Crime, Published Articles

Stabbing suspect denied bail

Originally published in the Whitecourt Star

Dillon Coulson, the man who turned himself into police in relation to a stabbing at a party, was denied bail on March 9 at Mayerthorpe Provincial Court.

Crown prosecutor Trevor Peeters successfully argued that Coulson cannot be trusted to abide by any bail terms, since he, “poses a substantial risk to re-offend.”

“His detention is necessary to maintain confidence in the administration of justice,” he said, noting that Coulson has been previously convicted of assaulting a peace officer, uttering threats and multiple charges of no compliance with the terms of release — seven in the past year alone.

According to the Crown, Mayerthorpe RCMP received a report around 5 a.m. on Jan. 28, 2017, of a man stabbed four times — once in the abdomen, twice in the back and once on his fingers.

“There are multiple third party witnesses who can corroborate that the accused committed the stabbing,” said Peeters.

One witness admitted to driving Coulson from the scene of the crime, he said.

Another witnessed the assault at a house party, providing the knife it was committed with to the police.

According to Peeters, the second witness said the two men had been in a fight, which escalated when the complainant hit the accused in the head with a metal bat.

“His demeanour immediately changed,” the second witness allegedly told the police.

Coulson then allegedly punched the victim and stabbed him.

“I blacked out and completely lost it. If I did it, I don’t regret it,” the accused told police after he turned himself in.

The accused was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the assault, which is a violation of the terms of his probation for a past conviction, the Crown said.

The Town of Mayerthorpe has a serious problem with crime commitment under the influence of drugs and alcohol, he added.

“The community would be outraged if he was given release,” Peeters said.

Defence lawyer Gordon Collins said that Coulson’s actions, rash as they were, resulted from the trauma of being hit in the head with a bat.

“The fight was a wrestling match until the victim picked up a metal bat,” he said, arguing that Coulson’s actions were criminal but not his intentions.

Since he can’t remember the stabbing, it’s irrelevant whether he expressed remorse or not, Collins added.

“If he’s convicted, he’s looking at some serious time,” he said. “No doubt about that.”

Collins asked that Coulson be granted bail under the condition that he live with his parents in Sangudo.

Peeters argued that living with his parents wouldn’t make Coulson anymore likely to abide by the terms of his release.

Judge John Higgerty agreed with Peeters, denying Coulson’s bail due to his extensive criminal record.

“Suffice it to say, 2016 was a very bad year for this man,” said Higgerty, citing his seven breaches of the terms of his release and conviction for uttering threats.

“He’s demonstrated a lack of adherence to the directives of the court,” he said. “I have no confidence whatsoever that he’ll obey the terms of his release.”

Coulson appeared in court via CCTV from the Edmonton Remand Centre.

His trial is scheduled for June 8, which will take the full day.

Canadian Politics (Provincial), Published Articles

Province prepares for early wildfire season

Originally published in the Whitecourt Star

Whitecourt and area residents will have to be extra careful with their campfires earlier on this year.

Wildfire season in Alberta is starting a month earlier than usual — on March 1 rather than April 1.

“That gives the opportunity for our crews to get their equipment ready and do recruitment when they need to and hit the ground running when they have to,” said Oneil Carlier, Alberta’s minister of agriculture and forestry and the MLA for Whitecourt-St. Anne.

He said moving the start of wildfire season earlier has been on the province’s radar since the 2011 Slave Lake wildfires, but the NDP government is now putting it into law.

“It’s becoming increasingly important. The fact is that close to 70 per cent of the wildfires now are caused by humans, so all of us as Albertans can do better … and we should,” said Carlier.

Shannon Stambaugh, information officer for the Whitecourt Wildfire Management Area, said the issuing of permits for planned fires is a key component of the town’s strategy for combating wildfires.

“By allowing us to know where those fires are going to happen, we then know how to strategically look for fires,” she said.

The permits also come with a list of safety standards the town recommends for safe burning practices, said Stambaugh.

“It gives general guidelines for how individuals can burn safely and practically,” she said. For example, the town forbids burning when winds are 15 km/h or more.

