In Florida Panhandle, Hurricane Michael casts shadow over voting

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) – Catina Hill, a registered Republican who says she votes in every election, kept her streak alive on Tuesday despite the devastation that Hurricane Michael wrought in Florida’s Panhandle last month and the chaos it still brings to her life.

“I came this close to not voting today,” Hill, a 43-year-old landlady said as she left a polling site at the Parker United Methodist Church in her hometown of Parker. “Everything is piling up.”

Hill, who said she voted for Republican Rick Scott for U.S. Senate, but admitted she was unsure who she picked for governor, said the past month has been consumed with getting food, water and electricity.

“The power’s constantly flickering and my kids are scared. I’m sleep deprived,” said Hill, lamenting that she could not properly research the candidates and issues before arriving to the polls.

Voters in the Panhandle, a conservative-leaning region, have been seen as vital to the Republican Party’s election day fortunes in Florida, where Scott, the current governor, is attempting to unseat incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, and Tallahasee Mayor Andrew Gillum is running against Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis.

Hill was one of thousands of voters in hard-hit Bay County who were forced to travel to one of several “mega-voting sites”. They were set up after one of the worst storms in history to hit North America badly damaged the usual polling locations.

Sherri Hawkins, 49, a registered Republican drove 25 miles from tiny Fountain to vote in one of the big polling stations outside Panama City, which saw a steady stream of voters, but no lines.

Many of her neighbors won’t make it to the polls, she said.

“A lot of them don’t have vehicles or gas money or the means to get here. It’s going to have a severe impact.”

State and local Republican leaders have gone to great lengths to boost turnout in the Panhandle.

Early voting was extended by an extra day or two, through Monday in Bay County, the only jurisdiction in Florida where voters could cast ballots on the eve of the election, according to Dave Ramba, a local Republican chairman and consultant for election supervisors statewide.

Gulf County state Republican committeeman David Ashbrook predicted storm-related dislocations would depress turnout in his more remote communities.

“Our biggest issue has just been transportation. We have a lot of people in outlying areas whose cars have been crushed, who are homeless,” he said. “Honestly, the election was the last thing on a lot of people’s minds. It’s sad, too, because this is an important one for the GOP in Florida.”

TOSS-UP RACES

Two hotly contested races in the nation’s most populous swing state are considered bellwethers for the elections, which will decide whether Trump’s Republicans maintain control of both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Public opinion polls show DeSantis trailing Gillum, who is seeking to become the state’s first black governor. Nelson is also seen leading Scott, his Republican challenger.

A lower-than-normal turnout in the Panhandle could hurt DeSantis and Scott.

On the outskirts of Panama City where she owns a cleaning business, Melissa Hutchinson, 51, said she, her husband and two adult sons were “100 percent” behind Trump.

But she was preoccupied with issues like whether she can afford to cut down a tree threatening to fall on her house, and does not expect to be able to vote.

“It’s what I’ve got to do to get my normal life running again,” she said outside her trailer home, which lacked electricity and running water for two weeks and was still without air conditioning on Monday.

Some took solace in the fact the disaster would dampen turnout among Democrats, too.

“I don’t think this storm said, ‘Oh we’re going to tear up Republicans’ houses and not Democrats,’” Karr said.

“It didn’t matter if you were a poor person renting a manufactured home or a wealthy doctor with a big home at Bay Point. The storm tore your stuff up.”

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Stacey Abrams will become the first female black governor in U.S. if she wins Georgia race

Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams is vying to become the first female black governor in United States history.

The 44-year-old, who served as minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives from 2011 to 2017, is locked in a tight race with the southern state’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

Abrams has been able to count on support from several heavyweight African-American icons, including former president Barack Obama and entertainment mogul Oprah Winfrey.

Kemp had 66.2 per cent of the vote to Abrams’ 33.2 per cent as of 8:04 p.m. ET, with two per cent of votes reporting.

The contentious gubernatorial race between Abrams and Kemp has been marred by accusations of voter suppression.

Last month, the group Black Voters Matter, which encourages African-Americans to vote, said that some 40 black residents of a senior living centre were told to get off a bus taking them to a polling place to cast their early ballots.

Also in October, former voting rights advocacy groups sued Kemp, whose role of secretary of state makes him Georgia’s top election official, accusing him of placing voter registrations on hold to boost his campaign.

This past weekend, Kemp’s office said it was investigating the Georgia Democratic Party in connection with an alleged attempt to hack the state’s online voter database.

His office offered no evidence to support its claim, but the allegation nevertheless became a flashpoint in the race.

Abrams slammed the allegation as a “hoax,” while President Donald Trump, who has endorsed Kemp, said he didn’t know about the issue.

— With files from the Associated Press

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Field of Crosses program brings war home for some Grade 7 Kelowna students

“I joined up in ’43,” said George Barr, who spent 36 years serving our country.

