Day: May 7, 2019

The Latest: 2 in custody in Colorado school shooting

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — The Latest on a school shooting in suburban Denver (all times local):

3:10 p.m.

Authorities say two suspects are in custody following a shooting at a suburban Denver school that injured multiple students.

A Douglas County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman told reporters Tuesday that there could be a third suspect in the school, which is still being searched.

Lines of firetrucks, ambulances and law enforcement vehicles are at the scene, and medical helicopters have landed.

The shooting occurred at STEM School Highlands Ranch, a public charter school with more than 1,850 students in kindergarten through 12th grades.

It’s near a sheriff’s department substation, and authorities responded quickly and in force to the shooting.

Students are being taken from the school to be reunited with their parents at a nearby recreation centre.

____

2:50 p.m.

Authorities say a shooting at a suburban Denver school has injured two people.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office says deputies are trying to find the shooter or shooters, calling it an “active and unstable scene.”

The shooting occurred at STEM School Highlands Ranch, a public charter school with more than 1,850 students in kindergarten through 12th grades.

The sheriff’s office directed parents to a recreational centre to pick up their children.

The Associated Press

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The Importance of Pension Calculation Accuracy

The Importance of Pension Calculation Accuracy

Wills & Estates Lawyers

The need for pension calculation accuracy has never been more apparent. Equalizing payments is already difficult, but subject clients to an inaccurate pension report and it could spell disaster. In fact, the complex impact of inaccuracies can be devastating, especially for people going through a divorce.

Typically, pension benefit reports have categories like “family law value” that are used to help accountants and lawyers determine the family property’s net value. As simple as that sounds, it’s a vital calculation when equalizing payments during the resolution of a marriage. If the numbers are off even a little bit, the payor could render incorrect payments to each spouse. In some cases, that can be the difference a few hundred dollars and a few thousand.

While mistakes and miscalculations can be easily caught if the client has a well-trained lawyer or accountant look over the documents prior to equalization, fixing problems after checks have been cashed is a lot more difficult. If errors are discovered too late it could have an enormous impact on each spouse’s quality of life. An incorrect figure could result in a catastrophe that makes repayments and corrections nearly impossible.

The issue of pension benefit miscalculations is not uncommon, and untimely discoveries are more prevalent than some people realize. Unfortunately, losing money isn’t the only concern tied to inaccurate math. According to Canadian news sources, a woman in Ottawa is being held up in divorce court because she can’t produce accurate numbers to the judge.

Although the case involved a Canada Revenue Agency retiree, human error still played a role in the miscalculations. In an effort to fix the glitches, pension valuations recently came under review by pension plan administrators. Having been done primarily by actuaries in the past, January 2012 marked the start of what could be a massive policy transformation in the future.

As it stands, calculations are derived from several bits of information, most of which comes directly from the client. This exclusivity is exactly why lawyers, accountants and judges are urging clients to take a closer look at their pension documents to ensure the algorithms used to come up their “family law value” is fair and accurate.

Typically, a significant asset is kept as security until equalization, at which time the equalization gets paid from the sale of the asset. If your pension benefit calculations are off, even by a small percentage, you eventually lose any security that’s been kept.

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Federal election litmus test in Nanaimo-Ladysmith by-election reads Green

The most astute words I heard about the Nanaimo-Ladysmith federal by-election days before a vote that elected Green Party candidate Paul Manly on Monday night to a seat held by the NDP didn’t come from a political operative. They were delivered by a local hotel manager who declared himself non-partisan. Like anyone you spoke to in the riding, no matter what political stripe, he found the by-election a waste of time and money, given that everyone is going to have to gear up to vote again in October. But he knew its importance: “It’s really a message election,” he said, “It’s a chance to tell Ottawa how we feel.”

By that metric, Manly’s decisive victory, with 37.1 per cent of the vote with 96 per cent of polls reported at time of writing, signals a sea-change since the 2015 election, as well as frustration with the current political template. In 2015, Manly, son of former federal NDP MP Jim Manly, placed fourth, with 19.8 percent of the vote. The seat was won by the NDP’s Sheila Malcolmson with 33.2 per cent, followed by the Liberals (23.5 per cent), and Conservatives (23.4 per cent).

