World & Canadian News


Sheriff defends probe of slain Roughrider Joe McKnight
Ronald Gasser, 54, arrested, charged with manslaughter late Monday

The Associated Press/Dec. 6, 2016

The Louisiana man who fatally shot Saskatchewan Roughriders running back Joe McKnight during a road rage dispute was jailed on a manslaughter charge as a sheriff angrily defended the investigation Tuesday, saying authorities "strategically" waited for days to make the arrest because they needed to find independent witnesses.

Ronald Gasser, 54, was initially taken into custody after the shooting last Thursday but he was released without being charged, drawing heated criticism from protesters who said race played a role in the investigation. Gasser, who is white, was arrested late Monday. McKnight was black.

Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand pounded on a podium during a news conference explaining the investigation.

"This isn't about race. Not a single witness has said … a single racial slur was uttered," the sheriff said.

The case comes at a time of intense scrutiny in the African-American community about the shootings of black men, in particular by police. While this case doesn't involve a police shooting, it has flared temperatures and drawn protests at the sheriff's department.

It's not clear whether Gasser has an attorney. Attempts to reach Gasser's family unsuccessful Tuesday.

The sheriff said the dispute between the men started on a bridge and proceeded into a New Orleans suburb, with both men driving erratically and yelling at each other. Eventually, the cars came to a stop and McKnight confronted Gasser, who was still seated in his car, the sheriff said. Gasser pulled out a gun and shot McKnight three times, killing him. When deputies arrived, the sheriff said Gasser handed them his gun and said he shot McKnight, 28.

The sheriff said McKnight did have a gun in his vehicle but no evidence suggested he insinuated anything about it. It was his stepfather's gun, and his stepfather's vehicle.


Threatening comments

During the news conference, the sheriff read aloud some of the derogatory remarks about the investigation, including racially charged comments.

"We have sometimes unrealistic expectations of how these things work … you don't just run out and start slapping cuffs on people," Normand said.

He noted that on Thursday, Gasser gave authorities a statement that included him being fearful and defending himself, saying that McKnight had made threatening comments. At that point, authorities hadn't interviewed any independent witnesses. One person they had talked to lied to authorities about what happened, the sheriff said.

Normand said had an arrest been made Thursday, he was certain people would be afraid to come forward. Instead, authorities identified more than 250 people they wanted to talk to by identifying license plates in the area at the time, and conducted more than 160 interviews. The sheriff said several witnesses were the key to making the arrest and made comments contradicting Gasser's statements.

He also pointed out that Gasser didn't ask for an attorney but instead sat with authorities for over ten hours of interviews in the days after the shooting and gave permission for them to search his home.

Moment of silence

McKnight played three seasons for the New York Jets and one with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Jets held a moment of silence Monday night before their game against the Indianapolis Colts at MetLife Stadium to honor the former running back.

McKnight was rated the nation's No. 1 running back recruit when he signed with the University of Southern California. He was a fourth-round draft pick of the Jets in 2010 and played three seasons for New York. McKnight had a 107-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in 2011, and it remains the longest play in Jets history.

He also spent a season with Kansas City, and most recently played in the Canadian Football League.

McKnight's death was eerily similar to that of former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith, who was killed last April in a shooting sparked by a traffic altercation. Cardell Hayes is charged with second-degree murder.

A decade ago, Gasser was involved in a similar altercation — at the same intersection — with a driver. The sheriff said that in February 2006, a man observed a truck driving erratically and called a number on the truck, speaking to a man later identified as Gasser.

Gasser and the man got into a fight on the phone and then Gasser followed the man to a service station, confronted him and hit him several times. Gasser drove away and the victim called 911. Investigators found Gasser and issued a misdemeanor summons for simple battery, which was later dismissed. Authorities have said they are trying to determine why it was dismissed. u


Toronto neurosurgeon accused of killing his wife was once charged with assaulting her

Elana Fric-Shamji filed a peace bond against her husband, but charges were dropped in July 2005

By Laura Fraser, Chris Glover, CBC News/Dec 6, 2016

The Toronto neurosurgeon charged with first-degree murder in his wife's death was also charged with threatening to kill her in 2005.

Shamji was charged with one count of assault and two counts of uttering death threats in May 2005, Ottawa provincial court records show. The complainant in the case was Elana Fric-Shamji, according to a police source connected to the woman's murder investigation in Toronto.

In July of that year, the court dismissed both the peace bond - which would place conditions against Shamji that could prevent him from being near his wife - and the charges against the surgeon.

The couple had been living in Ottawa at the time and would have been married for less than two years.


Peace bond withdrawn

It's unclear what happened between the pair during the months in between the charges being laid and withdrawn. Ottawa provincial court staff could not provide the exact conditions of the peace bond as some of the case files have been archived.

In 2012, the couple moved to Toronto with their children. Fric-Shamji, a physician at The Scarborough Hospital with an expertise in medical policy, was found dead in Vaughan, Ont., on Thursday. 

Her husband was arrested at a coffee shop Friday. He's been in custody since then and was charged with first-degree murder on Saturday.

