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N.W.T. man convicted of murder to get court-appointed lawyer to consider possible appeal

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Kevin Mantla, who is convicted in the Northwest Territories of second-degree murder and attempted murder in 2018, will be appointed a lawyer to consider grounds for appealing his conviction.

N.W.T. Supreme Court Justice Shannon Smallwood made the order on Friday in a written decision on Mantla’s application under Section 684 of the Criminal Code to have the courts appoint him a lawyer. Smallwood’s decision was translated into Tłı̨chǫ line-by-line on Friday for Mantla, who appeared in a Yellowknife courtroom by video conference.

Mantla stabbed his ex-girlfriend’s lover, Elvis Lafferty, to death with a knife, and seriously injured his ex, in a night of blood-soaked violence in Yellowknife in 2015. Mantla is not denying his actions, but says he should have been convicted and sentenced for the lesser offence of manslaughter because he was so intoxicated at the time.

For his second-degree murder conviction, Mantla was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 20 years.

While serving his sentence, Mantla filed a prisoner’s notice of appeal of his conviction and asked for legal aid to pursue that appeal.

Mantla said he gave evidence to his defence lawyer, Charles Davison, at the time that showed he did not intend to kill Elvis Lafferty — which was not entered as evidence — and that Gladue principles were not followed in his case.

He was denied legal aid on the opinion of another lawyer who reviewed Mantla’s appeal and determined that Mantla’s line of reasoning was indefensible.

According to the court record, Mantla has a Grade 7 education and suffers a “cognitive deficit” because of heavy drug and alcohol abuse. Smallwood said Mantla does not have the ability to either make an appeal, or to identify the grounds of an appeal.

In her decision, Smallwood did not contradict the earlier lawyer’s appraisal that Mantla’s appeal was not reasonable.

Instead, she said that the reasoning in Mantla’s appeal — that Davison did not enter important evidence on Mantla’s behalf and that Gladue principles in his case were ignored — showed that Mantla did not have a good grasp of the legal issues at hand.

The issues Mantla identified are often seen in inmate appeals, and are rarely successful, Smallwood said.

Mantla was convicted of second-degree murder and attempted murder in 2018. (Facebook)

Mantla alleges evidence ignored

On the question of his defence lawyer’s competency, Smallwood said Davison declined to act on a verbal waiver of lawyer-client privilege offered by Mantla. That waiver could have allowed Davison to directly address allegations raised by Mantla that would be subject to lawyer-client privilege.

Mantla alleges that he told police, while in custody and at other times, that he never meant to kill Lafferty, and that he told his lawyer at the time about those statements. Mantla further alleges his lawyer did not enter those statements into the court record. 

Smallwood said she was not surprised Davison did not act on a verbal offer to waive privilege and instead preferred to wait for a written waiver of privilege, which Mantla did not provide.

But Davison did say, according to Smallwood, that even if Mantla had made any utterances to the effect that he didn’t mean to kill Lafferty, those statements would not have been admissible in court. Smallwood said Davison’s statement further suggested to her that Mantla did not have grounds for an appeal.

But given Mantla’s demonstrated inability to understand the complex legal matters at hand, his lack of education, his poor literacy, his cognitive limitations, and his inability to afford a lawyer, Smallwood said Mantla does not have the capacity to identify arguable legal issues with his conviction or to proceed on them. 

So she ordered that a lawyer be appointed to act on Mantla’s behalf.

“I expect this lawyer will investigate the issues raised by Mr. Mantla and obtain the waiver of privilege needed,” Smallwood said.

The lawyer will review the trial record to discover any arguable issues on Mantla’s behalf, and then report back to the court with his or her findings.

The lawyer is expected to be identified by Aug. 10, the date of Mantla’s next hearing.

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Why 1 small Regina school insists on daily temperature checks, 4-day weeks and mandatory masks in class

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David Vanderberg says his school’s back-to-school plan exceeds the minimum safety standards set out by Saskatchewan health officials “because the bar is not set very high.” 

