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Woman shot in 1989 Montreal Massacre remembers confronting killer

MONTREAL — Nathalie Provost will never forget confronting gunman Marc Lepine just before he shot her four times during an armed assault that left 14 women dead at Montreal’s Ecole polytechnique.

Provost was an engineering student on Dec. 6, 1989, when Lepine went on a 20-minute shooting rampage that eventually sparked a national gun-control debate that continues until this day.

“It [the massacre] is now intimately woven into the fabric of my life in a number of ways,” Provost told The Canadian Press just days ahead of Saturday’s 25th anniversary of the tragedy.

The 23-year-old came face-to-face with Lepine and his 223-calibre Sturm-Ruger rifle in a classroom and she says nothing would have convinced him to change his plan to kill feminists — people he blamed for ruining his life.

“He told us he was there because we were feminists and I just replied that we were not feminists, that we were just studying in an engineering school and that he would be able to come and study with us and then he shot (opened fire),” she recalled.

Provost survived being hit with bullets in the forehead, both legs and a foot.

Asked how the horrific events of 25 years ago have changed her life, Provost said she believes they’ve made her more sensitive and more in touch with her own vulnerability.

“I realized when I was very young that I was not invincible, that I could die quite quickly,” she said of the chilling events.

“I remember when I saw the eyes of one of my classmates. She closed her eyes and I knew she was dead. I remember this image. It’s clear in my memory.”

Lepine took his own life after a 20-minute barrage of bullets that also wounded 13 other people — nine women and four men.

While the date of Dec. 6 brings back painful memories, Provost also recalls “marvellous” ones.

One of her children started to walk on Dec. 6 and she learned she was pregnant with her third child on the 10th anniversary of Polytechnique.

“For me it was a victory of life,” she said.

Yet it took her years to come to terms with what had happened before she could move on.

“The first five years were the longest, maybe, and I was still fighting inside myself with everything around: what happened with feminism, with violence, with the fact that it happened to me,” she said.

“After five years I was ready to have my kids and that was a new world that opened to me and Polytechnique faded away a little bit — (but) it never disappears.”

Even today, the sound of a pot cover crashing to the floor brings back memories of the shootings.

“It upsets me because the noise awakens in me a memory of the firearm of Marc Lepine — and I become very upset and aggressive,” she said.

The tragedy also took a toll on relatives of victims.

Jim Edward, whose sister Anne-Marie was killed, said it took 10 years to overcome his grief.

“Eight years of therapy and then being able to forgive the killer and the 10th year — it was a big step in moving on in my grieving process,” Edward said in an interview at his Montreal home.

“I became a Christian in my 10th year, so maybe that had something to do with it.”

His 45-year-old wife Claire said his efforts trying to cope with Polytechnique had an impact well beyond the family.

“Some people I know, after what happened, didn’t even want to be close to him because he was carrying too much pain,” she said.

It also struck at the heart of Luka, their nine-year-old son, “whom I caught several times crying because he wanted to meet his aunt.”

On a positive note, her husband noted that 25 years after the mass murder, Canadian society is much more aware of the proliferation of guns.

“There is a greater awareness with regards to guns, there’s a greater awareness with regards to feminism and women’s rights,” he said.

Edward, now 48, has joined other gun control supporters fighting the Conservative government’s controversial Bill C-42.

The proposed legislation was supposed to be debated Oct. 22 — the day gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau stormed Parliament — but has been pushed to the sidelines.

The bill is aimed at overhauling Canada’s gun-licensing rules, making it easier for legal owners to transport their weapons.

Edward is worried any relaxing of controls on legal guns will fuel the illegal market and allow easier access to military-style assault rifles.

“Canada has a great tradition of hunting and fishing and whatnot, but military-style assault rifles have no business in any hunter’s hands,” he said.

Edward said the type of rifle used by Justin Bourque to kill three RCMP officers in Moncton. N.B., last June can strike someone a kilometre away.

“I mean who needs that kind of gun in Canada,” he added. “It’s definitely not the hunters.”

Heidi Rathjen, who survived Polytechnique and became a resolute gun-control advocate, warned in an interview there could be a repeat of such violence.

