Articles on this Page
- 09/09/17--15:44: _Basketball fans clo...
- 09/09/17--15:22: _Man, 52, second wor...
- 09/09/17--09:00: _Minnan-Wong discove...
- 09/08/17--13:00: _One year after this...
- 09/09/17--12:56: _Ontario man describ...
- 09/09/17--22:22: _Off-duty Peel polic...
- 09/09/17--14:30: _How to find a celeb...
- 09/10/17--04:00: _New book on Canadia...
- 09/10/17--03:00: _A Canadian is poise...
- 09/10/17--03:00: _How Melvin Mingo pu...
- 09/10/17--04:24: _‘Pray for everybody...
- 09/10/17--10:01: _Hamilton church aim...
- 09/10/17--12:27: _The story of NAFTA,...
- 09/10/17--14:47: _Ottawa signals it w...
- 09/10/17--15:08: _Motorcyclist in cri...
- 09/10/17--16:27: _Customer service a ...
- 09/10/17--16:27: _Toronto has big cha...
- 09/10/17--16:23: _‘Gas plants’ comput...
- 09/10/17--19:36: _Caroline Mulroney n...
- 09/10/17--18:40: _Lack of help from O...
- An Ajax couple stranded in St. Maarten said their hotel looks like a “war zone” and are pleading for a flight out on Sunday — if Hurricane Jose doesn’t block their way.
- In the gated Tampa community where Toronto expatriates Andy and Kay Walker live, neighbours left en masse Saturday morning when weather reports showed the shifting hurricane was headed in their direction.
- Canadian expat George Alexakis has decided to stay calm. He’s lived through a few comparatively gentle hurricanes since moving from Etobicoke to inland Florida in the mid-1990s, but even with the power behind Irma, Alexakis isn’t leaving. His Fort Myers house is on elevated ground, far from the beach, which means it won’t be affected by storm surges, he said.
- 09/09/17--22:22: Off-duty Peel police officer, passenger killed in Mississauga crash
- 09/09/17--14:30: How to find a celebrity at the Toronto International Film Festival
- 09/10/17--03:00: How Melvin Mingo pulled off one of Canada’s biggest bank heists
- 09/10/17--16:27: Customer service a new concept for Canada’s Immigration Department
- 09/10/17--16:27: Toronto has big challenges landing new Amazon HQ, author says
- 09/10/17--16:23: ‘Gas plants’ computer trial set to begin for former McGuinty aides
- 09/10/17--18:40: Lack of help from Ottawa riles Canadians stuck in Caribbean
During the Saturday premiere of The Carter Effect, the Princess of Wales Theatre welcomed rap royalty and sovereigns of sport— with thousands swarming the street to see the likes of LeBron James, Drake and Chris Bosh.
Drake fans were met with bitter disappointment when the rapper, an executive producer on the film, arrived late and hurried from his car into the theatre without indulging the crowd. “Come back here!” disgruntled admirers yelled. One used the star’s lyrics against him: “We started from the bottom, now we’re here!”
But, for sports fans, The Carter Effect premiere was a window into the otherwise artistically inclined Toronto International Film Festival — as well as a moment to celebrate their city, and one man’s legacy on the Raptors.
“Toronto basketball started with Vince Carter. It really blew up with Vince Carter,” said Gerome Lacambra, who arrived hours early to stand in line. He credited Carter’s legacy with kick-starting his own love of the sport.
Carter — an eight-time NBA All-Star about to start his 20th season in the league — is the focal point of director Sean Menard’s latest documentary. After joining the Raptors in 1998, his thrilling rise to notoriety, as he became known among basketball fans worldwide for his spectacular leaps and dunks, brought the city of Toronto along for the ride.
“The Toronto Raptors are the only Canadian basketball team,” Keith Bisnauth explained from his space beside the rail, which held back the crowds. “And I think without Vince Carter, they would have been sort of phased out. Like the Vancouver Grizzlies.”
Bisnauth’s friend Rohit Kumar joked that Saturday may be the only time you’d see the team’s old deep purple Carter jerseys worn in Toronto without “X’s on them that say traitor.” (Though he got his start on the Raptors, Carter was traded in 2004 amid controversy, and will play this year for the Sacramento Kings.)
Saturday’s gathering might be the first one in a long while where “Toronto people are actually cheering for him,” Kumar said. “It’s like a dream come true. I’m coming downtown, to watch Vince Carter, as a Raptor.”
(The day wasn’t a dream for everyone, though. Through a milling crowd of thousands, some pedestrians trying to move along King St. weren’t shy about expressing their frustration about the mob of fans bumping against them.)
Both Bisnauth and Kumar scored tickets to the film early on Saturday morning after having no such luck finding a pair in the preceding days. Their friend Eric Heritage, an avid TIFF-goer, advised that they should go early to the rush line.
When the director walked out and saw them standing in their jerseys, so the story goes, he gave the pair of pals two tickets for the screening.
Luke Timmons, 15, was yet another first-timer at the fest drawn in by a love of basketball. His sister, 17-year-old Josilin, is a big movie fan and as an argument-avoiding compromise, their mom Catherine took the pair with a friend to Saturday’s premiere.
But not all the basketball lovers in the crowd were new to TIFF. Jayson Deleos, who came to Canada from the Philippines in 2010, has been to the festival with his wife every year since 2011 — but this year was special.
“During the early 2000s, (Carter) was very big in basketball and at that time, I was still young and playing,” Deleos remembered.
“Back home in the Philippines, basketball is very big,” he said. “And Toronto became famous to the Philippines because of Carter.”
A worker killed at a construction site Friday is Toronto’s second elevator-related fatality in the last two weeks.
Sean McCormick, manager of the International Union of Elevator Constructors, Local 50, confirmed by Twitter that Tim DesGrosseilliers died Friday afternoon.
The deadly incident happened on the construction site for the University of Toronto’s new Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the downtown St. George Campus.
DesGrosseilliers, 52, was killed after being pinned by a piece of falling equipment while he was working in the elevator shaft, Toronto police said. A second worker was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
The university’s online news site published a notice saying the general contractor is working with the Ministry of Labour.
“This is something we never want to see happen on our campuses and our deepest sympathies go out to those affected,” said Scott Mabury, vice-president of operations at the university, according to the website.
“We are working with the ministry and the general contractor to determine the series of events that led to the accident.”
On Aug. 25, Grant Davidson, 55, was pronounced dead on scene after an industrial accident involving an elevator.
Paramedics said Davidson was working on the elevator when a “mishap” occurred near St. Clair Ave. and Oriole Rd. just after 11 a.m. and that the coroner’s office had been notified.
With files from Moira Welsh
With files from Moira Welsh
I’m not an expert on the origin of phrases or etymology — so rather than write about a particular controversy at Toronto City Hall revolving around the meaning of a seemingly sexist phrase, Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong might tell me I should “stick to my knitting.”
Or maybe he’d put it differently, after the week he’s had.
Minnan-Wong was quoted last week saying he hoped that the next chief planner of the city would “stick to the knitting” rather than wading into public debates on social media.
The phrase typically means something similar to “mind your own business,” “tend your own garden” or “stay in your lane.”
Some people took exception to his choice of words — in particular, saying that it was a sexist phrase, given that knitting is traditionally considered a feminine activity. Among them was the obvious target of his criticism, outgoing chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat.
“He might as well have told me to go back to the kitchen,” Keesmaat said on Thursday morning in an interview on CBC radio. “I think it’s a deeply offensive comment.”
She wasn’t alone in that interpretation, with councillors Mary-Margaret McMahon, Mike Layton and Joe Cressy publicly joining her in hearing it as a variation of “stick to women’s stuff” — perhaps a folksier version of the internet-misogynist favourite “make me a sandwich.”
After the outcry that bubbled up, Mayor John Tory called the comment inappropriate.
Minnan-Wong said his words had been taken out of context. “However, I unreservedly apologize to Ms. Keesmaat or anyone else who may have taken offence.”
But his claim that he didn’t intend it as a gendered comment — he also used the phrase publicly in 2012 in regards to a man, then-chief medical officer of health Dr. David McKeown, for example — has plenty of defenders. The same defence is brought out every year or two when a similar controversy erupts here or elsewhere over the use and interpretation of the phrase, as a quick Google search shows.
They point out that the phrase is in fairly common use in the business and startup community, most often employed not as an insult to others but as a piece of advice or even a self-applied mantra. Executives and entrepreneurs tend to use the phrase as a warning to themselves not to be distracted or to overly diversify their businesses — in this context saying “we should stick to our knitting” as a synonym for “let’s keep our eyes on the prize.”
It was likely most popularized in that way because of the widely read 1982 management book In Search of Excellence, by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr., which has an entire chapter entitled “Stick to the Knitting,” a principle the authors say is one of eight themes common to successful companies.
But the use of the phrase in this way seems to stretch back almost a century. In an online language and usage forum at the website StackExchange.com, a user named Sven Yargs cited published examples of the phrase and variations of it in books stretching back to the late 1800s.
For example, in 1898, he finds the book The Pharmaceutical EraThe Pharmaceutical Era, advising advertisers not to put the Spanish-American War into their ads: “As much as we admire the drum major, we should remember that there is the quartermaster somewhere in the rear, who in the din and glory of battle, must remain unrattled and calmly figure out problems of bean rations and army mules. He must attend strictly to business, and the advertiser must do the same. There is a homely old injunction, which originated in our homespun days, which the advertiser might recall. It is this: ‘Stick to your knitting.’ ”
Similar examples are found around the same time and in the decades that follow. Yargs cites another typical example from 1918’s proceedings of the National Safety Council: “My advice to all men is to stick to your knitting and take care of your committees.”
Interestingly, Yargs finds that a much earlier, similar phrase, “attend to your knitting,” has an unmistakably gendered meaning — offered as stunningly demeaning advice to wives tempted to offer advice to their husbands in an 1839 issue of Evangelical MagazineEvangelical Magazine: “Your mind is too feeble, your discernment too contracted, your general ignorance vastly too great to become my adviser! — attend to your knitting and sewing, look after the cooking, take care of the children — for these are all the subjects which you have ability to comprehend!”
This meaning appears to be what Keesmaat and others understood Minnan-Wong to mean when he spoke recently. The other meaning, the one men in business often apply to themselves, is what Minnan-Wong claims to have intended.
I don’t see a reason to doubt him, necessarily. In my research and conversations about this, the world seems to be divided into people unfamiliar with the phrase who think it is obviously sexist upon hearing it and those who are very familiar with the phrase and are astonished to learn anyone would think it is sexist.
But that divide points to a good reason Minnan-Wong and others may want to retire it from their rhetorical arsenals — especially if they are using it as an insult.
An analogy or expression of speech is only useful if it helps you to make your point more clearly and elegantly. If half of your audience takes you to mean something different, and far more offensive, than you intend, then your turn of phrase is hurting rather than helping your cause.
And if you need to spend hours explaining the meaning and history of a term in your own defence, you have lost any semblance of elegance or clarity, and you have missed the chance to make your point.
