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    Laurie Gulas was about to hit bottom.

    Years removed from her horse-racing highs, the former jockey was addicted to painkillers, running out of money to pay her bills and looking desperately for a way to turn things around. She’d take help from wherever it came, from a man in prison for dealing drugs, from another looking to buy them, if it could give her hope.

    “I had the best of intentions and I took a chance,” she says, “and did it the wrong way.”

    Gulas needed money. The one currency she had was the pills that were supposed be the answer in an ongoing battle to find relief from the numerous falls she had endured throughout her racing career.

    And a friend, a man who had once sold her a car and whose dog she had adopted when he went to county jail, a man she had continued to talk to and had visited in prison, had an idea. He could hook her up with someone looking for prescription drugs.

    It would be a one-time deal, the rider known as Longshot Laurie convinced herself. It would be the start of her road back.

    ***

    Laura Lynn Gulas was born in Welland on Feb. 16, 1969, and knew as early as four years old she wanted to become a jockey, without knowing how that would be accomplished. She began working at Fort Erie Racetrack at the age of 15 as a stablehand for trainer Brian Dore and then moved to Toronto to enroll in an equine program.

    She was four-foot-nine and weighed 99 pounds when she raced for the first time at Woodbine Racetrack as a 21-year-old. She was diminutive even by jockey standards. Gulas was one of only a handful of female riders and despite her small stature, she displayed both strength and savvy as she put her horses through their paces.

    Still, she eased herself into the racing life, competing in just three races that year. She admits she was ill-prepared for it.

    “There’s so much more that goes on than just the morning workouts; it blew me away,” she said. “I saw it in a different perspective. It was the actual art of race riding. It was the real deal. I didn’t push to continue riding because I knew I needed more experience.”

    Gulas ramped up her schedule the following year, competing in 156 races and winning 11 of them. She also suffered her first major racing injury — a fractured pelvis — in one of many spills she would experience.

    But she wasn’t attracting enough clientele and, with an abundance of apprentice riders also beginning their careers, she chose to move away from her home track and head to California, where some of her racing idols were riding. Among them was legendary Canadian Sandy Hawley, the first jockey to win 500 races in one year.

    She returned to Woodbine in the winter of 1993 and over the next half-decade she established herself as one of the top 20 jockeys in Ontario, earning a reputation for her “daredevil” ways.

    “She would ride anything,” says friend Lori McMahon, a Fort Erie Racetrack worker who leads the horses and their riders onto the track. “She would ride for a trainer who hadn’t won in years just because she loved to ride. No matter what the horse was or the odds, she’d give you 100 per cent. If you needed a rider in the jocks’ room, she was there.”

    And that’s the situation veteran trainer Roger Attfield found himself in ahead of the Breeders’ Stakes in 1999. The horse racing hall-of-famer needed a rider for Free Vacation, a three-year-old filly that had shown promise but nothing to indicate she would be a factor in the last leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. The morning-line oddsmaker agreed, handicapping Free Vacation as a 15-1 long shot.

    With many of the top jockeys having already committed to other horses, Attfield booked Gulas.

    “Laurie had been riding one or two other horses for me and I thought she was a pretty good rider,” Attfield says. “I had no problem putting her on the horse.”

    Attfield advised Gulas to bide her time in the race and preserve the filly for a late run. The race didn’t get off to a good start.

    “She kind of fussed in the gate and when it opened she lunged out and we got left a couple of lengths,” Gulas told the Star that day.

    But Gulas settled the horse into stride and waited patiently as Attfield had instructed. At the top of the stretch, Gulas unleashed the filly and sprinted to an historic victory on the 1 1/2-mile long grass track, edging out John the Drummer by three-quarters of a length.

    It marked the first time a female jockey had won a Canadian Triple Crown race in the 70-year history of the series. Longshot Laurie lived up to her nickname.

    “It was a barrier breaker,” said Arthur Silvera, a trainer who also booked Gulas to ride some of his horses. “After all these years, a woman could step up and win one of these prestigious races for a (top) trainer that had enough confidence in her to put her aboard this horse. I think it was a reassurance that female riders can get it done as well.”

    ***

    About three weeks after that monumental victory, Gulas was competing at Woodbine when her horse clipped heels with another horse before the first turn and fell hard to the ground. The collision knocked Gulas unconscious and gave her a severe concussion.

    “The first words out of the doctor’s mouth were, ‘I’m so sorry, you’ll never ride again.’ One day you could sneeze and you’ll be a vegetable,’ ” Gulas says. “I didn’t hear anything after that. The worst thing you can say to a rider is, ‘You’ll never ride again.’ All I did after that is set out to prove those words were wrong.”

    Her attempt proved futile. She returned to riding and began experiencing headaches, finally shutting it down for the remainder of the season. It got worse the following February when she tried riding again and suffered a second concussion and severe neck trauma from the impact of a fall that occurred when the horse she was exercising had a heart attack and died.

    Eight months after, with Gulas persistently complaining to doctors of pain, it was discovered one of her collarbones had broken, ripped off the chest wall and wedged against the main nerve of her spinal column. Surgery was needed to insert a metal plate and screws in her chest to mend her collarbone and fuse it back into place.

    Healed and ready to ride again, Gulas returned to competition in 2001 and did well, winning 25 of the 281 races she entered and taking home more than $1 million in purses. In 2002, Longshot Laurie won 32 races in 358 starts and a career-best $1.3 million in earnings.

    Things were looking up.

    “I never had a doubt (about returning to ride again) because I was so determined and that’s all I ever worked for,” she says.

    But in 2003, she began suffering excruciating pain in her bones when she rode. Doctors prescribed her medication. It didn’t help.

    When the pain intensified she started self-medicating with opioids she bought off the streets — percocet, demerol, morphine, oxycontin, lortabs, darvocet, dilaudid, roxycodone . . .

    The pain, she says, was so bad it caused her to become suicidal.

    “I tried to help myself. I was fighting a losing battle.”

    She spent a month in rehab in 2004 and, as part of the aftercare program, she attended group therapy once a week. She also started galloping horses, with dreams of riding again. Then her mother was diagnosed with dementia. She died in late 2006 at age 58.

    “That destroyed me,” Gulas says.

    And it led her to begin using again. In fact, Gulas’s drug habit had escalated so much so during her mother’s illness that her weight dropped to 78 pounds.

    Longtime friend Carol Arseneau Peters reached out to help.

    “She was dealing with a lot and then her mom got sick,” says Arseneau Peters, a retired jockey who started her career at Woodbine around the same time as Gulas. “Within that whole five-year period there were things that quickly combined and snowballed. Unfortunately, that led into a downward spiral and she couldn’t get herself out of there.”

    Arseneau Peters was living in South Florida with her husband and their young child when she sent Gulas some money to fly down to stay with them. The one stipulation: no drug use. It took some time but Gulas was able to kick her habit, return to the racetrack and once again start to rebuild her racing career — that is until she suffered the “mother of all concussions” in a morning training accident on a July summer day in 2007.

    “That was pretty much the end and the start of the major downfall,” Gulas says.

    A few months later, she fell off another horse in what would turn out to be her final ride. That was followed by the death of her stepfather, a man whom she considered her father, after a long battle with cancer.

    When Gulas began using pills again, Arseneau Peters asked her not to visit her or her family anymore.

    “To be honest, she wasn’t safe to be around my family,” Arseneau Peters says. “She was just really lost.”

    ***

    Gulas was a recluse in her trailer park home when she sought relief from a Florida doctor. She claims he “pounded” her with significant quantities of high-dosage painkillers and anti-anxiety medication.

    “I didn’t use all the pills, but when I tell you how many of those things I could take in a day . . . you don’t want to know,” she says.

    At the time, South Florida had become a hot spot for buying and selling illegal painkillers. Gulas was running out of money but had a few pills kicking around. She figured maybe she could sell a few — a one-time thing — pay some bills, get her life back on track and perhaps even make a return to riding.

    She got a tip from a friend — a man who happened to be serving time in county jail for dealing drugs. During one of her visits to the prison he told her he had a friend coming to town from South Carolina and Gulas could make money selling him her pills. She resisted the idea at first but the temptation proved too much.

    They met in a mall parking lot on a Monday around 4 p.m. She got into his car and he started pulling out stacks of money. He told her to count the pills she had. He then excused himself to grab more cash from the trunk; she continued counting.

    A bang from the back of the car startled her. When she looked up, she was surrounded by a SWAT team, guns pointing directly at her.

    “Oh my God, it was like what you see on TV!” she says. “I don’t even know where they appeared from.

    “Knowing what I know now and being more clear-minded, it was screaming a setup the whole way through, but I was so blissfully ignorant of everything.”