“Second World War, Korea, Vietnam,” said Barr.

He’s seen combat action around the world.

“I was a tank crew commander in Korea and I spent a lot of time killing people,” said Barr

When it comes to talking about his service, Barr doesn’t mince words about it.

“Young people, the closest they come to war is something on television,” said Barr.

However, Barr is helping change that, by sharing his experience with Grade 7 students as part of the Field Of Crosses program.

As part of the program, students visit the cenotaph and the new Field of Crosses memorial in Kelowna’s City Park.

Then they sit down at the Legion to listen to vets, who bring authenticity to Remembrance Day that no book ever could.

The conversation that follows is quite frank.

“What did you feel when you killed somebody?” said Olivia Treble, asking perhaps the most poignant question of all.

“You don’t . . . but when there is somebody out there shooting at you, what are you going to do? Are you going to say, hold it I’m a good looking young fella don’t shoot? That doesn’t work,” said Barr.

It’s that frankness that brings the horrors of war to life for these young people, first hand.

That frankness changes the way some students think about their own Remembrance Day experience.

“Yes, I think of it now as really horrible. I thought it wasn’t too bad, but, now that I have true information, it’s really bad,” Treble said.

“Before, I thought it was not as horrible as it sounds. But now that I know more information about it, it sounds horrible,” said student Isabella Schroeder.

It’s a provocative program, one that veterans, like George Barr, hope more students will attend.

“You can talk about it all you like,” said Barr, “but until you are actually there, and it sort of resonates in your mind, it sort of brings thing back home again.”

 

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New Westminster residents allowed to return home after suspected drug lab explosion

After two nights out of their homes, New Westminster residents of an apartment complex on Carnarvon Street have been told by officials they can finally go home.

A Hazmat team, along with police and fire officials, swarmed the area Sunday afternoon after an explosion rocked the neighbourhood.

One man has been arrested in relation to a suspected drug lab, but he has since been released. Investigators are looking at the possibility of laying charges. Police say they cannot confirm the type of chemicals involved or if they are drug-related.

“At this time, there is no longer a public safety risk,” said Staff Sgt. Stuart Jette. “All potentially harmful material has been removed from the building and disposed of appropriately. We remind residents that if they observe drug activity or suspicious behaviour in their building to call the NWPD.”

The New Westminster Police Department street crime unit remains on scene to investigate.

“What happened here could have been a lot worse,” said Sgt. Jeff Scott. “Many people could have been injured if that explosion was bigger or if fire had spread. We encourage residents to call us if they observe any drug activity or suspicious behaviour in their building.”

— With files from Gord MacDonald, CKNW

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Girl Scouts sue Boy Scouts for name switch

The Girl Scouts of the United States of America have filed a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America for dropping the word “boy” from their name.

Set to be called Scouts BSA from 2019, the Boy Scouts announced the switch in May as it prepares to allow older girls as members for the first time.

But the Girl Scouts say the change could erode their brand, calling the move “uniquely damaging” to them.

Their lawsuit seeks damages and an injunction against trademark breaches.

“Only GSUSA has the right to use the Girl Scouts and Scouts trademarks with leadership development services for girls,” papers filed in a Manhattan federal court said.

The switch could “marginalise” the Girl Scouts, the complaint reads. It reportedly says the switch has already caused confusion, with some believing their organisation had merged with the Boy Scouts.

In response, the Boy Scouts of America issued a statement saying it was reviewing the suit, and that it believed “there is an opportunity for both organizations to serve girls and boys in our communities”.

In October 2017, the Boy Scouts board of directors voted unanimously to open their club to all children.

The Cub Scouts, for ages seven to 10, opened its local clubs to all children in 2018. Boy Scouts, for ages 11 to 17, will follow its footsteps next year when the name change becomes official.

But the Girl Scouts protested the decision at the time, with the group’s president Kathy Hopinkah Hannan accusing them of a “covert campaign” to recruit girls to tackle a “well-documented” declining membership.

The Boy Scouts reportedly have close to 2.3m members in the US, down about a third since 2000, compared with around 2 million members for the Girl Scouts.

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US exempts Indian-backed port in Iran from sanctions

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States said on Tuesday (Nov 6) it would exempt Iran’s Indian-backed port of Chabahar from new sanctions on Teheran, recognising the value of the project to Afghanistan.

Iran late last year inaugurated the port on the Indian Ocean, which provides a key supply route to landlocked Afghanistan and allows India to bypass its historic enemy Pakistan.

The United States will exempt from sanctions the development of Chabahar along with an attached railway project and Iranian petroleum shipments into Afghanistan, the State Department said.

President Donald Trump’s “South Asia strategy underscores our ongoing support of Afghanistan’s economic growth and development as well as our close partnership with India”, a State Department spokesperson said.