“We can’t control Mother Nature, but we can control what humans do,” Stambaugh said.

Carlier said the natural fires can be alleviated using the latest technology.

The wildfires that aren’t attributable to human activity “are almost 100 per cent lightning strikes,” he said.

“There’s some really interesting technology out there where the department can track lightning storms and actually track the strikes. Even though we’ve had some bad fire seasons in the past few years, the vast majority of fires are tracked almost instantly and are put out within 24 hours,” said Carlier.

He said another way for governments to reduce forest fires is to increase corporate fines to a maximum of $1 million from $5,000, which has already been done in Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

Carlier stressed that the government wants to encourage people to enjoy the wilderness, but to do so in a smart, safe manner.

“Please go out and enjoy our wildlands, our forests and our prairies. We live in a beautiful province. But if you do so, please act responsibly. Make sure your campfire is out. Make sure you’re not that person that causes a wildfire,” he said.

Whitecourt and area residents can call 780-778-7272 to order their free fire permit at least a week before they want to use it.

Canadian Politics (Federal), Published Articles

Council debates attendance at FCM in Ottawa

Originally published in the Whitecourt Star

How many councillors should represent Whitecourt at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conference in Ottawa?

That was a subject of debate at Town Council on Feb. 13, with a motion in favour of sending four councillors passing by a razor-thin margin.

The vote was 3-2, with Mayor Maryann Chichak, Deputy Mayor Paul Chauvet and Coun. Norm Hodgson voting in favour. Two councillors — Bill McAree and Derek Schlosser — were not at the meeting.

“Since I started on council eight years ago, I’ve always been steadfast that the FCM conference is a very expensive one to go to, and I believe council needs to limit the attendance,” said Coun. Darlene Chartrand in explaining her vote against the motion.

The average cost per councillor is $4,904 and five members have indicated a willingness to go, which would cost the town almost $25,000, she added, suggesting that only two members be permitted to attend.

Coun. Eris Moncur joined Chartrand in voting against the motion, stressing the poor optics of council spending $25,000 on a conference in Ottawa while businesses are struggling at home.

“Given the economic times we’re in … I think it’s prudent for us to consider at least whether or not this is the right time, or a good time, for all members to be able to attend,” he said.

Chauvet suggested that the conference’s cost doesn’t take into account the economic opportunities provided by meeting with other municipal leaders and their federal counterparts.

“I understand the concerns. What actually happens, who actually goes, is different from who says they want to go. We have a responsibility to protect the interests of Whitecourt, but also to promote Whitecourt,” he said.

Due to attendance at last year’s conference, the town was able to get the federal government to commit $6 million to help with its river erosion problem, Chauvet added.

Chichak said she met with Adam Vaughan, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s parliamentary secretary, and he agreed to work with local MP Arnold Viersen to fix the south bank of the Athabasca River’s erosion.

“That (meeting) did result in us getting the approval through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I’m not too sure that project would have gone through without that actual contact. (Vaughan) was the one who pushed it through,” she said.

But Chartrand disagreed.

“I don’t believe for a second that the river erosion project wouldn’t have happened without the attendance,” she said.

Hodgson defended the mayor and deputy mayor’s position, saying that their appearance at the conference directly resulted in movement on the river erosion file.

“I was there and I saw and know what happened, but you weren’t,” he said. “You can believe what you believe.”

This year’s FCM conference will be held from May 30 to June 5 in Ottawa.

Data, Published Articles

Whitecourt, Woodlands County growing

Originally published in the Whitecourt Star

Whitecourt and Woodlands County are both growing, while Mayerthorpe got a bit smaller, according to the most recent census data released Feb. 8.

Whitecourt’s population increased to 10,204 from 9,605 in 2011, when the last census was released — an increase of 6.2 per cent.

However, this is a slight decrease from the municipal census of 2013, which put the town’s population at 10,574, resulting in 370 more people than the 2016 federal survey.

Mayor Maryann Chichak attributed this discrepancy to differing methodologies in gathering census data.

“More visits are done to households to ensure that they’re counted in the municipal census,” she said.

