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Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan arrives in Iraq, meets with security officials

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan arrived in Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s northern Kurdish region, on Sunday.

He was welcomed by Kurdish Interior Minister Karim Sinjari and Kurdish Foreign Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir.

A spokeswoman for Sajjan says the purpose of the trip was to meet with defence and security officials in the region and visit Canadian military personnel.

She says Sajjan met with his Iraqi counterpart in Baghdad and with Kurdish leaders in Irbil.

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The defence minister recently visited the United Kingdom, where his British counterpart Michael Fallon and he discussed a collaboration “on issues of common interest,” which included Canada’s contribution to the fight against the Islamic State.

Canada’s military says that several of the 69 Canadian trainers currently deployed in Iraq, along with hundreds of local troops, came under fire from approximately 500 IS fighters near Mosul last week. They fired back and managed to hold the line. Canadian CF-18 fighter jets also pounded an ISIL position near Mosul.

Canadian participation in the fighting came as the new Liberal government is actively considering when to withdraw its six CF-18s from combat and how to beef up the ground training mission of local forces.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion told Global News that a decision on the future of our troops in Iraq will be coming soon.

“The goal that we have is to be sure that the Canadian effort in the coalition will compliment what our allies are doing and will be very effective to fight these terrorist groups,” Dion said.

WATCH: Future of combat mission to be decided within weeks: Dion

With files from the Associated Press. 

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Tips to help you avoid the Christmas blues

EDMONTON- The holidays can be a stressful time of year for many people. There’s so much to do and what seems like so little time to do it in – shopping, baking, cooking, cleaning and the list goes on.

Psychologist Amanda Slugoski says, if you’re feeling the pinch, take a step back and ask yourself a couple of questions. “How do you want to be with that stress? You may want to be gentle or calm or flexible that things aren’t going to be perfect,” she said.

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    Slugoski adds finances are often the biggest stressor during the holiday season. Many shoppers are left juggling the guilt for spending too much or too little on their loved ones.

    “There is certainly a lot of pressure to spend. We get a lot of messages from the media, marketing, and going into stores. “This is the hot new toy, this is the thing you can’t live without’,” she said.

    Slugoski also says we need to let go of the perception that Christmas is this magical joyous time of the year for everyone and acknowledge it can be stressful or sometimes even sad.

    She suggests that, if you know someone is struggling, reach out.

    “The best thing thing you can do is let them know that you’re there for them if they want to come to you,” she said.

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Indian protesters demand that minor convicted in fatal gang rape be held after serving term

NEW DELHI – The man was short of his 18th birthday when he and five others brutally attacked the 23-year-old woman in a case that shocked India, where sexual violence against women is rampant.

Several activists and politicians have demanded that he not be released until it can be proven that he has been reformed. Scores of protesters Sunday were led by the parents of the woman who was attacked.

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On Friday, the Delhi High Court rejected a petition to extend the man’s term, saying that he has served the maximum sentence allowed under the law. India’s top court is set to hear another such petition Monday.

News reports said the man was moved Sunday from the reform home where he had been kept to a new home under the care of a children’s rights group.

Police eventually broke up the protests Sunday, removing the demonstrators from central New Delhi in buses.

The December 2012 attack in the heart of New Delhi sparked outrage across India and highlighted the issue of violence against women in the country.

The woman and a male friend were returning home from seeing a movie at an upscale mall when they were tricked by the attackers into getting on the bus, which the men had taken out for a joyride.

The attackers beat the victim’s friend and took turns raping her. They penetrated her with a rod, leaving severe internal injuries that led to her death two weeks later.

Four men were convicted of rape and murder in an unusually fast trial for India’s chaotic justice system, and legal appeals against their death sentences are pending in the Supreme Court. A fifth man involved in the case died in prison.

The four adults who went to trial confessed to the attack but later retracted their confessions, saying they’d been tortured into admitting their involvement.

In response to the attack and the widespread public protests it provoked, India’s government rushed through legislation doubling prison terms for rapists to 20 years and criminalizing voyeurism, stalking and the trafficking of women.

The case also ignited a debate about whether minors who commit especially horrific crimes should be tried as adults.

New legislation to lower the age for young people to be tried as juveniles from 18 to 16 is currently stuck in India’s Parliament.

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Youth accused in Edmonton Mac’s murders cries in court

EDMONTON – The three people facing charges in Friday’s murders at two Edmonton convenience stores made their first appearances in court Monday morning.

The 13-year-old accused in the Mac’s shootings stood in court Monday, swaying back and forth and crying as the charges against him were read.

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    He looked at his family a few times during the short hearing. The youth will be back in court Jan. 4.

    As he was led away, one family member told him, “I love you.”