“This exception relates to reconstruction assistance and economic development for Afghanistan. These activities are vital for the ongoing support of Afghanistan’s growth and humanitarian relief,” the spokesperson said.

The United States, which has been building closer relations with New Delhi since the late 1990s, earlier exempted India from sanctions that took effect on Monday.

The Trump administration has vowed to exert maximum pressure on Iran to end its support for regional proxies, exiting a denuclearisation agreement that brought sanctions relief.

Mr Trump’s decision has been opposed by European powers as well as other nations including India, which has largely warm relations with Iran and accuses Pakistan of fomenting attacks on its soil.

India has poured US$2 billion (S$2.74 billion) into Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led overthrow of the extremist Taleban regime, which was also opposed by Iran.

India has seen Chabahar as a key way both to send supplies to Afghanistan and to step up trade with Central Asia as well as Africa.

Iran has plans to link the port by railway to Zahedan on the Pakistani border up to Mashhad in the north-east.

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$10K in tools stolen from industrial business in Vernon

Police are asking for public assistance in helping solve a crime that took place in Vernon early Monday.

According to Vernon North Okanagan RCMP, an industrial business in the 200 block of 18th Avenue was broken into between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. Police say the suspect, or suspects, gained entry through a fence, where utility trailers became the main target.

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Tools stolen in this particular incident, include, but are not limited to, numerous drills, saws and levels that are from the Makita, Milwaukee and Dewalt brands. The approximate loss was pegged at $10,000.

“Incidents such as this are very disheartening for local business owners who rely on these tools to provide trades to the community,” said Vernon RCMP Cst. Kelly Brett. “The RCMP is now focused on the investigations revolving around the recent spike in tool thefts. However, (police) are appealing to the public for any information regarding the sale of stolen tools or information regarding the thefts themselves.”

Police added that if you’re offered the chance to buy new tools at discounted rates, and if it’s not from a legitimate business, odds are the tools are stolen. Further, police said it’s a crime to purchase an item if you believe it is stolen property.

Anyone with any information regarding this incident or recent thefts is asked to contact the Vernon North Okanagan RCMP at 250-545-7171.

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Four of six rare black rhinos die after move to Chad

DAKAR (REUTERS) – Four out of six endangered black rhinos that were relocated to Chad from South Africa have died, possibly of starvation, the two countries and an NGO said.

The six rhinos were transferred from South Africa in May, re-introducing the species into Chad for the first time since it died out in 1972, mostly owing to rampant poaching.

Chad reported that two of them had died last month (October 2018).

“Low fat reserves suggest that maladaptation by the rhinos to their new environment is the likely underlying cause,” said the two nations and conservation group African Parks, which oversaw moving the rhinos to Chad’s Zakouma National Park.

“The remaining two animals are being recaptured and placed in holding facilities in order to facilitate closer management.”

Two decades ago, poaching had driven black rhinos to near extinction across their vast habitat in southern, eastern and central Africa. Their numbers fell by 98 per cent between 1960 and 1998, but they have doubled since then to about 5,400 as conservation efforts grew.

None of the four that died in Zakouma had been poached. Tests were being run to establish the exact cause of death.

The relocation of the rhinos from South Africa was intended to help safeguard the long-term future of the species by spreading it out into more places.

However, a similar attempt to move black rhinos in Kenya also ended with animals dying. Eleven rhinos were moved into Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park from other parks in June, but 10 of them died, apparently from drinking salty water.

The 11th was attacked by a lion and died from his wounds.

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A dozen U.S. states see problems with voting machines: rights groups

WASHINGTON/ATLANTA (Reuters) – Problems with voting machines were preventing some Americans from casting ballots in a dozen states in Tuesday’s congressional elections, U.S. rights advocates said, following complaints about registration problems, faulty equipment and intimidation they have received throughout early balloting.

Democrats and advocacy groups said they have been grappling with a diverse crop of new voting restrictions for these elections, which will determine whether Republicans keep control of the U.S. Congress. Thirty-six governorships and hundreds of state offices are also up for grabs.

A U.S. Department of Homeland Security official told reporters the agency had received reports of “sparse” voting technology failures, but said that so far they appeared to have had no significant impact in preventing people from voting.

Broken voting machines were reported in at least 12 states by noon (1700 GMT) on Tuesday, according to an “election protection” coalition of more than 100 groups that set up a national hotline for reporting irregularities.

In Georgia, where the election included a tight, bitter race for governor, the state sent investigators to look into problems with digital poll books, said state spokeswoman Candice Broce. Some voters were given provisional ballots instead of using regular voting machines, she said.

Postal worker Shirley Thorn, 56, said technical problems caused her to wait more than four hours at a polling station in Snellville, Georgia, to cast her ballot.

“I was determined I was going to cast my ballot today because it’s a very important election,” Thorn said.

