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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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‘Hey, it’s 2020’ — COVID-19 shows need for faster internet in northern Ontario

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Brad Ducciaume looks down his road and doesn’t just see homes. He sees offices. He sees small businesses.

He knows his neighbours are also struggling to work from home during the pandemic with the sketchy DSL internet available in this corner of Greater Sudbury.

“Yes, it looks a little rural,” Ducciaume says standing on a gravel road, with thick forests in between the houses on Lammi Road.

“But we’re still in the main part of the city.”

Ducciaume moved here in 2018. It was a bigger place with room for his in-laws to move in, plus a good spot above the garage for his software firm, which he’s always run out of his home.

The people who owned the house before told him the internet was “lousy.” He later found out how right they were.

Ducciaume says with his current set-up he’s told he should be getting six megabits per second. He says he’s lucky to get two.

He has now had to rent space for his business, commute there every day and pay for internet service for the office, costing him an extra $12,000 a year. 

“Internet is not a ‘nice to have’ any more. It’s a necessity,” says Ducciaume. 

While many others are now working from home during the pandemic, poor internet service has forced Brad Ducciaume to rent an office in Sudbury for the software firm he used to run out of his house. (Erik White/CBC )

Angelina Jacobs and her partner moved from Mississauga to the shores of Lake Wanapitei last year.

The setting is beautiful, the internet service is not. 

She is connected to a satellite network, but she has to download TV shows onto her tablet and also uses her cellphone for work Zoom calls.

Jacobs and her partner have gotten into the habit of checking the weather forecast and running internet speed tests before planning their work days. 

When it’s really bad, she’ll make the short drive into Skead, where she grew up. It’s a tiny hamlet, but has something much closer to a big city internet signal. 

“It makes video conferencing impossible, because I’m just a pixilated mess,” says Jacobs, who helps businesses implement her company’s software.

Angelina Jacobs moved from Mississauga to the shores of Lake Wanapitei last year. The internet is not great, but she is hopeful that promises for improved service will come true in the near future. (Erik White/CBC )

Jacobs says clients in Toronto will joke about how a cloud passing overhead could push her off the call, but she knows many of them would give up their condo for her lakefront home, especially during the pandemic.

“We have this gorgeous home, gorgeous view that costs way less than their monthly rent, right?” says the 33-year-old.

“And especially since they can work remote now, I for sure think people will try to start spreading out from the bigger cities.”

She is excited to hear governments of all levels talking about improved internet service and is hoping those promises come true in the next few years. 

“I want to say, ‘hey it’s 2020.’ We should have at least decent, not asking for Five Op, but decent internet,” says Jacobs.

“We’re a First World country. We want to promote the north.”

Many northerners have gotten into the habit of checking the weather forecast and regularly testing their internet speed before planning out their day. (Erik White/CBC )

When Michael Blair and his wife and two kids moved to East Ferris nine years ago, they knew they’d be giving up some of their online lives.

“We were OK with not having as much internet. In a way it metered us, brought us out of our rooms and brought us together,” he says. 

“When it started to impact businesses, when it started to impact education, that changed things.”

That changed with the pandemic, when Blair’s country home south of North Bay became his office and his kids’ classroom.

He has now joined the East Ferris Internet Advocacy Group, lobbying for better service for the small town.

“It’s only going to become more important and I believe we can’t rely on the traditional funding models,” says Blair.

Michael Blair and his family tolerated slow internet in East Ferris for years, but the pandemic prompted him to join a group pushing for better service. (Tracy Fuller/CBC )

The Manitoulin Health Centre in Little Current is on fibre optic cable and has strong, fast service.

But the rest of the island does not and the virtual appointments that have become popular during the pandemic have been difficult to offer patients. 

Vice-president of corporate services Tim Vine says, without improved broadband infrastructure, large parts of northern Ontario will get left out of the health care system of tomorrow. 

“I think more and more it’s appropriate to think of access to internet service being provided to folks as something like a public utility,” he says. 

