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How events unfolded after foreign affairs minister sent tweet rebuking Saudi Arabia

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Months before a firestorm erupted over a federal government tweet criticizing a Saudi civil rights crackdown, Canadian diplomats had been trying to delicately address the issue behind closed doors.

Those efforts came crashing down after Global Affairs Canada publicly called out Saudi Arabia on Twitter for arresting activists and demanded their release.

A trove of over a thousand pages of emails and memos from officials in Ottawa and the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh, obtained by CBC News through an Access to Information request, tells the story of how events unfolded.

Earlier tweets elicited no reaction

While it was the tweets in early August that triggered an international diplomatic crisis, tweets posted May 23 similar in tone and message seemingly went unnoticed. That same day, Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland made a statement during question period condemning the arrests of activists.

Redacted emails from an unknown sender had two days earlier recommended against issuing any public statements or tweets and instead proposed alternative approaches. The concern was that a show of support for the civil rights activists would feed rumours that they were working on behalf of foreign embassies.

During the summer, the Canadian Embassy requested meetings with Saudi officials to follow up on « the arrest and detention of several civil society activists. » Invited to the meeting were diplomats from Australia, Switzerland and Norway, embassy documents show.

New round of arrests prompted new tweets

On June 27, a confidential summary of new Saudi crackdowns was circulated among Canadian officials. The memo stated that, just days after the Saudi government lifted its long-standing prohibition on female drivers, « this latest move suggests that the government’s campaign to crack down on civil society and make clear its intolerance for political activism is far from over. »

On July 31, news came that two more civil rights activists had been arrested — one of which was Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed activist Raif Badawi, whose wife fled to Canada. The next day, bureaucrats began planning out the wording for tweets.

« I spoke to my management and we agree that a tweet is warranted, » wrote an employee whose name was redacted. After after a series of discussions over which hashtag would yield the most reach on social media, an email was forwarded to the minister’s office recommending the tweets be approved in order to « express concern regarding these arrests. »

Calm before the storm

On August 2, a first tweet from the minister’s account went live, and reaction was being closely monitored. Early on, emails suggest staff were disappointed with how little traction the message received online.

The next day, two more tweets were sent out: one from the departmental account, and a version translated into Arabic from the embassy’s account. Staff pointed out that the minister’s earlier tweet included explicit mention of Samar Badawi and proposed that the new ones do so, as well.

The reaction from Saudi Arabia was swift. Just hours after the second round of tweets was published, the Saudi government retaliated, announcing it was expelling Canada’s ambassador, and it would sell off Canadian assets, cease flights to Canada, stop buying Canadian wheat and barley and suspend student exchange programs.

Damage control, media frenzy

On Aug. 5, staff became aware of reports indicating that the Saudi government intended to expel Canadian diplomats from their country. The documents show that staff were learning many of the developments from media reports and from inquiries being made by reporters to their department. By now, the Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister’s Office were fully engaged in the discussions over how to manage the situation.

Emails from staff were circulating expressing shock and sadness for embassy and consular staff. Someone working within the overseas team sent a long email thanking their colleagues.

« I couldn’t have asked for a better team to close out my career with. Despite the way it ended, I think we were able to do a lot of good things together, » read the message.

« The saddest part in all of this is that [redacted] will not have the chance to say a proper goodbye. »

As officials were trying to come up with a communication strategy to put out fires, they were getting swamped by questions from national and international media. The foreign affairs department carefully monitored media publications and online reaction.

In one email from the minister’s office, a request was made to try and find any evidence of support from « like-minded » groups or countries.

Ninety minutes later, a staffer responded that that there was « very little » to be found in terms of online backing from other countries.

At the same time, the department was receiving emails from Muslim community leaders inquiring about travel advice for Canadians intending to travel to Saudi Arabia for Hajj, an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

Then came calls from industry players like Bombardier. The company’s government affairs contact was trying to set up a meeting to discuss the impact of the situation. Another email discussed the future of the billion-dollar light-armoured vehicle contract Canada held with the Saudi government.

Even a representative for the government of Prince Edward Island reached out to Global Affairs for assurances the issue would be dealt with, as a local company had just struck a deal to provide lobster to a Saudi restaurant group and shipments were to begin two weeks later.

Staff were also preparing lists of stakeholders and attempting to quantify the impact the rift would have on Canadian post-secondary institutions and medical schools, which host about 10,000 students a year. 

