National Post

How Target’s grand reveal of store locations contributed to its demise in Canada

TORONTO • In January 2011, Target Corp. set the stage for its pending Canadian debut by announcing it had acquired up to 220 Zellers leases.

Just four months later, executives unveiled a list of the first 105 selected sites, believing an address-by-address breakdown would whet Canadian consumers’ appetites for the Bullseye-logoed chain well in advance of its arrival, even though a grand opening for its initial handful of stores would not happen until the spring of 2013.

With Target, it was telegraphed to them

The incumbent retailers in Canada rolled up their sleeves: they had just been handed a site-by-site roadmap to use for plotting a strategic counterassault.

“Normally, retailers do not know anywhere close to that soon what the exact locations will be, not on that scale,” said Alex Arifuzzaman, partner at retail real estate specialist InterStratics Consultants. “With Target, it was telegraphed to them.”

Target’s move gave other retailers, who price items geographically in order to optimize their sales margins, a list of locations into which they could pour their strongest resources.

Rehtaeh Parsons story highlights world where sex talk is more open among teens but no less confusing

Fotolia

For some teens, a 10-second video or photo of their peer’s breasts or genitalia sent over the mobile app Snapchat obviously means the sender wants to have sex.

But more often than not, says 18-year-old Erin Dixon, it’s just the way teens are “communicating their sexuality.” It’s certainly not an invitation for intercourse.

Nor is it rare for cavalier attitudes about sex to prevail, says the Toronto teen — a point proven in the disturbingly candid interview given to Postmedia this week by the young man sentenced to probation for distributing a photo of himself having sex at a liquor-soaked Halifax gathering with Rehtaeh Parsons, a young woman who killed herself in 2013 after years of bullying linked to the indelible image snapped that night.

The Halifax man said he believed the sex was consensual, despite her being drunk and vomiting out a window.

“We were kind of laughing about the night, she was like, ‘You guys can keep going,’ and me and [the other boy], we’re like pointing at each other,” said the now-20-year-old, who can’t be identified by law because he was tried as a youth. “Like, ‘You go ahead’ and [the other boy present] said ‘You go ahead,’ so I was like whatever.”

Ms. Dixon and Andy Villanueva, who make up two-thirds of the activist group Project Slut, which they started in their Toronto high school, said that attitude is prevalent in the halls of their high school and likely those across the country.

“I don’t see them as alien to the people I know,” Ms. Villanueva said. “The sad thing is I genuinely believe they don’t identify themselves as aggressors or rapists.”

Social cues around sex have always been hard to navigate, especially for teenagers and especially as societal views evolved. Now, media about sex — pornography included — has become ubiquitous thanks to the rise of technology and the Internet. It’s created a world in which sex is talked about more openly but is not necessarily any less confusing, coercive or fraught.

‘The sad thing is I genuinely believe they don’t identify themselves as aggressors or rapists’

‘‘It’s about finding that negotiation where you identify the risk but also celebrate the fact that [sex] is not abnormal … and that actions don’t define them,” Ms. Villenueva said. “[Adults] were doing it too! Realistically, they were screwing too.”

Studies show sexual activity amongst teens hasn’t changed significantly in the past 20 to 25 years — in fact, fewer teenagers surveyed in 2002 reported having vaginal sex than people their age in 1989.

A 2011 national U.S. government survey also showed most teens have sex for the first time in steady relationships (70% for female, 56% for male) rather than as flings or after marriage.

“There’s an assumption that if we talk about it, they’ll do it, which studies show is clearly not the case,” said Berkha Gupta, the coordinator for teen programming and social media at Planned Parenthood Toronto. “And so when those conversations aren’t happening, there’s an important role in consent conversations about the responsibility of yourself as an individual when you’re under the influence of something. That’s a conversation that’s not possibly happening with youth enough and also with younger adults in their 20s as well.”

FotoliaStudies show sexual activity amongst teens hasn’t changed significantly in the past 20 to 25 years, despite the ubiquitousness of media about sex.