Jeff Buell’s job is identifiying the gaps in internet service in northern Ontario and trying to find ways to fill them.

Somedays, his own home is in that category.

Buell, his wife and four kids are sharing a shaky DSL line in Chisholm Township, south of North Bay, and after COVID-19 hit, he was forced to get a second cellular connection for his work at Blue Sky Net. 

Map showing how much of Greater Sudbury has 50/10 internet service, but how that fades away very quickly after you go into more rural areas of the northeast. (Blue Sky Net)

“I actually haven’t asked Susan, because I don’t want to know, but I suspect it’s around $300, $400,” he says with a laugh. 

“‘I’ve had to promise ‘I’m not streaming anything. It’s work!'”

Buell says about 70 per cent of northern Ontario has decent service, but almost all of them live in the five major cities.

And even then, speed tests show that in cities like Timmins or Sault Ste. Marie, it’s not always easy to get the CRTC national minimum standard of 50 megabits per second download and 10 megabits upload. 

Buell says right now he’s trying to figure out how much it would cost to run fibre optic cable at about $80 per metre to every home and business in the north. 

“Understanding that that’s not realistic and we’re going to have a number that’s so big we can’t comprehend,” he says.

Buell says then you could identify which areas would be tough to serve with fibre and look at other options, including fixed internet towers or low orbit satellites.

He says one big difference from other major infrastructure builds of the past is that the internet will constantly need upgrading.

“I don’t see that stopping. I mean what’s the next phase. Three-dimensional broadcasting and ultra high definition,” says Buell. 

“I think the sky’s the limit.”

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BEYOND LOCAL: Students should be encouraged to study humanities for the post-coronavirus world, prof says

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Australia’s move to increase fees for some university humanities courses reflects global trends towards market-friendly education that overlook what’s needed for human flourishing

This article, written by Alan Sears, University of New Brunswick and Penney Clark, University of British Columbia, originally appeared on The Conversation and has been republished here with permission:

Finally, someone has figured out how to put an end to students wasting their lives in the quixotic pursuit of knowledge associated with the humanities.

The government of Australia announced in June a reform package that would lower fees for what are considered “job-relevant” university courses while raising the cost of some humanities courses. Under the proposed changes, “a three-year humanities degree would more than double in cost.” English and language course fees, however, are among those being lowered.

These reforms are proposed as part of larger changes to post-secondary funding as Australian universities, like Canadian and other global universities, find themselves grappling with the seismic impacts of COVID-19.

They also reflect larger trends towards what’s considered market-friendly learning. Around the world, educational policy-makers have chipped away for years at the position of the humanities in school curricula at every level to make more room for the so-called STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The humanities is typically considered to include the arts, history, literature, philosophy and languages.

Educational reforms

The Australian reforms are intended to boost enrolment where the government says more “job-ready graduates” will be needed “in health care, teaching and STEM related fields, including engineering and IT.”

The cost changes apply per course, so that “by choosing electives that respond to employer needs … students can reduce the total cost of their study.” The proposed reforms aim to make it cheaper to undertake post-secondary studies in areas of expected job growth.

Such reform efforts are part of a larger global push aimed at establishing the STEM disciplines as central to public education.

In New Brunswick, this has been illustrated in a series of educational reforms emphasizing the centrality of economic priorities to shaping public education. These reforms promote a focus on literacy (not literature), numeracy and science. For example, the province’s 10-year education plan, published in 2016 speaks of reviewing “… high school course selections in the arts, trades and technology, with a view to revising, developing and clustering courses to address labour market and industry requirements.…”

The New Brunswick reforms, and many other such efforts, have largely excluded input from teachers, parents, students and local communities. They’ve focused on the standardization of education systems, while ignoring global lessons about how more holistic approaches to education often produce significant system-wide academic success.

The new Australian policy takes a market-oriented approach focused on using financial incentives to encourage certain choices. Australia is definitely ahead of the curve on this one. Or is it?