You could say your yarn spins out of control. Or that you lose your needle in a haystack. Or that your stitches get twisted.
Or you could just stick to your . . . uh, area of expertise.
One year after the workplace accident that killed his sister-in-law, what Alusine Jabbi remembers most about the day she died is his confusion.
Where is Amina?
Why can’t anyone tell me what happened?
Why is everyone still working?
It was Sept. 2, 2016 when Jabbi rushed to Fiera Foods’ factory on Marmora St., near the intersection of Highway 400 and the 401. He had just received a call from a friend who worked at the factory telling him that his brother’s wife, Amina Diaby, had been in a serious accident.
Jabbi, who has been in Canada five years longer than his brother and is more fluent in English, was listed as his sister-in-law’s emergency contact.
Just a couple hours earlier he had dropped Diaby off for her afternoon shift at the industrial bakery, which mass-produces bagels, croissants and pastries for major grocery stores and fast-food chains around the world.
A 23-year-old refugee from Guinea, Diaby was hired through a temp agency and had been working at Fiera Foods for just two weeks. It was her first job in Canada. She was hoping to save money for nursing school.
When Jabbi arrived at the factory, frantic, he says he was met with blank stares from other workers and vague instructions to head to the nearest hospital. He was surprised that the factory was still buzzing with production. Trucks were being loaded as if nothing had happened. It seemed to Jabbi like it was business as usual.
At the time, this comforted him.
“I was thinking, ‘You know what, she’s OK because this is Canada,” he said in a recent interview with the Star. “If somebody dies at a job site or something really bad happens, they would stop.”
Diaby was already dead. She was strangled when her hijab was pulled into a machine as she worked on an assembly line near a conveyor belt.
Jabbi got the call from the doctor while he was on the way to the hospital. “I almost crashed my car,” he says.
In response to Diaby’s death, the Ministry of Labour investigated the accident and slapped Fiera Foods with 38 orders for health and safety violations. They included two “stop-work” orders — indicating a hazard so great that production must cease immediately — for a conveyor belt that did not have an emergency stop button and also lacked “adequate guarding” to prevent things from being caught in machinery.
Fiera Foods complied with the orders. Last month, the Ministry of Labour charged the company and one of its supervisors under the Occupational Health and Safety Act specifically for the lack of guarding and for failing to ensure loose clothing was not worn near a “source of entanglement.”
The first court appearance is next Thursday.
If found guilty, an individual can be fined up to $25,000 and face as much as a year in jail; while a corporation can be fined up to $500,000.
Toronto police are also investigating the year-old incident. To date, no charges have been laid.
Fiera Foods owners, Boris Serebryany and Alex Garber, refused to be interviewed for this story. The company’s lawyer and human resources manager, David Gelbloom, did respond to some of the Star’s questions in writing.
“Fiera believes it took adequate measures to protect Ms. Diaby,” he writes. Gelbloom refused to comment further due to the pending trial for the Ministry of Labour charges.
Jabbi says he doesn’t have the words to express how his sister-in-law’s death has affected his family.
Outgoing and talkative, Diaby made instant connections with the people she met, he says.
“If you’re in a room with Amina you’re going to be laughing, whether you like it or not.”
She arrived in Canada in 2012 after fleeing a forced marriage in Guinea. She met Alusine’s brother, Sanunu Jabbi, himself a refugee from Sierra Leone, through a family connection in Toronto’s West African community. They were married that same year.
Even before she could speak English, Diaby would somehow strike up animated conversations with storekeepers and strangers on the street, Alusine Jabbi says. “She was always talking.”
She was beloved by her niece and three nephews, and she enjoyed going out to eat at the Mandarin Chinese food buffet. She earned the nickname “Aunty Amina” for how she mothered everyone. “Amina was something else.”
Jabbi said he is pleased someone at Fiera will have to account for what happened, even if only to the Ministry of Labour. But he and his brother have been frustrated by the lack of information provided by all authorities involved.
After initially meeting with ministry officials, the family says they heard nothing for almost a year. Meanwhile, no representative of Fiera Foods has ever contacted them, not even to express condolences, they said.
“They don’t care,” Jabbi said. “I don’t even think they think we exist.”
In his letter to the Star, Gelbloom did not address a question asking why the company has not contacted Diaby’s family.
The Star asked Jabbi what he would say if he had the opportunity to address Serebryany and Garber. “I would just like to ask them if they care about human life,” he said. “Somebody died in your job site, you know?”
Diaby was not technically a Fiera Foods employee, despite working inside their factory. Like many of the low-wage workers who pinch and form raw pastry dough on Fiera’s assembly lines, Diaby was employed by a temp agency.
Fiera says it uses temp agency workers to meet fluctuating demands, but critics say, for many companies, it is a simple cost-cutting strategy. Temp workers are often paid less than permanent employees, and also save companies money on workers’ compensation insurance premiums. If a temp is injured on the job, their agency, not the workplace where they were actually hurt, is liable at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
Across the province, the nature of temp agency work is changing. Once associated with casual office jobs, the majority of temps are now working in other sectors, such as manufacturing, construction, restaurants and driving, according to statistics obtained by the Star.
The data provided by the WSIB also show that non-clerical temp workers in particular were more than twice as likely to be injured on the job last year than their non-temp counterparts. The disparity in injury rates has been about the same for the last decade. This, research suggests, is partly due to temp workers being insufficiently trained and being assigned more dangerous work.
As part of a year-long investigation into the rise of temp work, the Star sent a reporter to work undercover at Fiera Foods for one month this summer.
Our reporter — who, like Diaby, was employed by a temp agency — received about five minutes of safety training and no hands-on instruction before stepping onto the factory floor.
Sanunu Jabbi, who struggles to speak about his wife without choking up, is adamant that she was not given enough training to safely do her job. He said he asked her after her first day at the factory if there was any safety orientation, as there was on his first day working at a construction site. “She said, ‘No,’” he told the Star.
In an initial written response to the Star — before Gelbloom took over communication on behalf of the company — Fiera Foods spokeswoman Ziggy Romick said Diaby’s training “included specific instructions about how to work safely around conveyor systems, the requirement to wear a lab coat at all times when working and not to wear loose clothing or jewelry.”
Romick said Diaby was “instructed to stand on a work platform beside a conveyor to monitor progress of dough moving along the conveyor.”
She said the conveyor motor and drive shaft were “appropriately guarded” and the accident occurred “when Ms. Diaby left her work platform and moved along the conveyor where it appears she leaned over. She had removed her lab coat without permission, which is against our policy about loose clothing, and was wearing a hijab. Her hijab became entangled in a machine guard on the adjacent conveyor.”
Romick concluded her email to the Star by calling for “clarity and guidance” from government in the “unchartered waters” of religious accommodation.
Under Ontario human rights law, companies must accommodate workers’ religious clothing as long as it doesn’t cause “undue hardship.” An increased safety risk would constitute an “undue hardship,” because companies are obligated to protect workers from injury, according to the law. If Fiera Foods believed Diaby’s hijab presented a health and safety risk for the job she was doing, they would be required to assign her a different task; or, if none was available, not hired her in the first place.
Diaby was hired through OLA Staffing, a temp agency based in Woodbridge. Geetha Thushyanthan, who runs the agency, declined to be interviewed for this story. In a written statement, she said “OLA Staffing takes our commitment to the health and safety of our employees very seriously and we provide our employees with appropriate workplace health and safety training.”
Thushyanthan refused to answer a follow-up question asking her to elaborate on the training the company provided.
The WSIB said they are still investigating OLA Staffing’s role in the death.
Diaby was neither the first death of a temp worker at one of Fiera’s factories, nor was it the first time the company had been found to have insufficient protections for workers.
Documents obtained by the Star show recurring safety violations at Fiera’s factories going back nearly two decades. Since 1999, the company has been hit with 191 orders for health and safety violations, including multiple “stop-work” orders.
Fiera was also charged with a number of Occupational Health and Safety Act offences related to a lack of training in October 2015 and June 2016. Those charges have yet to be resolved.
“We acknowledge Fiera has had Ministry of Labour orders, including stop-work orders,” Gelbloom writes in his letter on behalf of the company. “In each and every situation, Fiera worked to address and resolve each order, and, as you know, there are no outstanding Ministry of Labour orders.”
Ministry records show inspectors had been at Fiera’s factory for a proactive inspection just two days before Diaby died. A ministry spokeswoman would not answer a question about whether the machine that caused Diaby’s death was part of that inspection.
Police can lay criminal charges against corporations following workplace injuries or deaths under Bill C-45, which is sometimes called the “Westray Bill” after the 1992 Nova Scotia coal-mining disaster. Prosecutions are rare, but the bill was intended to hold companies criminally liable if they are found to be negligent in protecting workers.
Toronto Police Det. Tim Thorne declined to discuss the case with the Star citing the fact it remains an open investigation.
Sanunu Jabbi, who is quiet through most of the family’s interviews with the Star, said he doesn’t think he will ever marry again. “It’s not easy to find a woman like her.”
His friends have suggested that he sue Fiera and the temp agency. He says he’s not interested, not now anyway. He just wants to move on.
But the accident that took Diaby’s life has forever altered the arc of his own.
He says he would like to return to Sierra Leone, but he can’t. He couldn’t afford to repatriate his wife’s body after she died and he won’t leave her behind.
“I don’t want to stay. But her body is here.”
WORKERS KILLED IN TWO EARLIER TRAGEDIES
Amina Diaby is the third temp agency worker to die at a factory owned by Fiera Foods or one of its affiliated companies since 1999.
In a written response to questions from the Star, the company said the deaths were “separate but significant tragedies” and that in each instance, it “worked quickly to comply” with ministry orders.
The first was Ivan Golyashov, who would have turned 35 this summer.
He was 17 when he started working at Fiera’s Norelco Dr. factory through a temp agency in the summer of 1999. When he resumed his high school classes at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute in Thorncliffe Park, Ivan continued to work at Fiera on weekends.
On Saturday, Sept. 25, he was assigned to clean a large mixer, a task he had never before performed nor received training for, according to a lawsuit filed by his family.
When Ivan was finished cleaning the mixer he asked his co-worker, who was also a temp, to open the door and let him out. The co-worker, who was also allegedly untrained, accidentally activated the machine.
Ivan was crushed to death.
The lawsuit filed by the teen’s family against Fiera accused the company of being negligent, not only for providing insufficient training, but also in how it failed to ensure machine controls were “locked out” while someone was inside.
The lawsuit was settled out of court and Fiera did not file a statement of defence. Golyashov’s mother, Marina, declined to comment when contacted by the Star earlier this year.
The lawsuit also alleged that Fiera did not inform the Golyashovs of their son’s death, and, in fact, initially denied it when they frantically called the factory looking for information. The teen’s father, Alexandr, had learned of his son’s death from a friend who also worked at the factory.
Fiera pleaded guilty to Ministry of Labour charges and was fined $150,000.
Police investigated, but laid no criminal charges.
“I’m satisfied this was just an accident,” Det. Ralph Ashford told the Star at the time. “If anything it was lack of training.”