Alcohol does seem to have a dissociative effect, splitting responsibility for that drunken hook-up from the act itself. That’s certainly something Ms. Villanueva reports noting in her school.

“When people get drunk and do stupid things they just view it as ‘I’m not accountable for what I’m doing. I’m not accountable — Internet!’” she said. “There’s a disconnect between accountability and what you post online.

“I remember I went to a party when I was younger and a girl was really drunk and a bunch of boys were taking turns fingering her,” Ms. Villanueva said. “I was mortified and they were laughing. At that time, because I was much younger [14] and I was already kind of like a target, I didn’t know what to do, but I remember seeing her and I remember hearing what people were saying afterwards, as if she was telling everyone to finger her.” That girl also got teased in the school in the days that followed, Ms. Villanueva said.

Blake Spence, the coordinator of WiseGuyz, a Calgary Sexual Health Centre program to help boys learn healthy sexuality, said “attitudes about sex can be very flippant, and it’s not just with young men, it’s with anybody, not realizing the importance of consent in certain situations.

“That’s what struck me about that [Parsons] story, is that he didn’t really realize that because someone had been drinking, that consent is actually invalid, technically,” he said. “It’s a grey area not just with young people but with a lot of folks in our society … I think it’s very important that when people are educating young people about consent, to talk about the role of alcohol in that.”

It would seem, he said, that this generation of young men are very open about talking about sex and desire, and “have a lot of questions about what’s normal.”

They’ll often ask if it’s normal to masturbate or think about sexual situations or even other men, he said. They also ask if it’s OK to watch pornography — which does have an impact on perceptions of what sex should be like, said Cicely Marston, senior lecturer in social science at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in Britain.

For her study, published last summer in BMJ Open, she interviewed 130 British young women and men, aged 16-18, in particular about their expectations, attitudes and experiences with anal sex and found that it almost always happens in a “coercive” environment.

“If it happened without consent, they’d call it a ‘slip,’” she said. “At least one man said ‘I just told her it was a slip when it wasn’t really a slip. Obviously if women know there are lots of men that have been slipping they might take that rather differently … ‘I want to give him the benefit of the doubt because otherwise I’m going out with a rapist.’”

Ms. Gupta, however, doesn’t think the omnipresence of sex is leading to more pressure. If anything, it could inform a kind of empowerment.

“When you normalize sexual health and you normalize bodies and puberty and relationships, it feels less like this thing you need to engage in,” she said.

“And when it’s not such a high pressured thing, I think peer pressure ends up being removed from that equation more and more.”

National Post

• Email: sboesveld@nationalpost.com | Twitter: sarahboesveld

Andrew Coyne: Stephen Harper ignores fixed election date law and no one seems to care

Oh for the love of God, people, would you give it a rest? I have just ploughed through what I would conservatively estimate is the four hundredth column I have seen speculating on the date of the next election. The recipe is always the same. Here are the reasons many people think the election will be in the fall. However, here is why I, Pundit predict the prime minister will go in the spring. Or, in the alternative, the reverse. Season to taste.

Why this has become such an obsession with my fellow thumbsuckers is hard to fathom since, unless you are privy to the prime minister’s innermost thoughts, it is inherently unknowable. Mind, that’s true of the future generally, which is why such speculative pieces are usually pointless, not least since there are no consequences for being wrong — for by the time the future arrives to confound it the column will be, conveniently, in the past, never to be mentioned again. Or as Dan Gardner, author of Future Babble, puts it, “heads I win, tails you forget we made a bet.”

What’s interesting about all this election speculation, pointless as it is, is the underlying premise: that the date of the next election is in fact open to question. By law, that is not supposed to be the case. By law — An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2007, c. 10 — the next election date is set in stone: October 19, 2015. So the real, unspoken premise is this: that the prime minister does not feel bound to follow the law — his own law, as it happens.

If the spirit and purpose of the law is utter meaninglessness — then what on earth was the point?