    If convicted of first-degree murder, he would face a maximum 10-year sentence under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, only six of which would be served in custody.

    All three people are facing a long list of charges, including two counts of first-degree murder each.

    Colton Steinhauer and Laylin Delorme appeared by CCTV and could be seen wearing orange jump suits waiting for the hearing to start.

    Shortly before 11 a.m., the cases of both 27-year-old Steinhauer and 24-year-old Delorme were adjourned until Jan. 11, 2016. Both of the accused need to look for lawyers.

    Two people were shot to death early Friday morning after a pair of armed robberies in the south part of the city. The two victims in the Mac’s shootings have been identified as Karanpal Singh Bhangu and Ricky Cenabre.

    Both Steinhauer and Delorne have long criminal histories.

    Colton Steinhauer

    Colton Steinhauer was sentenced June 2, 2014 to 30 days in jail for assault. Other previous charges include assault with a weapon and breaches.

    Most recently, he was given 12 months probation on June 15 for uttering threats to cause death.

    Steinhauer, 27, is facing charges of first-degree murder, robbery with a prohibited restricted firearm, disguise with intent, possession of a weapon and possession of a loaded prohibited restricted firearm.

    Watch below: Michel Boyer reports on the criminal backgrounds of the three suspects involved in Friday’s deadly convenience store shootings.

    Laylin Delorme

    Laylin Delorme was sentenced Oct. 2, 2014 to six months behind bars, 12 months on probation and a $100 fine after pleading guilty to mischief, damage under $5,000 and assault with a weapon.

    He spent one day in jail after pleading guilty May 13, 2011 to mischief and damage under $5,000. He also spent 15 days in custody after pleading guilty in February 22, 2011 to obstructing a peace officer.

    Delorme, 24, is facing charges of first-degree murder, robbery with a prohibited restricted firearm, possession of a loaded prohibited restricted firearm, possession of stolen property over $5,000, dangerous driving and criminal flight.

    READ MORE: Edmontonians pay respects to murdered Mac’s store employees

    Unnamed 13-year-old boy

    The teen, who cannot be named, is also facing charges of first-degree murder, disguise with intent, robbery with a prohibited restricted firearm and breach of undertaking.

    READ MORE: Alberta labour group calls for better safety for night workers following deadly shootings 

    *EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published on Dec. 20 and was updated on Dec. 21 with information about their first court appearance.

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Edward Snowden to appear via video link at New Hampshire convention of libertarians

MANCHESTER, N.H. – Edward Snowden will appear via video link as a featured speaker at a New Hampshire convention of libertarian activists.

The Valley News reports that the former National Security Agency contractor will participate in a 30-minute discussion and Q&A at the New Hampshire Free State Project’s convention in Manchester in February.

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The Free State Project describes itself as an effort to recruit “liberty-loving people” to move to New Hampshire. The group says it is trying to recruit 20,000 people who agree that a government should act to protect people’s rights.

Snowden leaked millions of documents about government surveillance to a United Kingdom newspaper in 2013. He has been living in Russia under a grant of asylum and faces charges in the U.S. for leaking details of the once-secret program.

Free State Project President Carla Gericke confirmed the speaking engagement at their Liberty Forum, which runs from Feb. 18-21. She said the topic has yet to be decided.

READ MORE: US can’t access NSA phone records in California terror case

“He’s a really insightful and brilliant man,” she said. “From our perspective, we’re really excited to give him a platform.”

Gericke said Snowden doesn’t deserve to be labeled a “traitor.”

“I think what he did was incredibly courageous and brave,” she said, comparing Snowden’s disclosures with those of Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers.

Snowden was the subject of a 2014 Academy Award-winning documentary called “Citizenfour,” which chronicles his work with Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras to reveal the secrets.

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Details of Quebec public sector unions’ deal released

MONTREAL – The details of an agreement between the Quebec government and a coalition of public sector unions were released Sunday.

The deal, which was agreed upon Thursday, will see a base salary increase of 9.1 per cent over five years.

The unions, which represent some 400,000 healthcare workers, teachers and civil servants, were hoping for a 13.5 per cent salary increase over three years while the government had countered with 7.5 per cent over five years.

WATCH BELOW: Province and public sector unions reach agreement in principle

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A sticking point in the negotiations was the retirement age, with the province suggesting a retirement age of 61, whereas the unions were demanding 60.

Lucie Martineau, spokesperson for the Secrétariat intersyndical des Services Public, said that the government warned the unions that a deal would not be possible if they were unwilling to compromise on this point.

“We worked hard to minimize the impacts through negotiations,” she said in a written statement.

Starting in 2019, the age of retirement without incurring financial penalties will be 61, although a small caveat will allow those with 30 years of service to retire at age 60.