“Absolutely! Today, if we’re talking about massacres, killing many people rapidly, there are weapons on the market today that didn’t exist in 1989 . . .weapons of war designed to pierce light-armoured vehicles and there are sniper rifles that can shoot up to two kilometres,” she said.

“You can buy them on the Internet. I find ads on the Internet all the time.”

Rathjen blamed the abolition of the long-gun registry in 2012 for the difficulty in knowing how many assault-type weapons are now available.

She said about seven million guns were circulating in Canada in 2012 before the Conservative government scrapped the registry — mostly hunting rifles and shotguns.

“But that list is getting old because the new weapons coming on the market are not being classified as restricted or prohibited,” she said.

“It’s very difficult to be here 25 years later and to see that most of our gains are being destroyed by the current government.”

Rathjen praised Quebec, which has gone to court to protect data from the federal gun registry.

“The only silver lining is what the government of Quebec is doing, which is showing their solidarity with the families of the victims.”

Provost, meanwhile, remembers all the positives she gained from attending the engineering school.

“I am a real engineer, I like to solve problems, I’m curious, I like to understand the way things work and Polytechnique helped me to structure my mind, my way of thinking, my way of looking at problems.”

Tracking extremism from Pakistan to the Middle-East

Just before 9/11, Ahmed Rashid, the Pakistan-based correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, published his first book on the Taliban. The timing set him on the road to becoming one of the world’s experts on Afghanistan and the author of three bestsellers, including The Taliban, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies. He spoke to the National Post’s Stewart Bell during a visit to Calgary this week to give the semi-annual Teatro Lecture.

Q. You’ve argued that the greatest threat to global stability was not the Middle East but the Pakistan-Afghanistan region. Given recent events in Syria and Iraq, do you still think so?
A. Right now what we are seeing is a redrawing of the map of the Middle East and the failure of the Arab states to basically be able to create a common narrative of tolerance within Islam and moderation in Islam to counter the Islamic State of Iraq & Al-Sham. And we’re seeing a huge crisis in the Middle East. In fact, we’re seeing the disintegration of the Middle East.

Q. But Pakistan and Afghanistan remain volatile?
A. Pakistan in many ways is even a more fragile state than Afghanistan because there are multiple terrorist groups, there is the issue of the safety of nuclear weapons and there is always the potential of war with India, which could lead to unforeseen escalation. And there’s continued support for a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, which is also very serious.

Q. We see the extremism and sectarian violence of Pakistan, but you represent a different Pakistan, one that is modern and progressive. Who is winning the contest between these two Pakistans?
A. Unfortunately I would say that the extremists are. And the state is very weak. It is riven with internal divisions between Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, the opposition led by Imran Khan and the military, which doesn’t want any rapprochement with India at the moment. … There are many more extremists, they are well armed and they have the capacity to undertake horrendous levels of violence.

Q. You’ve written that what Pakistanis truly crave is stability — better governance, a better economy, a better military. Give us a progress report on those fronts?
A. Unfortunately, the war against extremism is not going well because, like elsewhere in the Muslim world, there is no common narrative against the extremist groups. The army and the government are at odds with one another so they are not prone to adopt a common narrative against the extremists. And so about one-third of Pakistan is no longer controlled by the authorities. We have huge areas which are controlled by various insurgencies … this obviously leads to very dangerous conclusions: money laundering, drug running, not to speak of the training of extremists and being able to export them to other countries like Syria and Iraq.

Q. Canada spent a great deal of time and effort trying to bring security and stability to Afghanistan. And still we see a country that remains pretty unstable and insecure. What happened?
A. Well, I think the biggest mistake of the international mission was not to have basically developed an indigenous Afghan economy which was self-sustaining. That was the first big mistake. Not enough money was spent on agriculture and alternatives to poppies. I think the second mistake was the failure to build the army, the police, the security institutions much sooner … The third reason was the attention to Iraq. The resources that should have gone to Afghanistan, and the focus of expertise and nation building all went to Iraq and it was wasted there because it never took root in Iraq. I think in Afghanistan you had a population that was basically pro-American, in favour of development and peace and anti-Taliban. And I don’t think the Taliban would have ever been able to reach the limits of power that they have today if the right measures had been taken at that time by the Americans and by NATO.

