HALIFAX – The Nova Scotia government, in a bid to improve the accountability and transparency of police in the province, announced Tuesday the creation of an independent, civilian-led agency that will investigate when someone dies or is seriously hurt at the hands of police.
Justice Minister Ross Landry, who promised to set up the agency almost two years ago, said the work of the Serious Incident Response Team will effectively end the controversial practice of having police investigate police when questions of serious misconduct arise.
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“It was the police themselves who came forward, saying the old way just wasn’t working anymore,” Landry told a news conference. “They wanted, along with Nova Scotians, a new model.”
Landry then fielded several questions about the 2008 death of John Simon, a member of Cape Breton’s Wagmatcook First Nation who was shot in his home by an RCMP officer.
A Halifax Regional Police investigation cleared Const. Jeremy Frenette, who shot the allegedly suicidal and drunk man. But Simon’s family and band officials contend the police probe left too many questions unanswered and have called for a public inquiry.
The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP later released a report that expressed concern that the force did not carry out a disciplinary review of the officers involved.
Ron MacDonald, a former Crown lawyer appointed as director of the new agency, said the team will not investigate incidents that happened prior to its creation.
He also said the two investigators who will be working with him will probably be former police officers, and other serving officers could be called in to help with investigations.
MacDonald said the agency will remain independent despite the presence of former and serving officers.
“They will be under the control of only one person – me,” he said. “I don’t answer to anybody but the public of Nova Scotia.”
Chris McNeil, deputy chief of Halifax Regional Police, said it makes sense to have trained police investigators on the team.
“These are criminal investigations involving very serious charges,” he said after the news conference.
“Nobody would expect that they would not be done by competent, capable people. … The day may come where there’s only civilians. We’re not there yet.”
Landry said people with police training have to be part of the agency.
“I have the utmost respect for police officers,” said Landry, a former RCMP officer. “At times, the skills they bring to the table will be necessary. … Will they be independent? That’s part of the job of the team to ensure that transparency is there.”
Liberal justice critic Michel Samson said he’s adopting a wait-and-see attitude regarding the use of former and current police officers.
“The fact is that officers do bring a specialty to this,” he said.
“The most important stick that will be used to judge how this is carried out is whether the public sees this as an independent agency and not some sort of body where officers are forced to protect the actions of their colleagues.”
Samson’s Conservative counterpart, Allan MacMaster, said it would be difficult for the agency to find civilians who are trained to carry out criminal investigations.
“That’s why we’re going to have to keep a close eye on it,” he said.
Under its mandate, the agency will investigate cases involving death, serious injury, sexual assault and “other areas of public interest involving police.”
It will be up to MacDonald to decide what constitutes an area of public interest.
However, he said the agency will focus its attention on cases that could lead to criminal charges.
The province’s Police Complaints Commissioner’s Office will continue to investigate allegations of police misconduct, which means the two agencies could be working on some of the same cases.
The new agency, which Landry said should be operational by early next year, can launch investigations after receiving complaints from the public, the head of the RCMP in Nova Scotia, a chief of police or the justice minister.
Largely based on Alberta’s Serious Incident Response Team, the Nova Scotia agency will have an $800,000 annual budget. Summaries of the team’s reports to the justice minister will be made public.
Ontario also has a similar unit. That province’s Special Investigations Unit, established in 1990, is a civilian-led body that takes over a scene immediately after police are involved in a death or serious incident.
BRUSSELS – The European Union’s foreign policy chief said Tuesday that Israel’s plan to build 1,100 new housing units in occupied east Jerusalem “should be reversed” since it undermines peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Catherine Ashton told the EU parliament that she heard “with deep regret” that Israeli settlement plans were continuing and planned to take up the issue again with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when she next meets him.
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“He should stop announcing them and, more importantly, stop building them,” she told legislators in Strasbourg, France.
In an interview published Tuesday, Netanyahu ruled out any freeze in settlement construction, which could further raise tensions in the area following last week’s Palestinian move to seek U.N. membership.
Ashton said the expansion of settlements “threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution” proposed by the Quartet of Mideast mediators: the EU, the United States, Russia and the United Nations.
The Israeli government on Tuesday backed the construction of 1,100 new homes in occupied east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as their future capital. The government said construction could begin after a mandatory 60-day period for public comment.
“This plan should be reversed,” Ashton said.
Ashton said there was little hope any of the people moving into the proposed settlements would ever be able to live a full life there.
“It is wrong to get people to live in a place which, when you look at a negotiated settlement, they will probably have to move from. Actually, that doesn’t make any sense to me,” she told the legislators.
The Quartet is calling for negotiations to resume in a month and a peace deal by the end of 2012. Ashton said that any momentum would be immediately undermined by the east Jerusalem housing plan.
“We called for parties to refrain from provocative actions if negotiations are really going to resume and, more importantly, be effective,” she said.
Such calls received international backing.
“This sends the wrong signal at this sensitive time,” Richard Miron, spokesman for United Nations Special Coordinator Robert Sery, said in a statement.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the plan was going in the face of plans to negotiate.
“Provocative of Israel to announce new settlements in East Jerusalem now. Clearly contrary to Middle East Peace Quartet demand,” he wrote in a Tweet message.
