Canada briefs – February 24

Canadian intelligence agents went to Egypt to get information about a Toronto man and likely contributed to his abuse by authorities there, newly released documents say.

CSIS trip likely contributed to abuse

OTTAWA — Canadian intelligence agents went to Egypt to get information about a Toronto man and likely contributed to his abuse by authorities there, newly released documents say.

The previously unknown visit by CSIS officers became public Tuesday as a federal commission disclosed once-secret pages of an inquiry report on the overseas torture of Ahmad El Maati and two other Arab-Canadians.

The Harper government and commission lawyers squabbled for more than a year about the sensitive portions of the report, which the government balked at making public due to national security concerns.

In his report released in October 2008, former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci found that Canadian officials were likely partly to blame for the torture of El Maati, Abdullah Almalki and Muayyed Nureddin by sharing information — including unfounded accounts of extremism — with foreign agencies.

The men, all of whom deny involvement in terrorism, were abused in Syrian prison cells. El Maati, 45, was tortured by Egyptian captors as well.

At a news conference Tuesday, the former truck driver told of being blindfolded, handcuffed and zapped in the hands, back and genitals with electric shocks. The torture left El Maati barely able to walk a city block. He has undergone several operations.

“My whole life is completely destroyed,” he said. “I need an apology. They ruined my life, I can’t work anymore now.”

Tories defend Khadr decision

OTTAWA — The Harper government says it trusts that the U.S. will voluntarily comply with a diplomatic request to exclude Canadian-gathered evidence in any trial of Omar Khadr.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said Tuesday that he’s satisfied a diplomatic note sent to the Americans is remedy enough for a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling.

That ruling confirmed that Canadian officials violated Khadr’s constitutional rights by questioning him in American custody in 2003 and 2004. However, the court left it up to the government whether to ask the U.S. to return Khadr to Canada — something the Conservatives have steadfastly refused to do over four years in power.

“We have confidence in the Obama administration and their handling of these matters,” Nicholson said. “But I think it was incumbent upon me to make the opinion and the statement that certain evidence improperly obtained as set out by the Supreme Court of Canada, shouldn’t be used.”

It was his first public comment on the matter since he issued a brief written reply last week to the Jan. 29 landmark ruling. In that reply, Nicholson said he sent a diplomatic note to the U.S. asking military prosecutors to refrain from using information gathered by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Toronto-born Khadr, 23, has been in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan more than seven years ago.

Life expectancy creeping higher

OTTAWA — The gap between men’s and women’s life expectancy is narrowing as the average lifespan creeps ever higher in Canada, a new study indicates.

Life expectancy for a baby born in the three-year period from 2005 to 2007 has reached 80.7 years, says the study released Tuesday by Statistics Canada. That’s up from the average of 80.5 between 2004 and 2006, and 78.4 a decade earlier.

“Obviously, it’s good news that life expectancy is increasing,” said Dianne Groll, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., who uses the figures in her work as an epidemiologist.

“It’s not a huge increase. It’s a trend that’s been continuing for a while, but you wouldn’t want to see it go the other way.”

Gains during the past decade were strongest among men, although women still live the longest. Men’s life expectancy at birth rose 2.9 years to 78.3 in 2005-07, while among women it increased by 1.8 years to 83.

And those fortunate enough to have made it to age 65 have an even longer expected average lifespan, according to the report, perhaps making easier the calculations for Canadians contemplating how much to sock away in their registered retirement savings plans.

“For both sexes, if you reach age 65 you can expect to live about 20 years,” Statistics Canada senior analyst Shiang Ying Dai said.

Schoenborn could get discharge

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — The chairman of the B.C. Review Board says a father who was found not criminally responsible for murdering his three children could be granted an absolute discharge if it’s determined he doesn’t pose a threat to the public.

Bernd Walter says it’s hard to know what will happen in the case of Allan Schoenborn, whose verdict was announced Monday in B.C. Supreme Court in Kamloops.

Walter says the review board will need to go through all the psychiatric reports presented at Schoenborn’s trial before making its decision within the next three months.

Judge Robert Powers said in his ruling that although Schoenborn is guilty of murdering his daughter and two sons in April 2008 he can’t be held responsible because he was in a psychotic state.

Schoenborn was babysitting 10-year-old Kaitlynne, eight-year-old Max and five-year-old Cordon at their home when he murdered them.

Class Afloat ponders future

LUNENBURG, N.S. — With students and staff safely reunited with their families, Class Afloat is considering whether it will continue to offer its honours high school and university preparatory program following the loss of their floating classroom.

“Our first priority was to make sure we got all the kids home safe and sound to their parents — that happened with the hugs and tears yesterday,” Nigel McCarthy, the program’s president and chief executive officer, said Tuesday.

“Now we have to focus on how we can deliver a school program for these children. We’ll certainly be looking for help from everyone.”

The Lunenburg company’s floating school, SV Concordia, sank in rough seas about 500 kilometres off the Brazilian coast last Wednesday.

The students will return to the classroom in about two weeks, but McCarthy said the school has made no decisions about whether to buy another boat and continue the unique sail-training program next year.

“If we are to continue sailing Class Afloat, we will need to have a vessel initially,” he said.

But McCarthy said it would take time to build one, so the school would likely look at leasing in the interim.

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