Q. You’ve called ISIS the new Taliban. What did you mean?
A. ISIS has adopted a lot of the military tactics and political tactics used by the Taliban. … but basically ISIS is much more extreme. It wants to eliminate all the minorities from the Middle East. It wants to redraw the map of not one country but multiple countries, right across the Middle East. And the methods it’s using are methods that not even the Taliban used — the mass slaughter of opposing soldiers or aid workers and journalists. And of course their grasp of the media and the use of social media.

Q. Al-Qaeda appears to be losing the popularity contest against ISIS. What are the implications of this?
A. I think Al-Qaeda is very deeply rooted in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It’s not going to go away in a hurry. It may be facing a sort of down period at the moment. ISIS is much more popular but ISIS will start facing acute problems again if this American military offensive is successful in any way, and we may well see again the rise of Al-Qaeda.

Q. ISIS and Al-Qaeda are built on a foundation of myth and conspiracy theory that is given a phoney religious legitimacy: there is a war against Islam, jihad is needed to defend the Muslims, Muslims are duty-bound to suppress all other faiths, even violently, in order to bring theirs to supremacy. How are we doing at confronting this Islamist world of make believe?
A. I think these extremists have been able to construct an ideology and a set of beliefs that do resonate amongst disenfranchised Sunnis in Iraq and Syria, and possibly it could as well in Jordan and Lebanon and Saudi Arabia and other countries. Now I agree with you it’s a false narrative but it’s a narrative that has resonance because of the failure of these regimes and the West to tackle the root causes of alienation and unemployment and all the rest of it. Finally, let me just say that this whole battle that ISIS is fighting, this is a war within Islam. This is not a war against the West. What ISIS wants is the elimination of Shias, the elimination of minorities. It wants to extend its interpretation of Islam to the whole Islamic world, which is why it has formed the caliphate. It’s not an Al-Qaeda rehash. This is something completely different … Al-Qaeda was obsessed with hitting the far enemy, which was America. ISIS is obsessed with hitting the near enemy, which is the Arab regimes.

Powerful Typhoon slams into eastern Philippines

LEGAZPI, Philippines — Typhoon Hagupit slammed into the central Philippines’ east coast late Saturday, knocking out power and toppling trees in a region where 650,000 people have fled to safety, still haunted by the massive death and destruction wrought by a monster storm last year.

Packing maximum sustained winds of 175 kilometers (109 miles) per hour and gusts of 210 kph (130 mph), Hagupit made landfall in Dolores, a coastal town facing the Pacific in Eastern Samar province, according to the Philippines’ weather agency. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Although it was unlikely to reach the unprecedented strength of Typhoon Haiyan, Hagupit’s strong winds and heavy rain were enough to possibly cause major damage to an impoverished region still reeling from the devastating November 2013 storm, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing.

“There are many trees that have toppled, some of them on the highway,” police Senior Inspector Alex Robin said by phone late Saturday from Dolores, hours before Hagupit made landfall. “We are totally in the dark here. The only light comes from flashlights.”

From Eastern Samar, Hagupit – Filipino for “smash” or “lash” – was expected to hammer parts of a string of island provinces that was devastated by Haiyan’s tsunami-like storm surges and ferocious winds. Hagupit weakened slightly on Saturday, but remained dangerously powerful and erratic.

Robin said about 600 families had hunkered down in Dolores’ three-story municipal hall, one of many emergency shelters in the town.

“Everyone here is just looking for a place to sleep,” he said. “All the windows are closed, but it is still cool because of the wind and the rain.”

Eastern Samar province Rep. Ben Evardone said electricity also was knocked out early Saturday in Borongan city, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of Dolores, where the government has set up a command center for rescue and relief operations headed by Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.

Evardone said the strong winds also felled trees and ripped off roofing sheets. “You can hear the whistling of the wind,” he said.

“Everybody is in fear because of what happened during (Haiyan),” Evardone said. “We can already feel the wrath of the typhoon. Everybody is praying.”