“We did online. We did door-to-door. We’d go back two, three, four times to ensure we got an answer. Unfortunately, with a federal census, they made two or three attempts and if they don’t have a response back, then the houses aren’t counted,” she said.

Chichak estimated that there’s a five per cent variance between municipal and federal numbers.

“When you compare apples to apples, it was nice to see that continued steady growth from the last federal one,” she said.

Mayor pleased with Woodlands’ “healthy” growth

Woodlands County Mayor Jim Rennie was thrilled that the census showed his municipality’s population increase to 4,574 from 4,306, a growth of 10.4 per cent.

“The Edmonton Journal called themselves the fastest growing city in Canada and their percentage wasn’t a lot higher than ours,” he said.

According to the census, Edmonton grew by 14.8 per cent between 2011 and 2016.

The provincial average for Alberta is 11.6 per cent, making it the fastest growing province. The national average is five per cent.

“We’re a community that’s lucky to be blessed with growth,” said Rennie, calling the population increase “healthy” and “somewhat balanced.”

Mayerthorpe got smaller

But not all towns in Alberta grew from one census to the other.

Mayerthorpe’s population shrank by 5.6 per cent to 1,320, losing 78 people, since the federal census in 2011.

Lac Ste. Anne County, where Mayerthorpe is located, increased its population 6.2 per cent to 10,899 from 10,260 in the same timeframe.

“The population figures are disappointing and they’re not really unexpected,” Mayerthorpe Mayor Kate Patrick said, citing the economic downturn in the oilpatch as a factor in the decrease.

“We have a lot of oil and gas industry workers who lost their jobs in the last year.”

Patrick said that if the census was taken today, she believes the results would be different.

This is why she wants council to take a municipal census, which may not happen until 2018.

Canadian Politics (Provincial), Published Articles

Alberta environment minister meets with stakeholders, local mayors to discuss caribou conservation

Originally published in the Whitecourt Star

Alberta’s Environment and Parks minister met with local politicians and business leaders Thursday to discuss the government’s long-awaited Caribou Range Plan.

Phillips, who had just completed a helicopter tour of the area, says she wants to work with local governments and the forest industry to develop a plan that strikes a balance between economic growth and protecting the caribou’s natural habitat.

“We have taken the position that the environment and the economy go hand-in-hand and it’s our job to find those balances,” she said prior to the meeting at Eagle River Casino. “We’re open to hearing what the companies and municipalities are saying.”

Present at the meeting were Whitecourt Mayor Maryann Chichak, Woodlands County Mayor Jim Rennie, Chamber of Commerce President Rand Richards and representatives from Alberta Newsprint Company and Millar Western.

The province has until October to comply with the federal government’s 2002 Species at Risk Act, which lists the boreal woodland caribou population as “threatened.”

The main targets for conservation in Alberta are the Little Smoky and A La Peche ranges, which according to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) are 95 per cent disturbed.

The government issued a draft plan last year, which was criticized by the forestry industry as being too restrictive, due to reduced timber quotas.

“We will be filing a range plan according to the federal timelines,” the minister said. “Whether or not the federal government finds that plan to be adequate is another question.”

Phillips emphasized her government’s record of working with concerned industries to protect endangered species, offering the example of the government’s collaboration with oil and gas companies to restore old seismic lines from exploration in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

“What those end up being is the fragmentation of the landscape and they’re superhighways for wolves to prey on dwindling caribou populations,” which she said the oil and gas industry took the initiative to fix.

Alison Ronson, executive directors of CPAWS Northern Alberta, says that while it’s important to have stakeholders on board for conservation projects, the government shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

“Almost every stick of timber has been allocated to forestry interests and they have budgeted based on an understanding that they have rights to harvest on the land, so it doesn’t leave much wiggle room,” she said.

There’s already a guideline under the 2012 Federal Recovery Strategy of 65 per cent undisturbed habitat for each range to ensure the caribou population remains self-sustaining.

Government and business ought to keep this target in mind when they sit down at the table, said Ronson.

“There’s been a culture in Alberta for the last 50 years of allowing industry to operate almost unfettered, so the balance is actually very skewed towards industrial development on the landscape,” she said.