    Gulas was arrested and charged with one count of trafficking heroin between 28 grams and 30 kilograms. If convicted, she would face a minimum of 25 years in prison and up to a $500,000 fine.

    Gulas pled “no contest” and, as part of a plea agreement with the prosecutor, she was sentenced to eight years behind bars.

    Arseneau Peters says she was “mortified” upon hearing the news about Gulas. She was also relieved.

    “It was really to the point I thought I was going to get a phone call and it’s either going to be she’s arrested or she’s dead,” Arseneau Peters says. “To me, the arrest was the better of the two.”

    ***

    Inside the maximum security prison, Gulas gradually began to turn her life around. She got clean, for one. She found pleasure through art and writing programs and even studied to become a veterinary assistant through distant learning courses from the Stratford Career Institute. She received her diploma after passing with a mark of 99 per cent.

    She also befriended a few of the inmates, but there was one in particular, Shelly Goldman, a woman who had overcome her own bitterness and anger and took it upon herself to help others in the prison system through their struggles, that Gulas is thankful for.

    “For some reason she reached me. She taught me to basically speak all over again,” Gulas says. “I couldn’t hold a conversation. I would turn beet red, look at you as if I might hurt you, and run away. I was really kind of scary. I looked like a wild animal. My bangs were down to my chin.”

    Slowly she began to open up. And feel happiness inside.

    “I decided if I was going to live, I had to do it right. I knew if I couldn’t make it clean in prison, I’d never make it outside of there. For the first time I was happy. It’s not happy like I am now (on the outside), but not in troubled suicidal mode. It just opened up my eyes even more.”

    Arseneau Peters kept in contact with Gulas and remembers how dramatically different she looked the first time she saw her in prison.

    “It was sort of sad but comforting, too, to see my dear friend again — the person I know and loved and knew she could be and not the person unfortunately that was consumed with her problems and addicted to pills and changed who she was,” Arseneau Peters says. “It was tough, very emotional, to see someone you loved dearly in that situation — finally she seemed healthier (but was) stuck behind bars.”

    Not anymore.

    On Feb. 16, her 48th birthday, Gulas was released from prison early for good behaviour. She ended up serving 6½ years of the eight-year sentence — 18 months pre-trial and another five in maximum security prison. She is back living with Arseneau Peters and her family and helping manage their horse farm, Oak Wood Stables, in Davies, Fla.

    Ask her about a comeback to racing and she’s somewhat ambivalent.

    “It’s what I love, it’s all that I loved, lived for, breathed for the majority of the time,” she says. “But I also realize that I don’t want to waste time. I’m not going to win every race and enough can go wrong the minute the starting gate doors slam open.”

    It’s been a long, tough journey, but Gulas recorded a victory far greater than anything she experienced riding. Best of all, she’s happy.

    “Being arrested and sent to prison was what set things in motion for my life to be saved,” she says.

    Longshot Laurie beat the odds again.


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    CARBONDALE, ILL.—The warning signs hang above hundreds of kilometres of highway, flashing the same message from Illinois to Tennessee: “SOLAR ECLIPSE. AUGUST 21. PLAN AHEAD.”

    On Monday, the moon will pass in front of the sun and cast a shadow over a 112-kilometre-wide cross-section of the continent known as the “path of totality.” It will be the country’s first total solar eclipse in nearly 40 years, and an estimated 12 million people are expected to witness it. That estimate may well be low.

    A good chunk of those people will watch from somewhere along Interstate 24. It’s a smooth, straight highway that cuts across the American heartland, passing cornfields, churches, Chik-fil-As and dozens of billboards bearing stern instructions not to leave your car to look at the sun.

    This is the road to totality. And already, eclipse chasers are congregating here, ready for the moon’s shadow to fall on them.

    Rose Gilbert arrived days ago. It took the Columbia, Md., resident 11 hours to drive herself, her husband, three of their daughters and Gilbert’s octogenarian parents to Nashville, where they’ve rented a house with a view of a lake and a wide open stretch of sky.

    “Suppose it’s cloudy?” asks her father, Carl Landi. He’s been skeptical about this whole endeavour since she first proposed it more than a year ago. (“Had it been up to me, I probably wouldn’t be here,” he confides privately.)

    “Then we’ll get in the car and drive,” Rose replies, not missing a beat.

    She and her husband, John, wouldn’t call themselves astronomy buffs. She’s a nurse, he’s a physician assistant. They don’t own telescopes or plan their vacations around celestial events.

    But an eclipse is different, Rose says.

    “It’s two whole minutes of the sun being blocked.”

    “That’s a once in a lifetime experience for most people,” John says.

    “It’s a no-brainer,” Rose responds.

    So here they are, the whole family. Their cameras are outfitted with solar filters. Their eclipse glasses are NASA-certified — Rose double checked. Even Carl is grudgingly looking forward to the event. T-minus three days and ready to go.

    Signs of the coming spectacle are evident to those who look. There’s an unusual abundance of out-of-state plates in Midwestern towns that rarely get tourists. Restaurants have announced economically awkward Monday afternoon closings between noon and 3 p.m. The billboard outside the Park Avenue Baptist Church in Paducah, Ky., asks: “We live on a planet that circles the sun and you don’t believe in miracles?”

    Locals compare the eclipse mania to a fever. It started almost imperceptibly — a date on the calendar, a one-minute preview on the nightly news. Then came the special sections of the newspaper, the cartons full of cardboard solar glasses in every storefront and posters of the sun in every window. The obsession grew and grew. Now, the whole region is half delirious.

    “I’ve heard some pretty apocalyptic sounding things,” said Melanie Cochran, of Nashville. “Cellphones dying. Power lines overloaded. They say you should get all your grocery shopping done now, in case the stores run out of food.”

    “Pfft,” Demeka Fritts, also of Nashville, lets out an exasperated breath. “Every newscast is eclipse and politics.”

    Don’t be fooled by her tone. Fritts long ago made plans to watch the event from her sister’s rooftop. It’s been a while since she spent time gazing at the sky. The 38-year-old used to love looking at the stars, but now her job keeps her busy and the lights in Nashville are too bright to see much. On Monday, she’ll stop and look up again. The whole country will.

    “It’s kind of cool,” she says.

    Businesses are closing for the big event. Schools are sending their students home early — or asking them not to come in at all.

    Shelley and John Henry Wells, of San Francisco, were supposed to be at an artist’s conference in the Smoky Mountains next week. A few months ago, they found out that the organizers had cancelled all of Monday’s events; instead, attendees will be given a bagged lunch and a seat on a bus to a viewing location near Hendersonville, N.C.

    Meanwhile, anyone who can turn the eclipse into a marketing opportunity has done so. The Warby Parker hipster eyewear chain is handing out branded solar glasses. A billboard for Harrah’s Casino in Metropolis promises a $100,000 (U.S.) eclipse giveaway.

    At the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, curators have pulled out of storage an award-winning 1989 work called “Corona II” — a fabric and thread depiction of the sun’s outer atmosphere as seen during an eclipse. On Friday, at least two dozen visitors came into the museum specifically to see it.

    “It’s just magical,” said Laura Hendrickson, the museum’s registrar, her gaze tracing the quilt’s stunning, swirling design. “That’s the only way to describe it.”

    That this quilt happens to hang within the path of totality seems a stunning cosmic coincidence. (Then again, the path of totality also encompasses “Carhenge.”)

    Hendrickson confessed that she harbours a secret hope that something special will happen during Monday’s event. She’s a “megafan” of the TV show Heroes, in which characters gain superpowers from watching a total solar eclipse.

    “The nerd in me is like, ‘what if the eclipse happens and someone can fly?’” Hendrickson laughed.

    “I’ll be right here,” she said of her plans for the eclipse. Watching through solar glasses decorated with an image of “Corona II.” Waiting for something magical to occur.


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    A Twitter post from the account of Jason Kessler, the far-right activist who organized the Charlottesville, Va., “Unite the Right” rally, insulted the protester who was killed at the event, saying late Friday night that her death was “payback time.”

    Heather Heyer was a fat, disgusting Communist,” the post said. “Communists have killed 94 million. Looks like it was payback time.”

    The post linked to a story on neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer that also insulted Heyer in crude terms and appeared to take glee in her death.

    Kessler did not respond to messages seeking comment.

    Police say Heyer was killed when a rally attendee, James A. Fields, drove his sports car into a crowd of counterprotesters at the event Aug. 12, which drew white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other far-right figures from around the nation.

    Fields has been charged with her murder. Kessler had blamed city officials for not providing sufficient security for the rally, which was organized to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a Charlottesville park.

    Kessler’s Twitter post sparked denunciations from other far-right rally attendees, who quickly distanced themselves from him, accelerating a spiral of recriminations that have been brewing among far-right leaders over who was to blame for the chaos behind last weekend’s violent “Unite the Right” rally.