“We feel as though we’ve got one chance to get this right,” said Vanderberg, the principal of Regina’s Prairie Sky School.

The school, which falls under the category of “qualified independent schools” that receive half of their funding from the province, only has about 80 students total, spread across Grades 1 to 8. 

When Prairie Sky’s students return to class next month, they will have their temperatures checked daily by the front gate and be required to wear masks inside the classroom (though much of the school’s teaching happens outside, Vanderberg said). 

Kindergarten students will be exempt from that rule, but will need to wear face shields.

The school will also cut its schedule to four days a week, down from four and a half. 

“[That’s] one less day in the week that that potential transmission could occur,” Vanderberg said. 

Responding to ‘a complete lack of leadership’

Prairie Sky School released its plan on Tuesday, the same day the province outlined minimum standards for mandatory masking and clarified that individual school boards would decide when to make the move to “Level 2” and require masks. 

Vanderberg said Tuesday was the earliest his school could publicly release its plan because the province approved the plans for public and separate school divisions first and did not approve Prairie Sky School’s plan until Monday.

He said the province’s larger back-to-school strategy “demonstrates a complete lack of leadership.”

Principal David Vanderberg says the province’s back-to-school strategy ‘demonstrates a complete lack of leadership.’ (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

“It is putting the onus of student safety and staff safety on individual school boards and individual schools as opposed to taking the responsibility for that as a Ministry of Education and as the government of Saskatchewan,” Vanderberg said. 

Carla Beck, the Saskatchewan NDP’s education critic, has criticized the province’s a-la-carte approach, saying it leaves school divisions open to “political fallout.” 

Education Minister Gord Wyant has defended the choice, saying what works for a small school may not be appropriate for a larger one. 

Not all families on board with masking

Vanderberg said a minority of families have requested to withdraw their child from the school because of the masking policy, but that other families want in because of the plan.

“The best we can do is say that we can put you on the waiting list,” he said. 

Vanderberg said the school has tried to keep the conversation around masking “as fact-based as possible.” 

“Overwhelmingly the response from the education community, the American medical community, in Saskatchewan and elsewhere in Canada has been that masking, when social distancing is not a possibility, is effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “So that’s what we’re going with.”

According to the minimum Level 2 standards released by the province Tuesday, Saskatchewan students in Grades 4 to 12 at schools using that level will need to wear masks in hallways, buses and other high traffic areas. Inside classrooms, however, “masks may be required….where it is not possible to maintain physical distancing or where students are outside of the cohort within their classroom.”

Vanderberg said the province allowed schools go over and above the minimum standards, so that’s what Prairie Sky School did. 

(Prairie Sky School)

Vanderberg acknowledged daily temperature checks will require a robust supply of thermometers. 

“But that’s our job. And that’s important. And we’re going to find the money,” he said. 

The school pays for the other half of its budget through fundraising and scholarships.

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Most B.C. parents in favour of face masks in class, but divided on back-to-school plans, poll finds

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Most parents in B.C. are in favour of sending their children to class with a face mask to wear, but are split on what should happen after school bells ring in September, a new poll suggests.

About half (49 per cent) of British Columbians surveyed by Insight West were in favour of the provincial government’s plan to reopen schools, while 42 per cent oppose it.

The poll confirms what Premier John Horgan already suspected — not everyone is pleased with the back-to-school plans, said the market research firm’s president Steve Mossop in a news release .

“Our latest poll on the state of readiness of parents and the general public to go back to school shows a significant level of fear and uncertainty,” reads his statement.

The poll suggests parents appear to be divided on three key facets: their comfort level with sending their kids back to class, their take on the idea of possibly wearing masks and their preferences between online and in-person learning.

If given a choice, four out of ten parents (41 per cent) prefer a mix of online and in-person classes, just over a quarter (27 per cent) would put their kids back in a full-time classroom setting and 27 per cent prefer all learning takes place online, according to the poll.

The poll suggests about half of parents (51 per cent) feel very or somewhat comfortable sending their kids back to the classroom, while another 30 per cent are not very comfortable and 19 per cent are not comfortable at all.