“Now we need to reign it in and realize that it’s not sustainable and make some changes to our practices.”

Entertainment, Film

Moonlight: A masterful meditation on race, sexuality and addiction

As a writer, sometimes a work of art, whether it’s music, a movie, play or painting, compels you to write in an inevitably futile effort to do it justice. Moonlight, directed and written by Barry Jenkins, is such a film.

It’s a work primarily concerned with transcending the past while being true to oneself and the social structures that stand in the way, particularly for a gay African-American from a broken home.

The film follows Chiron (pronounced shy-rone) through three phases of his life, played by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes, respectively.

i. Little

We first meet him as a child, or “Little”, as he’s then known, through the eyes of Juan, played by Mahershala Ali. You may recognize him from Netflix series House of Cards and Luke Cage.

After finding Little hiding out in a shed on his property, Juan takes him under his wing, serving as a father figure in the absence of his biological father. The audience discovers soon after that Juan is a crack dealer who sells to Little’s mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), and her boyfriend.

Juan also gives the boy money out of apparent guilt and pity for feeding his mother’s addiction. He’s giving back to Little what he takes from his mother.

Chiron’s mother is emotionally abusive, calling her son a “faggot” in a scene that is muted, emphasizing the hurtfulness of the slur. The audience literally has to read her lips to figure out what she’s saying.

In the next scene, Little asks Juan what that word means, to which he responds that it’s a homophobic slur. “You can be gay, but don’t let anyone call you no faggot,” Juan says, providing Little with the emotional support and comfort his mother should be giving.

In the first part, Little appears at Juan’s house whenever he is distressed by his situation at home.

“There are black people all over the world and we need to stick together,” he advises Chiron. The rest of the film depicts the exact opposite, providing a glimpse into the internal struggles of the black community.

ii. Chiron

In the second act, we see Chiron, whose sexual orientation at this point is known throughout the community and his high school, bullied severely by fellow African-Americans. The bullies pressure Kevin (Andre Holland), Chiron’s secret lover, to beat him to a bloody pulp. Not wanting them to suspect that he too is gay, Kevin obliges.

Chiron doesn’t want to be a snitch on his lover, so he declines to press charges, taking matters into his own hands. In one of the film’s more difficult scenes to watch, he barges into school and breaks a chair over the lead bully’s head, for which he’s sent to juvenile detention.

iii. Black

When he emerges in the third act, Chiron has reinvented himself, starting a new life in Atlanta. He’s come full circle as a drug dealer referred to as “Black”. He’s now a symbol of rugged, heterosexual masculinity. He’s muscular and dresses with grills and a gold chain. He also has a crown on the dashboard of his car, as Juan did, from which he blares gangsta rap.

Without giving too much away, he’s reunited with Kevin, telling him “I’m trapped,” which is an apt summation of the film’s major overarching theme.

Take me to the river, drop me in the water

Water is a particularly potent symbol in Moonlight. Juan teaches Little to swim near the film’s beginning, solidifying his fatherly status.

More importantly, it’s where Chiron goes in the second act to escape his crack-addicted mother’s continual  abuse, which now includes pestering him for money, where he smokes his first blunt and has his first homosexual experience with Kevin. We also see Chiron dunk his head in ice water as a symbol of exasperation, both after Kevin beats him up and after he’s arrested for his vigilante justice.

The film’s title is also symbolic in this sense. Just as moonlight reflects on the water, so too does the past reflect on the present and future.  Moonlight also provides light in darkness, which is represented by Black’s reunion with Kevin in the third act.

Rich in symbolism and with excellent performances all around, Moonlight may very well be the best film I saw in 2016. It provides a powerful contrast to Marvel and Star Wars’ highly profitable, and I’ll concede often entertaining, explosion porn.


Canadian Politics (Federal), Published Articles

Everything you need to know about the federal Conservative leadership frontrunners

Jeremy Appel
Originally published at This

The Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership race, scheduled to conclude in May 2017, is off to an inauspicious start. Between fights in the name of “Canadian values” and hot takes on same-sex marriage, the candidates appear to be competing to see who can advocate the most regressive policies, with a few notable exceptions.

