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TOPSTORIES

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    The perils of precarious work are often discussed, but rarely documented.

    That changed this month when my colleague Sara Mojtehedzadeh took the extra risk of going undercover to write about precisely those perilous working conditions in a Toronto factory.

    Now no one can say they didn’t know enough to finally do something about her revelations. Notably our lawmakers at Queen’s Park.

    The most compelling finding in the Toronto Star’s investigation, co-authored with reporter Brendan Kennedy: It’s not that the problem is so complicated, but that the province is so complicit in the explosive rise of temp agencies, the biggest profiteers from precarity.

    Read more:

    I went undercover in a Toronto factory where a temp agency worker was killed. This is what I found

    One year after this temp agency worker died at Fiera Foods, family is still searching for answers

    Fiera Foods hires independent auditor to review use of temp workers, health and safety practices

    Thanks to a complex web of loopholes, employers have offloaded much of the liability and risk of maintaining permanent staff to these temp agencies, which insulate them from the financial consequences of workplace accidents.

    Rather than accepting responsibility as the true employer of their factory staff, and paying the higher WSIB premiums pegged to blue collar work, they rely on temp agencies as phantom employers paying a lower, white-collar rate for accident insurance.

    If one of those poorly trained temporary hires should suffer a workplace accident — the statistics show a higher rate of injury — the temp agency bears the brunt on the WSIB’s books, cushioning the impact on the factory where it happened.

    But higher premiums have no lasting consequences for a temp agency that can disappear with the click of a mouse and rebrand itself the next day.

    In the digital age, these Potemkin temp agencies are themselves temporary, coming and going just as fake email addresses do. They can close up shop only to start up again under another name on another website with a new post office box, or in another strip mall storefront.

    The result is double jeopardy; it’s not just precarious workers who face extra peril, but all taxpayers and businesses who pay a price for this sleight of hand by the unseen hand of temporary agencies.

    The Star identified 2,588 temp agency accounts registered at the WSIB and found many were residential addresses in condos or the suburbs. Some were virtual offices — one was on an empty plot of land — and without assets to seize, the authorities lose their leverage in enforcing the law.

    Traditionally, temp agencies filled temporary gaps, acting as employment brokers until companies could plug any gaps in their office staff.

    Now, they are repositioning themselves to offer revolving-door substitutes on the factory floor, workers who are permanently precarious instead of permanent.

    Temporary staff are rarely unionized, can be terminated without notice and are traditionally paid less than permanent workers, while the temp agency pockets an undisclosed markup in their wages. They are, in essence, surrogate employers, as Mojtehedzadeh discovered when she was hired by an agency without ever meeting anyone, at an office that does not even exist.

    The provincial government is promising to address the problems of precarious work.

    New legislation, now being debated, would require companies to offer wage parity to temporary workers performing “substantially” similar work to that performed by permanent staff, and this would reduce one of the key financial incentives for contracting out.

    Labour Minister Kevin Flynn deserves credit for advancing workplace reforms.

    But he appears oddly reluctant to take the necessary next steps to protect precarious workers.

    Flynn acknowledged that the Star’s investigation revealed “there’s a problem out there that needs to be solved” and credited Mojtehedzadeh for going undercover “in a way that we (inspectors) couldn’t do at the Ministry of Labour.

    “Reading it on the front page of a large newspaper I think really did help.”

    But he has rejected caps on temporary workers and is in no hurry to close the loophole of lower WSIB rates; no changes are contemplated until 2019 at the earliest.

    Nor is he taking legal action to hold de facto employers to account, eliminating the temp agency dodge.

    Instead, the Liberal government is opting for half-measures that rely on exhortation, incentives and the goodwill of employers to remedy deep-rooted problems.

    Their approach is to rely on wage parity to fix precarity, rather than delving deeper to ensure WSIB premium parity.

    The underlying problem is that temp agencies are themselves temporary.

    This forces the authorities to play whack-a-mole while workers keep their heads down.

    The best way to prod employers to recognize their responsibilities is not merely through moral suasion in a competitive marketplace, but by legislating a level playing field so that all rivals are bound by the same fair practices.

    The problem of precarious work has been discussed long enough, and now documented well enough.

    Why is this government still not doing enough?

    Martin Regg Cohn’s political column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. mcohn@thestar.ca, Twitter: @reggcohn


    Ontario is complicit in precarious employment: CohnOntario is complicit in precarious employment: Cohn

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    The Oakville town council has voted unanimously to reject a plan to demolish the historic Glen Abbey golf course despite its heritage status.

    Glen Abbey’s owner, ClubLink, filed an application Monday to demolish or remove the golf course and some buildings to make way for a mix of homes, offices and stores.