Not only does he not feel bound by it, but neither do the rest of us seem inclined to insist that he should. We have all somehow come to accept that it is perfectly normal, even acceptable, for the government — the government! — to disobey the law if it feels like it, as if the laws that are binding upon the rest of us were not binding upon the governments that pass them. This is surely an astonishing state of affairs, in a democracy, a measure not only of the corrupting effects of power but of how the rest of us have been corrupted along with it.

Experience, that is, has taught us to expect no better, and expecting no better, we can hardly be outraged to find our expectations are confirmed. Recall that this prime minister has once before defied his own legislation, in calling the election of October 14, 2008 — more than a year in advance of the date fixed in law. He paid no apparent price for it then. Why would he now? And if he expects to pay no price for it, why would he not consider it? Which being so, why would we not spend idle hours blithely speculating on whether the prime minister will or won’t obey the law, as if it were a game of chance?

Yes, yes, yes, I know: it’s not technically a breach of the law. It says right there in the Act: “Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General’s discretion.” And who advises the Governor General, which advice he is bound to accept? The prime minister, of course. So yes, in terms of the strict letter of the law, the prime minister is obliged to call an election on “the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election,” unless he isn’t.

But that wasn’t the way the law was sold. “Fixed election dates,” then Government House leader Rob Nicholson boasted at the time, “will improve the fairness of Canada’s electoral system by eliminating the ability of governing parties to manipulate the timing of elections for partisan advantage.” And it’s clearly not the spirit and purpose of the law. Or if it is — if the spirit and purpose of the law is utter meaninglessness — then what on earth was the point?

Critics of the law would no doubt agree. Constitutionally, they point out, the Governor General’s discretion cannot be constrained; that being true, the law cannot be binding on the government; and so long as the law cannot be enforced, it is an absurdity. But no law is perfectly binding. If a government no longer wishes to abide by it, it always has the power to repeal it, by act of Parliament.

Laws, then, are a kind of solemn undertaking. As an assurance of its good faith, the government puts its intentions in writing, in the knowledge that should it ever wish to be released from its pledge, it will have to ask Parliament to pass a new law, formally and publicly, and to accept whatever consequences follow. That is what we expect, or at any rate what we used to expect. And what is ultimately binding on the government is that expectation: the expectation of good faith. Or as it is sometimes put, “the honour of the Crown.”

We should not have to wonder whether the laws Parliament passes are of any worth or meaning, or whether the government we elect will seek refuge in fine print and Clintonian wordplay to wriggle out of them. We should not have to worry that our government is trying to con us. We are entitled to some expectation of good faith, and if we have lost even that then the implications are a lot worse than an untimely election call.

Postmedia News

Rifle left leaning on Nevada tree for more than 100 years found just before fire would have destroyed it

U.S. National Park Service
U.S. National Park ServiceThis 132-year-old Winchester rifle was found propped against a desert tree in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park. The gun was manufactured and shipped in 1882 but little else is known about its history.

WASHINGTON — It was a moment frozen in time — a Model 1873 Winchester repeating rifle propped up against the trunk of a juniper tree exactly where its owner had left it more than a hundred years ago.

Eva Jensen, an archeologist scouring the hillsides of Nevada’s arid Snake Mountains for American Indian artefacts, let out an involuntary cry of surprise when she stumbled across the find, and then fell into silence.

“I recognized it instantly, but it takes your brain a little while to catch up,” she said. “I let out an exclamation and the rest of my staff thought I must have fallen off a cliff or something, because I just couldn’t say anything else after that.”

U.S. National Park Service

U.S. National Park Service“Who would just leave their rifle?” The 132-year-old Winchester rifle as it was found leaning against a tree.

The find was pure chance, the rusted barrel of the rifle catching the late afternoon sun. Otherwise it was almost perfectly camouflaged — the wooden stock that had once been a rich, burnished walnut was bleached grey and rendered indistinguishable from the juniper wood.