The Golyashovs’ lawsuit also alleged that Temp Industrial, the temp agency that employed Ivan, tried to render itself “judgment proof” in the wake of his death by dissolving and “fraudulently” moving its assets to a different temp agency, Temporary Labour.
Speaking to a Star reporter the day after her son’s death, Marina Golyashov blamed herself.
“It’s my fault,” she said. “I let him work. Children shouldn’t work.”
The second death occurred nearly six years ago at Marmora Freezing Corp., one of Fiera’s affiliated partners, which operates a facility connected to Fiera’s main factory on Marmora St.
Aydin Kazimov, a 69-year-old security guard, died after he was hit by a car and then run over by a truck in the factory’s parking lot shortly after midnight, on Dec. 14, 2011. First, he was struck by a worker driving his car home after a 10-hour shift at the factory. An accident reconstruction expert later testified that Kazimov was injured, but likely still alive at this point. The driver, Marlon Layugan, initially fled the scene, but returned less than a minute later. In those intervening seconds Kazimov’s unconscious body was driven over by a reversing tractor trailer and subsequently dragged for several minutes.
Layugan was convicted of manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death and failing to stop. He was sentenced to six months in jail.
In an agreed statement of facts read aloud at his sentencing, Justice Julie Thorburn said: “Although employees had requested reflective gear from their employer, Fiera Food Company (sic) did not equip their security guards with reflective gear until after this incident.”
A Ministry of Labour investigation, obtained by the Star through a freedom of information request, found there was inadequate lighting, warning signs, and protective barriers to keep Kazimov safe.
Regarding the temp agency that employed Kazimov, VIV Vision Security, the investigation said the company had been incorporated since 2007 without ever registering with the Ministry of Labour, and that it provided services exclusively to Fiera Foods.
Of Fiera Foods, the investigation said the ministry had previously responded to “many critical injuries and many other injuries” at its factories between 1996 and 2011, and had already issued the company with around 90 health and safety orders, including 14 stop-work orders.
Marmora Freezing Corp. pleaded guilty to charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and was fined $150,000.
“With regard to the three separate tragedies that occurred at or near our facilities, we remain saddened,” Fiera’s lawyer and human resources manager, David Gelbloom, wrote in a letter to the Star in response to a number of questions. “Despite these tragedies, we believe that the health and safety of our workforce is our highest concern and we continue to strive for improvements.”
— Brendan Kennedy and Sara Mojtehedzadeh
Mabel Hunsberger was on the phone with her son when Hurricane Irma began to pummel the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“He was in the bathroom and we were communicating minute by minute,” said the Waterloo resident, recalling the sound of shutters banging and his concerned voice at the other end. “Then we lost contact.”
Four hours later, 39-year-old Jason Hunsberger texted via WhatsApp, “I’m alive . . . I am not injured. Love you both.”
In the time between their messages Wednesday, she said, her son witnessed the roof of his three-storey condo building being sheered off by powerful winds.
Hurricane Irma has been unmerciful: the Category 5 storm, which has since been downgraded, tore through the Caribbean islands, killing at least 22 people. And hurricane Jose is threatening a second blow.
The Star made contact with Hunsberger mid-afternoon Saturday after he called the newsroom but the service was so spotty it cut out five times.
“Car windows are blown out, hydro lines are all over the place,” said Hunsberger, a surf shop and charter service owner who has lived in St. Thomas for three years. “There’s been massive infrastructure damage. There are four dead dolphins on the beach.”
Hunsberger said he had to drill holes in the floor of his condo to let the floodwater drain.
“It wasn’t a thought process, it was survival. I’m not doing well. Our generators keep failing. We’re trying to transport water to our cisterns,” he said.
She said her son was determined to stay in St. Thomas to preserve his businesses, and assured her that his condo would be a haven.
“I did ask him to leave and offered to pay for his flight,” she said. “He truly felt he could stay safe. He’s very resourceful.”
Since Monday, there has been no word from Nina Deshane’s son, Kieron Gill. The Toronto-born man recently moved to the French-Dutch island of St. Martin/St. Maarten to join his wife and two children.
The island was ravaged by Irma; 11 are reported dead on St. Martin and St. Barts, four in the U.S. Virgin Islands, four in the British Virgin Islands and one each on Anguilla and Barbuda.
“I don’t know anything now,” Deshane said. “I haven’t heard anything. I’m just worried that they’re injured, no food, no water.”
Deshane said she feels overwhelmed and helpless.
“Unfortunately, now I can’t help. My son is very good in emergencies. Now, I’m just hoping he is able to look after his little family. My concern is the young children (ages 5 and 2).”
Meryl and Michael Moriarty —along with their friends in Canada — have been begging Canadian officials to help them leave the island after it was nearly levelled by Hurricane Irma. The couple said their hotel previously told them to leave but were able to get a room for Saturday night.
Meryl, who works for the Toronto Police department, sent an email to friends late Saturday. “We managed to talk our way into staying at the resort another night, so we’re OK again. We really do appreciate your efforts, we know it’s frustrating for you too and we hate having to have others fight our fights. Thank you so v much!,” she wrote.
“It’s like a war zone here, soldiers and police all over the resort (with very very) big guns! — 27 police officers sadly lost their homes so are staying at the resort in return for security. It’s comforting to have them here but wish it weren’t for that reason.”
If all goes well, she wrote, they will be on a plane out Sunday morning, possibly to another island or home. Despite repeated pleas from family and friends, the couple said they’ve “still had no contact” from Canadian officials.
“We were going to stay,” said Andy, “but we said, ‘Wait a minute, this eye is going to come cruising through pretty much our part of town.’ So the choice was, no electricity, no water — we decided to head out and not know where we’re going to go.”
With their three-year-old son, Carter, and two dogs they drove north on the I-75. Traffic was slow — probably too slow to get a motel or Airbnb in Nashville, Tenn., as they had hoped. “Better to head out and not know where we’re going than to sit it out,” Andy Kay said.
“We’re in pretty good spirits. The only thing on our mind is, what’s going to happen to our house? We are very much aware that we might go back and not see much of our house again. That’s scary.”
The couple knew hurricanes were a possibility when they opted out of Toronto’s soaring real estate market in 2014 and bought a four-bedroom house in Tampa for $300,000. It backed onto a pond, with “skittish” alligators who have never posed a danger, he said. “The alligators are not the problem — the hurricanes are.”
“If it is, then Fort Myers is in big trouble,” said the 52-year-old university professor.
Still, Alexakis said friends started panicking Saturday when the storm began shifting. His next-door neighbour became extremely emotional, packed up her car and left. “You usually can’t outrun it,” he said.
Global Affairs Canada said it is closely monitoring the progress of Irma, as well as hurricane Jose, which is currently gearing up to hit the same region in the coming days.
Officials said they had received calls from about 222 Canadians across numerous Caribbean islands requesting consular help, adding that number is expected to rise as Irma reaches Florida.
Disaster assessment teams are poised for deployment if necessary, they added.
“There are many Canadians in hurricane Irma’s path, and our teams are doing their best to ensure that we get in contact and help everyone as necessary,” Global Affairs Parliamentary Secretary Omar Alghabra said in a teleconference.
With files from Moira Welsh and The Canadian Press
With files from Moira Welsh and The Canadian Press
An off-duty Peel police officer was one of two people killed early Saturday morning when the car he was driving was involved in a single vehicle crash in Mississauga, police said.
Peel police confirmed that the officer, who was driving the car, and one passenger, were pronounced dead at the scene just before 3 a.m. at the intersection of Avonhead Rd. and Lakeshore Rd.
Peel police Const. Rachel Gibbs confirmed one other passenger in the car was taken to hospital in serious condition following the crash.
“The flags will now fly at half-mast out of respect for our fallen friend,” said Peel Police Chief Jennifer Evans in a statement Saturday.
The Peel police said Toronto police would take over the investigation. Anyone with information is asked to contact investigators with Toronto Police Traffic Services at 416-808-1900.
If you stroll downtown along King Street this weekend, you’ll likely find yourself weaving around hordes of fans with cameras and stepstools hoping for an A-plus view of Hollywood A-listers. But getting that glimpse requires patience and stamina.
Is there a better way for the average fest-goers to find the stars? We were determined to find out.
“We hold each other’s spots for the washroom, for food,” said Mariah Smith, in town from St. Catharines, along with Helena Mirzoyan. They have made it an annual tradition to wake up at the crack of dawn and make their way into the fenced-off “fan zone” outside theatres before big premieres.
The two had been waiting in prime red carpet viewing position since 9 a.m. for Friday’s premiere of I, Tonyastarring Margot Robbie, who plays competitive ice skater Tonya Harding — more than 12 hours before showtime.
They weren’t lining up for the screening — they have no tickets to TIFF films — but only for the chance to get up close and personal with stars.
“I’m excited to see Sebastian Stan,” Smith says. “We’re hoping for a photo.”
Several years ago, Smith and Mirzoyan met and bonded doing what they loved: waiting, and waiting, and finally meeting celebrities. Now they’re friends who meet up annually to participate in stargazing.
“This is my sixth year,” Smith says. “I like movies, and I like the people in movies.”
But not everyone has their level of patience. So I set out with one mission: to get close to the boldface without the commitment of waiting endlessly by the red carpet.
How did that pan out? I wound up in the same room as Idris Elba, Jessica Chastain and Margot Robbie, and even traded backpacks with Ben Schwartz.
Most nightlife events are private, and even if you happen to catch a celebrity outside their ritzy hotel or at a restaurant in Yorkville, they’re likely being corralled by five security guards into their cars. So how exactly do you find them?
Thanks to a tip from a coworker, I went to a King West restaurant-turned-photo-studio guarded by security. I threw on my shades, held one phone to my ear, held another in my hand along with a Fiji water, and attempted to stroll past the security guards. The point was to appear busy and uninterested in the scene — and it worked!
As I made my way to the door, a private car stopped out front as a small crowd of fans swarmed and screamed “Margot Robbie! Margot Robbie!” Some were waving pens and photos hoping she’d stop for an autograph, but when she got out she was hastily escorted into the building.
Luckily, I had already passed the security point, so as she and her entourage entered the studio I was able to catch a photo of her just five metres from where I was standing.
Then, in the corner of my eye, I spotted comedian Ben Schwartz (I’m a big Parks and Recreation fan). I noticed he had the same backpack that was given to us at the gifting suites — for a previous story — mine was solid grey, while his was black with polka dots. After convincing him the grey one suited him better, he agreed to trade.
“This is what this festival is all about!” he said as we awkwardly squatted, tossing the contents of our old bags into our new ones.
Then, car after car pulled up to the curb. Idris Elba made his way into the studio, followed by his Molly’s Game co-star Jessica Chastain as they waved to the few dedicated fans who caught wind of the secretive event.
Other passerby who saw the crowd crossed the street and joined into the huddle, curious to see which stars were just steps away. But how did everyone else figure it out?