LONDON – Television writer David Croft, who helped create much-loved British sitcoms such as “Dad’s Army” and “Are You Being Served?,” died Tuesday. He was 89.
Croft’s agent Tim Hancock, said the writer died at his holiday home in Portugal. Croft’s family said in a statement that he “died peacefully in his sleep,” but did not give a cause.
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The son of actors, Croft served with the Royal Artillery during World War II before starting a showbiz career, eventually moving into TV as a producer, director and writer.
Several of his comedies had military settings, including “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” – set in wartime India and Burma – and “Dad’s Army,” about a hapless World War II Home Guard unit.
Co-created with Jimmy Perry, “Dad’s Army” is considered a comedy classic, and is still frequently rerun more than 40 years after its debut.
Croft and Perry had another long-running hit with “Hi-de-Hi!” set in a 1950s holiday camp.
With Jeremy Lloyd, Croft wrote several series in the 1970s and 80s, including “‘Allo ‘Allo!” – set in the unlikely comic environment of Nazi-occupied France – and the perennially popular department-store sitcom “Are You Being Served?”
The shows drew viewers in the millions with their mix of memorable characters, nostalgic settings, catch phrases and double entendres.
In a statement, Croft’s family said he would have “been proud that you had all been watching.”
Former BBC head of comedy Jon Plowman said Croft was “quite simply a genius who invented a whole genre of comedy that was all his own – mostly from his own experience.”
“He wrote so much of the great comedy from the last 30 or 40 years, always impeccably cast with an ensemble of great character actors,” Plowman said.
In 1978, Croft was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II, for services to television.
He is survived by his wife and children. Funeral details were not immediately available.
Fatherhood may be a kick in the old testosterone, but it may also help keep a man alive. New research suggests that dads are a little less likely to die of heart-related problems than childless men are.
The study – by the AARP, the U.S. government and several universities – is the largest ever on male fertility and mortality, involving nearly 138,000 men. Although a study like this can’t prove that fatherhood and mortality are related, there are plenty of reasons to think they might be, several heart disease experts said.
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Marriage, having lots of friends and even having a dog can lower the chance of heart problems and cardiac-related deaths, previous research suggests. Similarly, kids might help take care of you or give you a reason to take better care of yourself.
Also, it takes reasonably good genes to father a child. An inability to do so might mean a genetic weakness that can spell heart trouble down the road.
“There is emerging evidence that male infertility is a window into a man’s later health,” said Dr. Michael Eisenberg, a Stanford University urologist and fertility specialist who led the study. “Maybe it’s telling us that something else is involved in their inability to have kids.”
The study was published online Monday by the journal Human Reproduction.
Last week, a study by other researchers of 600 men in the Philippines found that testosterone, the main male hormone, drops after a man becomes a dad. Men who started out with higher levels of it were more likely to become fathers, suggesting that low levels might reflect an underlying health issue that prevents reproduction, Eisenberg said.
In general, higher levels of testosterone are better, but too much or too little can cause HDL, or “good cholesterol,” to fall – a key heart disease risk factor, said Dr. Robert Eckel, past president of the American Heart Association and professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, Denver.
“This is a hot topic,” Eckel said. “I like this study because I have five children,” he joked, but he said many factors such as job stress affect heart risks and the decision to have children.
Researchers admit they couldn’t measure factors like stress, but they said they did their best to account for the ones they could. They started with more than 500,000 AARP members age 50 and over who filled out periodic surveys starting in the 1990s for a long-running research project sponsored by the National Cancer Institute.
For this study, researchers excluded men who had never been married so they could focus on those most likely to have the intent and opportunity to father a child. Men with cancer or heart disease also were excluded to compare just men who were healthy when the study began.
Of the remaining 137,903 men, 92 per cent were fathers and half had three or more children. After an average of 10 years of follow-up, about 10 per cent had died. Researchers calculated death rates according to the number of children, and adjusted for differences in smoking, weight, age, household income and other factors.
They saw no difference in death rates between childless men and fathers. However, dads were 17 per cent less likely to have died of cardiovascular causes than childless men were.
Now for all the caveats.
Researchers don’t know how many men were childless by choice and not because of a fertility problem.
They don’t know what fertility problems the men’s partners may have had that could have left them childless.
They didn’t have cholesterol or blood pressure information on the men – key heart risk factors.
Less than five per cent of participants were blacks or other minorities, so the results may not apply to them.
All those questions aside, however, some prominent heart experts were reassured by the study’s large size and the steps researchers took to adjust for heart disease risk factors.
“I think there’s something there,” and social science supports the idea that children can lower heart risks, said Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and genetics expert at Scripps Health in La Jolla, Calif. “Whether it’s with a pet, a spouse or social interaction … all those things are associated with better outcomes.”
Dr. Daniel Rader, director of preventive cardiology at the University of Pennsylvania, said: “It’s biologically plausible that there’s a connection,” but the reduced risk attributed to having children “is pretty modest.”
Men often ask him what they can do to keep from dying of a heart attack, he said.
“I’m not really prepared to, on the basis of this, tell them to start having a few kids,” Rader said.