From the first moment of the rifle’s discovery in November, Ms. Jensen and her staff at the Great Basin National Park have been speculating about how it came to be abandoned in the hills.

“Everyone gathered around and the questions began right away,” she recalled. “Who would just leave their rifle?”

To add to the sense of serendipity, Ms. Jensen and her team were sweeping the hills 480 kilometres north of Las Vegas to check for artifacts before a controlled vegetation burn. If they had missed the rifle, it would almost certainly have been destroyed by the fire.

Carefully, using tape to hold the crumbling stock together, park officials removed the gun from where it had been placed all those years ago, its butt nestled between two rocks. It was not loaded.

Most likely, said Ms. Jensen, it belonged to one of the many mining prospectors who, from 1869, filed claims in the high desert mountains for silver, copper and tungsten, littering the area with mines, none of which were profitable.

Some basic detective work revealed that the gun was one of more than 700,000 examples produced by Winchester’s factory between 1873 and 1916. The Model 1873 was so popular that it became known as the “weapon that won the West.” Experts said the gun, which originally sold for $50, the equivalent of more than $1,000 today, would have no more than curiosity value to collectors who pay up to $15,000 for mint-condition examples.

A unique serial number that Winchester stamped on all its rifles enabled researchers to establish that the weapon had been manufactured and shipped in 1882. In that year alone more than 25,000 left Winchester’s Connecticut factory, as the Model 1873, with its distinctive action capable of firing 15 shots without reloading, quickly became the “everyman” rifle of the settling of the West. But there the trail went cold, since Winchester shipped the rifles in batches to local “jobbers” or dealers whose records — if they ever kept them — no longer exist.

Despite Ms. Jensen spending hours trawling through local newspapers and family histories to try to trace the gun’s owner, or any record of an incident — a gunfight, a sudden storm — that might explain why it was left behind, she drew a blank.

There is one last hope, when staff show off the piece at a local inn hosting the annual Old Sheepherders Gathering this weekend. “Just maybe somebody, somewhere has a family history that tells how ‘grandpa lost his rifle up in the mountains there,’ ” said Ms. Jensen. “Perhaps we’ll find out, you just never know.”

Alaskan man says his ‘beautiful face’ made him turn back to life of crime, pleads guilty to attempted murder

An Alaskan man, who said that his “beautiful face” made him homeless and jobless, pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of a police officer.

Jason Walter Barnum, 39, pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted murder, first-degree burglary and third-degree felony in possession of a weapon on Jan. 2.

“I think Jason Barnum decided a long time ago that his life was about being hostile to people,” said Anchorage Police Department Chief Mark Mew to local reporters. “It seems to me that he wakes up everyday wanting to do bad things to innocent folks and wants everybody to know it.”

Anchorage police were looking for a man accused of firing a gun during burglaries and vehicle break-ins in the area on Sept. 12, 2012 when they spotted a vehicle connected to the crimes in the parking lot of a hotel.

Surveillance footage then led them to a room with Barnum and two others – Stephanie Callis and Sam Williams, Jr. Callis, who locked herself in the bathroom, began faking sick noises while Williams tried to stall police. When police told Callis to open the bathroom door, Barnum fired his gun.

Officer Daniel Thyen was struck in his right arm but the injuries he sustained were non-life-threatening.

“I was living on the streets, and I tried to get a job, but of course my beautiful face didn’t allow me to do that,” Barnum said.

Before the 2012 incident, Barnum had been accused and convicted of 14 crimes including four felony charges.

from KTUU-TV.

Quebec Values Charter 2.0: Ban against crosses, hijabs would only apply to new public employees

nosvaleurs.gouv.qc.ca

It would no longer be possible for a doctor, nurse or teacher currently on the public payroll to lose their job for wearing a cross or hijab in the workplace in a toned down “values charter” presented Thursday by Bernard Drainville.

But, in the future, new hires would not have such a right and would have to understand the state must not only be secular it must appear to be, Drainville said.