« The point is, these are not starving students … they are generally from more affluent families — and come with families who spend money. Something to bear in mind, if the threat to withdraw KSA students is real — and materializes, » a departmental employee wrote.

As the spat began to draw international attention, there was an online backlash from Saudi social media accounts telling Canada to mind its own business. In one notable incident, a Saudi youth group tweeted an image appearing to show an Air Canada plane heading toward the CN Tower in a way that is reminiscent of the 9/11 attacks in the U.S.

Staffers were tasked with keeping tabs on these types of hostile reactions, as well.

Once the dust had begun to settle, records show Freeland held talks with politicians from other countries, including the U.K., Germany and Sweden. On August 7, her office made a formal request to set up a call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but it is not clear based on the records if this meeting occurred.

In late September, Freeland expressed a desire to mend fences with Saudi officials by discussing their differences on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

However, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said at the council meeting that if Canada wishes to move on, it must first apologize for demanding the release of Saudi women’s rights activists and stop treating the kingdom as « a banana republic. »

Weeks later, the controversy surrounding the murder of Saudi dissident and writer Jamal Khashoggi captured the international community’s attention, leaving the situation over the initial Twitter rift in limbo.



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Small Alberta village honours founding families for Black History Month

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Long before the province officially recognized Black History Month, the tiny village of Breton in north-central Alberta had been commemorating and honouring the African American immigrants who helped settle the area.

“It started out as very low-key, very humble beginnings with the local tea here at the museum,” said Breton and District Historical Museum curator and manager, Allan Goddard. “At that time, we still had a number of the first generation family members that were still alive.”

Alberta officially recognized Black History Month for the first time in 2017 but the folks in Breton have been celebrating their founding families annually since the mid-90s — around the same time the federal government began recognizing it.


READ MORE:
John Ware legacy carries on as Calgary celebrates Black History Month

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Every February the museum holds a special event to commemorate those who helped settle the area which was originally known as Keystone.

At this year’s event, 89-year-old Vant Hayes, who was born in Keystone, shared stories of his and his family’s life in the area.

“My parents came at the turn of the century,” Hayes said. “We lived in a log house and I’m not kidding you, the weather we had a day or two here, we get up in the morning and the water in the pail would be frozen.”

Hayes’ family was one of 52 that immigrated to the area at around the same time. Many, like his parents, were fleeing areas in the southern United States where state and local racial segregation were being enforced and violence was escalating.

“The African American settlers who founded Keystone in 1910, 1911 — they were leaving some very harsh conditions in primarily Oklahoma but some other states too,” Goddard said.

“At that time period, the Jim Crow laws were in effect and [immigrants] looked northward to Canada,” Goddard said. “Supposedly all homestead land was available and conditions of more tolerance.”


READ MORE:
Edmonton man shines light on Alberta’s racist past with interactive archive

Hayes didn’t provide details but alluded to stories he was told of violence his parents experienced in both Mississippi and Oklahoma.

While the family wasn’t completely free from racism once they arrived in Alberta, Hayes beamed when he talked about how his family was one of the first to help settle the area.

“I’m the only one left,” he said.

His sentiment is echoed by others whose families also helped settle other parts of Alberta.

“Our people did come up in the early 1900s to help settle the Prairie provinces so we are a part of the development of Alberta and Saskatchewan, so it’s important that the roots are told,” said Deborah Dobbins, whose family settled in the Wildwoods area of Alberta.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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Eat Smart kale salad kit recalled due to possible Listeria contamination

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This 340-gram Eat Smart brand Sweet Kale Vegetable Salad Bag Kit, with a best before date of Feb. 16, has been recalled in N.L., N.B., and Ontario. (Canadian Food Inspection Agency)

A ready-to-eat salad kit has been recalled in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Ontario due to possible Listeria contamination.

On Feb. 17, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued the recall for the 340-gram Eat Smart brand Sweet Kale Vegetable Salad Bag Kit.

Codes on the products being recalled have UPC 7 09351 89145 8 and best-before dates of Feb. 16.

Anyone with the product at home should throw it in the garbage, the CFIA says on its website.

The CFIA website said the distribution may also be national, but the recall notice as of early Monday morning lists just the three provinces.

CFIA’s food safety investigation is ongoing, and may lead to other recalls, according to the website.

According to the website, there have been no reported illnesses connected with eating this product.

Symptoms of Listeria can include vomiting, nausea, persistent fever, muscle aches, severe headache and neck stiffness.

Food contaminated with Listeria may not look or smell spoiled, but can still make you sick.