Economic goals in public education

No single organization has had more impact on the global move toward prioritizing economic goals in public education than the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), through its Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

PISA is an international testing program that has traditionally assessed student achievement in reading, mathematics and science in almost 100 countries and regions around the world. The results generate press and shape discussions and decisions about educational policy and practice in important ways.

One group of education scholars writes that “PISA has arguably become the most influential educational assessment today,” and emphasizes that the program was developed to assist the OECD with its economic mandate and that this rationale informed the assessment’s framework and continues to guide its development.

In recent times, growing social and cultural fragmentation have created challenges for the world’s economies and prompted a rethink even in the OECD of the kind of education necessary for a more comprehensive prosperity. In 2018 it moved the PISA program beyond the three traditional subject areas to begin assessing “global competence,” which it describes as “a multidimensional capacity.”

Learning for ‘global competence’

According to the OECD, “globally competent individuals can examine local, global and intercultural issues, understand and appreciate different perspectives and world views, interact successfully and respectfully with others, and take responsible action toward sustainability and collective well-being.”

The OECD believes “educating for global competence can boost employability,” and also believes that all subjects can introduce global competence.

It seems to us learning history and other humanities disciplines are effective ways to foster the elements of global competence outlined in their description.

In our recent book, The Arts and the Teaching of History, we make the case that sustained and systematic engagement with the humanities — including, history, literature and visual and commemorative art — is effective in fostering a number of positive humanistic and civic outcomes and competencies.

These include: complex comprehension of history and literature and the nature of truth; nuanced understanding of the relationships between history and collective memory and how those operate in the formation of individual and group identities; and, particularly important in contemporary Australia, Canada and elsewhere, engagement with Indigenous perspectives.

This is not to argue that the teaching of history, literature or other humanities subjects is without criticism. As they have appeared in school curriculum these subjects have often been overly focused on so-called western civilization. Marie Battiste, Mi’kmaw educator and professor in educational foundations at the University of Saskatchewan, in her book Visioning a Mi’kmaw Humanities: Indigenizing the Academy explores reframing the humanities to create:

“ … a vision of society and education where knowledge systems and languages are reinforced, not diluted, where they can respectfully gather together without resembling each other, and where peoples can participate in the cultural life of a society, education and their community.”

Appreciating different worldviews

Does anyone really believe that in the midst of vigorous public debates about what it means to build a just society, the world needs more people without the educational background to understand where their societies came from and how they developed? In the age of Black Lives Matter, rising Indigenous activism and substantial public engagement we need to educate people to take responsible action toward collective well-being.

Of course, STEM subjects are critical in fostering understanding of issues related to sustainability and collective well-being. They are a necessary, but only a partial, aspect of any child’s education. The humanities play an essential role in aspects of global competence which have not been the focus of the STEM subjects.

If the study of history, society, culture or the arts dies, our societies may learn the hard way that it takes more than narrow job preparation to ensure that our students will flourish as human beings. Such flourishing includes willingness and ability to engage with the challenging and urgent social, cultural, environmental and political issues with which they are confronted in these times.The Conversation

Alan Sears, Honorary Research Professor, Faculty of Education, University of New Brunswick and Penney Clark, Professor, Social Studies Education, University of British Columbia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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How conspiracies like QAnon are slowly creeping into some Canadian churches

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Pastor John van Sloten of Marda Loop Church in Calgary had been thinking about, in his view, the theology behind wearing a mask. 

His basic premise was that if Jesus, who was God, took on a human body to mask his Godness for the sake of others, then Christians too should cover up their faces with a mask amid the pandemic.

So, he penned a column for a local newspaper and made it the subject of one of his sermons.

“I thought it was a pretty convincing theological argument,” van Sloten says. “But people just went nuts with it.”

Soon, the Facebook page for Marda Loop Church was flooded with angry commenters. One told van Sloten that he couldn’t possibly be a pastor with such beliefs. Another said he should be ashamed for “posting such nonsense.”

One commenter even posted a meme of Jesus displaying his middle finger to the reader.