    On Saturday morning, the post had been deleted from Kessler’s account, which initially claimed he’d been hacked, but then backtracked and said he’d been on a mixture of drugs.

    “I repudiate the heinous tweet that was sent from my account last night. I’ve been under a crushing amount of stress & death threats,” the post said. “I’m taking ambien, xanax and I had been drinking last night. I sometimes wake up having done strange things I can’t remember.”

    Kessler’s posts then were switched to “private” mode before his account was deleted entirely.

    “I will no longer associate w/ Jason Kessler; no one should,” Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who was scheduled to speak at Kessler’s event, said on Twitter. “Heyer’s death was deeply saddening. ‘Payback’ is a morally reprehensible idea.”

    Another far-right figure who attended the event, Tim Gionet, who goes by the name Baked Alaska, also criticized the remarks.

    “This is terribly wrong and vile,” Gionet posted. “We should not rejoice at the people who died in Charlottesville just because we disagree with them.”


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    WASHINGTON—The leader of Canada’s largest private sector union says the United States must “soften its stance” on its push for Buy American rules in government procurement if it wants to get a new NAFTA deal.

    Unifor president Jerry Dias said he has heard American negotiators are standing firm on their demand to gain more access to government procurement contracts in Canada and Mexico, while restricting businesses in those countries from competing for bids in the U.S. through so-called Buy American laws that have been championed by President Donald Trump.

    “They want to build a wall around Buy American policies, (and) yet have full access to procurement policies in Canada and Mexico,” he told the Star in an interview Saturday at the Washington hotel where NAFTA renegotiations are being held this week.

    “Why would we do this? We’re a polite nation, but we’re not a stupid nation,” he said.

    “They can’t say they want a deal and then bargain as if they don’t want one.”

    Dias’s comments came as the U.S. trade office, together with the commerce department, published an eight-page call for “industry outreach” on how U.S. trade deals, including NAFTA, affect the costs and benefits of Buy American laws. The call stems from an executive order — titled “Buy American and Hire American” — made by Trump earlier this year, which instructed government departments to study how these provisions would work.

    Dan Ujczo, a trade lawyer from Ohio who has worked for both the U.S. and Canadian governments, said he finds the timing of the public call — in the midst of the first round of NAFTA renegotiations — hardly coincidental.

    He explained that it may be a way for the U.S. to take the issue off the NAFTA table, because the government can say they are holding consultations on the issue and how it relates to a series of agreements. In that sense, the issue could be swept from the NAFTA table, Ujczo said, thus blocking any Mexican and Canadian objections to Buy American provisions in the renegotiation process.

    “This seems to be a pretty deliberate strategy,” he told the Star. “This takes it off the table”

    One of the hallmarks of Trump’s rise to power and subsequent presidency has been his penchant for inflammatory rhetoric on NAFTA. He has called it the worst deal ever signed and threatened to tear it up unless a better agreement can be negotiated for American workers. He has also advocated “America First” policies, which include the exploration of ways to create rules where government projects and large-scale private enterprises — such as the Keystone XL pipeline — would have to hire American workers and use American-made resources.

    Canada is expected to push back on this. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a speech Monday that restrictions on government procurement are like “political junk food,” in that they are “superficially appetizing, but unhealthy in the long run.”

    Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said the Americans’ push to restrict government procurement in the U.S. while opening it in Canada and Mexico is anything but “reciprocity” — which was the stated goal for the process outlined by U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer in his opening remarks to the talks on Wednesday.

    Beatty added that the ambitious timeline set out for the renegotiations — the U.S. and Mexico reportedly want a new deal by the end of the year — will be scuttled if the U.S. holds firm on positions like this.

    “If (the goal) is simply rewrite the agreement to favour one party at the expense of the other two, there’s not going to be an early conclusion. And if there is an early conclusions, there won’t be a happy one,” he said.

    Despite the appearance that the U.S. is standing firm on a key disagreement, Beatty said it’s still early in the renegotiation process. “Everybody should keep their cool,” he said.

    Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress and member of the Liberal government’s cross-partisan NAFTA advisory council, told the Star that the negotiations to this point have been “very respectful and cordial.” He said the sense from the Canadian side is that the talks could actually wrap up by December.

    At the same time, he expressed confusion at the U.S. stance on Buy American, which he said is a major issue for Canadian industries like steel and aluminum.

    “I’m not convinced that will be their bottom line, but that’s the kind of message that they want to send to the American public, and specifically to (Trump’s) constituency — that they’re tough,” he said.

    The three countries that are party to NAFTA have outlined their own goals for the renegotiation. The U.S. has pointed to trade deficits with Mexico and to a lesser degree Canada as a key problem they hope to solve. Lighthizer also said this week that the agreement was a “failure” for countless Americans, pointing to the decline of manufacturing in some sectors and placed blame on the agreement.

    Canada, meanwhile, has said it wants to see chapters on the environment, gender and Indigenous peoples added to the agreement, as well as find ways to increase the cross-border flow of business professionals and cut down red tape.

    All three countries have said they’d like to see the agreement “modernized” to reflect the realities of technological progress since NAFTA came into effect in 1994.

    As the fourth day of negotiations began Saturday, Canada’s chief negotiator strolled by a group of reporters. One of them asked if things are going as expected. Steve Verheul smiled as he passed.

    “So far,” he said. “So far.”

    The first round of negotiations is scheduled to finish with a joint communiqué from the negotiating teams Sunday afternoon.


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    Toronto police say they are investigating a suspicious death after the body of a male was found near College and Bathurst Sts. Sunday morning.

    At around 8 a.m., officers from 14 Divison rushed to Lippincott St. after receiving a call.

    Police say it is too early in the investigation to provide further details but they are calling the death suspicious.


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    John Vyge’s story didn’t start much differently than many others. It finished with history though.

    In the fall of 1989, after graduating from the University of Toronto, he left his rickshaw company behind to be “just your typical Canadian backpacker.”

    Vyge’s parents were Dutch but they settled in Stratford, Ont., and he wanted to visit family in Amsterdam.

    He didn’t know when he left that he’d end up at the top of the Berlin Wall, tearing it down, setting up a shop to sell pieces and working with anti-Communist resistance leader and Checkpoint Charlie Museum founder Rainer Hildebrandt to distribute the largest chunks to museums around the world.

    After stops in Morocco, France, Switzerland and England, he was in Nerja, Spain when he heard rumoursthat the wall would come down that fall and decided to set out for Berlin, with little money left in his budget.

    His story now lives on in the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, telling the tale of John “Vyges” (his surname is spelled wrong on the display) of Toronto, falling in love and tearing down the wall with Suzanne Dykes of Melbourne, Australia.

    It is only partially true.

    The 23-year-old Vyge and 22-year-old Dykes did meet at the wall, tore pieces of it down to sell to tourists and worked with Hildebrandt to preserve the biggest chunks.

    But while they grew close, their young love didn’t last past their travels.

    Before Vyge met Dykes, he arrived at the wall alone and in disbelief.

    At the time, East Berlin border guards still walked along the wall. To pass, he had to travel through Checkpoint Charlie, purchase a set amount of East German currency (exchange rates were so bad that it was mandatory in order to limit the growing black market), and be interrogated in a room full of tables “like going into old Russia.”

    Vyge describes East Berlin as “very, very empty” and East Germans as “uncertain about what was about to happen to them.”

    He arrived in October and didn’t plan on staying long.

    That quickly changed. Vyge said he realized by the “sheer activity” that he was about to be among the first at the scene of history — the wall was coming down, which it eventually did a few weeks later on Nov. 9, 1989.

    “Because I didn’t have a hammer and a chisel, I had to convince two German tourists who had blood on their hands because they didn’t know what they were doing to explain if they gave me their chisel and hammer I would get them some pieces of the wall,” he said, pausing.

    “That’s where it began.”

    After meeting Dykes and her brother Peter at a youth hostel, his trip turned into a month-long stay.

    With enough room for border guards to pass behind them, they started a makeshift store at the wall to finance the costs of hostels and replacing frequently-broken tools.

    Early on, Dykes and Vyge would buy western goods for the East German guards and hand Cokes, Pepsis and filtered cigarettes (which the guards didn’t know existed) through the wall.

    “I just remember saying ‘John, we need to give these people stuff,’ ” Dykes said.

    As time passed, the guards grew more relaxed. Dykes still has chunks of the wall, medals and hats the guards would pass back through (or over) to show their thanks.

    “It was beautiful watching them smoke a filtered cigarette,” she said, laughing. “I know that sounds weird but they were so grateful.”

    It was a visit with East Berlin relatives of an Australian friend that Dykes said was her biggest “eye-opener.”