The agreement will be submitted to the different unions for approval in the following weeks. Workers have been without a contract since March 31, 2015, leading to months of unrest and strikes.

The heads of the member unions warned that no matter the outcome, the fight against government austerity measures would continue.

WATCH: Quebec public sector strikes

Quebec teachers demonstrate in Montreal

02:27

Quebec teachers demonstrate in Montreal

02:08

English teachers protest in Montreal

07:01

Focus Montreal: LBPSB explains protest stance

01:57

LBPSB and EMSB strike votes



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IN PICTURES: Pollution in Tehran causes two-day closure of schools

TEHRAN, Iran – High air pollution has forced Iranian authorities to close all schools and kindergartens in the capital for two days beginning Sunday, saying the pollution had reached dangerous levels.

Iranian state television said on Saturday that a government committee had ordered the schools’ closure because of the “polluted and unhealthy” weather. The government has also closed schools in the large cities of Isfahan and Arak.

Air pollution blankets the skyline in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015. High air pollution has forced Iranian authorities to close all schools and kindergartens in the capital for two days beginning Sunday, saying the pollution had reached dangerous levels. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iranian women wear masks for protection against air pollution as they make their way on a street in northern Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015. High air pollution has forced Iranian authorities to close all schools and kindergartens in the capital for two days beginning Sunday, saying the pollution had reached dangerous levels. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

An Iranian man and woman sit on a bench at the Tochal mountainous area, in northern Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015. High air pollution has forced Iranian authorities to close all schools and kindergartens in the capital for two days beginning Sunday, saying the pollution had reached dangerous levels. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

An Iranian man and woman look at the view from the Tochal mountainous area, in northern Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015. High air pollution has forced Iranian authorities to close all schools and kindergartens in the capital for two days beginning Sunday, saying the pollution had reached dangerous levels. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The skies over Iran’s capital, Tehran, are among the most polluted in the world, and health experts say many Iranians suffer serious health problems as a result.

Iran has twice closed schools and government offices because of air pollution, most recently in 2010.

Milad telecommunications tower, left, and buildings are seen, shrouded in polluted air in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010. Heavy air pollution has forced Iranian authorities to close government offices and declare a two-day public holiday in the capital, Tehran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

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Wynne wants clear regulations on medical and recreational marijuana

TORONTO – Ontario is looking for federal government guidance on regulating clinics that sell medical marijuana and on how pot should be sold for recreational use once it’s legalized.

The federal Liberals promised in this month’s throne speech to “legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana” to keep it out of the hands of children while also denying criminals the financial profits.

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The new government plans to remove possession of small amounts of marijuana from the Criminal Code and create new laws to more severely punish those who provide it to minors or drive while under its influence.

Premier Kathleen Wynne says there hasn’t been enough discussion about the distinctions between medicinal and recreational marijuana, which is one reason she suggested Ontario’s government-run liquor stores would be well-suited to retailing legalized pot.

“The reason I put forward the LCBO as the possible distribution network is that I want to make it clear that I see the need for a socially responsible approach to this,” Wynne told in a year-end interview.

“I think that this needs to be a controlled substance – and I don’t use that in a technical way – but there need to be controls on it, and so I will be looking to the federal government to work with us to determine what those controls need to be.”

There are dozens of clinics or dispensaries springing up in cities across Canada that sell medicinal marijuana – mainly in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia – and there are referral-only clinics staffed with doctors who assess patients but don’t sell pot. They give patients a prescription to take to a licensed marijuana producer.

Canada needs national standards and regulations for the marijuana clinics, said Wynne.

“Not all marijuana is going to be medicinal, so we’ve got to make distinctions between a clinic that is providing medicinal marijuana and what the recreational distribution is going to be,” she said. “I just don’t think we’re there yet.”

READ MORE: Ontario reconsiders new medical marijuana vaporizing exemptions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to create a task force with representatives from the three levels of government and, with input from experts in public health, substance abuse and policing, to help design a new system of marijuana sales and distribution.

Trudeau stressed the importance of listening to municipal partners, provinces and the medical marijuana industry, as well as drawing on best practices from around the world.

“We are going to get this right in a way that suits Canadians broadly, and specifically in their communities.”

Trudeau also said any tax revenues from legal marijuana should go towards addiction treatment, mental health support and education programs – not general revenues.

“It was never about a money-maker,” he said.

Wynne isn’t the only one looking for a socially responsible way to retail marijuana.

READ MORE: Medical marijuana risks may outweigh benefits for children: Canadian pediatricians

The British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union and the B.C. Private Liquor Store Association joined forces to call for legal marijuana to be sold through their existing retail system, which includes about 200 private and 200 government-run stores.

