World & Canada News - Apr. 6, 2017

In the World

Russia may use St. Petersburg bombing as reason to tighten control: expert
By Tania Kohut/National Online Journalist/Global
News/Apr. 3, 2017

The deadly blast that ripped through a St. Petersburg subway tunnel Monday could prompt the Russian government to tighten its controls over the population, according to one expert.
At least 11 people were killed and dozens more wounded. Reports said the blast may have been caused by an explosive device hidden in a briefcase; a second bomb at another subway station was deactivated.
It was not clear in the hours after the bombing who was responsible, but that won’t necessarily stop the Kremlin from imposing restrictions in the aftermath said Aurel Braun, associate at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.
“I think one of the big questions here is not just who perpetrated this and what was the purpose, but what will be the reaction,” said Braun.
There have been a number of deadly attacks in Russia over the years: A 2010 Moscow Metro bombing killed more than 30, the Beslan school siege in 2004 left nearly 400 dead, and the 2002 Moscow theatre siege that killed at least 170.
Putin was in St. Petersburg at the time of the bombing. Also coinciding with the bombing: recent wide-spread protests in Russia against corruption.
“These kind of protests always shake the Kremlin because they don’t like any manifestation of dissent,” said Braun.
Putin could use the bombing as a reason to perhaps expand monitoring of civilians or to restrict public demonstrations, Braun said. After all, Russian law already allows officials to sanction or ban demonstrations.
“They could say that protests inside Russia encouraged this kind of action. They can manipulate this to their advantage,” Braun suggested.
Following the bombing, Putin said he had been in contact with the country’s intelligence officials and the Federal Security Service.
“Law enforcement bodies and special services are working and will do all they can in order to find out the cause of what’s happened, to give full assessment of what’s happened,” Putin said.
Piotr Dutkiewicz, professor of political science at Carleton University dismissed the idea that the attack will prompt a crackdown by Russian authorities on anti-corruption protests.
Russia’s involvement in Syria has made it “enemy number one of ISIS,” said Dutkiewicz. There have also been ongoing concerns that Russians who went to Syria to fight would return to the country radicalized. Russia, along with the rest of the world, has already been in a heightened state of security.
“It’s another tragedy that was happening in Paris, London, and now in [Russia] … Russian authorities were worried about this, and this worry finally materialized.”
The St. Petersburg attack might actually nudge Russia closer to other world powers in the fight against terrorism, Dutkiewicz suggested.
“This is the bridge, this is the link. We are all vulnerable in that fight. So that would be logical, despite the differences - this will link Russia with the West,” said Dutkiewicz.
The difficult first step will be breaking through the shared lack of trust between Russia and Western nations, said Dutkiewicz.
“Russia will be trying - despite sanctions, despite many concerns about Russia in the West - they will try to build an anti-terrorist coalition and that would be the offer to countries like the U.S., to Mr. Trump: Let’s do it together because separately we are losing the battle. That will be the message,” said Dutkiewicz.


And in Canada

How a bike trip through Europe
is helping veterans with PTSD
By Dario Balca/ Writer/Apr. 4, 2017

In 2009, Dan Hrechka stepped out of his Kingston, Ont. home to take part in a ritual that brings joy to millions of Canadians - attending a hockey game with friends.
Instead, the open space of the arena and its large, noisy crowd had the opposite effect on the veteran.
“I ran out and basically hid for most of the night,” he said. “I couldn’t cope.”
After serving two tours in the Middle East, Hrechka had come home to a different kind of battle - healing the mental wounds inflicted by the extreme stress he experienced overseas.
“Being a soldier and pushing on, I kind of hid it and didn’t let it show as much as I could for almost 15 years before it came to the surface where I couldn’t hold it back anymore,” the 51-year-old told in a telephone interview from Kingston.
His battle with post-traumatic stress disorder made everyday activities such as attending a concert with friends, meeting new people or simply driving feel close to impossible.
“Large, public places were an absolute no-go,” said Hrechka, who served in Syria, Jordan, Israel and Egypt in the 1990s. “I would have major anxiety and panic and I couldn’t trust myself to contain it.”
His inability to socialize or control his emotions drove him into deep isolation, causing him to avoid social situations he had once enjoyed.
But the veteran found relief in an unlikely activity -- cycling, a passion he had given up before joining the military at the age of 19.
It turns out he’s far from alone.
The Haliburton, Ont. native is one of 150 Canadians who will pedal 600 kilometres through Europe this summer in a journey aimed at helping veterans suffering from PTSD, while honouring the country’s fallen soldiers.
The Battlefield Bike Ride is put on by Wounded Warriors. The organization's mission is to help injured veterans, first responders and their families.
From June 9 to 17, cyclists will retrace Canada’s military involvement in the First World War, from London, England to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France. The monument honours the 10,600 Canadians wounded or killed during a bloody four-day battle at Vimy Ridge in April of 1917.
“It’s a coming together of people from all across the country, from all backgrounds and all walks of life,” said Wounded Warriors executive director, Scott Maxwell.
The trip includes several stops in Belgium such as the Passchendaele Canadian Memorial, In Flanders Fields Museum in Belgium and the St. Julien Canadian Memorial.
Hrechka, who has been on the ride every year since it began in 2014, describes the trip as “life-changing.”
“You are with other, like-minded uniformed people and there’s a connection that happens there. There’s a respect and understanding that doesn’t have to be put in words,” he said. “It’s understood that you have each other’s backs.”
From a clinical point of view, the annual ride includes important components of PTSD recovery, said Tim Black, a psychology professor at the University of Victoria with more than 20 years experience working with veterans.
“The big thing around trauma that people struggle with is isolation. People are holed up in their basements, they don’t want to talk to anybody and they don’t want to go anywhere,” Black told
For many veterans, signing up for the bike ride marks an important step in coming out of that isolation.
“I did a lot of investigation and talking to other riders…it got me intrigued to put my name forward for the very first ride,” Hrechka said. “That started my growth after military service and my belief that I could push through an awful lot of stuff.”

Raising awareness
According to a Statistics Canada study released in 2013, one in six full-time members of the Canadian Forces reported symptoms of depression, panic disorder, PTSD, generalized anxiety or alcohol abuse in the year prior to being surveyed. More than 11 per cent of soldiers reported symptoms of PTSD at some point in their lives, making it the second most common mental health injury affecting military personnel.
Despite these alarming figures, Black said, in his experience, many veterans suffering from PTSD feel misunderstood by the general public.
But both the psychologist and the veteran said the Battlefield Bike Ride goes a long way in spreading awareness and breaking down stigma by bringing former soldiers and the public together.
“Dealing with those everyday Canadians, that really built on my confidence level," Hrechka said. It reminded me just how far forward I had moved in my life and how I had come from the lowest of lowest.”
In March, Black joined Wounded Warriors on a pro-bono basis as a national clinical adviser, offering his expertise to help the organization develop new programming for veterans and assess the value of existing programs.

Helping those at home
Any Canadian can sign up for the Battlefield Bike Ride. Participants pledge to raise $4,000 in the seven months leading up to the event. Maxwell said 70 per cent of those funds go to Wounded Warriors’ other programs. These include service dogs, a veterans’ scholarship, career transition programs and a variety of therapy and support programs.
“If we didn’t have (the bike ride), we would not be at the level of investment that we are as a charity in Canada, period,” he said.
In the first three rides, Maxwell said participants raised a total of more than $1.5 million.
As a result, Wounded Warriors has grown from four to 15 programs.
As he prepares for his fourth ride in Europe, Hrechka now sees it as an opportunity to help others as well as continue his own healing.
“As my wife and son tell me, every time I come home, I’m that much closer to the husband they remember,” he said. “They went through something that no family should go through. But it happened and now I can shed light to others and say, ‘We have bad days, but we really have to cherish the positive and the fact that we’re still here.”

Those interested in signing up, sponsoring a rider or donating can do so on the Wounded Warriors website.