    The family, which was well off, used stacks of exposed searing red irons to stay warm — like radiators without casing — in their “barren house.” The kids’ play area was down the street at the dump. And the censorship tales were true. The books at the local library had words cut out of their pages, Dykes said.

    “It just broke my heart to think that they were so controlled,” Dykes said. “I’m glad I was there to see peoples’ faces but gee, I felt sad when I saw how they lived.”

    She remembers going to a rooftop restaurant for Communist elites in East Berlin and thinking, “Oh my God, you can see everything; you can see exactly how western people live.”

    “It was two different worlds and the whole time they could see over and see what was going on,” she said.

    Eventually Hildebrandt, 75 at the time, approached Vyge and Dykes to ask in broken English if they’d consider giving the bigger pieces of the wall to him for preservation and redistribution because he couldn’t get them himself.

    “There was a lot of chaos trying to figure out how to continue getting pieces and then other people started catching on,” Vyge recalled. “People were doing crazy things.”

    As word spread, an ambulance was stationed by the wall to accommodate all the people injuring themselves trying to climb it — Vyge once carried an East German there after he fell and broke his ankle.

    When the money ran out and the wall was gone, the trio went their separate ways.

    Years later, Vyge’s father (also John) got a call at his home in Stratford.

    It was Suzanne Dykes. She was looking for her old friend.

    Ever since, Vyge and the Dykes have kept in touch.

    Vyge began dating his wife Sandy shortly after his trip to Europe, and they’ve moved to Virginia with their two daughters to run an investment firm.

    Suzanne and her husband Jeff Baylow, a Canadian from Vancouver, live in Australia with two daughters of their own.

    Peter is now a successful entrepreneur and professional poker player.

    They regularly visit each other in Canada, the United States and Australia, their photos and pieces of the wall enshrined in Berlin and elsewhere.

    Vyge and his wife have since visited the Checkpoint Charlie Museum together. She laughs about Vyge’s exhibit standing next to Ronald Reagan’s. They joke about his exaggerated love story, which Hildebrandt — who Dykes said was a lovely, charismatic man — created.

    “She jumped in my arms like the typical wedding photo and I thought it was funny because we were all having a pretty good time and then I found out that they turned it into a love story,” Vyge said, remembering one of the exhibits’ photos, drawn from a 1989 newspaper story about the pair’s work with Hildebrandt.

    “There was no love story really. There was a friendship.”

    Dykes admitted that she “really liked” Vyge.

    “I remember thinking ‘what a gorgeous guy’ and we just hit it off, we were good mates,” Dykes said, laughing. “(Hildebrandt) must have taken a shining to us. He’d say ‘oh, you guys would make a lovely couple’ all the time and ‘oh, it’s a beautiful love story’ and he was just a bit of a romantic I think.”

    Every so often, Vyge will hear about the exhibit from people who visit Berlin.

    When Dykes worked as a flight attendant for British Airways in her 30s, travellers from Berlin twice told her she looked familiar.

    They both say Berlin changed them.

    “I look back now and I go ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe it.’ We were crazy. Crazy!,” Dykes said, laughing. “It really does resonate with you when you’re young and you just think ‘gosh, they were just trying to have freedom.’ ”

    “I ended up with this wonderful story of meeting these people, with this whole newfound spirit for life,” Vyge finished. “You have to really realize the freedom we have to do whatever we want here whereas in East Berlin people had no freedom.”


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    Why did the turtle cross the road? Because you helped wheelbarrow it there.

    The ambling animals aren’t known for looking both ways; cars are one of the biggest killers of Ontario’s turtles, which are often spotted along the province’s roadways.

    With seven of Ontario’s eight turtle species at risk, the Nature Conservancy of Canada is trying to teach people how to help the slow-moving critters if they see one on the road.

    Remember wheelbarrow races? The childhood game is an effective way to get feisty snapping turtles across the street.

    As their name suggests, snapping turtles tend to reach their necks around and snap their jaw as a defence mechanism.

    Avoid a biting mouth by grabbing the two “handles” at the back of a snapping turtle’s shell, tipping it up onto its front legs, and “wheelbarrowing” it across the road, said Kristyn Ferguson, a program director with Nature Conservancy Canada.

    “You’re essentially helping it walk to safety,” she said, demonstrating with Junior, a large snapping turtle at Scales Nature Park.

    Ferguson is trying to encourage people to pull over and help turtles across the street, and Nature Conservancy Canada is producing an educational video and blog posts on the topic.

    “Even just saving that one turtle can make a huge impact on the population in general,” she said.

    Painted turtles are another common species you’ll see on Ontario roads. These smaller turtles usually hide their heads in their shells, so the trick is simply to pick it up “like a hamburger” and carry it across, said Ferguson, noting that they have yellow stripes on their face and orange-red patterns on their shell. You should place the turtle down gently and move away, she said.

    And don’t try to turn turtles around!

    “Even if it makes no sense to us, they’re going where they’re going for a reason,” said Sue Carstairs, executive and medical director of the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre.

    Drivers should look out for things that resemble rocks and potholes, she said, especially around water and wetlands.

    The peak time for turtle crossings is June, when females are finding places to lay their eggs, said Carstairs, but males are out all season.

    Ferguson said human safety has to be paramount when people are helping turtles. Last year, a woman was hit by a car and seriously injured after stopping to help a turtle near Peterborough.

    “We aren’t encouraging people to get out along busy 400 series highways or put their own lives at risk,” said Ferguson. “Assess the situation: how busy is the road? Do you have a safe route to get the turtle across?”

    Helping a turtle across the road can have huge benefits to the turtle population, as the animals take a long time to reach maturity and are slow to reproduce.

    “If even a few get hit by cars, it could double or triple the death rate, or more,” said Jeff Hathaway, founder of Scales Nature Park, which has a focuses on turtle conservation.

    “Extend that over 40 or 50 years . . . and the population declines tremendously.”

    It’s been a particularly active summer for Ontario’s turtles, who have been out “en masse” this year, said Carstairs.

    This summer’s weather has been ideal for turtle travels, she said, and there’s been a “huge spike” in injured critters at the conservation centre hospital

    It’s already taken in roughly 800 turtles so far this year, double the numbers from 2016.

    “We’ve seen more already this year than we’ve ever seen in an entire year altogether,” said Carstairs.

    While she’s glad more people are taking turtles to the centre, Carstairs said that also means more turtles are likely dying in car accidents.

    She said the most effective way to save turtles is installing passages under the roads so the animals can safely cross.

    Painted turtles are currently the only turtle species in Ontario that are not listed as “at risk” in Ontario, however survey studies are now being conducted on the species, said Carstairs. She said habitat loss is likely the top cause of turtle decline.

    “Their way of living has worked for almost 200 million years just fine . . . but as soon as we came along, we sort of tipped that balance,” she said.

    “If everybody in the province helped one turtle across the road, that’s saving a lot of turtles.”


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    WASHINGTON—If Donald Trump deploys the big bomb during upcoming NAFTA negotiations, and threatens to blow up the continental trade agreement, a unit within the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be assigned to try disarming it.

    The Canadian government has created an election-style nerve centre to handle White House-related challenges and officials who describe its operations say it has about eight regular staff: two former trade officials, two senior PMO officials, an ambassador, a writer, a cabinet minister, and it’s run by a young staffer with a reputation for staying cool while smothering political fires.

    The most blistering inferno it’s preparing to confront is a scenario where the president threatens NAFTA. Everybody involved anticipates the threat level from Trump will rise with the heat of negotiations.

    A well-connected Washington lobbyist milling about last week’s talks said a Trump pullout threat is virtually assured: “Almost 100 per cent.” Trade lawyer Dan Ujczo said it’s a logical play for the president: “The threat of withdrawal is his key negotiating leverage.”

    However one former U.S. trade official says the president has shown himself too eager to play his best card. He said the president has weakened his hand with an April tactical error, when he threatened to blow up NAFTA four months before negotiations started.

    Read more:

    Donald Trump again echoes white supremacists over removal of ‘our beautiful’ Confederate statues

    Donald Trump marches to war — in his own country: Burman

    U.S. signals Trump’s Buy American agenda is non-negotiable in NAFTA talks

    Robert Holleyman said Canada and Mexico got a valuable heads up on what would happen next: the business community panicked, lawmakers were miffed and Washington made clear it preferred saving NAFTA.

    “It was, at a minimum, terrible timing,” said Holleyman, Barack Obama’s deputy United States Trade Representative.

    “You do that at the 11th hour in the negotiation — not at the throat-clearing stage ... I suspect President Trump will be unable to play that card again. And if he does play it, it won’t be as strong as it would’ve been ... the Canadians and Mexicans will say, ‘you ... will face a huge backlash in your own Congress.’”

    Congress definitely holds some power: it could refuse to cancel the law implementing NAFTA, which would set up court fights between the various parties including the president, industries and possibly lawmakers.