Conceding the original Parti Québécois government’s charter of values tried to change too much too fast, Drainville — a candidate for the party leadership — retreated on several key elements of the original bill he tried to steer into law while minister of democratic institutions in the former government.

He said his new package better respects the body of opinion on the matter.

My objective is to rally a certain number of people who were against the charter

“My objective is to rally a certain number of people who were against the charter,” Drainville told reporters at a news conference. “I want to create a greater consensus.”

“We have to go more gradually. That’s one of the lessons I got in this debate.”

Gone from Drainville’s vision is the possibility under the old charter of someone losing their job for refusing to leave their religious garb at home when they walked into work.

Drainville’s new “values charter 2.0,” instead proposes to grandfather the rights of people who are already employed by institutions that would be affected by the charter.

“I am saying I got the message [from Quebecers]. I understand when you said you did not want to see anyone lose their job.”

The ban would only apply to new employees if and when the charter is adopted — which also assumes the PQ will be back in power in four years.

His efforts to stir up the values pot did not go over well with the Liberal government or other opposition members.

From England, where he is on a trade mission, Premier Philippe Couillard said the PQ has a “strange set of priorities,” in wanting to talk about the charter when the real priority for Quebecers is the economy.

In an interview, Québec solidaire MNA Françoise David ripped Drainville, saying even with his attempt to make the charter easier to swallow, the debate would invariably veer into the ban on religious symbols. And that distracts people from the real issue, which is fighting religious fundamentalism.

Drainville’s idea of applying the ban to new workers also doesn’t make sense and unfairly targets women who overwhelmingly dominate the health and education sectors, she said.

nosvaleurs.gouv.qc.caAn image released by the PQ Quebec government showing “ostentatious” symbols that would be banned under a proposed charter of values.

“What do we do with the young Muslim woman studying today to be a nurse in the future?” David asked. “We are slamming the door on her.”

David’s view on the ban is that Quebec should stick with the old Bouchard-Taylor commission’s formula, which would only ban authority figures such as judges, police officers and prison officials from wearing religious symbols.

But Drainville makes another key concession from the old charter.

While his new ban on religious symbols would still apply to the entire public sector — including judges, police officers, prison agents, health-care workers, doctors, elementary and high school teachers and public daycare workers — he drops CEGEPs, universities and municipalities from the list.

Drainville retreated in those areas — which drew staunch opposition in the old charter — arguing they want to maintain their independence. Now Drainville wants these establishments to create their own internal religious-neutrality policies.

They don’t want democracy. They don’t want equality between men and women. We can’t let them dictate our actions

Under questioning, however, Drainville revealed that an exemption clause from the old bill (Bill 60 incorporated the charter) would stand, allowing certain institutions, such as the Jewish General Hospital, to be exempt from the values charter on religious grounds.

Unlike the day in August 2013 when Drainville presented the original charter, this operation was far more modest and did not include any of the pictograms or teams of experts on hand to answer complex questions.

Sitting alone behind a table at the National Assembly press gallery, Drainville said he has fewer resources at his disposal.

However, other familiar themes of the old bill are back: Drainville wants to amend the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms to include state neutrality and create a framework for religious accommodation, and no person could deliver or receive government services with a covered face.

Drainville faced questions about the timing of his announcement on a religious issue so soon after the tragedy in Paris where 20 people died. He argued he had made a promise to present a new charter in December. Failing to act in the wake of Paris would be like caving in to extremism.

“Any delay amounts to saying the extremists are right,” Drainville said. “They don’t want democracy. They don’t want equality between men and women. We can’t let them dictate our actions.”

He insisted the new charter had little to do with the PQ leadership campaign, in which he’s trailing badly. He said as the minister responsible for the charter in the old Pauline Marois government, he felt he had a responsibility to carry on the work because it’s necessary.

And he dismissed the theory that the old charter, which divided Quebecers and sparked social strife, had anything to do with the PQ’s electoral loss after only 18 months in office.