Rights groups say provisional ballots are less reliable than regular ballots because they require information about voters to be verified before the votes are counted.

“We’re fully prepared to mount emergency litigation to push back against some of the systemic problems that sometimes rear their heads in our elections,” said Kristen Clarke, head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which leads the election protection coalition.

The committee said it planned to demand that Maricopa County, Arizona, extend hours at polling places where systemic issues such as problems with voting machine printers caused the polls to open late or not at all.

CONTROVERSIAL RESTRICTIONS

Civil rights groups have already been locked in litigation with several states over voting restrictions that were passed in the lead-up to Tuesday’s election.

North Dakota introduced a voter ID requirement that Native Americans say discriminates against them; Kansas and Georgia moved polling locations, and changes in Tennessee registration laws led to people being removed from the voting lists.

Advocacy groups said the changes stack the deck against minority voters who are likely to support Democratic candidates.

Each of those hotly contested states’ top election officials have said the changes were made to protect against voter fraud and accommodate budgetary constraints, not to suppress voting.

Independent studies have found that voter fraud is extremely rare in the United States.

“We’re seeing a tug of war for the soul of this country,” said Jamal Watkins, who leads civic engagement at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, a member of the committee.

Referring to the state officials usually charged with overall supervision of elections, he added: “It’s become the norm for a secretary of state who’s conservative to use their position to suppress the vote, and that means we’ve hit a crisis point in our democracy.”

The intense political environment has led to a surge in interest from people offering to help monitor polling stations.

Hotline traffic in recent weeks was higher than in the previous U.S. midterm elections in 2014, said Marcia Johnson-Blanco, an official with the Lawyers’ Committee.

Common Cause said it has signed up more than 6,500 volunteers, compared to 3,000 in the 2016 presidential election.

For full election coverage see: here

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Panel decides Ontario judge who took Lakehead University job broke rules but shouldn’t lose his job

TORONTO — A respected  Ontario Superior Court justice broke the rules by accepting a temporary dean’s posting at an Indigenous law school but does not deserve to lose his job, a review concluded on Tuesday.

The review, which had sparked an intense and ongoing backlash, found that Justice Patrick Smith might have been well intentioned but should nevertheless have refused to become interim dean at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont.

“This is not a case involving bad behaviour or improper motives,” the panel of the Canadian Judicial Council concluded. “Justice Smith was motivated by a genuine desire to use his skills, background and experience to help the faculty in a time of crisis.”

According to the panel, Smith violated Section 55 of the Judges Act. Among other things, the act requires judges to devote themselves exclusively to their judicial duties and to avoid involvement in any controversy or public debate that could expose them to political attack.

Following the panel’s findings, it was left to the chairman of the council’s conduct committee, Quebec’s Associate Chief Justice Robert Pidgeon, to decide on next steps. Pidgeon said he agreed with the panel and, given that Smith had already resigned from the dean’s post, the council needed to take no further action against him.

Smith had no comment on Tuesday but his lawyer, Brian Gover, expressed dismay the council had rendered its decision despite the judge’s request to Federal Court to review the matter. The council, Gover said, should have waited for the court review, which is likely to be heard early next year.

“We expect to proceed with the application for judicial review and our motion for the production of the CJC’s entire (Smith) file,” said Gover, who called the council process “completely unsatisfactory.”

Gover had previously said the legal community was in shock at the CJC’s review and called the decision to go ahead with the investigation without a complaint a “strange irregularity.”

Norman Sabourin, the executive director of the council, said in an interview that he stood by his decision to launch the probe. Sabourin said council is obligated to act whenever judicial misconduct is suspected.

“The report of the review panel makes clear there was an issue with the judge’s conduct,” Sabourin said from Ottawa.

“It’s also beneficial that there is clear understanding now of the obligations for judges.”

Sabourin refused to comment on the judicial review issue, saying council took the position Federal Court had no jurisdiction over its proceedings. The public interest required the council to complete its work, Sabourin said.

Some Indigenous leaders objected when Lakehead invited Smith in April to take on a six-month appointment as academic dean of the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law after the previous dean, Angelique Eagle Woman, alleged systemic racism at the school and resigned.

The interim appointment, approved by the province’s chief justice and which drew no objections from the federal government, was intended to fill the role only until Eagle Woman’s permanent replacement could be found. Smith took up the post June 1 but resigned three months later.

The fact that Smith took leave from the courtroom did not remove the prohibition against carrying on extra-judicial duties, the panel said.

“Justice Smith has an ethical obligation as a judge to avoid involvement in public debate that may unnecessarily expose him to political attack or be inconsistent with the dignity of judicial office,” the review panel said in its report.

“There were also reputational risks to Justice Smith and to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice associated with lending their support to the faculty of law at Lakehead during a time of crisis.”

At the same time, the panel decided the conduct was not serious enough to warrant his removal from the bench.

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