    It’s the job of that Ottawa unit to prevent that messy scenario.

    The Canada-U.S. unit resembles, in several ways, a campaign war room — though its members hate that term. It gathers data on key constituencies — for instance, it collects American politicians’ opinions on issues and plugs them into a database.

    It plans outreach efforts. It co-ordinates rapid response.

    All the relationship-building in recent months involving ministers criss-crossing the U.S. for hundreds of meetings would be deployed in the event of a crisis. For example: Should Trump try ending NAFTA, instructions might quickly go out to Canadian minister X to call U.S. state governor Y to lobby friendly Washington official Z.

    That order would come from the centre.

    The idea for a dedicated unit came before Trump’s inauguration, from PMO officials Gerald Butts and Katie Telford, longtime Ontario provincial political officials who had used the approach before on top issues.

    “This is the unit that spends 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, thinking about this — trying to anticipate every possibility,” said one official.

    “The U.S. file is ... so superhot that you can take the slightest thing and turn it into a huge story that’s in every newspaper in North America. It’s really important to have the right person (handling it).”

    Enter Brian Clow.

    He was chief of staff to Chrystia Freeland when she was trade minister, but that’s not the principal reason he was brought in. What senior officials like was his penchant for staying cool, and working fast, in the Liberal election war room in 2015.

    Clow would not speak for this story.

    But someone who trained him in working war rooms was happy to share some thoughts about him and the job. It was Warren Kinsella who brought the modern campaign war room to Canada in 1993, modelled on Bill Clinton’s 1992 run, and who also authored, Kicking Ass In Canadian Politics.

    Kinsella demands three attributes from war-room staff: Keeping your mouth shut about the war room. Working fast. Doing thorough research.

    These campaign operations shape news coverage by providing key components of a story, quickly, to journalists operating in a tougher environment of 24-hour news and declining research budgets: quotes, facts and people willing to be interviewed.

    “(Clinton aide James) Carville told me, ‘The media atom has split’... you can’t just take (reporters) out to lunch and spin them and the story appears two days later,’” Kinsella said.

    “(A war room is) basically a newsroom.”

    It also provides a central hub so different offices are in contact, and don’t contradict each other. The Canada-U.S. unit includes the PMO’s Butts and Telford, Freeland, ambassador to Washington David MacNaughton, and writer Michael Den Tandt.

    Kinsella was impressed with his speed, cool and ability to pump out video content while he worked on the 2007 and 2011 Ontario Liberal campaigns.

    The Trump mission is infinitely harder, Kinsella said.

    Kinsella joked that in elections, all his job entailed was pulling pins from grenades and lobbying them. This team must prevent explosions, while working with thousands of officials, multiple government departments, two countries, industry groups, one global economic superpower and an unpredictable president.

    The unit got to conduct early test runs.

    When Trump complained about Canadian dairy and lumber, and threatened a NAFTA pullout, it handled the response. The Canadian side kept the temperature down; it responded to heated rhetoric with statistics and telephone calls, and things quickly cooled down.

    “They can’t declare war on Trump,” Kinsella said. “In this situation you can’t throw hand grenades — we’re David, they’re Goliath.”

    NAFTA negotiations last week offered a glimpse of the unit’s work.

    The U.S. government began by complaining about Canada’s historic trade surpluses. Canadian officials were later in the lobby, handing out fact sheets showing a trade deficit.

    “We used to call those ‘heat sheets,” Kinsella explained. He’d have his team slip them under hotel-room doors while reporters were sleeping, so they might shape the next day’s news.

    “You build an incremental case,” Kinsella said.

    “That’s how you win a campaign.”


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    Vaden Earle first met Mari-Thérèse Pierre, a Haitian refugee, in the Dominican Republic in 2005 when he was on a humanitarian mission with a youth group he founded in Canada.

    The Hamilton man would see the woman with her newborn child, Widlene, scavenging for food around a giant dump site near Puerto Plata and would often chat with her.

    One day in 2009, the mother and girl disappeared, and he learned that Pierre had died and the child was sent back to Haiti to live with a relative. Worried about the well-being of the girl, Earle and his wife set out to find her. They eventually tracked her down in Haiti and have been her primary care providers ever since.

    Eight years after Earle and his wife initiated Widlene’s adoption — and after a series of mishaps — the now 12-year-old is stranded and stateless in the Dominican Republic, waiting to come to Canada with her adoptive parents. To do that, the couple is asking for co-operation from immigration officials.

    “It has been a nightmare in a perfect storm. It’s just unbelievable,” said Earle, 42, who moved to the Caribbean country in 2009 to look after Widlene full-time, while his wife, Christl, travels monthly from Toronto to see her family.

    Earle, who quit his position as CEO of the youth group Live Different and now runs a car rental business and café in Puerto Plata, said he and his wife were drawn to Widlene partly by their belief in empowering youth for social change.

    “Widlene just finished Grade 6 (at a private school). She is an avid soccer player and loves watching hockey. She is a big Edmonton Oilers fan,” said Earle. “She wants to become a pediatrician and work in developing countries.”

    It’s a future that would not have been imaginable when Earle first found Widlene in Gonaïves, in northern Haiti, where she was on the verge of being sold as a child domestic worker in 2009.

    He and his wife, who have no children of their own, applied to Haitian authorities for Widlene’s guardianship in order to bring the girl home to formalize the adoption in Canada. They completed a government assessment in Ontario of their skills and talents as potential parents.

    Then the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Port-au-Prince in January 2010, causing widespread devastation — and destroying all the documents necessary for Widlene’s adoption, including proof of her mother’s death and the signed consent of her biological father, whose whereabouts are still unknown.

    The couple then attempted to carry out the adoption in Haiti, but in 2013, the Haitian government suddenly put a moratorium on international adoptions.

    In 2015 the family encountered yet another hurdle when a new law was enacted that revoked Haitian citizenship for anyone born outside Haiti, even to Haitian parents.

    Earle said Widlene subsequently had her Haitian passport and citizenship stripped, and became stateless in the Dominican Republic, because that country does not grant citizenship by birth on its soil.

    “As a Haitian, she is living in a country where Haitians are not welcomed and are targets for exploitation, racism and deportation,” said Earle. “As a Dominican-born child, Haiti refuses to recognize her as a citizen. Today, we, as Canadian citizens, are effectively exiled from Canada by virtue of our decision to save the life of a child.”

    Being stateless, Widlene does not have a valid travel document.

    The family’s Toronto lawyer, Chantal Desloges, has asked immigration officials to issue a temporary resident permit to let Widlene into Canada so the couple can complete the adoption — and the immigration process — in this country.

    Immigration officials have yet to decide on the matter. They say they’ve been responding to correspondence from Earle since September 2016.

    “We understand the rules are there, but this is a humanitarian case. We need the exceptional discretion applied in this case,” said Desloges, adding that the permit, unlike a tourist visa, is designed for the entry of an otherwise inadmissible foreigner because of “compelling needs.”


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    FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE—Churches across Sierra Leone held special services Sunday in memory of those killed in mudslides and flooding earlier this week, as hospital officials announced the toll had risen to nearly 500 bodies collected.

    More than 600 people remain missing and rescue officials have warned that the chances of finding survivors are decreasing each day. The death toll earlier stood at 450.

    The Inter-Religious Council called for the services to be held Sunday in honour of the deceased, as special prayers and recitals were offered in mosques Friday and Sunday.

    The preacher at Buxton Memorial Methodist Church in Freetown, the capital, offered a sermon that looked at mankind’s contribution to the disaster, as a gospel band rendered the song “Papa God Sorry for Salone (Sierra Leone).”

    Large-scale-burials have taken place all this week amid rainy weather that threatened further mudslides.

    Read more:

    Sierra Leone mudslides death toll now above 450, UN says

    Hundreds missing in Sierra Leone mudslides likely dead, minister says

    Sierra Leonean community in Toronto organizes relief fund

    The government of the impoverished West African nation in recent days has warned residents to evacuate a mountainside where a large crack has opened. Thousands of people live in areas at risk and the main focus is making sure they leave before further disaster, authorities have told local media.

    Aid groups are providing clean water as a health crisis looms.

    “Water sources have been contaminated” and that officials “fear for an outbreak of water-borne diseases,” said Saidu Kanu, country director for World Hope International.

    Foreign aid from the rest of the world is being sent to Freetown, said authorities.


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    For the third time in its history the Royal Canadian Air Force will receive new colours on Sept. 1, a “once-in-a-generation event” the RCAF plans to celebrate on land and in the air.

    The colours, or flags, reflect the RCAF’s “loyalty and fealty” to the Queen and Canada, said Lt. Col Holly Apostoliuk, the air force’s director of public relations.