“I found out because my cousin works across the street,” 24-year-old Nolan Curry said, pointing up at a midrise commercial building. “I’ve been here almost all day.”
Curry says that it’s only his second time stargazing at TIFF, but the key is to “be patient and know where to go.”
“Some stars are heavily guarded by security, they just run and push everyone away,” he continues. “Saw Margot, but I couldn’t have gotten a photo. Everyone was swarming her.”
Despite missing out on the I, Tonya star, Curry’s day has been productive. His most prized photo from the event? A close-up selfie with Chastain.
“I really enjoy it, and I’ll probably be looking out for the rest of the festival,” Curry says.
So how do you find the stars? Be patient, have a game plan, listen for word of mouth (or have family members who work across the swanky venues on King). If you see a crowd — join it. Act like you don’t really want to be there. And, finally, bring a nice backpack for celebrity tradesies.
Self-deception has repeatedly served as a bedrock of cruelty.
It has transformed greed into gallant heroism, where invasion of lands is adventure, displacement of natives is about saving the savages, and theft and self-enrichment is ingenuity.
It has rationalized subjugation as the “natural order” of things. Women — at home; gays — in the closet; natives — in reserves; and Blacks — in farms or in ghettos.
And when there emerges an equal and opposite reaction — resistance that challenges that deception — it is met with denial (Brutal — us? No, we saved you!) and dismissal (You’re not qualified to speak on this) and demand (Can’t we just leave the past behind and get along?).
In this, I include groups around the world that have utilized cruelty to enforce domination.
Settler deception in Canada, however, is unique in the euphemism it employs.
A new, painstakingly researched book debunks the myth of Canadian white benevolence and draws a straight line between past state-sanctioned injustices and current tensions.
In Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present, Black feminist, activist-writer Robyn Maynard analyzes the work of dozens of scholars to pierce through centuries of deception and offer us a bold, unblinking — and frankly, shocking — rebuttal to the widespread sentiment that “we’re not as bad as the U.S.”
The book weaves in Indigenous experiences and addresses how racial violence specifically impacted Black women. It is written for academics and lay people alike.
“One of the things that prompted me to write it is that working in Black communities, growing up Black in Canada, there was so much history of anti-Black racism that even I was not aware of for much of my life,” Maynard told me.
“People would experience anti-Black racism, but it was so negated by non-Black people around them. Their experience was seen as exaggerated or treated with disbelief. A lot of that disbelief stems from the broader disbelief that anti-Black racism has been in place for 400 years.”
Just as “climatic unsuitability” was long used to disguise the racist motivations behind demographic selections, Maynard writes, so was a desire to avoid the “Negro problem” that existed in the United States.
Irony alert! Canadians believed the best way to keep racism out of the country was to keep Black people out altogether.
“It was in the interest of coloured people themselves not to encourage their settlement in this country,” Maynard cites William D. Scott, a superintendent of immigration from 1903 to 1924. In private correspondence, though, he doesn’t hold back. “Africans, no matter where they come from, are not among the races sought.”
This, although slavery was practised in Canada for more than 200 years.
This, although 4,000 enslaved Indigenous and Black people helped build infrastructure and wealth for white settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries.
While the absence of plantations meant there were fewer enslaved Black people, leaving them acutely isolated, white settler society here was not benign. It brutalized them physically and psychologically. Black women would be beaten, sexually abused, used for “breeding” and have their children torn from them.
“The inferiority ascribed to Blackness in this era would affect the treatment of Black persons living in Canada for centuries to come,” Maynard writes.
Maynard also exposes the hollowness of the claim that Canada was a sanctuary for runaway slaves from the U.S. and for “Black Loyalists.” Few freed Black people to whom the British promised land and equality if they fought on the British side of the 1775-1783 conflict received that promised land. Those who did were given land that was known to be infertile. Instead, Black people were forced to become cheap labour for white farmers and domestic help in white homes.
On the other hand, in the early 20th century whites from Europe were promised and given 160 acres of free farmland.
White landowners refused to lease or sell land to those with African features well into the 20th century. “In 1959, over 60 per cent of landlords surveyed (in Toronto) said they would not be comfortable renting to Blacks,” Maynard writes.
This is the face of structurally enforced impoverishment.
It continues with segregation of schools, the last of which closed in Canada in 1983. Segregated Black schools were underfunded and even abandoned by governments. Many children studied in dilapidated unheated buildings, Maynard says, taught by poorly trained teachers.
This is the face of structurally built inequality.
Perhaps knowing this will give pause to those among us who say things like, “These people are poor because they’re lazy.”
Since 1444, the year that Maynard says marked the beginning of the global devaluation of Black bodies, when European raiders captured and chained Africans into ships, “rebellion was so ‘incessant’ that they were chained right hand to right leg, left hand to left leg.” This also marked the beginning of the institutionalized belief that Black movement needed to be surveilled and contained.
In the 1920s in Canada, Black presence in public spaces continued to be restricted, in some places with “sundown laws,” or curfews imposed on Black people to be indoors by a certain time in the evening.
“The fact is this is ongoing,” Maynard told me. “Look at how we devalue Black people’s lives.”
The 2016 case of a six-year-old Black Grade 1 student, in a Mississauga school, written about in the Star and detailed in the book, marks the continuing containment of Black bodies.
The child was handcuffed by attaching her hands and feet together at the wrists and ankles for apparently acting in a violent manner.
Peel police deemed this containment necessary in the interest of safety of the 48-pound, unarmed child who was considered that dangerous even in the presence of school officials and two policemen.
This, too, is the face of state-sanctioned racial violence.
Maynard’s investment of emotional labour situates her book in continuing Black resistance to this violence.
Supremacist values were foundational for the creation of white wealth.
This does not mean all whites are supremacist. Nor does it mean all whites are wealthy.
But perhaps it will help clarify what people mean when they say racial violence benefits all white people.
Shree Paradkar writes on discrimination and identity. You can follow her @shreeparadkar
After 30 years on the loftiest uplands of Canadian intellectual life, Stephen Toope still has the capacity — as all great teachers and most happy human beings do — for awe and wonder.
And in his case, there’s a lot to be awed about.
On Oct. 2, the legal scholar from the Munk School of Global Affairs at U of T will be installed as vice-chancellor at Cambridge University. He will be the 346th person to hold the post since the school’s founding more than 800 years ago, and the first non-Briton.
“As a West Island boy from Montreal, I feel extraordinarily privileged,” Toope, 59, said in an interview as he prepared for the move from Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood to one of the world’s most prestigious academic institutions.
He said that, while he packed, he pictured Isaac Newton at Cambridge (where he had a famously inspirational encounter with a falling apple in the 17th century and discovered gravity). He has imagined the roster of geniuses to pass through before and since. And he has had to remind himself, from time to time, that “it’s not utterly crazy that I’m going there.”
While the Cambridge chancellor is a ceremonial post, the vice-chancellor is the main administrative and academic officer of the university and de facto head, nominated by the University Council and approved by the school’s Regent House to a non-renewable seven-year term.
Before choosing him, Cambridge conducted an international search led by Ian White, master of Jesus College, who said Toope “has impeccable academic credentials, a longstanding involvement with higher education, strong leadership experience and an excellent research background.”
Toope, who earned his doctorate at Cambridge in 1987, said he wasn’t even aware a search was on for a new vice-chancellor at his alma mater when he received a call from headhunters.
“It was really quite . . . stunning,” he said, pausing, uncharacteristically, to search for a word.
“I was surprised and honoured even to be considered.”
Even so, the timing wasn’t ideal.
He was only two years into an appointment as director of the Munk School, after eight years running the University of British Columbia, where he landed after serving as dean of law at McGill.
Toope had planned on spending the “next five, 10 years, whatever” at Munk, he said, especially after his wife and three children — now in their 20s and pursuing their own studies — had already suffered uprooting for the sake of his career.
“But,” he said, smiling. “It’s very hard to say no to a place like Cambridge.”
When Stephen Toope was named president of UBC in 2006, Justice Rosalie Abella of the Supreme Court of Canada called him “brilliant, humane, considerate and fearless.”
UBC, she said, “should be electrified.”
Electrifying is not a notion that usually leaps to mind when discussing scholars. And it would be easy to suspect Abella of some hyperbole. Except that similar admiration of Toope’s talents and virtues seem to come from just about anyone who’s crossed his path.
“He sparkles,” Paul Davidson, a friend of more than 25 years and president of Universities Canada, told the Star.
“He’s gritty and grounded. He’s authentic and genuine. He is very much a 21st-century academic leader,” Davidson said. “He’s as comfortable with refugees as he is with royalty.”
Toope earned an undergraduate degree in literature and history from Harvard, degrees from McGill in common and civil law while editing the McGill Law Journal, and a PhD from Cambridge.
After articling with then chief justice Brian Dickson at the Supreme Court of Canada, he taught law at McGill, before becoming the faculty’s youngest ever dean at age 34.
As a scholar, Toope has specialized in human rights, international dispute resolution, international environmental law and the use of force. He has published articles and books on change in international law and the origins of international obligation.
He was research director of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1991, has been president of the Canadian Council on International Law, served as an observer in the first free elections in South Africa in 1994, and was founding president of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, a non-partisan scholarship institute focusing on the former prime minister’s interests of social justice and Indigenous issues.
From 2002 to 2007, he served on the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. As a result of that experience, he was asked to serve as an independent fact-finder for the federal O’Connor Inquiry into the torture in Syria of Canadian Maher Arar.
As such, Toope said he has experienced “life much closer to the ground than might be assumed,” with first-hand experience of injustice, cruelty, pain. In his investigations into the tortured and disappeared, “I’ve worked with people in rural parts of Africa, rural parts of Latin America, rural parts of Asia, Southeast Asia in particular, and had to deal with people who were really suffering.”
In addition, the Cambridge recruiters likely noticed traits that suggest a large heart and sense of humour as well as a big brain, what the Brits call an all-rounder.
Toope’s a good sport. At UBC, he once took up a student leader’s dare to join him as part of a fundraising effort in a duet of the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) in front of a packed theatre.
The episode revealed a becoming lack of pretention, along with his background as a boy soprano in church choirs and a fondness for the arts — shared by his wife, Paula Rosen, a singer-songwriter and speech pathologist who is able, Toope admits, to bring him back to terra firma should he get too serious or over-impressed by his own resumé.
“These days, when there’s so much emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, it’s nice to see somebody bring their whole selves to their academic work,” his friend Davidson said.
And for Stephen Toope, that “whole self” also includes a deeply traumatic experience.
In 1995, three youths — aged 13, 14 and 15, later said to be high on drugs — broke into a house in suburban Montreal, thinking it was empty and intending on an easy score.
Inside, retired Anglican Church minister Frank Toope, 75, and his wife Jocelyn, 70, were asleep in bed.
When the Toopes awoke to the noise of the intruders, they were bludgeoned to death.
The youths reportedly bragged the next day at school of their deeds. After their arrest and subsequent trial, the three were sentenced under the Young Offenders Act to a combined total of less than 15 years.