This time out, Conservative John Hirst placed second with 25.1 per cent, followed by New Democrat Bob Chamberlin (22.9 per cent), and Liberal Michelle Corfield (11.1  per cent). Trailing behind were parties that represented differing points on the conservative spectrum:  Jennifer Clarke of the People’s Party of Canada, Jakob Letkemann of the National Citizens Alliance, and Brian Marlatt of the centre-right Progressive Canadian Party.

The election of Manly, a filmmaker and communications specialist, doubles the federal Green caucus from one to two, and brings to an end Green Party leader’s Elizabeth May solitary sojourn in the House of Commons since 2011. “We now have gender parity,” Manly joked on Monday night before a cheering crowd at Cavallotti Lodge, a unprepossessing cinder-block reception hall on the outskirts of Nanaimo. The setting itself was less partisan power nexus than wedding reception thrown by frugal, eco-conscious relative. Flowers and grasses lined the entrance, fairy lights strung overhead. Food — vegetable platters alongside cheese and crackers — was laid out. Only the TV cameras, DJ and screens on mute broadcasting electoral results suggested something else was afoot.

READ MORE: A Green-NDP merger? It could be a big hit.

The bump in federal Green representation, while seemingly minute, echoes larger recent gains by the provincial Green parties, most notably last month’s historic breakthrough in P.E.I. where the Greens now comprise the official opposition to a Conservative minority government. Vancouver Island, a traditional NDP stronghold, is strategically vital to the Greens as they look to grow federally. Toppling the strong NDP machine in Nanaimo is significant. One Green organizer boasted about the effectiveness of the party’s “Get out the Vote” program, noting the failure to do so in P.E.I. likely cost them the majority that was predicted.

When Malcolmson vacated the seat in January 2019 to run for provincial politics (a race she won), she announced just before the nine-month cut-off before a federal election — after which vacancies in the House of Commons don’t need to be filled. Malcolmson argued that the seat should remain vacant until the general election to no avail. Elections Canada and the PMO disagreed. Two other ridings, both Liberal strong-holds made vacant in early 2019, remain so: Saint-Léonard–Saint-Michel (Quebec) and Kings–Hants (Nova Scotia), Scott Brison’s former seat. There was also griping that by-election could  deplete war chests of less prosperous parties: the Liberals only spent $22,000 in Nanaimo-Ladysmith in 2015, while Manly raised $145,000, and the Conservatives and the NDP spent over $130,000 each.

To see Nanaimo-Ladysmith as a proxy for the nation is a mistake, yet the willingness to vote Green can’t be ignored. The riding of 99,413 eligible voters, created with the merging of two electoral districts in 2012 (Nanaimo-Alberni, historically Conservative, and Nanaimo-Cowichan, historically NDP), skews lower in terms of  household income, older, with more than 20,000 seniors, and with far higher unemployment than the national average.

The riding is politically engaged: the 75 per cent turnout in the 2015  federal election exceeded the national average of 68.5 per cent. There was standing room only at last week’s all-candidates debate where Manly delivered a message that clearly resonated: “If you elect me, we are going to fire up this country and we are going to get some things done because they are going to notice that people in Nanaimo-Ladysmith care about climate change, you care about the next generation, you care about the future. It’s important what we do here.”

Issues pertaining to the intersection of Man and Nature are writ large here, a place of immense natural beauty where highways lined with ValueLodges, A&Ws, strip malls and car dealerships slice through emerald forests.  The earth’s resources have fuelled the local economy since the 19th century — first coal mining, then forestry. Lumber and fishing remain major industries, augmented by government services and tourism. But concerns are mounting.

A week before Monday’s election, city council passed a motion officially declaring a climate emergency. (Four supporting motions included refreshing an unused emissions reduction reserve incorporating new targets in the community sustainability action plan, requesting 20,000 hours of public transit expansion, and advocating that the provincial government reinstate community emissions reporting.) Housing affordability is another major worry, given the influx of Vancouver area residents after cashing in on their real-estate lottery. A starter home can run half a million dollars. Gas here costs $1.54 a litre; two retirees report only putting $40 worth in their car because that was all they could afford. Crime is rising, as is drug addiction.

Given the riding’s location, the post SNC-Lavalin timing, and shifts in the political climate it’s not surprising the by-election assumed a preternatural import. It was framed as “a test of political forces.” As Manly wrote in The Straight, it was “voters’ last chance to set the stage for change in the fall” and “to give all the federal parties a preview of the kind of leadership and future they want.”