    On the day, which will be declared Royal Canadian Air Force Day in Toronto, Torontonians will see about 25 historic and current RCAF aircraft fly by above the city’s skyscrapers to mark the occasion.

    Alongside the famed Snowbirds and a specially painted Canada 150 CF-188 Hornet, a CH-146 Griffon helicopter will fly from east to west along the direction of Queen St. across Nathan Phillips Square, where Governor General David Johnston will present the new colours.

    For RCAF members, the colours represent their history, service and ideals, said Apostoliuk.

    “On the first of September, we will actually reaffirm our responsibilities to Canada and to the Royal Canadian Air Force with those colours as the symbol,” she said.

    The RCAF’s existing flags carry its old name, Air Command, which was changed back to the Royal Canadian Air Force in 2011.

    There are two colours: The Queen’s Colour, a flag that carries a Canadian maple leaf with the sovereign’s cipher in the middle and symbolizes loyalty to the Crown, and the Command Colour, a blue flag carrying the air force’s badge in the middle, which symbolizes the RCAF’s “pride, cohesion and valour.”

    There will be a parade and music in Nathan Phillips Square to celebrate the consecration of the new colours starting at 12:30. The fly-by will take place at 2 p.m. and last about 10 minutes. The fly-by will be rehearsed on Aug. 31 between 2:15 and 2:45 p.m.

    On Friday, two Griffons offered media a first look at the flight path. They flew across downtown, where the military aircraft must be 500-ft above the highest obstacle in their flight path: the 1,000-ft Bank of Montreal building.

    The helicopters flew above kayakers paddling the brown waters of the Don River, and back over the treetops, houses, and highways of Mississauga.

    For Capt. Sean Crites, a member of the 424 Transport and Rescue Squandron based at 8-Wing Trenton, it must have been easy flying; there were no tricky landings in tight forest clearings, no nighttime rescues over Lake Ontario.

    He recalled one of his “hairiest rescues.”

    It was the middle of the night and a sailboat on Lake Ontario was taking on water. Crites and his co-pilot managed to drop the search-and-rescue technicians in the water where they swam to the boat to assist an hypothermic occupant.

    The conditions were challenging. There was no way to hoist the patient back up, he said.

    It was only when the boat washed ashore that they could pick up the occupant and rescuers.


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    CHICAGO—Canadian hockey commentator Don Cherry showcased his vocal skills Saturday during the Toronto Blue Jays game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.

    Cherry, wearing a white suit covered in a red cherry pattern, led the seventh inning stretch by singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” into a microphone from the broadcast booth.

    The 83-year-old from Kingston, Ont., added his own twist to the iconic song, replacing the end of the line “root, root, root for the home team” with “the best team.”

    Toronto lost the game 4-3.

    The Cubs have had NHLers singing in the broadcast booth before. Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” together last October.


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    MONTREAL—Tensions boiled over in Quebec City on Sunday, as police were pelted by beer bottles and smoke bombs set off in garbage cans in an ugly end to a weekend of pro and anti-immigrant rallies across the country.

    The scene was far different than that one day earlier in Vancouver where thousands of people peacefully demonstrated in an anti-racism rally in response to reports earlier in the week that an anti-Muslim protest was planned. That latter protest didn’t materialize.

    The rallies sprung up in the wake of last week’s deadly events in Charlottesville, Va., largely spurred by the unprecedented number of people walking across the border to seek asylum.

    Almost 6,800 people showed up at an unofficial crossing from the U.S. into Quebec since Canada Day to claim asylum. By comparison, only 2,920 claims were filed in Quebec in all of 2015.

    When asked if the unprecedented number of border crossers was stoking anti-immigrant sentiments in the country, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the “intolerant, racist demonstrations.” He said he stood with millions of Canadians “who reject the hateful, harmful, heinous ideologies” that have sprouted across the country.

    “The small minority, angry, frustrated group of racists don’t get to define who we are as a country, don’t get to tell others who we are and don’t get to change the nature of the open, accepting values that make us who we are,” Trudeau said hours before the Quebec City demonstration.

    Federal authorities have said more than 3,800 people walked over the border into Quebec through the first two weeks of August, compared to the 2,996 who similarly crossed the border throughout all of July. Many are being housed in temporary shelters, including tents along the Quebec-New York border and inside Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, while officials handle the sudden surge in asylum claims.

    Haitian nationals form the bulk of recent arrivals, believed driven by a change in U.S. policy that many fear would result in mass deportations. Canada lifted the temporary restriction on deporting Haitians last year, set up in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, and many were sent back to the island nation, Trudeau said.

    Trudeau urged Canadians to maintain trust in the immigration system and the officials who he believed were managing the situation. He said none of those walking across the United States border would receive any special advantages in their quest to come to Canada, stressing to Canadians and would-be refugees alike that border hoppers must go through the usual security checks and immigration evaluations.

    The Quebec group La Meute, which is associated with the far right, called for a rally Sunday to protest the federal and provincial government’s handling of the border crossers, but ended up having its members pinned inside a garage while counter-protesters associated with an anti-fascist group demonstrated outside.

    Once the counter-protesters turned violent, the Quebec City police declared the protest illegal. Clashes ensued and at least one protester was arrested as officers tried to block access to the building where some of the La Meute protesters had taken refuge.

    Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard tweeted about the violence, saying that people have the right to demonstrate peacefully with zero tolerance for violence.

    “We condemn violence and intimidation. We live in a democracy where respect must be the norm and not the exception.”

    At least two Quebecers were identified participating in a white supremacist rally last week in Charlottesville, Va., that ended in violence and the death of a 32-year-old woman. La Meute suspended one of the two men from the group’s activities with a spokesman saying La Meute dissociates itself from white supremacist and racist groups.

    Trudeau also expressed condolences to the families of Canadians killed in terror attacks this past week in Burkina Faso and Barcelona. He called the attacks “despicable” and attempts to pit neighbour against neighbour.

    “These cowards will not win. We will continue to do as we have done, standing united and stronger in the face of hatred. We will be emboldened in our values, values of love, acceptance and strength through diversity. My friends, in the wake of terror, let us never lose sight of who we are.”

    Read more: Montrealers rally outside Olympic Stadium to welcome asylum seekers from U.S.


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    The owner of Snakes and Lattes doesn’t play games when discussing the coming minimum wage hike in Ontario.

    “A living wage should be guaranteed for everyone, especially in Toronto, which is a very expensive place to live,” says Ben Castanie, owner of three popular board game cafés in the city.

    Unlike many in the food service industry, the entrepreneur thinks the increase is a win-win for workers and the economy, since more people will have more money in their pockets to spend.

    Castanie already pays his 80 service staff between $12.50 and $14.50 an hour, far above the current legal minimum of $9.90 an hour for those who serve liquor — mainly bartenders and wait staff who make most of their income from tips.

    “We will all just have to adapt,” he says.

    However, the overall business community is growing anxious and has started to make some noise lately over the hikes, which the province outlined as part of sweeping labour reforms last May. The increase includes a boost from $11.40 an hour to $11.60 in October, then to $14 on Jan. 1 and to $15 the following year.

    The issue was on the front burner during the recent second-quarter earnings season, during which Loblaw CEO Galen Weston bemoaned the “aggressive” raises on a conference call with analysts. He estimated that company expenses will balloon by $190 million at Canada’s largest grocery chain, and warned of coming cost cuts to accommodate the mandated increase.

    Similarly, Metro Inc.’s chief executive Eric La Fleche said Tuesday that grocers are under the gun with little time to adjust to the added expense of what amounts to a 32 per cent wage increase for most of its employees in under 18 months.

    Discount retailer Dollarama Inc. also said that it won’t rule out raising prices if labour costs continue to climb, while Magna International has warned that higher costs could affect its business investments in Ontario.

    But Premier Kathleen Wynne paints a rosier picture; saying that giving more than a quarter of employees in the province a pay increase means more workers will benefit from Ontario’s economic growth; the province has outperformed all G7 countries over the past three years.

    At the announcement of the increase, she said that new technology, a shrinking manufacturing sector and fewer union jobs have left about one-third of Ontario’s 6.6 million workers vulnerable at a time when people are working longer hours and doing more precarious, low-paying work to make ends meet.

    The $15 hourly wage will match the upcoming increase in Alberta, scheduled to go into effect in October of next year. Ontario’s labour overhaul also ensures equal pay for part-time workers and an increase to the minimum vacation entitlement.

    “It’s a fairly steep increase over a brief period of time,” says Pedro Antunes, deputy chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada He also points out that the move is “politically favourable” since the timing coincides with next year’s Ontario election.

    Lou Russo, director of operations for the Shoeless Joe’s chain of sports bars, says the timing is particularly brutal for the restaurant industry, which just went through an expensive menu overhaul to include calorie counts on menus — also mandated by the provincial government — last January.