    The golf course has hosted the Canadian Open 28 times.

    In August, Oakville voted in favour of designating Glen Abbey as a heritage site, giving it some protection under Ontario heritage laws.

    ClubLink had applied to demolish the golf course and several buildings, but some sites, including stables and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame and Museum, would have remained.

    The development plan proposed construction of 141 detached homes, 299 townhomes, 2,782 apartments, retail and office space, as well as parks, open space and natural heritage areas.


    Oakville rejects bid to demolish Glen Abbey golf courseOakville rejects bid to demolish Glen Abbey golf course

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    OTTAWA—The House of Commons status of women committee appears stuck in limbo while the Liberals and Conservatives battle over who gets to chair it.

    “I predict a standoff for some time,” one committee member said Wednesday, 24 hours after Liberal and New Democrat MPs walked out to stop a vote to install Conservative MP Rachael Harder as chair.

    The committee was scheduled to meet Thursday, but the Conservatives asked that the meeting be put off because two of its MPs couldn’t attend. It was rescheduled to next Tuesday.

    That meeting is unlikely to go ahead unless the Liberals back down from their opposition to Harder or the Conservatives agree to nominate someone else.

    Harder, the Liberals and NDP said, is not qualified to chair the committee because she holds anti-abortion views.

    “It’s not that we can’t work with a Conservative as chair of the committee, but the spokesperson for Canadian women should be someone who is representative of the Supreme Court decision that was made in 1988,” said Liberal MP Pam Damoff, who is one of the vice-chairs.

    Harder wouldn’t speak to The Canadian Press on Wednesday but she told the Lethbridge Herald the Liberal walkout was “grandstanding.”

    She also said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is being intolerant of a young, Conservative female MP, since he’s been silent about Liberal MPs who share her anti-abortion views.

    Trudeau said Tuesday the Liberal committee members acted on their own but he supported their decision because “quite frankly, one would hope that the committee for the status of women would have a spokesperson who would be able to stand up and unequivocally defend women’s rights.”

    “That’s sort of the point of the status of women committee.”

    Those comments came just moments after he said Liberals “believe in free speech” when asked how he felt about American professional athletes taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racism.

    His spokesperson said the prime minister’s comments were clear when asked how he squared believing in free speech with blocking a committee chair nomination because of someone’s views.

    Insiders said if the Liberals were surprised by Harder’s nomination, the Conservatives were equally taken aback by the response to it.

    A party spokesperson for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Harder’s nomination came specifically because she was the shadow minister for the status of women.

    Harder has been a member of the status of women committee since January 2016.

    The Campaign Life Coalition endorsed Harder when she first ran for the Conservatives in the riding of Lethbridge in 2015 because she filled out a “perfect” questionnaire, saying she believed life began at conception and would work to introduce and pass laws to ban abortion if she was elected.

    Harder also supported a private members’ bill in 2016 that would have made it a separate offence to injure or kill a fetus in an act of violence against its mother. The bill was defeated a year ago.

    New Democrat MP Sheila Malcolmson wants the Liberals to allow the nomination to come to a vote so it can be voted down, believing the Conservatives would then be forced to nominate someone else.

    She said Harder is free as a parliamentarian to say and believe what she wants, but making an anti-abortion MP the spokesperson for the committee to protect women’s rights would be akin to putting someone who didn’t believe in bilingualism at the helm of the official languages committee.

    “I cannot imagine why Scheer appointed her,” he said. “It’s a strong signal of his view on women’s rights.”


    Anti-abortion MP derails status of women committeeAnti-abortion MP derails status of women committee

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    The alleged killers of a father, mother and adult son who were all found dead in the same Mississauga home years apart have pleaded not guilty to murder, despite a video confession that shows one accused admitting to two of the killings, a jury heard Wednesday.

    Melissa Merritt, 37, and her common-law partner, Christopher Fattore, 39, rose from their seats in a Brampton courtroom to answer to joint charges of first-degree murder in the deaths of Merritt’s estranged husband in 2013 and his mother in 2010.

    Fattore alone is charged with second-degree murder in the death of the estranged husband’s father in 2009.

    Merritt, wearing a dark pantsuit hanging loose on her small frame, blinked back tears as she whispered her plea to both charges: “Not guilty.”

    Fattore, tall and broad with a shaved head and thick-framed glasses, pleaded not guilty to the murder charges, but guilty to manslaughter in the death of Caleb Harrison, Merritt’s estranged spouse. The crown did not accept his manslaughter plea.

    A video confession to be entered as evidence will show that Fattore admitted to two of the killings after he was arrested in 2014, saying, “I killed Bridget and Caleb Harrison,” Crown prosecutor Eric Taylor said in his opening address.