One preview it did offer was yet another cautionary tale of  how trust in polls can been misplaced.  An Advanced Symbolics poll championed by the NDP projected  the NDP and Conservative each with  29 per cent of the vote, and Manly at 26 per cent. A Green Party-commissioned Oraclepoll poll was also off the mark: it found Manly had support of 36 per cent of decided voters, followed by the NDP at 24 per cent, Liberals at 19 and Conservatives at 17 per cent.

Another glimpse the by-election offered was into potential federal campaign strategies. In his victory speech, Manly highlighted the Greens running a positive campaign that reframed the conversation around the climate crisis. Calls for governments to take responsibility and to stop the subsidizing fossil fuels were themes he repeated on Monday night. “We’ve moved beyond the cart and and buggy, it’s time to move beyond the combustible engine,” Manly said, pointing to local Harbour Air electrifying its sea plane fleet without government subsidy. He highlighted other platforms in the “Green Vision” policy book less discussed: support for affordable housing, better health care and basic dental care. The loudest cheer in the night went to his call for “good clean jobs in a clean energy economy.”

For his part, Conservative candidate John Hirst, a financial services manager, focused on crime, lowering taxes and creating jobs. His literature displayed Scheer prominently. Chamberlin, a Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis chief and former vice-president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, campaigned on affordable housing, reconciliation, Pharmacare, and a “clean alternative energy plan.” It didn’t go unnoticed that Chamberlin’s newspaper ads featured pictures of B.C.’s NDP Premier John Horgan, and few of Singh, who appeared briefly in a campaign video.

Liberal candidate Michelle Corfield, a First Nations leader who led the Save the Nanaimo Harbour campaign as chair of the Nanaimo Port Authority, was firmly positioned as #TeamTrudeau. Her campaign’s focus came from the Liberal playbook: “jobs,” specifically “high-paying jobs for new graduates,” investment in infrastructure and transportation. She praised the party’s ocean protection plan, a national housing strategy, and work done toward Pharmacare.  No one ever mentioned SNC-Lavalin when she was door-knocking, Corfield told me. What she did hear, she says, was people enthusing about the Liberal’s Canada Child Tax Benefit: “Eighteen thousand children are benefitting right here in Nanaimo-Ladysmith area.”

All five federal leaders made appearances on the hustings. Singh visited three times, most recently last week. Scheer visited once, as did Maxime Bernier. Trudeau appeared the day after the by-election date was announced in March; he worked the phones for the campaign in late April. No less than eight MPs, including Catherine McKenna and Marc Garneau, were deployed to the riding. May was active on the ground in the campaign’s final days, appearing at Comicon Nanaimo on May 4 costumed as Star Wars’ Princess Leia next to Manly’s Luke Skywalker, participating in street waves of Green sign and door-knocking. She even took to the dance floor during Blues Jam at the Queen’s Pub in downtown Nanaimo on Sunday afternoon, where Manly played bass and sang an impressive version of “Let the Good Times Roll.”

The Green leader wasn’t present for Manly’s victory speech, but her new husband, John Kidder, who is running for the Greens in B.C. federally, served as spousal proxy. He joined Manly on stage, holding the couple’s small dog, to read a congratulatory email from his wife who was en route to Ottawa. He offered his own blessing: “Nobody works harder than my wife except maybe Paul,” he said. “They are going to be a force.” Manly put it in optimistic perspective: “Our campaign slogan was ‘Together we can do this.’ And in the fall we’re going to do it all over again.” And that of course is when the real “message” will be delivered.

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By The Wall of Law May 7, 2019 Off

Pakistani Christian girls targeted by Chinese as brides

GUJRANWALA, Pakistan — Muqadas Ashraf was just 16 when her parents married her off to a Chinese man who had come to Pakistan looking for a bride. Less than five months later, Muqadas is back in her home country, pregnant and seeking a divorce from a husband she says was abusive.

She is one of hundreds of poor Christian girls who have been trafficked to China in a market for brides that has swiftly grown in Pakistan since late last year, activists say. Brokers are aggressively seeking out girls for Chinese men, sometimes even cruising outside churches to ask for potential brides. They are being helped by Christian clerics paid to target impoverished parents in their congregation with promises of wealth in exchange for their daughters.