Pregnant women infected with the bacteria may experience only mild, flu-like symptoms, but the infection could lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn or stillbirth, CFIA says on its website.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador



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Man beats fentanyl trafficking charge due to charter violation. Here’s the video of the dog sniffing the car

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A B.C. Justice recently threw out the case against a man charged with trafficking 27,500 fentanyl pills.

In a decision published in January, he said it wasn’t clear if the dog sat or not.

And new video, obtained exclusively by Global News, shows the entirety of the traffic stop, including the moment the dog investigates the vehicle.  

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READ MORE: Did the drug-sniffing dog sit or not? Debate leads to man’s acquittal in B.C. fentanyl bust

Here’s why the extent of the dog’s sit matters: If the dog properly sat down, it would have indicated the dog was “in odour,” meaning it had found drugs.

But in the case of Sandor Rigo, who was stopped on a Chilliwack highway in April 2017, the dog, named PSD Doods, was unable to sit down all the way. The police officer who made the stop said this was because a curb was in the way.

An officer who stopped Rigo – only identified by the Justice’s decision as Corporal Catellier – said he believed the dog was in odour and had the car towed so it could be thoroughly searched. Police say over 27,000 fentanyl pills were found in the wheel well.

The dash-camera video from the RCMP vehicle, obtained by Global News, offers a partial view of what happened.

The video shows the officer pulling over Rigo, who was driving a Dodge Caravan. The officer can be heard asking Rigo where he was going and why he appeared to be shaking. Rigo answered that he was picking up used tires from a friend and he was shaking due to hypoglycemia, a condition which requires people to eat frequently to keep their blood-sugar levels stable.

Rigo was then asked to exit his van and sit in the RCMP vehicle. That’s when Cpl. Catellier brought PSD Doods to sniff the outside of the van.

RCMP PDS Doods sniffs Sandor Rigo’s van.

HO / RCMP dashcam video of traffic stop

The dog can be seen sniffing the outside of the driver’s side of the van. She is then directed to the passenger side of the van, which is out of view of the dash camera, and next to a high concrete curb.

On the video, the moment in question can be heard, but only partially seen. The officer repeatedly says, “Good girl,” to PSD Doods, as she is seen at the side of the car. .

A partially obstructed view of PSD Doods sniffing Sandor Rigo’s vehicle.

Court Handout

An expert witness in court said the dog wasn’t showing other signs of being in odour — which normally includes wagging her tail.


READ MORE:
Vancouver Island police seize huge trove of guns, explosives, homemade silencers

But the officer testified at the time that she displayed the other signs when she was out of sight of the video.

In his decision, which was made public in January 2018, Justice Michael Brundrett said since the dog was only shown in a “partial form of ‘alert,’” there wasn’t reasonable grounds to search the vehicle.

Brundrett said Rigo’s charter rights were violated, specifically articles 8 and 10(b), which pertain to the right to be secure against detainment, search and seizure, and the right to a lawyer.

Because of this, all evidence collected after the charter breach had to be thrown out.

Criminal lawyer Dino Bottos said even if the officer is proven correct because drugs were found in the car after the fact, in cases like these the public has to remember that “the ends do not justify the means.”

He said the judge has to maintain impartiality.

When a judge excludes evidence obtained during an unlawful search and seizure, he or she is doing so not to favour a particular accused, but rather to uphold what is written into our Constitution,” he explained. 

Anything obtained after the charter violation – in this case that would be the physical drugs as well what appears to be a video of Rigo’s confession – is “considered fruit from the poisonedtree.”

“If we’re serious about protecting rights and freedoms, that means that we need to exercise control over police state actions,” Bottos explained. “Which means in this case, when there is a breach of a right, then the only reasonable remedy is to exclude the evidence found as a result of that breach.”

Almost a dozen Canadians died every day from opioid overdoses last year. Since 2016, more than 8,000 have lost their lives, primarily to fentanyl. In British Columbia, the problem has become so bad that life expectancy has dropped for the first time in decades.

WATCH: Global News investigation into the deadly fentanyl trade in Canada






The amounts traffickers are bringing in are believed to be so vast that investigators suspect their money laundering has disrupted the Vancouver-area housing market. It has also put a spotlight on casinos. But when police seize their illicit cash, traffickers often just walk away, seemingly unfazed.

Brundrett said in his decision that it was a serious case, because of the “evils” of fentanyl trafficking, but the integrity of the justice system had to be taken into account.

*With files from Sam Cooper 

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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