Big waves have pushed seawater over concrete walls along a boulevard, flooding it, Evardone said.

Army troops deployed to supermarkets and major roads in provinces in the typhoon’s path to prevent looting and chaos and clear debris, all of which slowed the government’s response last year, said Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, head of the Philippines’ 120,000-strong military.

“We’re on red alert, so the entire armed forces is being mobilized for this typhoon,” Catapang said at a news conference.

While unlikely to reach Haiyan’s strength, forecasters said Hagupit’s maximum sustained winds and gusts were strong enough to set off deadly storm surges and landslides and cause heavy damage to communities and agriculture.

With a whirling band of rain clouds spanning 600 kilometers (373 miles), Hagupit has gained speed and was moving westward at 16 kph (10 mph), according to forecasters.

In the central city of Tacloban, where Haiyan’s storm surges killed thousands of people and leveled villages, news of the approaching typhoon rekindled painful memories. Many residents fled to storm shelters, a sports stadium and churches even before authorities urged them to evacuate.

“I’m scared,” said Haiyan survivor Jojo Moro. “I’m praying to God not to let another disaster strike us again. We haven’t recovered from the first.”

The 42-year-old businessman, who lost his wife, daughter and mother last year in Tacloban, said he stocked up on sardines, instant noodles, eggs and water.

Around 650,000 people have been moved to safety, including in Tacloban. A U.N. humanitarian agency spokesman, Denis McClean, said in Geneva that it was one of the largest peacetime evacuations in Philippine history. It also was reminiscent of the evacuation of 1 million people along India’s coastline before Cyclone Phailin hit in October 2013.

Nearly 100 domestic flights have been canceled and inter-island ferry services suspended, stranding thousands of people.

“We’ve not heard of villagers resisting to be evacuated,” regional disaster-response director Blanche Gobenciong said. “Their trauma is still so fresh.”

In Tacloban, residents stacked sandbags to block floodwaters. One McDonald’s restaurant was closed and boarded up to prevent a repetition of Haiyan’s deluge, which shattered glass panes and doors of business establishments, allowing looting to take place.

Disaster preparations widened after two agencies tracking the typhoon closely – the U.S. military’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii and the Philippine weather agency – predicted different directions for Hagupit.

The U.S. agency said Hagupit (pronounced HA’-goo-pit) may veer northwest after coming inland and sweep past the southern edge of the capital, Manila, a city of more than 12 million people. The Philippine agency, known by its acronym PAGASA, projected a more southern path.

Gobenciong said the unpredictable path made it harder to ascertain which areas would be hit, but added that everybody “should prepare for the worst.”

“We have a zero-casualty target,” she said. “Just one loss of life will really sadden us all and make us wonder what went wrong.”

Teves reported from Manila. Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila contributed to this report.

Advocates fear impact of Rolling Stone backpedalling on explosive rape account

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Advocates for sexual-assault victims say Rolling Stone’s backpedaling from an explosive account of a gang rape at the University of Virginia doesn’t change the fact that rape is a problem on college campuses and must be confronted — even as some expressed concern that the magazine’s apology could discourage victims from coming forward.

Students, state government and education leaders, meanwhile, pledged to continue ongoing efforts to adequately respond to — and prevent — sexual assaults on campus.

Rolling Stone cast doubt on its story Friday of a gang rape by a woman it identified only as “Jackie,” saying it has since learned of “discrepancies” in her account.

“Our trust in her was misplaced,” the magazine’s editor, Will Dana, wrote in a signed apology.

The lengthy article published last month used Jackie’s case as an example of what it called a culture of sexual violence hiding in plain sight at U.Va.

Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security On Campus, said groups who work in the area will be concerned about a “chilling effect” Rolling Stone’s apology could have on sexual-assault victims reporting the crimes.

But she said the magazine’s announcement Friday “doesn’t change the facts: Sexual assault on campus is drastically underreported and false reports are incredibly rare.”

Emily Renda, U.Va.’s project coordinator for sexual misconduct, policy and prevention, and a member of the governor’s Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence, said she didn’t question Jackie’s credibility because that wasn’t her role. Renda knows Jackie and also was interviewed for the Rolling Stone article.