Parents receive several thousand dollars and are told that their new sons-in-law are wealthy Christian converts. The grooms turn out to be neither, according to several brides, their parents, an activist, pastors and government officials, all of whom spoke to The Associated Press. Once in China, the girls — most often married against their will — can find themselves isolated in remote rural regions, vulnerable to abuse, unable to communicate and reliant on a translation app even for a glass of water.

“This is human smuggling,” said Aslam Augustine, the human rights and minorities minister in Pakistan’s Punjab province, in an interview with the AP. “Greed is really responsible for these marriages … I have met with some of these girls and they are very poor.”

Augustine accused the Chinese government and its embassy in Pakistan of turning a blind eye to the practice by unquestioningly issuing visas and documents. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied that, saying China has zero tolerance for illegal transnational marriage agencies.

Human Rights Watch called on China and Pakistan to take action to end bride trafficking, warning in an April 26 statement of “increasing evidence that Pakistani women and girls are at risk of sexual slavery in China.”

On Monday, Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency arrested eight Chinese nationals and four Pakistanis in raids in Punjab province in connection with trafficking, Geo TV reported. It said the raids followed an undercover operation that included attending an arranged marriage.

The Chinese embassy said last month that China is co-operating with Pakistan to crack down on unlawful matchmaking centres, saying “both Chinese and Pakistani youths are victims of these illegal agents.”

The Associated Press interviewed more than a dozen Christian Pakistani brides and would-be brides who fled before exchanging vows. All had similar accounts of a process involving brokers and members of the clergy, including describing houses where they were taken to see potential husbands and spend their wedding nights in Islamabad, the country’s capital, and Lahore, the capital of Punjab province.

“It is all fraud and cheating. All the promises they make are fake,” said Muqadas.

___

SUPPLY AND DEMAND

In China, demand for foreign brides has mounted, a legacy of the one-child policy that skewed the country’s gender balance toward males. Brides initially came largely from Vietnam, Laos and North Korea. Now men are looking further afield, said Mimi Vu, director of advocacy at Pacific Links, which helps trafficked Vietnamese women.

“It’s purely supply and demand,” she said. “It used to be, ‘Is she light-skinned?’ Now it’s like, ‘Is she female?’”

Pakistan seems to have come onto marriage brokers’ radar late last year.

Saleem Iqbal, a Christian activist, said he first began to see significant numbers of marriage to Chinese men in October. Since then, an estimated 750 to 1,000 girls have been married off, he said.

Pakistan’s small Christian community, centred in Punjab province, makes a vulnerable target. Numbering some 2.5 million in the country’s overwhelmingly Muslim population of 200 million, Christians are among Pakistan’s most deeply impoverished. They also have little political or social support.

Among all faiths in Pakistan, parents often decide a daughter’s marriage partner. The deeply patriarchal society sees girls as less desirable than boys and as a burden because the bride’s family must pay a dowry and the cost of the wedding when they marry. A new bride is often mistreated by her husband and in-laws if her dowry is considered inadequate.

By contrast, potential Chinese grooms offer parents money and pay all wedding expenses.

Some of the grooms are from among the tens of thousands of Chinese in Pakistan working on infrastructure projects under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, a project that has further boosted ties between the two countries in recent years. Other grooms search directly from China through networks. They present themselves as Christian converts, but pastors complicit in the deals don’t ask for any documentation.

They pay on average $3,500 to $5,000, including payments to parents, pastors and a broker, said Iqbal, who is also a journalist with a small Christian station, Isaak TV. Iqbal has gone to court to stop marriages and sheltered runaway brides, some as young as 13.

Muqadas’ mother Nasreen said she was promised about $5,000, which included the cost of the wedding and her daughter’s wedding dress. “But I have not seen anything yet,” she said.

“I really believed I was giving her a chance at a better life and also a better life for us,” Nasreen said.

___

PRIESTS AND BROKERS

Dozens of priests are paid by brokers to find brides for Chinese men, said Augustine, the provincial minorities minister, who is Christian. Many are from the small evangelical churches that have proliferated in Pakistan.

Gujranwala, a city north of Lahore, has been a particular target of brokers, with more than 100 local Christian women and girls married off to Chinese in recent months, according to Iqbal.

The city has several mainly Christian neighbourhoods, largely dirt poor with open sewers running along narrow slum streets. Tucked away in the alleys are numerous evangelical churches, small cement structures unrecognizable except for small crosses outside.