Comparison of Drainville’s charter proposals

PQ’s original charter

• The ban on ostentatious religious symbols in the workspace was sweeping and applied to the entire public sector including justice, health and education. The bill defined the symbols as “overt and conspicuous,” which meant a tiny crucifix or small ring with the Star of David or earring was fine, but anything big was not.

• The bill provided for a five-year exemption from the ban for CEGEPs, universities, health care and municipalities. In the uproar, many institutions said they would use the exemption.

• Private schools and non-subsidized daycare centres were not covered.

• It would be mandatory to have one’s face uncovered while providing or receiving a state service.

• In the name of religious heritage, the giant crucifix on Mont Royal and other religious symbols in the public space — such as the crucifix over

the speaker’s chair in the blue room of the National Assembly — would remain. Employees would still be allowed office Christmas trees.

• Amend the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms to entrench religious neutrality of the state and the secular nature of institutions.

Drainville charter

• The big change in the proposal is the so-called grandfather clause. That means that while the plan is still to ban conspicuous religious symbols in the whole public sector, existing workers would have acquired rights and not have to respect the rules.

• Implicit in the new package is that no employee thus could be fired for refusing to comply, which emerged as the real stumbling block for the short-lived PQ government.

• The new ban would thus only apply to new hires. As Drainville stated, working for the government carries with it responsibilities and one of them is to not express, or display, one’s personal convictions.

• Respecting their independence, Drainville said the new ban would not apply to CEGEPs, universities and municipalities. They would, however, be required to adopt their own internal religious neutrality policies.

• Added to the charter would be the creation of an observatory on religious fundamentalism and a 1-800 phone line where people could report honour crimes.

• The National Assembly crucifix could be moved elsewhere in the legislature if MNAs vote to do so.

Iraq wants anti-ISIS coalition’s bombing campaign stepped up as terror group goes back on offensive

OTTAWA — The Iraqi government wants the U.S., Canada and other coalition countries involved in the campaign against Islamic State forces to step up their bombing.

Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has gone on the attack again in three different locations in the country over the last several days. Just last week Canadian military officers said the extremist group, which has seized large parts of Iraq, had been blunted and was on its “back foot.”

Brig.-Gen. Dan Constable, who commands Joint Task Force Iraq, told journalists at that time that ISIS has failed to launch any offensives or large-scale pushes on the ground. As a result, he said, the militant force was on its back foot.

The term “back foot” is a familiar one, once used by Canadian officers to describe how the Taliban in Afghanistan were on the verge of defeat.

But on Thursday, Navy Capt. Paul Forget of Canadian Joint Operations Command acknowledged to reporters that ISIS had gone on the offensive in a number of locations. He did not know why that was but noted that ISIS’s actions will make its forces prone to attacks from CF-18 fighter jets.

“The fact they have taken the offensive has forced them to expose themselves more, thus allowing our fighters to detect them on the ground and engage them accordingly,” he explained.

Forget said he was aware of the Iraqi request provided to the coalition to increase the number of bombing raids. Canada, he said, is continually reassessing what it can contribute to the U.S.-led coalition.

Johanna Quinney, spokeswoman for Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, stated in an email that Canada is one of many countries involved in the air strike campaign. “Our ongoing contribution continues to be evaluated based on coalition needs,” she noted.

‘Until now our feeling is that the international support is not convincing’

The operations involving CF-18s and other aircraft in Iraq “demonstrate our firm resolve to address the threat of terrorism and stand by our allies in the fight against ISIL,” Quinney added.

On Tuesday Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi met with retired general John Allen, the U.S. special envoy who is co-ordinating coalition war efforts.

Abadi’s office later issued a statement requesting the coalition “increase the tempo of the effective air strikes on Islamic State positions.” It also called on the alliance’s training campaign for Iraqi security forces to be further expanded.

Speaker of the Iraqi parliament Selim al-Jabouri delivered a similar message to Allen.

“Until now our feeling is that the international support is not convincing,” Jabouri told Reuters on Wednesday. “We might see participation here or there, but it is not enough for the tough situation we are passing through.”

