hill.

“It’s about the size of my palm, and it could be used as a knife or a projectile,” Jarrett said this week in response to inquiries from the Star.

He said the point is made of chert, a type of sedimentary stone most often used for implements of this type. And while the point was unearthed in what Jarrett calls “disturbed soil” — earth that has been dug up and moved, most likely during construction of Parliament — the soil it was in “is natural to the site.”

That means “it came from a source nearby, but finding exactly where it came from is impossible,” Jarrett said.

For Douglas Odjick, a band council member responsible for education and culture with the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, this artifact of “an original world” is a testament to the longevity of his Algonquin nation in an area they still claim as unceded and unsurrendered territory. Based on the assessment of Ian Badgley, the top archeologist with the National Capital Commission, Odjick said the stone point is likely 4,000 years old and dates to a time when the confluence of the Ottawa, Gatineau and Rideau Rivers — along with all their tributaries that stretch out into the surrounding area — served as a great hub of regional trade activity.

“It symbolizes who we are and how long we’ve been here,” Odjick said, comparing the area to an ancient version of a busy hub like New York’s busy Grand Central Station.

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