Monthly Archives: January 2019

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‘Let us go!’ migrants demand as they torch tents in overwhelmed Slovenia

BREZICE, Slovenia – After too many days and nights stuck outside in the rain and cold, tempers are fraying among the tens of thousands of migrants trying to get through the Balkans to the heart of Europe.

A fire at the main refugee camp on Slovenia’s border with Croatia destroyed a dozen lime green army-issue tents Wednesday as scores of mostly young male migrants nearby chanted, “Let us go! Let us go!”

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While the government said it was still investigating the cause, police at the scene told The Associated Press that migrants had set a stack of UNHCR-supplied blankets deliberately on fire to protest conditions in the camp on the outskirts of Brezice.

READ MORE: Turkey warns EU that 3 million more refugees could leave Syria

Many of those demanding to leave the Slovenian border town for Austria, Germany and other European Union nations to the north had waded the previous night through the Sutla River, which marks the border between Slovenia and Croatia, in frigid conditions made worse by their soaked clothes. Sometimes in the pitch dark, at other times aided by light from a police helicopter’s searchlight, more than 1,000 souls strode chest-deep into the muddy waters on the Croat side and struggled up the muddy embankment into Slovenia.

Many migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa expressed bewilderment and disappointment because they had been told as they began their journeys in Turkey that the hard part would end once they reached EU countries like Croatia and Slovenia. Many had expected other countries to permit them free passage to wealthier western countries, particularly Germany, that they hope to make home.

“I am sorry for Europe,” said Ari Omar, an Iraqi, who was resting in a Slovenian pasture a few hundred meters (yards) from the border with Croatia.

“We did not think Europe is like this: no respect for refugees, not treating us with dignity. Why is Europe like this?”

More than 21,500 people have crossed that frontier in the five days since Hungary – the previous favoured EU entry point for migrants crossing the Balkans – closed its borders with Croatia and forced the human tide further west into Slovenia. This Alpine country of barely 2 million says it cannot cope with the volume of human traffic and is appealing for EU financial and security aid. Lawmakers passed an emergency bill permitting Slovenia’s military to operate more freely along the border, and more than 200 troops were deployed Wednesday in armoured personnel carriers at several crossing points and camps.

WATCH: Thousands of migrants and refugees on Friday continued cross the border into Slovenia. According to Slovenian officials, some 5,000 people have crossed into Slovenia in the last 24 hours

Slovenia’s interior secretary of state, Bostjan Sefic, told reporters in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana that troops would have greater freedom to tackle crowd-control tasks on their own, because the country didn’t have enough police for the job. He said tensions were running highest at the camp in Brezice, the scene of Wednesday’s fire. He said the facility – tents in fields beside a warehouse – was designed to hold 250 people, not the 4,000 or more who have passed through since Tuesday.

In a statement Sefic blamed the tensions on “unannounced excessive numbers of people deliberately sent to the border by Croatia.” Reflecting Slovenia’s lack of sufficient shelters, more than 3,000 people who crossed the border Wednesday night were ordered to sit in cornfields, surrounded by police and soldiers, until buses could deliver them north to Austria.

READ MORE: Migrant crisis: Hungary’s fence nearly complete on its Croatian border

Sefic said the travellers “just want to go on their way as soon as possible. They are very dissatisfied and unrestful.”

Slovenia’s president, Borut Pahor, has spent the past two days in Brussels lobbying EU leaders for help. European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker announced a special summit Sunday seeking a regional strategy for managing the migrant flow involving Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia as well as Slovenia.

For months, a steady stream of asylum seekers has travelled from EU member Greece north through non-EU members Macedonia and Serbia to reach what the travellers hope will be an easy entry point to the passport-free EU zone. But the route has grown increasingly difficult as Hungary shut access from Serbia in mid-September and then closed the door to Croatia on Saturday.

A statement from Juncker’s office said the summit would seek to promote “greater co-operation, more extensive consultation and immediate operational action.”

Those already freezing in Balkans fields cannot wait any more days for improved EU management of the humanitarian crisis and are voting with their feet whenever police permit them.

In Austria, at least 1,000 people broke free from a police-supervised camp and walked north on a small road parallel to the highway leading to the city of Graz. Police spokesman Fritz Grundnig said officers were accompanying the marchers and not trying to stop them, merely barring them from directly walking on the highway.

A similar border breakout took place Wednesday morning on the Serbian-Croat border, where hundreds who had spent the night trying to sleep unsheltered in freezing farm fields marched across the frontier in a challenge to Croat border police, who deployed to block them but backed off. A U.N. refugee agency official, Francesca Bonelli, said about 3,000 people in total camped out overnight on that border, including many elderly and ailing people.

Associated Press reporters Philipp-Moritz Jenne in Spielfeld, Austria, Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, Sabina Niksic in Dobova, Slovenia, George Jahn in Vienna, Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary, and Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin contributed to this report.

Pit bull dragged behind minivan in Saskatoon back home

SASKATOON – Four weeks after suffering serious injuries, a pit bull is back at home. Heroic Henry, whose real name is Axel, suffered the injuries after being dragged behind a minivan near Lenore Drive and Silverwood on Sept. 20.

Witnesses said the leash attached to a rear trailer hitch broke, freeing the canine. Patrol officers rushed the badly injured dog to a veterinary clinic.

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Axel was in rough shape, but the Western College of Veterinary Medicine nursed him back to health, assisted by donations which poured in to the Saskatoon SPCA to help the owners cover the tab.