Toope was 37 and law dean at McGill when his adoptive parents were murdered. Twelve years later, he was invited to speak at graduation ceremonies in Montreal’s Dawson College — where, at the start of that academic year, a gunman had gone on a rampage, killing 18-year-old Anastasia De Sousa and injuring 20 others.
It was thought Toope might have something helpful to say to the students. He did.
“I had been raised in a loving family,” he told them. “I had been blessed with incredible educational opportunities. I had a great job as dean of law at McGill University, a wonderful wife, a lovely little daughter and a son who had just arrived.”
But on that day in 1995, three “teenage boys, who had no real motive, who had killed for fun,” tore his world apart.
There’s no single way to react to such things, he said. “I can only tell you how I reacted.
“I said no. No, you pathetic boys are not going to destroy the memory of my parents, who lived rich and gentle lives. No, you are not going to define my existence or that of my family. No, you will not turn me into a fearful person. No, you will not teach me to hate.”
And they didn’t.
As he looked back on that speech during an interview with the Star, Toope uses a word he often does. He considered it a “privilege” to speak to those students.
“It was a difficult moment,” he said. “But I have actually been through something that may be of relevance to these kids, who had to experience something that no students should ever have to experience.”
As Paul Davidson sees it, the United Kingdom, possibly the world, is having something of a “Canada moment.”
When Toope arrives in the U.K., he will find Canadians as governor of the Bank of England, chief executive of the Royal Mail, and the U.K.’s Information Commissioner.
And Toope’s appointment is another “example of the pretty darn impressive talent” this country has to share, Davidson said.
Not, of course, that there isn’t heavy lifting ahead.
Last year, for the first time, Cambridge did not place in the top three in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, which started in 2004. In the 2016-17 list out this week, it placed fourth.
“It means Cambridge has to look at itself and see whether it’s doing as good a job as it can,” he has said.
Not least of Toope’s challenges will be the ramifications for the university sector — at an institution that draws significant research revenue from the European Union — of Brexit.
There have been concerns about a Brexit brain drain as European academics leave British universities and fears over impacts on funding, enrolment, exchange programs, teaching quality and research collaboration. It’s been estimated that European students accounted for more than 5 per cent of British university enrolment, contributing ₤3.7 billion to the U.K. economy and providing more than 30,000 jobs.
“I think they were very open to someone from outside the United Kingdom, partly because of the Brexit phenomenon, and their wanting to continue to send messages of openness,” Toope has said.
It also can’t have hurt his chances that his fundraising credentials are almost as impressive as his academic achievement and that at UBC he led a $1.5-billion campaign that surpassed its goal and oversaw a host of campus infrastructure improvements. Or that a major accomplishment at Munk was to head a planning exercise to develop a modern strategic plan for the school.
Toope succeeds Prof. Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, a Welsh immunologist who was paid a salary of ₤335,000 (about $530,000 Canadian) along with a basket of other perks, including residence at the vice-chancellor’s lodge, valued at £4.5 million. According to Ontario’s Sunshine List, Toope earned $310,954.44 at the Munk School last year.
Toope considers this a new “anxious age,” a time of particular risk and uncertainty across the world and for Canada in particular as American diminishment globally demands a reordering of relations.
“We won’t actually see America being great again in the way that some proponents of that phrase have indicated.”
And, to some extent, a reimagining of universities at a time when all “content” institutions face threat and upheaval.
The good news is that there’s been no hint of animosity awaiting him in Cambridge because of his untraditional origins.
“I thought there would be a moment when one or another person would say, ‘Well, why should we really be looking at you? Aren’t you some trumped-up little colonial?”
But there hasn’t. Even so, Canada’s latest gift to the mother country intends to tread carefully.
“I’m not going to run in and tell them they’ve been doing everything wrong for the last 800 years.
“I’d be a fool to do that.”
And that’s one thing he’s not called.
Melvin Mingo loves it when he sits around an RV park and fellow retirees get to talking about what they used to do for a living.
“I am a retired bank robber,” Mingo, 67, says to a round of chuckles.
Pressed a little further, he might add, “I’m a retired unsuccessful entrepreneur.”
The affable man loves to joke but he’s telling the truth.
Mingo was the mastermind of what is considered the largest holdup in Canadian history — a $68.5-million bond and securities heist at the Merrill Lynch Canada Inc. headquarters in downtown Montreal in 1984.
His eyes light up when asked about the caper that landed him almost a decade in some of Canada’s toughest prisons.
“It was such a beautiful score,” he says. “That was like everyone’s big dream. The big last one.”
Some $5.75 million of that loot has never been recovered. Mingo has a stock answer when asked where it went.
“That’s a story for another time,” Mingo told the Star, with a smile, during a stopover last month with his wife Susie at the Glen Rouge Campground in Scarborough.
He is happy to talk about how, with the advent of online money transfers, his record will likely never be broken.
He definitely didn’t spend it on his RV, which is circa 1986.
And RV culture is a far cry from Mingo’s bank robbery days. Growing up in Montreal among criminals, drugs and schemes, he says it was the heist he always dreamed of.
“If you hang around with thieves, what will you be? An artist? A plumber? A pizza delivery guy?”
Mingo’s friends included members of Montreal’s Irish mob, called the West End Gang. In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, they were a force to be reckoned with in the world of truck hijackings, extortion and armed robbery. They later moved into drug trafficking, which, Mingo says, ruined everything.
Mingo’s circle included the late Theodore (Bootsie) Orben, who worked with mobster Frank Cotroni to try to tunnel into the City and District Savings Bank in Montreal in 1967.
Asked how they got caught, Orben told Mingo: “(I) told one person too many.”
There was also the late John (Jackie) McLaughlin, a debt collector and scary figure even by West End Gang standards.
“He would kill you and not think twice,” Mingo says of McLaughlin, who was killed alongside his pit bull in 1984.
Another hit man Mingo became friendly with was Dickie Lavoie, who could do 1,000 pushups at a time. He died of natural causes in the 1980s.
“I used to like him but he was a hit man,” Mingo says. “There is not too many people I don’t like.”
But when it came time for his ultimate caper, he kept it secret from these nefarious associates.
The idea for the Merrill Lynch heist came to Mingo when he was sitting in a bar that the West End Gang frequented on Crescent Street in downtown Montreal in the fall of 1984. A man who worked in the corporation’s office was trying to impress a woman from their group by telling her how much money he handled.
Mingo’s ears perked up when he heard that millions of dollars in securities were taken by couriers up and down the elevators of the office tower on Dorchester Blvd. W. from a main floor bank.
He didn’t tell anyone, but spent the next month scoping out the site near the Queen Elizabeth Hotel Across from Place Ville Marie.
He did his spying from a bus stop, where there were plenty of passersby, and sometimes dressed as a courier.
Other times, he carried a brief case and looked like an office worker on his way to work.
He’d spend about half an hour at the bus stop each morning.
“I’m a good blender inner. People do not pay attention.”
He noticed that there were eight elevators in the office tower, but only one went all the way down to the basement.
He also noted that Merrill Lynch couriers didn’t carry guns as they rode up and down the elevator.
He cultivated a contact inside Merrill Lynch as he hatched his plan.
“I had somebody inside,” Mingo says. “They used to trade every day. I watched for about four weeks.”
He was particularly interested in the varied habits of the couriers who worked in the building.
“There were two that I found particularly lazy.”
Those two couriers always took the same elevator to the bank as it meant less walking. That was the elevator where the heist would have to take place.
As Mingo hatched his plan, he strove to keep things as simple as possible so that fewer things could go wrong. While he likes the Oceans Eleven movies, he says their plots are far too convoluted for the real world.
“To me, it would never happen. It’s too complicated. Too many things can go wrong. It’s nice to watch but you’ve always got to have a little reality.”
Mingo also studied a guard who sat outside the bank near the elevator.
“He got distracted — a woman with cleavage. I knew what we had to do with him.
Finally, on Dec. 21, 1984, Mingo and his crew were ready to roll.
Mingo parked his station wagon nearby on University Street. His accomplices arrived separately. One of them was a woman with pronounced cleavage, whose only job was to distract the guard outside the bank.
Mingo was dressed as a courier and pushed a dolly as he entered the building.
As usual, he blended in. His silver semi-automatic pistol was tucked out of sight.
His contact at Merrill Lynch had agreed to page him as soon as the crew of targeted couriers left the office for the bank.
The plan was to ride the elevator with them, taking the securities and locking them in a basement washroom for maintenance workers.
It should have been quick and simple but something went wrong.
Mingo’s contact buzzed him.
“We all made a move.”
A husky member of his crew rode the elevator with him.
Soon their prey would be getting on, too — they hoped.
Mingo rode the elevator all the way up to the 24th floor and all the way back down.
The couriers should have been on board but they weren’t.
“I was sweating. I couldn’t figure what was holding these guys up.”
Mingo had no idea that Brinks couriers had priority over all others and a Brinks team had jumped the line, making the Merrill Lynch couriers wait.
Finally, about 10 minutes behind schedule, the door opened and the Merrill Lynch couriers finally appeared.
“Come on in,” Mingo told them. “We’ve got plenty of room.”
Once they were inside and the door was securely closed, Mingo pressed his pistol into the side of one of them and gestured towards his partner, “You’re just going to follow me and that person in front.”
“He saw the chrome of the gun,” Mingo said.
They rode all the way back up to the 24th floor, and then began heading down to the basement.
“I told them, ‘Just keep your eyes down.’ ”
The elevator seemed to stop 10 times as they headed for the basement. Whenever someone got on, Mingo tensed up.
“I thought, ‘I hope you get off somewhere because you’ll have a bad weekend if you don’t.’”
Finally, they reached the basement and the two couriers were left in a darkened maintenance washroom.
Mingo and his associate tried to give them the impression that one of their crew was watching them, somewhere in the dark.
Mingo said he didn’t dwell on the feelings of the terrified guards.
“I’m not going to lie. I didn’t feel bad. I was pretty pumped up myself.”
Three of his crew left in separate cars, driving slowly. The other left the scene on public transit.
Fifteen minutes later, someone went into the maintenance washroom and freed the guards.
The hunt for Mingo was on.
Twenty-five minutes later, Mingo and his crew met at a pre-arranged spot — his house on Gouin Blvd.
“It’s just a matter of stashing and counting.”
They counted $40.4-million in negotiable securities and $28.1-million in non-negotiable items.
Mingo found it interesting that some of the personal bonds belonged to Olympic speedskating hero Gaétan Boucher.
Their next move was to do and say nothing.
They just sat tight for a month, careful not to attract any attention.
“It was all over the news,” Mingo says. “For a month I was totally quiet.”
The heist was the talk of the town, especially in Mingo’s circles. “I said, ‘It had to be an out-of-towner.’ ” He felt the lie was necessary. “If I stole it, who’s to say they wouldn’t steal it from me? It’s only common sense.”
Mingo had already thought out what to do with the bonds.
“We’re not going to sit with them and never sell them and make wallpaper.”
The problem was that some of the securities had identification numbers and there was the danger they could be traced or cancelled.