    “The wage increase is posing a big risk to our industry. Restaurant owners will be forced to cut costs and to pass (the added expense) along to our guests,” he says.

    Russo agrees that workers deserve a fair wage, but says that increases should be based on performance rather than legislation. He adds the company is looking at everything from technology to utility savings to new deals with suppliers to avoid making customers pay more in the end for their popular wings and alcohol.

    “It’s a complicated issue,” says Larry Isaacs, spokesman for The Firkin Group of Pubs. “You want the working population to earn a fair wage, however businesses need to make a profit. At the same time you don’t want to upset customers by increasing prices — a conundrum to say the least,” he says.

    The restaurant industry generates $32 billion a year and employs more than 470,000 people in the province.

    Facing industry backlash, Wynne hinted last month at providing some relief for both small businesses and restaurateurs this fall, but so far has not provided specifics.

    A coalition of business groups opposed to the changes released a report on Monday that warned the wage hike will cost the average household $1,300 a year and put 185,000 jobs at risk. Industry association Restaurants Canada recently released a survey of its members that found 95 per cent of owners believe the wage hike will hurt them. It found 98 per cent will raise menu prices and 81 per cent will lay off staff, while more than one-quarter would close one or more locations.

    The province says half of the workers in Ontario who earn less than $15 per hour are between the ages of 25 and 64, and the majority are women.

    Dave Bryans, CEO of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association, also notes the increase will “undoubtedly mean fewer retail jobs, particularly for students and other part-time workers,” and that owners are already burdened with high hydro prices.

    However, an open letter from about 40 economists, mostly from Canadian universities, says such talk is “fear-mongering” that is out of line with the latest economic research.

    “While Canada escaped the harshest impacts of the 2007-08 financial crisis, our country has also seen a slowdown in growth. We risk further stagnation without reinvigorated economic motors. As those with lower incomes spend more of what they earn than do those with higher incomes, raising the minimum wage could play a role in economic revival,” it says.

    As for Castanie, he admits it will be an adjustment, but one that betters society as a whole.

    “I grew up in Europe where the minimum wage is higher, as it should be,” he says.


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    Health Canada has approved the immediate opening of a downtown supervised safe injection site to combat the opioid crisis in Toronto, but it’s not nearly enough, according to one of the founders of an unsanctioned pop-up site at Moss Park.

    “It’s not a crisis response,” registered nurse Leigh Chapman said.

    “I think it’s great that they have accelerated the opening of the sanctioned safe injection sites,” Chapman said. “It would be great if they could expand their hours and have much longer hours than we have.”

    She said there are no plans to shut down the Moss Park pop-up site, which runs seven days a week, with volunteers working from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

    “We can’t abandon these people who are visiting our tent in Moss Park,” Chapman said. “We are building trust and allowing them the opportunity to feel safe with volunteers who care about their wellbeing. The city should care too.”

    More details on the facility at 277 Victoria St., near Yonge and Dundas St., are expected from the Medical Officer of Health on Monday morning.

    The interim site there has approval to run until at least Feb. 28, according to Health Canada.

    The Moss Park group has received funding from a GoFundMe campaign In addition to supervising injections, it has handed out more than 200 kits of naloxone to block the affects of opioids.

    Toronto Mayor John Tory met this month with harm reduction workers to talk about how to respond to the city’s opioid problem.

    Health Canada has already approved safe injection sites at the South Riverdale Community Health Centre and at the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre, but those sites remain closed pending renovations.

    About 2,400 opioid-related overdose deaths were reported in Canada in 2016.

    Chapman said her group has successfully responded to five overdoses.

    “Generally, every day we see 12 to 25 people,” Chapman said. “These are people that are injecting in the medical tents.”

    Volunteers take daily walks through Moss Park looking for discarded drug-injection kits and reaching out to drug users, she said.

    “We’ve reached out to a place where there is open drug use and the population there is underserved,” Chapman said.

    The problem comes as heroin, which is grown from poppies and illegally imported, is laced with fentanyl, which is laboratory produced and has high potency.

    “People are overdosing in alleys,” Chapman said. “They just don’t know what they’re taking.”

    Chapman praised the response by police to the Moss Park clinic.

    “We’ve had a ton of police support and community support,” Chapman said. “They were amazing. Very supportive.”


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    WASHINGTON—Canada, the U.S. and Mexico are pledging to keep a “rapid pace” for the renegotiation of NAFTA, agreeing in a joint statement to keep exchanging proposals and comments on the content of a new deal ahead of the next round of talks in Mexico.

    The communiqué was endorsed by the three NAFTA partners at the conclusion of the first round of negotiations on Sunday, in which representatives from each country gave “detailed conceptual presentations” and discussed more than two dozen topics over five days, the statement said.

    “The scope and volume of proposals during the first round of the negotiation reflects a commitment from all three countries to an ambitious outcome and reaffirms the importance of updating the rules governing the world’s largest free trade area,” the statement said.

    Negotiators will return to their respective countries for consultations, having continued to engage with labour, private sector stakeholders and other levels of government during the talks, the statement said.

    They plan to reconvene in Mexico to resume negotiations from Sept. 1 to 5, and hold a third round of discussions in Canada later in the month. The renegotiations will then return to the U.S. in October, with six more rounds of talks being planned before the end of the year, the statement said.

    “While a great deal of effort and negotiation will be required in the coming months, Canada, Mexico and the United States are committed to an accelerated and comprehensive negotiation process that will upgrade our agreement and establish 21st century standards to the benefit of our citizens,” the statement said.

    The U.S. and Mexico have indicated that they would like negotiations to wrap up by the end of the year, with key elections in the offing for each country. A Canadian official told the Star Sunday that the government is fine with that timeline.

    All three countries have said they want to modernize NAFTA to take into account technological progress since it came into effect in 1994.

    Although negotiators from the Canadian delegation did not comment as they left the discussion venue on Sunday, there are many issues of disagreement as representatives from the three countries work to change a slew of tenets in the 23-year-old trade pact.

    A Canadian government official speaking on background told the Star Sunday that the U.S. and Canada are at loggerheads over the inclusion of climate change measures in a new NAFTA agreement, which is a stated priority of the Liberal government. The official added, however, that the Americans haven’t said anything to indicate the disagreement is irreconcilable at this point.

    “It is a very initial conversation to understand where each side is coming from,” the official said of the first round of talks, adding that there are areas of agreement on certain environment provisions as well.

    “There’s nothing that we see as insurmountable.”

    Other areas of divergence include an American push to create Buy American rules for government contracts in the U.S., while opening up these bids to U.S. companies in Canada and Mexico, and remove the state-to-state dispute resolution mechanism—which Canada strongly favours—from the agreement.

    The U.S. has also said it wants to cut its trade deficit and update the rules of origin on products like auto parts to ensure that more of their content is North American-made.

    Confirming a report from Reuters on Saturday, a source close to the talks told the Star that the U.S. has not yet made any specific demands on how it wants to update rules of origin, a policy widely considered crucial to the auto industry in North America.

    “On rules of origin, the focal point is going to be on auto,” said Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington. She said if the Americans try to raise the rules of origin level too high — it is currently at 62.5 per cent for auto parts — manufacturers could lose their incentive to play by the NAFTA rules, opting instead to pay tariffs or even moving factories to other jurisdictions.

    “They’re really dancing on a knife-edge,” she said of the Americans’ position.

    Canada’s push for a greener NAFTA, meanwhile, is part of the “progressive” goals outlined last week by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. These include new chapters on gender and Indigenous peoples, as well as commitments to strengthen labour standards and environmental provisions to protect the right to address climate change.

    Trump has previously denounced the science that supports human-caused climate change, famously calling the idea a Chinese hoax on Twitter. He also pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord this year, which includes commitments from more than 190 countries to limit global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades.

    Tracey Ramsey, the NDP’s trade critic in Ottawa, said “it’s promising” that the Liberal government has made labour and environmental standards a priority for a new NAFTA, but added that she thinks any measures to improve them need to be enforceable.

    “It’s not enough to say, ‘We respect this,’ ” she said. “The language has to be extremely clear and explicit, and it has to be enforceable.”

    Aside from its “progressive” goals in the renegotiation, Canada has indicated that it wants to protect NAFTA’s dispute resolution mechanisms, cut down on red tape and make cross-border travel easier for business professionals.

    Looking ahead to the second round of talks, Canadian officials are expected to return to Ottawa and update various stakeholders on how the negotiations are going. Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview on the weekend that he expects to get a briefing from government officials on Wednesday.

    Dawson said the typical next phase will be for negotiators to use the information gathered in the first round to reconsider certain positions and potentially revise them in pursuit of a deal.

    “It’s still very, very early days,” she added.