BCGEU president Stephanie Smith said the union did not take a position on whether it supports the plan to legalize marijuana, “but we do believe that when this happens, it ought to be sold in the most socially responsible way possible, in an age-controlled environment with the strongest track record of checking identification.”

Expectations are changing fast in Ontario, which only last week updated its liquor laws to allow the sale of six-packs of beer in selected grocery stores. Minutes after Wynne made the announcement, she was asked why grocers couldn’t also sell pot.

“I don’t know what the federal government is going to bring forward, but we will work with them to make sure there are parameters of social responsibility around marijuana.”

Ontario had to back off plans to ban the use of electronic cigarettes and vaping everywhere that smoking tobacco is prohibited, which it planned to implement Jan. 1, after medical marijuana users noted they would be exempted from the regulation.

“We know that we’re going need to bring in regulation and possibly legislation to make sure that all the rules that apply to smoking cigarettes, tobacco, will apply to smoking marijuana, whether it’s medicinal or otherwise,” said Wynne.

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Justin Bieber poses for selfie with ‘Fashion Santa’ in Toronto

TORONTO – Some star power has graced a Toronto shopping mall.

Yorkdale Shopping Centre has tweeted a photo of Justin Bieber posing for a selfie with the mall’s “Fashion Santa”, a model who goes by Paul Mason from January to November.

Yorkdale wrote on 桑拿会所 that the Canadian pop star Bieber was shopping at the mall when he posed with Mason.

WATCH: Justin Bieber performs at Danforth Music Hall

The images were posted Saturday but it was not clear when they were taken.

READ MORE: Toronto councillor Norm Kelly tops Bieber, named ‘Canada’s Most Valuable Tweeter’

Before capturing the Canadian pop star’s attention, Mason made international headlines for starring in the mall’s Christmas ad campaign.

He’s also been posing for selfies with mall-goers like Bieber in support of Sick Kids Foundation, which raises funds on behalf of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

For every selfie taken and posted on social media and accompanied by the hashtag “YorkdaleFashionSanta,” the mall will donate $1 to Sick Kids Foundation, up to $10,000.

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Polluted US nuclear weapons site to become tourist destination

SPOKANE, Wash. – The most polluted nuclear weapons production site in the United States is now its newest national park.

Thousands of people are expected next year to tour the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, home of the world’s first full-sized nuclear reactor, near Richland, about 200 miles east of Seattle in south-central Washington.

They won’t be allowed anywhere near the nation’s largest collection of toxic radioactive waste.

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“Everything is clean and perfectly safe,” said Colleen French, the U.S. Department of Energy’s program manager for the Hanford park. “Any radioactive materials are miles away.”

The Manhattan Project National Historic Park, signed into existence in November, also includes sites at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Los Alamos, New Mexico. The Manhattan Project is the name for the U.S. effort to build an atomic bomb during World War II.

At Hanford, the main attractions will be B Reactor – the world’s first full-sized reactor – along with the ghost towns of Hanford and White Bluffs, which were evacuated by the government to make room for the Manhattan Project.

The B Reactor was built in about one year and produced plutonium for the Trinity test blast in New Mexico and for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, that led to the surrender of the Japanese.

Starting in 1943, more than 50,000 people from across the United States arrived at the top-secret Hanford site to perform work whose purpose few knew, French said.

The 300 residents of Richland were evicted and that town became a bedroom community for the adjacent Hanford site, skyrocketing in population. Workers laboured around the clock to build reactors and processing plants to make plutonium, a key ingredient in nuclear weapons.

The park will tell the story of those workers, plus the scientists who performed groundbreaking research and the residents who were displaced, said Chip Jenkins of the National Park Service, which is jointly developing the park with the Energy Department.

“The intention of the park is to tell the full and complex and convoluted story,” Jenkins said. That story is still being developed, but will certainly include a Japanese perspective, he said.

“What happened at B Reactor changed the course of human history,” Jenkins said. “They went from sparsely populated ranching communities to the first packet of plutonium over the course of 18 months.”

Eventually, nine reactors were built at Hanford and operated during the Cold War to make plutonium for the U.S. nuclear arsenal. That work created more than 56 million gallons of radioactive waste that the government still spends more than $1 billion a year to maintain and clean up.

While details of the new national park are still being worked out, French said, the Energy Department will continue its tours of the B Reactor and the old town sites that began in 2009 and fill up with some 10,000 visitors a year.

The plan is to greatly expand the number of tourists and school groups who visit the site, she said.

Tours will occur from April to October, French said. Exhibits at the B Reactor include the exposed face of the reactor and the control room, where many visitors like to sit and be photographed at control panels, she said.

The Hanford story is far from over. Jenkins noted that thousands of scientists and other workers remain active on the Hanford site, inventing and implementing new techniques to clean up the massive volume of nuclear waste.

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