In addition to the police, private detectives had been dispatched from the Merrill Lynch main office in New York City to locate the loot.
Mingo’s plan was to sell the securities to an offshore banker, who would pay 10 per cent of their face value.
That would net Mingo some $1.25 million U.S. for his share of the job.
Moving the securities would be the banker’s challenge.
40 days after the robbery he took a trip to Toronto to meet the banker at the Harbour Castle Hilton.
All of the bonds fit into two suitcases.
“They were simple cheap suitcases. The contents were nice.”
The banker seemed impressed when Mingo opened them up but now there was another switch in plans.
The banker said he needed time get his money together.
They would have to meet again once he had the cash.
Mingo still wonders if he should have done something different at this point. Perhaps it would have been best to stash the securities in Toronto.
Again, he was worried about being robbed himself.
“It all comes back to paranoia.”
Twelve days after the Harbour Castle meeting, Mingo sat in a car outside the Dorval train station in suburban Montreal. He was heading back to Toronto to finally close the deal with the banker.
Another member of his crew was driving to Toronto. Two more were taking a plane.
If all went according to plan, soon they would all be millionaires.
He smoked a joint to calm his nerves and noted a bellhop passed in front of the car twice.
“Get out of the car!,” someone yelled.
They were ordered to lie on their bellies on the dirty snow and the slush by police tactical officers with machine-guns.
“Mel, what’s going on?” Bobby asked.
“I don’t know,” Mingo recalls replying. “Maybe parking tickets.”
The police looked in the trunk of the car.
Nothing was there.
“The biggest thing was they wanted the loot. They wanted the loot big time.”
Mingo said he feels oddly grateful, even though he got a nine-year-prison term for robbery and forcible confinement instead of the $1.25 million.
“Could’ve been a big party. Blew it in two years. I say, ‘Thank you.’ ”
Mingo says he has been out of the crime world for 30 years. He had an epiphany of sorts when he had his parole taken away for trying to bribe a police officer at a speed trap while leaving a party for since-murdered mobster Frank Cotroni Jr.
Mingo says he gave up drinking, cocaine and crime when he connected with Susie shortly after his final release.
He credits her with saving his life, as well as enriching it.
“I made a choice in the ’80s and left all that world behind.”
Nowadays, his scheming is mostly concerned with how to get to a big tractor pull with Susie.
“This is such a nice life. No one judges you.”
ST. PETERSBURG, FLA.—Announcing itself with roaring 215 km/h winds, Hurricane Irma plowed into the mostly emptied-out Florida Keys early Sunday for the start of what could be a slow, ruinous march up the state’s west coast toward the heavily populated Tampa-St. Petersburg area.
“Pray, pray for everybody in Florida,” Gov. Rick Scott said on “Fox News Sunday.”
With an estimated 127,000 huddling in shelters statewide, the storm lashed the low-lying string of islands with drenching rain and knocked out power to over 1 million customers across Florida.
About 30,000 people heeded orders to evacuate the Keys as the storm closed in, but an untold number refused to leave, in part because to many storm-hardened residents, staying behind in the face of danger is a point of pride.
While the projected track showed Irma raking the state’s Gulf Coast, forecasters warned that the entire Florida peninsula — including the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people — was in extreme peril from the monstrous storm, almost 650 kilometres wide.
Nearly 7 million people in the Southeast were warned to get out of the storm’s path, including 6.4 million in Florida alone.
The Republican governor said on NBC that he spoke to U.S. President Donald Trump, and “everything I’ve asked out of the federal government, he’s made sure he gave us.”
Once the storm passes, “we’re going to need a lot of help,” Scott warned. But he also described Florida as “a tough state. We’re going to come through this.”
Irma made landfall in the U.S. just after 9 a.m. at Cudjoe Key in the lower Keys, forecasters said. By midmorning, it was centred about 20 miles (30 kilometres) northeast of Key West, moving at 8 mph (13 km/h).
As the hurricane’s eye approached the Keys, 60-year-old Carol Walterson Stroud and her family were huddled in a third-floor apartment at a senior centre in Key West.
“We are good so far,” she said in a text message just before 5:30 a.m. “It’s blowing hard.”
Key West Police urged anyone riding out the storm in that city to “resist the urge” to go outside during the eye, the deceptively calm interlude in the middle of a hurricane. “Dangerous winds will follow quickly,” police said in a Facebook post.
Irma was at one time the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, with a peak wind speed of 185 mph (300 km/h) last week.
It left more than 20 people dead across the Caribbean, and as it moved north over the Gulf of Mexico’s bathtub-warm water of nearly 90 degrees, regained strength.
Forecasters said Irma could hit the Tampa-St. Petersburg areas early Monday.
The Tampa Bay area has not taken a direct hit from a major hurricane since 1921, when its population was about 10,000, National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said. Now around 3 million people live there.
Some 400 miles north of the Keys, the wind was picking up in St. Petersburg and people began bracing for the storm’s wrath.
“I’ve been here with other storms, other hurricanes. But this one scares me,” Sally Carlson said she snapped photos of the waves crashing against boats. “Let’s just say a prayer we hope we make it through.”
John Leuders, another St. Petersburg resident, said he felt confident of his storm preparations: “We tore down part of our fence because we couldn’t get any plywood from Home Depot and Lowe’s, and we boarded up with the fence.”
The governor activated all 7,000 members of the Florida National Guard, and 30,000 guardsmen from elsewhere were on standby.
In the Orlando area, Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World all closed on Saturday. The Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando airports shut down.
Given its mammoth size and strength and its projected course, Irma could prove one of the most devastating hurricanes ever to hit Florida and inflict damage on a scale not seen here in 25 years.
Hurricane Andrew smashed into suburban Miami in 1992 with winds topping 165 mph (265 km/h), damaging or blowing apart over 125,000 homes. The damage in Florida totalled $26 billion (U.S.), and at least 40 people died.
Christ Church Cathedral in Hamilton, Ont., must dig up hundreds of long-dead parishioners from the “asphalt hell” of a church parking lot before building a multimillion-dollar condo tower for the living.
The local Anglican diocese hopes to build a 12-storey, $50-million-plus condo and commercial development at 252 James St. N. in Hamilton to help the shrinking congregation remain solvent and pay climbing maintenance bills for the iconic, heritage-protected stone cathedral and associated school house.
But to do so, the church must first “reverentially” dig up, try to identify and relocate the remains of up to 400 people buried under the back parking lot.
“It’s time that we stopped parking on top of those people,” said the Very Rev. Peter Wall, rector of Christ’s Church Cathedral, in a presentation to councillors Wednesday. “They need to be released from asphalt hell.”
Wall was actually at City Hall to ask councillors to consider a discounted sale of a small nearby municipal parking lot to the church. City staff will report back on the request in October.
Wall argued the extra land would allow a larger, wraparound condo building behind the preserved cathedral and school and by extension a larger tax bill — more than $400,000 — paid to the city. (The church itself is exempt from paying property taxes.)
The rector said any help would be appreciated given the looming $1-million-plus cost of the strictly regulated effort to exhume those buried in the long-lost cemetery.
The asphalt-entombed graveyard opened in 1832 and closed two decades later, with the land variously used as green space, tennis courts and finally parking over 160 years. More than 700 people were buried behind the cathedral, including famed city father Richard Beasley, and many children and teenage victims of early cholera epidemics.
When the city’s main cemetery opened on York Boulevard, Wall said many headstones moved — but not all of the bodies.
A stone monument for Beasley and a select few headstones are the only visible remnants of the old burial plot today. The remainder is paved over for about 40 parking spaces.
Rev. Bill Mous says lazy past protocols meant the remains were not treated with the respect they deserved.
He says the church would like to address that issue if it is able to secure the land and permissions needed for the building project.
“We would make sure that those remains are moved to a more dignified location, as was the intention in the late 19th century,” Mous said in a telephone interview.
Wall took The Spectator for a basement tour under the old school beside the cathedral to see another 24 tombstones collected and stored over a century — the fate of the associated remains unknown.
Only one stone appeared legible, naming Mary Arthur Worsop, who died in 1837 at the age of 23. The inscription also appears to refer to an infant son.
“I’ve often looked at these and thought, see, that’s the reason we need to do something about this (lost cemetery),” Wall said.
Wall said anecdotally, he understood building additions between the late- 1800s to mid-1900s turned up bones during construction. “It’s unfortunate, but the reality is back then construction workers were likely throwing bones in dumpsters.”
Ground-penetrating radar has found burial shafts, coffin nails and other evidence to suggest the remains of 300 to 400 people are underfoot.
If so, the dig and reburial would be one of the larger efforts in Ontario history, said Ron Williamson, founder of ASI Archaeological and Cultural Heritage Services.
The veteran of four decades of archeological digs said he participated in a mass exhumation of remains for 622 parishioners of a Toronto church in 2000 for an airport extension. He believes a larger effort involving 700 burial plots took place in Kingston.
“But this would still represent a large, unique and complex project,” said Williamson, who added it can take a day-and-a-half to “uncover and fully document” remains found in a single grave.
A lot of work also happens outside the dig, he said, including cross-referencing church records, contacting descendants — and potentially dealing with their concerns. “Even moving a dozen bodies can be complex,” he said.
The church worked with DPAI Architecture on early designs for a 110-unit condo and retail building, but Wall said no application has been submitted to the city yet. The new building would host the existing diocesan office and Jamesville child care centre.
With files from The Canadian Press
SAN JUAN DEL RIO, MEXICO—Looming above a Canadian auto-parts plant, keeping watch over workers, is a painting of the Virgin Mary. This same plant plans a celebration of its latest expansion with a party featuring a mariachi band.
It’s far from Windsor. It’s close to Mexico City.
The story of the Exo-s factory is the story of NAFTA: manufacturing booming in Mexico, while surviving in the north; supply chains that are internationally interconnected and extra-efficient; and a Mexican workforce seeing the most modest gains and longing for more.
Canadian auto-parts companies have more than 120 plants and 43,000 employees in Mexico, and this Quebec-based plastics-maker is among them. It has grown a bit in Canada, but exploded here: when it opens a new warehouse on its property, its Mexican workforce will have nearly tripled to 300.
While workers hammer and weld together the new warehouse frame, the plant manager explains why Mexico was a must.
His company’s customers — GM, Cadillac, Fiat Chrysler — are here and need plastic products. They opened plants here because of Mexico’s low costs, government incentives, and free-trade agreements with 47 countries allowing tariff-free shipment throughout Latin America.
“For us it was a no-brainer,” Francois Ouellet said.
“When (our customers) open a new plant they want us to be close to them. If not we would have put at risk our actual business we have in Canada and the United States... We would have a problem to keep our business (without Mexico).”
The company’s U.S. and Canadian branches are still adding jobs, albeit more modestly. Canada has about 127,000 auto jobs today, the same the year before NAFTA was signed in 1993.
But something dramatic then happened. Canada’s long-term trendline looks like a steep mountain: employment climbed toward a peak in 2000, dropped, then plunged catastrophically after the 2008 recession and is now slowly inching back to early 1990s levels.