    Lawrence Herman, a trade negotiation expert and fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute in Toronto, predicted in an email that more details of what is being negotiated will come out now that the closed-door talks in Washington have wrapped up.

    “Since Washington is the leakiest ship on the seas, these texts will rapidly find their way into the public domain. There are no secrets kept for long at either end of Pennsylvania Ave.,” he said.

    “This is going to make these negotiations exceedingly difficult for all governments to manage.”


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    CHICAGO—The weekend at Wrigley Field was surely memorable for the thousands of fans that made the trek from the Great White North to the great North Side. On the field the Blue Jays may have been swept in three games, but they battled to the end, including an agonizing 6-5 extra-innings loss on Sunday.

    Roberto Osuna struck out two batters in the 10th inning and both reached base, one on a wild pitch and one on a brain cramp by catcher Raffy Lopez who corralled the ball but forgot to throw down to first base for the out with the tying run perched on third. The Cubs scored three times against Osuna to complete the sweep.

    The Cubs’ winning rally included two hits, one of them a two-run single by Justin Heyward, a walk, a hit batter and two strikeouts that resulted in baserunners. The biggest of the mistakes was failure by Lopez to execute the throw to first base that would have been the second out and given the Jays a chance to escape.

    “It was definitely a tough inning,” Lopez understated. “A block has to be made and I just have to make a better throw to first, with the guy on third after I checked him. I was checking the runner and just made a bad throw and had to adjust my feet. I didn’t get my body in the best position to turn and throw to first.”

    The Jays had taken the lead in the top of the 10th. With runners on first and second against Koji Uehara, Kevin Pillar ripped an opposite field single scoring shortstop Josh Donaldson, who slid head-first around the tag of Alex Avila. It was Pillar’s sixth hit of the series. Outfielder Nori Aoki walked with the bases loaded for an add-on run that ended up not mattering.

    For Pillar, it was a great game and a great weekend from a personal standpoint, tempered by the fact his team was swept. The acrobatic centre fielder collected six hits in three games including the go-ahead RBI on Sunday, plus he made a highlight catch in the seventh inning on a dead sprint into the brick wall to haul in a drive by Kris Bryant. It was one for the ages.

    “It was just an amazing weekend for me, personally, being able to go out there and play the way I feel like I should play every day,” Pillar said. “And to be able to do it in front of a lot of fans that travelled a long way and in front of my family that made the trip out here is something I’ll always remember.”

    Jays starter Marco Estrada continued his game of Catch-22. He wants to stay with the Jays and he wants to pitch well. But the better he pitches, the more likely he will be moved in a trade before the end of August to a team like the Astros that missed the non-waiver trade boat.

    As has happened to Estrada more often than he would like to count, it all came down to one crumbly inning Sunday for the 34-year-old free agent-to-be.

    Estrada waved the trainer back to the dugout, but hit Jon Jay with a pitch and threw wide on a bunt by Kyle Hendricks to load the bases. Albert Almora Jr. doubled past third baseman Jose Bautista, who was even with the bag, to clear the bases.

    If Bautista had been positioned four steps deeper, he may have been able to start a double play. Instead, Estrada trailed 3-0 with just one ball out of the infield.

    The bottom line for Estrada on Sunday is that, with another quality start, his fourth in his last five outings, he again pitched well enough to win the game, well enough to stay with the Jays and well enough to be traded. He allowed three runs and five hits in six innings, with a walk and four strikeouts.

    The Jays’ offence, meanwhile, hung around and clawed back to tie the game in the sixth inning.

    Justin Smoak led off the fourth with a double and Jose Bautista singled to centre field. Smoak delayed to make sure the ball landed but third-base coach Luis Rivera surprised the Cubs by waving him home. Anthony Rizzo was late arriving at the cutoff position and when he turned with time to throw Smoak out at the plate he slipped and went down as if shot by a sniper.

    In the fifth inning, Nori Aoki doubled leading off. Estrada took a strike with Rizzo charging hard for the bunt. Estrada then faked a bunt and slapped a grounder to Javy Baez who flipped to third, but Aoki slid in safely. An Ezequiel Carrera double-play grounder scored Aoki.

    In the sixth, catcher Miguel Montero proved that, actually, you can go home again, slamming a solo homer deep into the left-centre field bleachers to tie the game. It was his second homer with the Jays. Montero, a World Series Game 7 hero for the Cubs a year ago, had been designated for assignment after he criticized some of his own pitchers for not holding runners on base.


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    Clouds may also be in the skies when you try to catch the solar eclipse on Monday, and in fact, they may outright block your view.

    Environment Canada is forecasting a 30 percent chance of showers so when the moon partially blocks the sun— which is expected to peak at 2:22 p.m. — your view may also be obscured by cloud clover, says senior climatologist Dave Phillips.

    Monday is expected to be the warmest day of August. It will be hot and humid with a high of 28 C, feeling closer to 33 C. The heat will continue on Tuesday with an expected high of 29 C but a 70 per cent chance of showers may affect that.

    Read more:Where to watch the eclipse in the Toronto area

    There is more bad news. You may want to carry a sweater with you for the rest of the week. Temperatures will leave it feeling more like fall rather than summer, says Phillips.

    Expect temperatures in the low-20s on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, which will drop as low as 9 C in the evenings.

    “The temperatures are cool and pleasant, but these are temperatures that are about three degrees cooler than normal,” says Phillips.

    The reality is this: fall is not that far away.

    “I wouldn't write the obituary on summer-like weather,” he says. “But we know that the days are getting shorter and that we are exactly one month from the beginning of fall … There is no frost (in the forecast), but you may need to grab a sweater at night because temperatures can reach single digits.”

    With files from Bryann Aguilar


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    Police have identified the woman whose body was found in a park near Jane and Finch Saturday.

    Toronto police Const. David Hopkinson said police rushed to Derrydowns Park near Jane St. and Finch Ave. W. at around 12:45 p.m. after a report that a person was in the water.

    Police said the woman was pronounced dead on scene after she was pulled out of the water without vital signs.

    The victim has been identified as Virgil Jack, 31, of Toronto. She lived near the area where her body was found. Signs of trauma were found on her body.

    Toronto police homicide Det. Sgt. Terry Browne told reporters on scene Sunday an initial examination revealed Jack was stabbed multiple times.

    “Whoever did this to Ms. Jack, this was a very violent act,” said Browne.

    Police said Jack was last seen at around 2:30 p.m. in the Jane and Finch area on Aug. 18.

    Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 416-808-7400, Crime Stoppers anonymously.


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    Former Hells Angels enforcer Paris Christoforou was one of the targets of a failed murder attempt at Sherway Gardens last week, the Star has learned.

    Christoforou suffered non-life threatening injuries after a gunman opened fire on him around 7:30 pm Wednesday evening outside a coffee shop at the shopping centre near The West Mall and Evans Ave.

    His longtime associate Mark Peretz was seriously injured in the shooting.

    Christoforou and Peretz made the news a dozen years ago when they were both sentenced to nine years in prison for a botched 2004 gangland murder attempt that paralyzed Louise Russo, an innocent bystander and mother-of-three, from the waist down.

    In the 2004 shooting, court heard they had been attempting to kill Sicilian mobster Michele Modica at a sandwich shop over an unpaid online gambling debt when Russo was shot by mistake.

    Police are probing whether the Sherway Gardens shootings are connected to another shooting this month when a 35-year-old man was seriously wounded while leaving a breakfast restaurant in Oakville.

    Police are investigating whether those murder attempts are connected to a dissolving business partnership involving a member of the London, Ont., Hells Angels charter.

    That relationship crumbled over allegations that the London, Ont. biker skimmed proceeds from an online gambling enterprise and invested the money in Muskoka real estate, without telling his partners.

    Sources also tell the Star this month’s two failed murder bids are the latest in a string of more than a dozen unsolved violent incidents this year in southern Ontario, centred around a struggle for drug trafficking and online gambling revenues.

    The online gambling business was once controlled by Montreal Mafia boss Vito Rizzuto, who died of natural causes in December 2013.

    There are now more than a dozen violent unsolved underworld incidents this year from Woodbridge to Hamilton, including killings, explosions and arson.

    In the Oakville attack on Aug. 4, the 35-year-old man was shot around 9:30 am after he was approached by three men outside the Sunset Grill breakfast restaurant in a shopping plaza at Cornwall and Trafalgar Rds.

    A man from Montreal was arrested nearby while two other men are still being sought by police after fleeing in a black pickup truck.

    When Christoforou was sentenced for the Russo shooting, court heard that he had a criminal record that spanned more than a decade and included four previous assault convictions.

    At the time of the Russo shooting, he was bound by two prohibition orders and was on probation.

    Court heard that Christoforou was Peretz’s “partner and head of collections” at the time of the 2004 murder attempt.


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