Iraqi analysts say that ISIS has endured months of U.S.-led airstrikes but has lost little of the territory it had seized earlier in the year. Islamic State, supported by some Iraqi-Sunni tribes upset by their treatment at the hands of the Shia-dominated central government, had taken control of large areas of Iraq.

The situation now is seen as a stalemate by a number of security experts in Iraq.

U.S. Lt.-Gen. James Terry, who commands American forces fighting ISIS, has said it will “at least take a minimum of three years” to reach a turning point against insurgent forces.

There are 600 Canadian military personnel involved in the Iraq mission. Those include a small number of special forces in northern Iraq and aircrew in Kuwait who are supporting and operating six CF-18 fighter jets, two CP-140 Aurora reconnaissance aircraft and a CC-150 Polaris in-air refuelling tanker.

The government has committed Canada to the Iraq mission for six months but it is expected that it will be extended.

Belgium anti-terrorist operation results in two dead after shootout and one arrested

fo0116_belgium_c_jr.jpg

Belgian authorities say two people have been killed and one has been arrested during a shootout in an anti-terrorist operation in the eastern city of Verviers.

Magistrate Eric Van der Sypt told reporters in Brussels on Thursday that the suspects were on the verge of committing a major terrorist attack, and that they immediately opened fire on security forces.

He said at emergency news conference that anti-terrorist raids are under way in the Brussels region and Verviers. He said Belgium’s terror alert level was raised to its second highest level.

“These were extremely well-armed men,” with automatic weapons, Van der Sypt said.

The raid was part of an investigation into extremists returning from Syria.

Witnesses speaking on Belgium’s RTBF radio described a series of explosions followed by rapid fire at the centre of Verviers, near a bakery and in the neighbourhood of the train station. Video posted online of what appeared to be the raid showed a dark view of a building amid blasts, gunshots and sirens, and a fire with smoke billowing up.

Earlier Thursday, Belgian authorities said they are looking into possible links between a man they arrested in the southern city of Charleroi for illegal trade in weapons and Amedy Coulibaly, who prosecutors say killed four people in a Paris kosher market last week.

The man arrested in Belgium “claims that he wanted to buy a car from the wife of Coulibaly,” said federal prosecutor’s spokesman, Eric Van der Sypt. “At this moment this is the only link between what happened in Paris.” Van der Sypt said that “of course, naturally” we are continuing the investigation.

At first the man came to police himself claiming there had been contact with Coulibaly’s common-law wife regarding the car, but he was arrested following a search on his premises when enough indications of illegal weapons trade were found.

Screens put up at scene in #Verviers where police operation took place pic.twitter.com/ZTK9nwFIge

— roeland roovers (@r0eland) January 15, 2015

Van der Sypt stressed there was no established weapons link with the Paris attack at this moment.

Several countries are now involved in the hunt for possible accomplices to Coulibaly and the two other gunmen in the French attacks.

Maryland parents investigated for neglect after letting kids walk home alone from park

It was a one-mile walk home from a Silver Spring park on Georgia Avenue on a Saturday afternoon. But what the parents saw as a moment of independence for their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, they say authorities viewed much differently.

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv say they are being investigated for neglect for the Dec. 20 trek — in a case they say reflects a clash of ideas about how safe the world is and whether parents are free to make their own choices about raising their children.

“We wouldn’t have let them do it if we didn’t think they were ready for it,” Danielle said.

She said her son and daughter have previously paired up for walks around the block, to a nearby 7-Eleven and to a library about three-quarters of a mile away. “They have proven they are responsible,” she said. “They’ve developed these skills.”

The Meitivs say they believe in “free-range” parenting, a movement that has been a counterpoint to the hyper-vigilance of “helicopter” parenting, with the idea that children learn self-reliance by being allowed to progressively test limits, make choices and venture out in the world.

“The world is actually even safer than when I was a child, and I just want to give them the same freedom and independence that I had — basically an old-fashioned childhood,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely critical for their development — to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency.”