Pastor Munch Morris said he knows a group of pastors in his neighbourhood who work with a private Chinese marriage broker. Among them, he said, is a fellow pastor at his church who tells his flock, “God is happy because these Chinese boys convert to Christianity. They are helping the poor Christian girls.”

Morris opposes such marriages, calling them an insult. “We know these marriages are all for the sake of money.”

Rizwan Rashid, a parishioner at the city’s Roman Catholic St. John’s Church, said that two weeks earlier, a car pulled up to him outside the church gates. Two Pakistani men and a Chinese woman inside asked him if he knew of any girls who want to marry a Chinese man.

“They told me her life would be great,” he said. “Everything would be paid for by them.”

They were willing to pay him to help, but he said the church’s priest often warns his flock against such marriages, so he refused.

Brokers also troll brick kilns, where the poorest work essentially as slaves to pay off debts, and offer to pay off their workers’ debts in exchange for daughters as brides.

Pakistani and Chinese brokers work together in the trade. One prominent broker in Gujranwala is a Pakistani known only as Robinson. He refused to talk to the AP, but his wife Razia told the AP that they make arrangements through a Chinese marriage bureau in Islamabad.

Moqadas and another young woman from the same neighbourhood, Mahek Liaqat, said Robinson arranged their marriages, providing photos of potential grooms. Afterward, they each described being taken to the same, multi-story house in Islamabad, a sort of boarding house with bedrooms. There, each met her husband for the first time face-to-face and spent her wedding night.

Mahek, 19, said she stayed there with her husband for a month, during which she saw several other girls brought in. She attended several weddings performed in the basement.

Other brides told of meeting their husbands at a similar house in a posh neighbourhood of Lahore.

Simbal Akmal, 18, was taken there by her parents. Two other Christian girls were already there in a large sitting room, picking grooms. Three Chinese men were presented to Simbal, and her father demanded she choose one. She told him she didn’t want to marry, but he insisted, claiming “it was a matter of our honour,” she said.

“He had already promised I would marry one,” she said. “They just wanted money.”

She married, but immediately fled. She was joined by her sister, who refused her parents’ demands to marry a Chinese man. Both escaped to a refuge run by the activist, Iqbal.

___

IN CHINA

Muqadas said her husband had claimed to be a man of money, but when she arrived in China in early December, she found herself living “in a small house, just one room and a bedroom.”

She said he rarely let her out of the house on her own. He forced her to undergo a battery of medical tests that later she found were attempts to determine why she was not yet pregnant. On Christmas Eve, when she pressed him to take her to church, he slapped her and broke her phone, she said.

“I don’t have the words to tell you how difficult the last month there was,” said Muqadas. “He threatened me.”

Finally, he agreed to send her home after her family said they would go to the police.

Mahek said she hadn’t wanted to get married, but her parents insisted. Her Chinese husband was possessive and refused to let her leave the house. “He was just terrible,” she said.

In China, her husband, Li Tao, denied abusing Mahek. He said he was a Christian convert and worked for a state-owned Chinese company building roads and bridges when he met Mahek through a Pakistani matchmaker introduced by a Chinese friend.

He was taken by her at first sight, he said. “If you look at her and you see she’s right for you, that’s it, right?”

Li returned with Mahek last winter to his hometown of Chenlou, a village surrounded by wheat fields in coastal Jiangsu province. They moved into his mother’s home, a one-story courtyard house.

After Malek’s family reached out to their government for help to bring her back, the police showed up at Li’s home and said they were told he was illegally confining a woman in his home.

He said it was Mahek who refused to go outside.

“I wouldn’t force her into doing anything,” Li said. “She just had to learn to adapt to a new environment. I wasn’t asking her to change right away.” Still, he bought plane tickets to take her back to Pakistan.

Others, however, are unable to come back.

Mahek’s grandfather Idriis Masih said he contacted the parents of several other Pakistani girls whom Mahek had befriended through a phone app in China and who were desperate to return home. All the parents were poor and shrugged off his attempts to convince them to retrieve their daughters.

Each told him, “She is married now. It is her life,” he said.

___

Kang reported from Linyi, China. Associated Press researcher Shanshan Wang in Beijing contributed to this report

Kathy Gannon And Dake Kang, The Associated Press





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By The Wall of Law May 7, 2019 Off