“I thought that was creative,” van Sloten said. “A lot of it was repeating of the conspiracy theories that the whole masking thing is made up, that you’re drinking the Kool-Aid like the rest of liberal society.”

Comments flooded the Facebook page for Marda Loop Church in Calgary after Pastor John van Sloten wrote a column and preached a sermon on the theology behind wearing a mask. (Facebook)

Van Sloten said he’s received criticism, hate mail and even protests outside his church over the years, and has mostly ignored those instances that seemed like trolling.

But he said he’s also read about the advent of the baseless conspiracy theory QAnon in American churches — and feels that churches in Canada should be carefully tracking its possible journey north.

“The Christian church has always been exposed to heresies and incorrect thinking historically from the get-go,” van Sloten said. “Heresies come and heresies go, and this is the heresy du jour. And I think we ought to treat it like that.”

An American conspiracy comes north

The QAnon conspiracy theory originated in 2017 on the imageboard 4chan after a user identified as “Q” claimed they had insider information on the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Through a series of anonymous posts, Q propagated the conspiracy that Trump was battling against a child-trafficking ring that included “deep state” government officials, prominent Democrats and members of Hollywood.

Followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory include members from both secular and religious groups, and aren’t made up specifically of those people who participate in the Christian faith.

And though QAnon may have begun as a distinctly American conspiracy, its tentacles have since been attached to governments and notable individuals around the world.

“Prime Minister [Justin Trudeau] has been mentioned in Q drops since the start of QAnon,” said Marc-André Argentino, a PhD candidate at Concordia University who studies QAnon. “We have some significant influencers [based in Canada].

“Amazing Polly [a QAnon influencer based in Ontario] was at the root of the Wayfair conspiracy theory. It’s not like Canada is just taking the American aspect, but they’re adapting it to its own context.”

Typical QAnon conspiracies connected to Canada involve the belief that Trudeau is one of the “deep state elites” who need to be removed from office to “awaken and liberate” the country.

Marc-André Argentino, a PhD candidate at Concordia University in Montreal, says QAnon offers believers a symbolic resource that helps people explain why bad things are happening in the world. (Ted S. Warren, File/The Associated Press)

Growth among QAnon adherents within secular and religious communities is steady, and underpinned by different motivations, Argentino said.

But he said he expected there could be an easy path for the religious community to understand apocalyptic language in the political context, making it potentially easier for members to accept QAnon.

“[Religions and conspiracy theories] have this function where they permit the development of symbolic resources that enable people to define and address the problem of evil,” he said. “So whether you want to know why something is happening, whether you’re blessed or cursed — God or the devil — it’s the same thing with QAnon.

“This conspiracy theory is providing a mainstream narrative for things like a pandemic, or war, or child trafficking … It’s just a natural pathway for a lot of evangelicals in the U.S., especially considering how evangelicalism is closely linked to American politics.”

‘How could you believe this?’

When the pandemic started, Jessica DiSabatino, lead pastor at Calgary’s Journey Church, felt confident in keeping to one of her church’s “high values” — that not all members shared the same views, and that was OK.

But as lockdown dragged on and the church lost its face-to-face contact, she noticed some things that worried her. 

On social media, DiSabatino watched as the debunked Plandemic video was retweeted and watched hundreds of times by people in her congregation.

Inevitably, DiSabatino began hearing of QAnon from people around her, and began to read more about it. 

“There is like a religious fervour about it,” she said. “The more I read about it, it seems like a replacement religion, where everything has a reason.

“And I think people want to feel like they’re on the inner workings of something, particularly when we don’t have a lot of power.”

Jessica DiSabatino, lead pastor at Calgary’s Journey Church, says she feels she needs to confront conspiracy theories when they arise in her congregation, while still respecting those who believe them. (Submitted by Jessica DiSabatino/Google Maps)

Seeing posts emerge on social media about QAnon from her congregation, DiSabatino soon felt herself struck by a new feeling — was this going to cause fractures within her church community? Was all the work she had done being undone by this conspiracy?