This takes a look at the five frontrunners—Kellie Leatch, Brad Trost, Maxime Bernier, Michael Chong and Lisa Raitt—and their respective proposals for immigration, social issues, the environment and the economy.

Kellie Leitch


Leitch’s signature proposal is “screening immigrants, refugees, and visitors for anti-Canadian values.” Her website boasts, “Kellie is the only candidate who will ensure that those coming to Canada believe in the equality of women, freedom of religion, and equality under law,” but is short on details on how she plans to achieve this.

According to a recent interview with Toronto Life, the Simcoe Grey MP opposes the legalization of recreational marijuana, supports gay marriage, and identifies as anti-abortion.

She vows to repeal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national carbon tax if elected, insisting that carbon pricing should be left to the provinces.

Leitch vows to balance the budget by instituting a cap on government spending. Her website hints at mass privatization when it says that the government must “find new ways to get things done—new ways that don’t involve increasing taxes or borrowing money.”

Brad Trost


Though critical of Leitch’s vague “Canadian values” test, Trost (Saskatoon-University) said in an emailed statement that he wants to distinguish between immigrants who “Choose Canada” for its values and those who “Use Canada” for its public services.

Trost is staunchly opposed to gay marriage, wants “legislation to protect pre-born victims of crime,” and supports tough on crime legislation. “Catch and release is great for fishing, but not so great for criminals,” he said.

“I don’t think the uncertain science around climate change should be leveraged to force producers to leave oil and gas and coal in the ground,” he wrote, contending that the negative of job losses from reducing fossil fuel dependence outweigh the positives.

Trost aims “to keep corporate and income taxes LOW (sic),” which he said would be his main priority as prime minister.

Maxime Bernier


Bernier “plans to make an announcement on immigration later in the campaign,” says spokesman Maxime Hupe.

The Beauce, Que. MP supported the removal of the party’s “definition of marriage as being the union between a man and a woman” at its May 2016 policy convention in Vancouver, according to his website.

However, he vowed to reopen the abortion debate if party members request it, allowing a free vote. This is despite the vehemently anti-abortion Campaign Life Coalition rating him as consistently pro-abortion and therefore “not supportable.”

“Our prosperity is, and will remain for decades to come, dependent on fossil fuels to a large extent,” his website reads. He calls advocates of national carbon taxation “extremist green activists” who “want to see their standard of living significantly reduced to contribute in a negligible way to the global fight against climate change.”

Bernier advocates leaving the issue of carbon taxation up to the provinces and allowing the private sector to develop green energy of its own accord.

In a speech to the Canadian Club in Toronto, Bernier called for a reduction in the corporate tax rate to 10 per cent from 15 percent and the outright abolition of capital gains taxes.

Michael Chong


Chong (Wellington-Halton Hills) seeks to maintain the status quo on immigration, noting in a statement that immigrants and refugees are already “screened for criminality, war crimes, terrorism, health, and economic reasons.” Leitch’s proposal to vet newcomers for “Canadian values” is thus “not workable.”

He also vows not to “reopen divisive social issues,” namely those that have already been decided by Parliament, like abortion, same-sex marriage, and assisted suicide.

An outlier amongst the leadership candidates, Chong advocates a carbon tax, albeit one that is revenue neutral, to discourage fossil fuel consumption and reach the international target for emission reductions by 2030. 

To make up for the carbon tax, Chong vows to slash personal income taxes by 10 percent and corporate taxes by 5 percent.

Lisa Raitt


The Campaign Life Coalition rates Raitt as “unsupportable” due to her participation in the 2016 Toronto Pride parade and pro-abortion voting record. However, the group notes her opposition to assisted suicide, which she attributes to her Catholic faith.

In parliament, she vocally opposed the federal Liberals’ carbon taxation plan, advocating corporate solutions to what she acknowledges as the reality of man-made climate change.

During the party’s November leadership debate in Saskatoon, Raitt hinted at a reduction of inter-provincial trade barriers as a central tenet of her fiscal policies.

As the most recent addition to the leadership race, the Milton MP has yet to outline specific proposals on most issues, nor did her office respond to requests for comment.