READ MORE: SPCA raising funds to treat pit bull dragged by a minivan in Saskatoon

“When the investigation started there was some confusion about who the rightful owners were,” said Saskatoon police spokesperson Kelsie Fraser.

“The rightful owners were identified and they were able to take the dog home this weekend. It also was determined through the investigation that they were not responsible for the incident or the harm caused to the dog.”

Police say the investigation is ongoing and animal cruelty charges are a possibility. It is believed there were two people in the minivan, a Caucasian man and woman.

The minivan did not stop and was last seen travelling northbound on Wanuskewin Road. The vehicle was described as being dark in colour.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Saskatoon police at 306-975-8300 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Wendy Winiewski contributed to this story

©2015

Marijuana supporters want legalization done right

REGINA – Marijuana consumers in Regina are hoping Justin Trudeau sticks to his promise to legalize marijuana.

“I think this should be up front because cannabis users that have been using it for years as a medicine have been really downtrodden and looked upon in a negative light,” said hydroponics grower Darin Wheatley.

In his eyes there’s a good way and a bad way of legislating use though.

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“As far as the hydroponic industry, I think it could be a really good thing. But it’s only going to be good if people can grow the plants in their own homes.”

Wheatley supplies people with everything they need to grow weed at home. At the end of the day, he said it’s a question of cost.

“There’s a lot of people on disability that don’t have the money to buy from the licensed producers at their inflated prices. So it’s important for people to be able to grow it on their own so they can afford it.”

Another financial concern could be the type of tax put on cannabis.

“I just hope that they only implement a small kind of a tax, as they would on food sort of thing. And not run with some great big huge marijuana tax added on top of it,” Wheatley said.

Supporters like Donivan Hastings would like to see tax dollars going towards things like health care or infrastructure, similar to Colarado.

“They’re getting their tax revenues, they’re building schools and hospitals and use the money as opposed to it going to illegal gangs,” he said.

The recreational side of the industry could also grow with legalization.

“People who have always wanted to grow the plant, but who might have been afraid to because of the laws against it might all of a sudden be like, “Yea, I wouldn’t mind growing a few plants,” said Wheatley. Come in grab a grow tent and some nutrients and away you grow.”

The local medical dispensary won’t delve into that side of the business though.

“We probably won’t get into the recreational use of it. We’re going to use it for the other dispensaries,” said Hastings. “We like to help patients and make sure they have a decent quality of life.”

We asked the Regina Police Service about their thoughts on legalizing marijuana and they said they won’t comment until they know more about how it will work from a legal perspective.

University of Saskatchewan aboriginal enrolment up

SASKATOON – Aboriginal student enrolment continues to increase at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S). Roughly 2,200 indigenous minds study at the Saskatoon-based institution, according to fall enrolment numbers.

That’s an increase of 5.5 per cent from last year and accounts for around 10 per cent of the university’s student body.

Officials say the increase hasn’t happened overnight.

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“The University of Saskatchewan is a leader in aboriginal post-secondary education,” said Graeme Joseph, U of S team leader of aboriginal student success.

“There’s colleagues here that I have that have worked literally decades to making this place a much more welcoming and supportive place for our aboriginal students so I think we’re seeing the beginning of the results of all of that hard work.”

The college of arts and science has the most aboriginal students, followed by education and nursing.

While Joseph is happy to see a hike in aboriginal student enrolment, he stresses the university must ensure students are supported on campus.

“I’m excited that more aboriginal students are choosing the U of S as their place of study,” he said. “We are committed not only to recruiting more aboriginal students, but proactively supporting them throughout their studies to graduation. This is the ultimate goal for students, the university and the wider community – more aboriginal people with university degrees.”

According to Statistics Canada, nearly one in five residents in Saskatchewan will be aboriginal by 2036.

Joel Senick contributed to this story

©2015

Greater Vernon Water meters set to become smart

COLDSTREAM – If you live in the greater Vernon area your water meter may be getting a whole lot smarter. Greater Vernon Water is in the process of installing technology that will turn all of its customers’ water meters into a smart water meters that can be read remotely. The utility says the change will cut costs and make meter readings more accurate but not everyone is in favour of the idea.

Encoder–Receiver-Transmitters will be attached to the outside of homes and will mean meters can be read remotely.

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“[It] will transmit a signal to remote equipment so our meter readers don’t have to go door-to-door to read the meters,” explains Zee Marcolin general manager of Greater Vernon Water.

Marcolin says the new system with be cheaper to run, more accurate and in the long run will also benefit customers when there is a water leak.

“In the future, after about a day, the meter will actually send a signal to us. We will be able to phone that customer and say, ‘Hey, you better check, we think you have a leak,’” says Marcolin.

However, many we talked to on the streets of Vernon had concerns, particularly about the cost. Greater Vernon Water says users won’t be charged directly for the new infrastructure. As for the cost of changing the system, the utility points out keeping the infrastructure the same has its own costs.

“Currently [users] are paying for the meter reading in our budget anyways, so the one cost will just be replaced with another. Once they are installed it will reduce the overall cost,” says Marcolin.

The utility has already started installing the Encoder-Receiver-Transmitters this past summer. As part of the initiative, some utility customers with older meters are also having their entire meter replaced. The entire project is expected to take five to eight years to complete.

If you really don’t want an Encoder-Receiver-Transmitter you can opt out, but that will cost you in the long run. The utility is looking at setting the fee somewhere between $25 and $50 per reading.

Those who want to opt out can fill out a form that is available on the Regional District of North Okanagan’s website.