The Great Recession was a near-death experience for many companies, including the precursor to Exo-s. It relied upon GM for three-quarters of its revenues — and that giant’s near-collapse almost pulled down an entire ecosystem of suppliers.
Exo-s responded by diversifying. It not only spread operations to Mexico; it spread beyond the auto sector, beyond its core business of under-the-hood plastics like engine covers and coolant tanks.
On the same Mexican plant floor that produces car parts, an overhead machine spits down black, plastic trash bins. Someone strips away excess plastic, then hands the bins to Nataly Jacobo.
She grabs one bin to insert a wheel, then another, then another. She repeats this over an eight-hour shift, six days a week. The 23-year-old usually works on car parts, producing more than 3,000 pieces a week.
Her weekly salary is about $61 (Canadian).
This represents a raise for her. She arrived here three months ago from a job that paid $51. She also gained benefits here: the company subsidizes half her meals, offers free transport, and built a shower with hot water which many households here lack.
Ask her whether she deserves more, and she squirms. But she answers a broadly phrased followup: What if NAFTA were adjusted, so people in your country earned more?
“Mexicans make very little,” Jacobo replied.
“(Salaries) could be a bit higher... It would be good if they kept us in mind (at the negotiating table) — the Mexicans.”
Salaries have indeed increased in this manufacturing area. Ouellet estimates that his average worker makes about $6-$7 an hour with benefits, and it’s going up because of an acute labour shortage here.
“Go around everywhere. You’re going to see signs that they need employees. All companies — hotels, restaurants,” Ouellet said. “It’s really hard to find employees. So there’s (salary) increases.”
That’s in this manufacturing area.
But the overall story of NAFTA, in Mexico, is one of flat wages. In fact, they’ve declined overall because traditional corn-farming communities have been hard-hit by U.S. competition since 1993.
The Canadian government is pushing for higher labour standards in a new agreement. It has consulted closely with union leader Jerry Dias, who has done multiple interviews in Mexico spreading the message that Mexicans deserve a pay raise.
Dias said workers across the continent would benefit if Mexicans got more independent unions, freer collective bargaining, and pay hikes. The Unifor boss repeatedly told media assembled at last week’s NAFTA talks: “Mexican workers deserve to be able to buy the products that they make.”
It’s more complicated than that, according to industry and some analysts.
For starters, it’s unclear how an international agreement would enforce local labour laws. Dias favours an international panel. But the U.S. wants to end the international panels that already exist for intra-industry disputes.
There’s also the question of unintended economic consequences.
Industry insists profit margins are tight, and big salary hikes would just steer jobs like Jacobo’s toward Asia — or to machines. Canada’s auto-parts association says these jobs simply won’t ever return to Canada.
But the association’s Flavio Volpe said Canada does benefit from being part of supply chains that include Mexico.
That includes a certain plastics maker from Richmond, Que. It is planning a party in its other home — about a 43-hour drive south, off a road lined with taco eateries and women selling colourful, hand-woven indigenous clothing.
OTTAWA—The federal government appears ready to take a hands-off approach as provinces begin rolling out how they plan to police the sale and use of marijuana once it becomes legal.
Ontario last week became the first province to unveil its plans for handling legalized pot by announcing that it would closely mimic the province’s current system for liquor.
Marijuana will be sold at 150 dedicated stores run by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, it will only be sold by those aged 19 or over, and consumption will only be allowed in private residences.
The proposal has sparked anger and concern from some pot activists and aspiring retailers, who have warned that Ontario’s proposed model will limit supplies and do little to eliminate the black market.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale refused to weigh in Sunday on Ontario’s proposed plan, and indicated that the federal government would stay out of how provinces address marijuana legalization.
“Each province has the flexibility to design it the way they think most appropriate. Ontario has laid out their proposal. That’s within their jurisdiction to do,” he said.
“Other provinces, I would imagine now, will come forward with their recommendations. They may follow the Ontario model. They may choose a different approach.”
Goodale, who spoke to reporters following a ceremony to honour fallen firefighters in Ottawa, reaffirmed that the purpose of legalization is to keep pot away from minors and organized crime.
And he expressed confidence that whatever model individual provinces decide to adopt, those aims will be met.
“Each province will adopt different tools as they see fit for their jurisdiction,” Goodale said.
“But there is no diluting of the goal: protect our kids and stop the flow to crime. And Ontario, I’m sure, will be designing that they believe will accomplish that objective effectively.”
The Trudeau government is moving to legalize recreational marijuana by next July, and earmarked $247 million over five years on Friday to support policing and border efforts associated with that plan.
Goodale said the money is part of the Liberals’ promise to ensure provinces, municipalities and law-enforcement agencies have the tools and resources to enforce the new laws governing legalized pot.
“Law enforcement will need the tools to do that job, so we put money on the table as promised to assist with training and to assist with the acquisition of the right kind of technical equipment,” he said.
The promised new funding includes $161 million to train front line officers in how to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug-impaired driving, provide access to drug-screening devices and educate the public.
Some of that money will also be used to develop policy, bolster research and raise awareness about the dangers of drug-impaired driving.
The remaining $113 million will go to Public Safety, the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency to ensure organized crime does not infiltrate the legalized system and to keep pot from crossing borders.
A 31-year-old man is in critical condition after the motorcycle he was driving struck a hydro pole and caught fire in Bowmanville Saturday night.
Durham Regional Police responded to the area of King St. E. and Liberty St. S. just after midnight to investigate the crash, and located the man suffering from life-threatening injuries. He had to be airlifted to a trauma centre in Toronto.
Police say the man was driving a 2008 Harley Davidson motorcycle east on King St. when he failed to turn sharply enough to follow a bend in the road. The motorcycle slammed into a hydro pole, throwing the driver from the seat. The pole and motorcycle subsequently burst into flames, police say.
The scene was closed through the night and into the morning for the investigation and hydro repair. Police are uncertain as to the exact cause of the accident, but believe speed may be a factor. Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact Durham Regional Police.
What began as a friendly challenge between immigration officials and university students has brought on a fundamental shift in how the Immigration Department deals with applicants.
For example, now when people contact the department’s Montreal-based client support centre for help, the first thing they hear is no longer a warning that disgruntled callers should not verbally abuse the agent.
People also won’t be brushed away quickly for their questions simply because their application has not reached the minimum processing time that officials think should warrant concern.
The cultural shift from an enforcement mindset to a client-centred approach could mark a new era at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, which has long faced complaints about poor customer service, long processing times and failing to provide timely and accurate information to applicants.
In January, the department quietly launched a client experience branch and appointed Michelle Lattimore, a longtime civil servant, to head the new unit, which is responsible for the client support call centre, service strategy and a new “service insights and experimentation division” of 10 staffers to make dealing with immigration a more pleasant experience.
An improved customer service, advocates say, can make Canada a more attractive destination for visitors, students and immigrants in the increasingly competitive world of global migration.
“I support the initiative but it may take years before it really happens,” said immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland. “What (Lattimore) needs to do is bring down the blinders. The department has information and does not disclose it to people, forcing them to use call centres. It is a core problem.”
Lattimore has been involved in the Immigration Department’s restructuring of the client services functions since the spring of 2015 but the work was sidetracked by the new Liberal government’s resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees.
With an 85 per cent client satisfaction rate found in a department survey, it baffled Lattimore why there were still 5.2 million inquiries a year by email and phone from people looking for information on their cases.
Last year, the department received 5,000 complaints and the top three concerns related to processing times, the call centre and the operation of the applicants’ online accounts.
In May 2016, Lattimore spearheaded the “Family Class Design Challenge” — in partnership with the Treasury Board, Privy Council and the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) University — to explore ways to improve customer satisfaction with the spousal sponsorship program, which has always been a sore point of the immigration system.
The design competition pitted a team of civil servants from the across the department against OCAD graduate students. The teams hit the streets to do random interviews about Canadians’ experience with the family sponsorship program.
“We did street intercepts. We went out and actually talked to people on the streets. Eighty per cent of the people they stopped and had an experience with immigration wanted to talk about it, not all family class but they all wanted to talk about it,” said Lattimore.
One surprising finding was that those interviewed said they were more concerned with the department’s reluctance to disclose information during the waiting period then they were with the actual length of the processing time.
“This was the most important revelation for the department. To learn from them saying, ‘we can live with 12 months, but what we really want to know is what’s happening over the course of the 12-month period’ and the sense of assurance they are seeking from us is something we hadn’t anticipated,” noted Lattimore, who worked at Service Canada and Passport Canada before joining the Immigration Department’s program integrity branch in 2010.
“They have no clue what’s going on. They don’t know if we’ve forgotten about them. They don’t know if we need other information. They are worried they’ve missed an email or a letter. Processing times take what they take and we don’t need to get in touch with clients every week but that paralysis impacts their lives more significantly than processing time itself.”
Both teams in the design challenge came back with similar recommendations: get rid of the taped warning in the call centre greetings that sets the conversation in a negative tone, improve officials’ response to callers and provide better information to questions.
Last fall, to boost transparency, immigration’s 300 call agents started pulling out a caller’s file and responding to questions even if the application has not reached its standard processing time.
And to improve consistency, immigration agents received additional training to ask the right questions to figure out what the caller really wants and provide the correct information they need.
Although the handling time for each call went up by 16 per cent, said Lattimore, the number of repeat calls dropped by a whopping 30 per cent in less than eight weeks, freeing immigration agents time to provide better quality information to callers.
While the agents may be better equipped to answer callers’ questions, getting through to one is a challenge.
Recently, Ahmad Hematyar spent 25 minutes waiting on the line hoping to talk to a live agent to inquire about the private sponsorship application of a Syrian family. The Toronto man gave up because the computer-recorded guidance didn’t lead him anywhere.
“I followed the instructions and pressed all these buttons. It didn’t have the information that we were looking for. It tells you to go to the immigration website to check the status of your application and for processing times. You press zero and it says all the agents are busy,” said Hematyar, president of Canada Newcomers and Immigration Associations, whose group has more than 600 refugee sponsorship applications somewhere in the process.
“We have tried to email their processing centre, but you don’t get any reply. Is our case still in the queue? Has it been transferred to a visa office? Have they lost our files? On a scale of 10, our frustration with immigration is 10 out of 10. Where’s the government accountability?”
Another initiative introduced by the immigration department was texting spousal sponsorship applicants as soon as their full application package of love letters, photos and other proof of the relationship arrives at immigration’s mailroom.
“Tiny investments make a big difference in people’s lives,” said Lattimore, who plans to roll out more “challenges” for ideas to improve immigration client service. “It’s not new for us to view immigration as a service. What’s new is we are looking at service from a client’s perspective.”
Queen’s University immigration and refugee law professor Sharry Aiken said it’s too early to tell if the cultural shift for better client services at the department is genuine.
“It is more important to have an ombudsperson at the federal immigration level. We don’t need somebody to review the experience of the consumers to tweak how the department engages with its client base,” said Aiken.