The news of both Fric-Shamji's death and of her husband's arrest shocked many of their patients and friends. Photos on social media catalogued family trips and smiling snapshots of the couple.

But the prominent family doctor's sister and colleagues told CBC News the pair's marriage was in trouble - and that Fric-Shamji had filed for divorce.

"She said she was looking forward to a new beginning," her Ontario Medical Association colleague Dr. Darren Cargill recalled in a recent interview.

The couple's three children are currently in the care of Fric-Shamji's family.  u


Residents pay tribute to those killed in 1917 Halifax explosion

Michael MacDonald/The Canadian Press/Dec. 6, 2016

HALIFAX - For Mary Elizabeth Luka, one of the best ways to comprehend the enormity of the 1917 Halifax Explosion is by tracing the footsteps of the dead.

Luka is a member of the Narratives in Space and Time Society, a group of artists who organize public walks every Dec. 6, offering stories, songs and performances that bring to life the raw and terrifying impact of the worst man-made disaster in Canadian history.

"Because we're literally walking in people's footsteps, we end up in places you wouldn't otherwise go," Luka said in an interview. "In every walk, there's probably six or seven places where we stop and something happens."

On Tuesday, the 99th anniversary of the explosion, Luka's group gathered with about 40 people on the Dartmouth side of Halifax Harbour, where the Mi'kmaq village of Turtle Grove was obliterated when a Belgian relief ship and a French vessel carrying munitions and TNT collided a few hundred metres away.

The resulting blast and tidal wave killed almost 2,000 people in the Halifax area. Another 9,000 were injured, many of them blinded by flying glass or burned in the fires that razed a large section of the city's north end.

To this day, a tree-lined section of what was once Turtle Grove remains empty and overgrown. And that's where Luka's group walked to hear Mi'kmaq filmmaker Catherine Martin speak about a family member who died that terrible day. As people stood in a circle near the shoreline, Martin drummed, sang and invited everyone to make offerings for remembrance.

At one point, the names of several of the people who had died that day were read aloud, and some of those in the circle offered their own stories or sang.

As usual, the city's main commemoration ceremony was held directly across the harbour at Fort Needham Memorial Park, which overlooks the former neighbourhood of Richmond -- an area virtually flattened by the explosion. There were speeches from politicians. Prayers were read aloud. Ships in the harbour blew their horns. And a cannon was fired from the ramparts of Halifax Citadel National Historic Site.

Mary MacLeod, a lifelong resident of Halifax, recalled how her great uncle, letter carrier Thomas Spruce, was killed while he was making his daily rounds in the Vestry Street area.

"They say he was decapitated," said MacLeod, a petite woman bundled against the cold. "They identified his body by the numbers on the laundry pins he used to hold his socks up."

In his remarks to a crowd of about 300, Mayor Mike Savage alluded to the inevitable challenges that come with trying to pay tribute to something that happened so long ago.


"We've seen the books, we've read the accounts and perhaps we've seen the movies," he said. "But can we really imagine what it was like 99 years ago?"

He then recited some of the numbers and facts most Haligonians know too well.

With 11,000 people killed or injured, that amounted to about 20 per cent of the city's population. The blast was the biggest the world would see until the advent of the atomic bomb. Windows were shattered in homes 100 kilometres away in Truro, N.S., and the ground shook in P.E.I.

The next day, the headline in the Halifax Herald read: "Halifax Wrecked."

The mayor said the city is already planning for the 100th anniversary, saying public surveys have given the city a clear picture of how residents feel about the grim event.

"They've used words like fear, devastation and destruction, but they also spoke of community of courage and of hope," he said. "Residents told us that we have to solemnly honour our past, remembering those who have lost their lives and the families that were forever changed."

Like the mayor, Luka is looking forward to the day when her group's project, "Public Geographies of the Halifax Explosion," culminates with a final walk next December.

As with the previous walks, this one will feature so-called interventions aimed at reaching people in a way that old books, photos and films will never be able to do.

During the first walk in 2014, for example, participants walked to an area of the North End where a women dressed in period costume read a first-person account about Elizabeth Fraser, a young girl who was working as a maid in the city's south end when the explosion destroyed her family's home on Roome Street.

As the woman read the harrowing story, which tells of Fraser's frantic search for her missing brother amid the city's smouldering ruins, listeners were given scarves, which they were encouraged to wrap around their heads -- to simulate total blindness and focus their attention "so they could place themselves into that space," Luka said.

On another walk, participants were taken to the Conservatory of Music on Chebucto Road, which was used as a morgue after the explosion.

"It's changed very little since that period," said Luka, adding that the theme of that walk was "aftermath."

In a dimly lit basement, a slide show featured historic photos from the Nova Scotia Archives, and singer Janice Jackson complemented a jarring piano composition from the era with operatic punctuations.

Next year's events include exhibitions at the Dalhousie Art Gallery and the Nova Scotia Archives. One of the exhibitions will include material gathered during the previous three years.

"We're creating our own artifacts," Luka said.