DiSabatino could even feel herself getting angry. As friends in her life began voicing their openness to QAnon, she thought to herself — “How could you believe this? What is wrong with you?”

“These are some of my friends who I love. And what I’ve had to say to them, in the end, is this cannot define our friendship,” she said.

Looking for ‘the big story’

DiSabatino soon realized her own anger toward what she viewed as someone’s irrational beliefs would drive a further wedge between them — and didn’t begin to uncover what might be motivating those beliefs.

“I don’t think I can say nothing,” she said. “But I also think it’s a very personal thing — so I’m not going to get up and preach a message about why I think QAnon is crazy.

“Partly, because I think different people come to conspiracy theories for different reasons. I think sometimes you’ve got hurt that is unimaginable in your life.”

People of faith are [looking] for a big story that explains why things are the way they are.– John van Sloten, pastor of Marda Loop Church in Calgary

Van Sloten said conspiracy theories and church can often fill the same void, because they’re trading on the same faith and desire for an authoritative voice — something exacerbated in a time rife with turmoil and anxiety.

“People of faith are also looking for a big story that explains why things are the way they are,” he said. “So again, these desires — these good desires, in all of us, I believe, as a theologian — they’re ultimately meant to be directed to a grand narrator who can be trusted, who is authoritative.

“They’re being co-opted by conspiracy theories, by people who want control by making cognitive shortcuts and just getting an answer because they’ve got to get an answer soon.”

Conspiracists functioning almost as prophets

Colin Toffelmire, associate professor of Old Testament at Ambrose University College in Calgary, says there has been a historical vulnerability to conspiracy thinking in some versions of evangelicalism or fundamentalist Christianity.

“I think that’s related to the history of how some Christians in North America have thought about history and science, especially,” Toffelmire said.

“For example, there’s this long-standing objection in evangelical subculture to really well-accepted scientific theories, like the theory of evolution by natural selection.”

There has been a long-standing objection in evangelical subculture to some well-accepted scientific theories, like Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, said Colin Toffelmire, associate professor of Old Testament at Ambrose University College in Calgary. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Those objections — centred in versions of Christianity that believe that everything in the Bible is exactly historically and scientifically accurate — could make certain individuals suspicious of mainstream ideas in science and history, Toffelmire said.

“Some of that is kind of hard-baked into some versions of North American evangelical subculture,” he said. “And so that is, I think, almost like an entry point. That suspicion of authority becomes an entry point for very strange conspiracy theories, like the QAnon conspiracy theory.”

Joel Thiessen, professor of sociology at Ambrose, said though churches should be aware of the rise of QAnon, he wasn’t sure that it was yet a prominent concern in Canada.

But taking an example from the United States, he said it appears that more conservative Christian groups tend to gravitate toward conspiracy, potentially because they may feel they are becoming marginalized in secular society.

“[They feel] they are losing positions of power that conservative religious groups have historically had, particularly in the U.S., to a lesser extent in Canada,” Thiessen said.

“There’s an emerging sense among some conservative groups that they have lost power in governments, in education, in media and so forth.”

Joel Thiessen, a professor of sociology at Ambrose University College, says there has been a perception among conservative religious groups over the last half-century that the media has moved in a more secular or progressive direction. (Submitted by Joel Thiessen)

Thiessen said that those in conservative religious groups who gravitate toward conspiracy still represent a small minority of churchgoers. 

But those who end up believing the conspiracy, Thiessen said, may typically be drawn to it for much of the same reasons others in society are. 

“You have potentially charismatic or polarizing figures, who almost function like prophets within these sub-narratives within society,” Thiessen said. “I think because of physically distanced communities and congregations not gathering together as frequently, people are perhaps not even watching their own online religious services. That means they aren’t being socialized.

“It actually makes this a rife time for such groups to actually capitalize on those opportunities. No doubt we’re seeing those things unfold before our very eyes.”

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