“Rolling Stone played adjudicator, investigator and advocate — and did a slipshod job at that,” added Renda, a May graduate who said she was raped her freshman year at the school. “As a result Jackie suffers, the young men in Phi Kappa Psi suffered, and survivors everywhere can unfairly be called into question.”

Karen Chase, an English professor at U.Va. and Jackie’s faculty adviser, said that she doesn’t believe Jackie would knowingly say something that wasn’t true.

“Jackie is a lovely person who never sought and who thoroughly disdains publicity or sensation,” Chase said. “She spoke in good faith, and she deserves respect.”

She added that regardless of whether there were incorrect details in the student’s account, “We don’t need Jackie’s story to substantiate the problem of rape on this, or any other campus.”

Victoria Olwell, one of the organizers of a protest rally on campus after the magazine story came out, said that it was Rolling Stone’s credibility that was damaged.

“Actually, campus activists have been disputing one aspect of the story all along,” which was the magazine’s “depiction of them as quiescent,” she said. “I think that we’ve seen in the last two weeks how effective we can be in mobilizing students, staff, faculty, and the administration to prevent sexual assault and penalize it more severely.”

Rolling Stone said that because Jackie’s story was sensitive, the magazine honored her request not to contact the men who she claimed organized and participated in the attack. That prompted criticism from other news organizations.

“We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account,” the magazine’s statement said. “We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.”

The statement Rolling Stone posted on its website said discrepancies in the woman’s account became apparent “in the face of new information,” but provided no details about what facts might be in question.

That wasn’t enough for some.

“It is deeply troubling that Rolling Stone magazine is now publicly walking away from its central storyline in its bombshell report on the University of Virginia without correcting what errors its editors believe were made,” Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement.

The original story noted that a dangerous mix of alcohol, date-rape drugs and forced sex at fraternity parties is by no means unique to any one U.S. university. In fact, U.Va. is one of 90 schools facing Title IX sexual-violence investigations from the Education Department, a list that includes four others in Virginia: the College of William and Mary; James Madison University; the University of Richmond; and Virginia Military Institute.

But U.Va was roiled by the article, whose main allegation was that too many people at the university put protecting the school’s image and their own reputations above seeking justice for sex crimes. The story prompted protests, classroom debates, formal investigations and a suspension of fraternity activities.

Phi Kappa Psi, where the gang rape allegedly occurred on Sept. 28, 2012, was attacked after the article was published, with cinderblocks thrown through the fraternity house’s windows.

The fraternity issued its own statement disputing the account of Jackie, who described being led upstairs by her date, who then allegedly orchestrated her gang-rape by seven men as he and another watched.

“No ritualized sexual assault is part of our pledging or initiation process,” the statement said. “This notion is vile, and we vehemently” dispute the claim. “We continue to be shocked by the allegations and saddened by this story. We have no knowledge of these alleged acts being committed at our house or by our members. Anyone who commits any form of sexual assault, wherever or whenever, should be identified and brought to justice.”

College officials and state leaders said Friday’s developments would not stop ongoing efforts to respond to — and prevent — sexual assaults on campus.

Over the past two weeks, the college community “has been more focused than ever” on the issue, U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan said Friday in a statement.

“Today’s news must not alter this focus,” Sullivan said.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s spokeswoman, Rachel Thomas, said the governor has asked for an investigation while continuing to work with state and educational leaders “to ensure that Virginia’s college campuses are leaders in prevention, response, and awareness efforts.”

Some state lawmakers proposed legislation requiring university officials to report sex assault allegations to the criminal justice system, rather than try to handle cases themselves. Another proposed requiring campus police to report assaults to local prosecutors within 48 hours.

Sullivan asked Charlottesville police to investigate the alleged gang rape. The police inquiry continued Friday.

A vigil organized by high school students in support of sexual-assault victims prior to Rolling Stone’s announcement took place as planned on the U.Va. campus Friday evening, with several dozen high school and college students in attendance.

Frommer reported from Washington. Associated Press Writer Greg Schreier in Atlanta contributed to this report.