Parents also expressed concerns about isolating their children without any in-class learning and shortcomings in the quality of online learning.

Seventy-one per cent of respondents agree with the statement “if there is not in-class learning, I worry about my child(ren)’s socialization” and about two-thirds (63 per cent) concur that in-class learning is necessary because online instruction provides a “poor quality” of education.

Parents expressed concern

About half of parents (49 per cent) say they do not know how they will manage remote learning and a similar proportion (46 per cent) do not have childcare in place if their kids stay home, the poll suggests.

Parents were also split on whether their children would be safe from exposure to COVID-19 if they return to classrooms full time.

Four out of five of parents (80 per cent) agree they need more information about how the plan will work, and seven out of every ten (70 per cent) say the provincial government is not being strict enough with the rules around reopening schools.

Meanwhile, the majority of respondents (85 per cent) praise the government’s overall handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

Masks in schools

In an interview on Wednesday, Mossop said he was most surprised about the overwhelming support for masks in schools, which presents a stark contrast to what he has observed anecdotally while visiting malls and in transit.

“[It’s] what people do versus what they say,” he said, adding there was less controversy in the responses this time around compared to another poll from about a month and a half ago.

The latest online study sampled 825 B.C. residents from Aug. 5 to Aug. 9, according to the release. A comparable margin of error for a study this size would be +/- 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

According to the B.C. government’s website, schools will be reopening with in-class instruction within learning groups, capped at 60 students for elementary and middle schools, and 120 for high schools.

The website states students and staff will not be required to wear face masks while at school.

It advises young children should not use masks and recommends staff and older students wear non-medical masks in situations outside their learning group and where physical distancing is not possible for an extended period of time. 

“Wearing a mask is a personal choice that will always be respected,” reads the website.

Non-medical masks will be provided upon request.

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Some Yukon students should wear masks on buses, says chief medical officer

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Yukon’s chief medical officer is recommending that some students wear protective face masks on school buses this year, and in other situations where physical distancing is not possible.

Dr. Brendan Hanley’s recommendation is aimed at students aged 10 and older, but not mandatory.

“I make this recommendation based on emerging evidence that older children may be just as likely to transmit COVID-19 as adults,” he said at a news conference on Wednesday.

He said masks will be provided to students by the Yukon Department of Education. He also said mask use inside schools will be decided by officials at each individual school.

“The general approach, though, will be toward usage in corridors and in movement between rooms, but not in classrooms where children will already be well-spaced,” he said.

Hanley also said Wednesday that he still not in favour of making masks mandatory for all Yukoners.

Watch Wednesday’s news conference here:

Operational plans for each school

Classes begin at Yukon elementary and secondary schools on Aug. 20.

On Wednesday, Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said all schools have now developed their own operational plans for the coming year. 

“Planning for this school year has been challenging, and different than other years. It has taken a tremendous amount of effort from individuals across the territory,” McPhee said.

The Yukon government earlier set out new health and safety measures for schools to follow when students head back to class. It includes hand washing and physical distancing requirements, as well as staggered breaks and pick-up and drop-off times.

Most Grade 10 to 12 students will only go to class part-time in Whitehorse, in an effort to keep student numbers low and maintain physical distancing. Elementary school students and high schoolers outside Whitehorse will go to school full-time, with those enhanced safety measures.

The operational plans for each school spell out how those safety measures will be observed. For example, at F.H. Collins Secondary School in Whitehorse, students in Grades 8 and 9 will be put in “pods” to limit movement in the building. That means they will remain in the same class most of the day.

McPhee said operational plans can be found on each school’s website. 

She said that all plans will be monitored through the coming weeks and adjusted if necessary.

“We are completely invested in this school year being successful for students,” she said.

Some parents and teachers have been vocal about their concerns for the school year. Some, including hospital workers, have opted to home-school their kids to keep them safe, while others say they can’t afford that option.

Parents of high school students in Whitehorse have also raised concerns about their reduced class time, saying it could lead to added stress and poor grades.

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