“What we really need is an office in place with the authority to do systemic reviews and provide remedies when service standards are not met. That would really make a difference.”
The challenge for the immigration and OCAD teams was a tie and each received a small token trophy for their great ideas, said Lattimore. The Immigration Department will conduct its next client survey in 2018.
James Thomson is an ex-head of Amazon Services, the division that recruits sellers to the tech giant’s marketplaces. A Canadian, he is also the co-author of The Amazon Marketplace DilemmaThe Amazon Marketplace Dilemma and a partner in Buy Box Experts. We asked him about Amazon and Toronto’s quest to win a bid process to become home to the company’s massive second headquarters.
Q: What is Amazon looking for in a host city for “HQ2”?
A: Amazon has publicly outlined criteria including a city with 1 million-plus population, strong training grounds for engineers, and an investment to enable the build-out of up to 50,000 people. Realistically, I see Amazon executives wanting to relocate only to a high-culture city with lower cost of living. Seattle has become very expensive to afford even on a $150,000-a-year salary for a mid-level computer engineer, so attracting new talent to Seattle is getting harder. I also expect Amazon doesn’t want to compete with a number of large local IT-dependent firms — Amazon wants a hiring advantage for at least a few years.
Q: What are Toronto’s strengths and weakness as a bidder?
A: Toronto is undoubtedly a cultural world-class city but has a very high cost of living and is more congested than Seattle. I doubt Amazon will put itself in a distant suburb of a major city. I also suspect there will be a stigma of putting its headquarters in another country — Amazon will have to convince a lot of existing executives to relocate, and another country with higher personal tax rates is a bigger question mark than another American city. I am not optimistic that the Ontario and Toronto governments will be excited about spending the kind of investment/tax incentives that Amazon is seeking. Yes, HQ2 is an amazing long-term opportunity, but the payment is also long-term.
Q: What cities do you think will be the prime contenders, based on Amazon has said and what you are hearing?
A: I have heard the cities of Austin (Texas), Charlotte (N.C.) and Pittsburgh mentioned but anticipate Amazon will accept less tax incentive/investment for a broader commitment to build out much more access to IT-trained graduates. Recruiting is a huge problem for Amazon, with over 9,000 job openings with office jobs just at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters. Most of these are engineering roles — there aren’t enough recently trained candidates in North America to support Amazon’s current growth.
Q: Amazon is talking about long-term investment of up to $5 billion and up to 50,000 jobs. How big a deal for a city is landing HQ2?
A: Any city that lands this deal will see a huge immediate opportunity to become a significant global centre of innovation and IT development. The big question is how much will a local government put up to make this happen. The expense is a trade-off against schools, infrastructure, health care, etc. Can Toronto support 50,000 high-net earners who all want nice homes, nice restaurants, easy commutes, etc.? Amazon is NOT a fan of unions or regulation. How does Ontario government accommodate that?
Q: What advice would you give Toronto bid boosters as they decide how to try to land this fish?
A: Amazon uses data to make all of its decisions. And it follows the Amazon Leadership Principles to figure out all tough problems. Position yourself along those leadership principles using very specific comparative data, and you will be speaking “Amazon talk.”
Q: Amazon has been criticized in the past for the way it treats workers. Should this give Torontonians pause about putting considerable effort — and potentially tax breaks — into a bid?
A: Most complaints related to warehouse employees. Unfortunate, but true. From a corporate office perspective, it is a very tough place to work but amazing growth and innovation have come from this. And thousands of people have become rather rich. What do you want from your job? After media attention to the issue, Amazon saw a huge increase in job applicants as MBAs took on the culture as a challenge to prove that they are “up to the challenge” to thrive at Amazon.
This interview was edited for brevity.
This interview was edited for brevity.
Two top aides to former premier Dalton McGuinty go on criminal trial Monday for the alleged deletion of computer hard drives linked to the Liberals’ scrapped gas-fired power plants.
David Livingston, 65, McGuinty’s last chief of staff in 2013, and deputy chief Laura Miller, 38, are accused of breach of trust, mischief in relation to data, and misuse of a computer system.
The pair face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. They have denied any wrongdoing in the wiping of the hard drives in the premier’s office.
Defence lawyers are expected to appear in court Monday, however, asking for another week to examine boxes of evidence recently disclosed by the Crown.
McGuinty, who was never under investigation and co-operated with the police through their probe, is not expected to be called to testify in the trial that should run into November.
The Ontario Provincial Police allege Livingston gave a special computer password to a non-government employee — Peter Faist, Miller’s common-law spouse — enabling him to clean the computer drives in the premier’s office before Kathleen Wynne was formally sworn in on Feb. 11, 2013.
Faist, a computer specialist who has denied doing anything wrong and is not on trial, was paid $10,000 from the taxpayer-funded Liberal caucus budget for wiping the drives — money the party subsequently repaid the treasury.
Both the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats believe the computers could have contained information linked to the Liberals’ controversial decision before the 2011 election to cancel the gas plants in Mississauga and Oakville, which were locally unpopular.
The Liberals held onto all five seats adjacent to the two proposed facilities in 2011 and again in the 2014 campaign.
Auditor general Bonnie Lysyk has estimated that moving them to Sarnia and Napanee could cost ratepayers up to $1.1 billion over 20 years.
The trial coincides with both the legislature resuming Monday and the ongoing Election Act trial related to the 2015 Sudbury byelection.
In that case, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s former deputy chief of staff, Patricia Sorbara, and local activist Gerry Lougheed are charged with offering an ex-Liberal candidate a job to quit the nomination race for preferred candidate Glenn Thibeaut, now the energy minister.
Wynne will take the stand to testify on Wednesday.
Political science professor Henry Jacek of McMaster University in Hamilton said the gas plants trial is “much harder” for people to understand, which may limit political fallout for the Liberals.
“There can be fatigue from the gas plants . . . too much time has passed,” he said. “People think governments waste money, governments try to hide things they’ve done.”
As well, Wynne can distance herself from the case because she was not premier at the time, although she was in McGuinty’s cabinet, noted Jacek.
“This she can say was done before her. The public might give her a little slack. Sudbury was when she was in power,” he said.
The trial also comes against the backdrop of a June 7, 2018 provincial election that is expected to be tight.
TORONTO—Caroline Mulroney has been named the Progressive Conservative nominee for the riding of York-Simcoe.
Mulroney, vice-president of an investment firm and daughter of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, accepted the nomination at a meeting in the riding on Sunday.
In a speech, she criticized the province’s Liberal government for its controversial minimum wage hike and thanked her parents for teaching her the importance of public service.
York-Simcoe, north of Toronto, has been held by Progressive Conservative Julia Munro since 1995.
Munro has announced that she is retiring, and that she supports Mulroney’s campaign.
Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown congratulated Mulroney on her nomination on Sunday.
“Caroline is a fantastic addition to our modern, inclusive and pragmatic Ontario PC team,” he said in a statement.
“Caroline understands the importance of public service, and I know that she would do a fantastic job filling the shoes of Julia Munro as MPP.”
Mulroney is the vice-president of Toronto-based BloombergSen Investment Partners, and used to work at a venture debt fund. She also co-founded the Shoebox Project for Shelters, which collects and distributes gifts to women who are homeless or at risk.
Ontario’s provincial election will be held in June.
The federal government has “abandoned” Canadian citizens — medical students, teachers and tourists — on the hurricane-ravaged island of St. Maarten, their families say.
While Americans leave the island on military and charter airplanes, Canadians are advised to visit a government website with a list of shelters, creating a desperate situation, especially as food supplies run low and reports of looting increase, say relatives interviewed by the Star. Some families said a few Canadians were able to leave on a Sunday flight, but other tourists, students and teachers remained.
There is spotty cellphone and internet service but the Canadian government repeatedly suggests stranded citizens get advice from its website.
“The frustration in dealing with the Canadian government is that they are not willing to help Canadians one iota,” said Robert Barnard, whose sister is a teacher on the island.
“They are not willing to send food. They are not willing to send water. They are not willing to send flights. They are not willing to send boats. They are not willing to do anything for Canadians,” Barnard said.
Global Affairs Canada issued a news release on Sunday saying “all options are being considered by the Government of Canada to assist Canadians in leaving the affected regions. “ It said diplomatic missions are liaising with local authorities, airline and tour operators.
After making four calls on Sunday to the “very nice” people at Global Affairs Canada, Kingston’s Lacey Cranston concluded the federal government’s plans to evacuate citizens do not exist.
Her parents, Darrell and Debby Sheppy, of Windsor, were sent to the airport on Saturday by their St. Maarten resort with 148 other visitors. According to Cranston, most got flights out because their countries had requested evacuation assistance.
As her parents returned to the resort, gunshots were fired. The hotel deemed it dangerous, so on Sunday morning they were driven to the Princess Juliana Airport but still couldn’t get a flight.
“They are now spending the night in the airport parking lot,” she said.
About 70 per cent of homes on the Dutch part of St. Maarten were badly damaged or destroyed when Hurricane Irma swept through last Wednesday.
To the southeast, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said 90 per cent of the structures and vehicles on Barbuda were destroyed. About 1,400 people live on the island and most have now been evacuated to Antigua.
Cranston said Global Affairs Canada suggested they look online for the list of shelters but the Dutch military told them shelters are dangerous.
“I can’t believe that I live in a first-world country that can’t get it’s s--t together to get its citizens home.
Mariel Chan is a medical student at the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine and was able to FaceTime with her sister, Global Affairs Canada texted students to say there was a flight Sunday morning, but they could not get a seat on the plane
Chan said Dutch and American officials told her “they have no word that Canada is trying to help us.
“Honestly, there’s no option for us. We are stranded here. I don’t know what to do,” she said, and began to cry.
There is a lot of confusion about flights and what nationalities are able to leave. While on FaceTime, Chan stopped another Canadian student, a young man, who pleaded for someone to “please donate a plane to help Canadians get home.
“Trudeau, are you listening?” he asked.
Janine Fung a medical student said she got a flight out last Monday, before Irma blew in. Fung is trying to help her friends get home.
“It’s pretty ridiculous,” she said. “The Americans left. The Venezuelans were able to leave. Even the pets have been evacuated before the Canadians.”
“At first everyone was optimistic and they were running clinics with the Americans to help keep the country going. Now, they are just desperate,” Fung said.
Monique Balmforth has choice words to describe the “abandonment” of her brother, Michael Moriarty and his wife, Meryl, a civilian employee with the Toronto Police department.
“All the government does is send us links to its SOS website,” Balmforth said. “All they said was, hold tight and listen to local officials. That’s a bit hard, when there’s looting, the local hotel didn’t want them and the island doesn’t really exist any more.”
The couple spent seven hours at the airport, couldn’t get a flight but got a free “rescue mission” flight to Puerto Rico — an island that is dealing with its own struggles from Irma. They still have no idea how they’ll get home.
“I hope they’re not going from one bad to another. Honestly, if they had received any concrete information from Canada, saying we will be there to pick up Canadian citizens, they might have waited it out. I think they just felt lost and totally left to their own devices.”