On Dec. 20, Alexander agreed to let the children, Rafi and Dvora, walk from Woodside Park to their home, a mile south, in an area the family says the children know well.

The children made it about halfway.

Police picked up the children near the Discovery building, the family said, after someone reported seeing them.

Police on Wednesday did not immediately have information on the case. But a spokeswoman said that when concerns are reported, “we have a responsibility as part of our duty to check on people’s welfare.”

The Meitivs say their son told police that he and his sister were not doing anything illegal and are allowed to walk. Usually, their mother said, the children carry a laminated card with parent contact information that says: “I am not lost. I am a free-range kid.” The kids didn’t have the card that day.

Danielle said she and her husband give parenting a lot of thought.

“Parenthood is an exercise in risk management,” she said. “Every day, we decide: Are we going to let our kids play football? Are we going to let them do a sleep­over? Are we going to let them climb a tree? We’re not saying parents should abandon all caution. We’re saying parents should pay attention to risks that are dangerous and likely to happen.”

She added: “Abductions are extremely rare. Car accidents are not. The number one cause of death for children of their age is a car accident.”

Danielle is a climate-science consultant, and Alexander is a physicist at the National Institutes of Health.

Alexander said he had a tense time with police on Dec. 20 when officers returned his children, asked for his identification and told him about the dangers of the world.

The more lasting issue has been with Montgomery County Child Protective Services, he said, which showed up a couple of hours after the police left.

Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for CPS, said she could not comment on cases but that neglect investigations typically focus on questions of whether there has been a failure to provide proper care and supervision.

In such investigations, she said, CPS may look for guidance to a state law about leaving children unattended, which says children younger than 8 must be left with a reliable person who is at least 13 years old. The law covers dwellings, enclosures and vehicles.

It seemed such a huge violation of privacy to examine my house because my kids were walking home

The Meitivs say that on Dec. 20, a CPS worker required Alexander to sign a safety plan pledging he would not leave his children unsupervised until the following Monday, when CPS would follow up. At first he refused, saying he needed to talk to a lawyer, his wife said, but changed his mind when he was told his children would be removed if he did not comply.

Following the holidays, the family said, CPS called again, saying the agency needed to inquire further and visit the family’s home. Danielle said she resisted.

“It seemed such a huge violation of privacy to examine my house because my kids were walking home,” she said.

This week, a CPS social worker showed up at her door, she said. She did not let him in. She said she was stunned to later learn from the principal that her children were interviewed at school.

The family has a meeting set for next week at CPS offices in Rockville.

“I think what CPS considered neglect, we felt was an essential part of growing up and maturing,” Alexander said. “We feel we’re being bullied into a point of view about child-rearing that we strongly disagree with.”

Francis Simard dies at 67: Ex-FLQ member was key figure in murder of Quebec minister Pierre Laporte

Karsh / Postmedia News file
Karsh / Postmedia News fileQuebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte was kidnapped in front of his home on Oct. 10, 1970. He was found dead in a bloodstained car trunk in suburban St. Hubert seven days later.

Former Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) member Francis Simard died Saturday, the Journal de Montréal reported on their website Wednesday night.

Simard participated in the kidnapping and murder of Pierre Laporte, the Quebec Minister of Immigration, Labour and Manpower, during the October 1970 crisis.

He received a life sentence for his crimes and was released from prison in 1982.

Simard died at the age of 67 from an aneurysm.

Simard is survived by his wife Béatrice Richard and his daughters, Renée-Louise and Émilie. The funeral will take place Jan. 24 in Longueuil.

He recounted the events in a book titled Pour en finir avec octobre, which inspired the Pierre Falardeau film Octobre.

Ray Ryder / Postmedia News file

Ray Ryder / Postmedia News filePierre Laporte’s funeral, Oct. 20, 1970. Copyright The Gazette. Credit Ray Ryder. See also: James Cross – October Crisis 1970 – Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ).