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Prime minister and wife fly Lebanon evacuees home

By JIM FOX
Published July 23, 2006


Prime Minister Stephen Harper personally escorted 100 Canadians home from war-torn Lebanon after his government was accused of responding slowly to the crisis.

Harper made an unscheduled stop in Cyprus after a weeklong foreign trip, to pick up the Canadian evacuees on his plane.

He and his wife, Laureen, and Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay welcomed the group on board. Laureen helped serve food and drinks to their guests on the return trip.

The first boatload of 261 Canadians arrived in Cyprus. Others arrived at the Turkish port of Mersin by ship. Critics said other countries had their evacuation plans well under way while Canada was still scrambling to find ships and foreign ports. There are about 20,000 Canadians in Lebanon.

"This is a challenging situation for any government ... but we'll obviously learn some lessons," Harper said.

Although Israeli planes killed a Montreal family of eight on vacation, Harper staunchly supports the Israeli offensive. Israel needed to retaliate aggressively after its soldiers were captured by Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, he said.

"Our government will take whatever position we think is right - particularly on strategic matters - whether we think it's popular or unpopular in the short term," he said.

Green strategy planned

In the fall, Canada plans to announce a major environmental strategy to reduce smog and greenhouse emissions, and clean up toxic hot spots.

The "green plan" will include a clean air bill with long-term targets and more money for national parks.

Among the measures will be a clean water framework, clean technology strategy, regulation of toxic chemicals and measures to clean up contaminated sites.

There is also to be a revised health index for air quality, but the plan is not expected to propose new taxes to discourage the use of fossil fuels.

News in brief

- Canada's murder rate has increased by 4 percent to its highest level in nearly a decade, with 658 homicides nationally. Statistics Canada said it's still substantially lower than the peak in the mid 1970s. Overall, the crime rate fell last year by 5 percent, largely because property incidents were at the lowest level in 30 years. Edmonton has the highest murder rate at 4.3 per 100,000 people, compared with 2.0 in Toronto, the national average, and Montreal's low of 1.3 victims.

- Mayors from Canada and the United States want a better solution to border security instead of the proposed Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requiring passports in 2008. At a meeting in Windsor, Ontario, about 60 mayors and government officials decided to ask the United States to delay or revise the plans for land border crossings.

Facts and figures

Canada's inflation rate dropped to 2.5 percent in June, from 2.8 percent, as gasoline price increases slowed. Core inflation, which excludes volatile items such as food and energy, dropped to 1.7 percent from 2 percent.

The Canadian dollar drifted lower to 87.84 cents U.S. while the U.S. dollar returns $1.1384 in Canadian funds before bank exchange fees.

There's no change in the Bank of Canada key interest rate of 4.25 percent or the prime lending rate at 6 percent.

Stock markets are lower, with the Toronto composite index at 11,454 points and the Canadian Venture Exchange at 2,512 points.

Lotto 6-49: Wednesday 8, 13, 21, 22, 24, 39; bonus 4. (July 15) 13, 17, 21, 33, 41, 42; bonus 38.

Regional briefs

- Two Mounties who were shot while trying to arrest a man have died. Constables Robin Cameron, 29, and Marc Bourdages, 26, were fatally shot near Spiritwood, Saskatchewan. Suspect Curtis Dagenais, 41, gave himself up after an 11-day search.

- The funeral was held Thursday in Newfoundland for Sgt. Duane Brazil, 39, who was killed in the crash of a military search-and-rescue helicopter in the Atlantic Ocean. It was six years ago when his brother Gary was killed when his Coast Guard chopper crashed off Newfoundland.

- Former Quebec impresario Guy Cloutier was granted parole after serving 19 months of a 42-month prison term for sexually assaulting two children. One of his victims was child singing star Nathalie Simard, who was abused for seven years, beginning in 1980 when she was 11. At Simard's request the court lifted a publication ban so she could speak publicly about what happened with Cloutier, who had managed her career.

Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com