    Read more:

    Relatives seek answers a year after third mysterious death

    Behind the Harrison murders: Woman who called ex’s death ‘very shocking’ now stands accused

    Couple now accused of three separate murders in same family

    Caleb Harrison, 40, was found dead on Aug. 23, 2013. His death was the third to occur in the home at 3635 Pitch Pine Cres. His mother, Bridget Harrison, 63, died there on April 21, 2010. Her body was found at the bottom of a staircase on the main floor, steps away from the powder room where she had discovered the body of her husband, Bill Harrison, 65, one year earlier.

    An abnormal heart rhythm was listed as the most likely cause of Bill Harrison’s 2009 death. Bridget’s death was considered suspicious, but, with no leads, the police investigation “stalled, and then eventually stopped altogether,” Taylor said.

    It was only after Caleb was killed three years later that investigators took a closer look at the earlier deaths.

    In his overview of evidence, including forensic and pathology reports, police surveillance, wiretapped phone calls and court records, Taylor explained that Merritt was involved in a years-long custody dispute with the Harrisons over the two children she and Caleb had together.

    Merritt and Caleb were married in 2001 and separated in 2005 after he was charged with assaulting her and later convicted, the jury heard. Not long after, Caleb drove drunk and killed a man. “No one will suggest to you that Caleb Harrison didn’t have his own issues,” the prosecutor said.

    Caleb moved in with his parents after the couple separated and the children lived with them part time while he and Merritt shared custody, the prosecutor said.

    Merritt and Fattore met in 2006 and have four children together. In March 2009, Bridget and Bill sought and were awarded Caleb’s share of custody while he served a jail sentence for the impaired driving death. Not long after, Merritt and Fattore packed up their bags and left Ontario with the children, in contravention of the custody order.

    Taylor said evidence will show that Bill learned of their impending departure from a mutual friend; the prosecution believes he was killed after confronting Fattore about it.

    Bill’s body was cremated. However, Taylor said evidence will show that a medical examiner who reviewed the case after Caleb died believes Bill Harrison was assaulted shortly before or at the time of his death.

    In November 2009, Merritt was arrested in Nova Scotia on abduction charges and Bridget got custody of the two children. Bridget was killed the day before Merritt was supposed to plead guilty to the abduction charge, Taylor said.

    Fattore told police in his video confession that he forced his way into the Harrison home, hit Bridget a couple of times and then squeezed her neck until she stopped breathing, the prosecutor said.

    Caleb got full custody of the children in 2010. By the summer of 2013, he agreed to alternate weeks with Merritt. She wanted to continue that arrangement permanently, but Caleb would not agree to it unless she paid more child support, Taylor said. Caleb was killed just as the children were to return to him after the final summer week with their mother.

    Fattore told police that he entered Caleb’s bedroom while he was asleep and hit him in the chest, knocked him to the ground after he sprung up, and choked him, Taylor said.

    When officers who arrested Merritt and Fattore in Nova Scotia in 2014 left them alone in a room under surveillance, Fattore told Merritt that he had confessed and that “there’s nothing tying you to it,” Taylor said.

    The prosecutor said evidence will show that is not true. “She was not just an accessory after the fact,” Taylor said. “They were both responsible for the deaths of Bridget and Caleb.”

    Also tying Fattore to Caleb’s death is a pair of Walmart shoes police discovered in his and Merritt’s trash, which contained animal fur linked by DNA evidence to Caleb’s dog, the prosecutor said.

    In one wiretap recording obtained by police, Merritt and Fattore are discussing “the shoes” and Merritt asks how he paid for them, Taylor said.

    “I don’t know, probably cash,” Fattore says in the video, according to the crown. “I don’t think I was stupid enough to use debit.”

    The shoes were purchased with a debit card, Taylor said.

    The trial continues.


    Alleged killers of father, mother and adult son plead not guilty to murderAlleged killers of father, mother and adult son plead not guilty to murder

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    WASHINGTON—The man very likely to be the next United States senator is so anti-gay that he thinks homosexuality should be made illegal, so anti-Muslim that he thinks believers should be banned from Congress, so hostile to the rule of law that he was twice kicked off Alabama’s Supreme Court for defying the rulings of other courts.

    How the heck did Roy Moore, the nationally notorious “Ten Commandments Judge,” win a statewide Republican primary on Tuesday even though the beloved-by-Republicans president endorsed his opponent?

    Lots of factors were at play. Above all, though, there is this: a whole lot of Republicans agree with him.

    “I don’t know anything he stands for that I’m not for. I’m anti-Muslim too,” casually said Gary Head, 65, a real estate broker and the Republican chairman in Russell County. As for Moore’s desire to prohibit homosexuality, Head said, “My old saying is God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

    “He is very effective, very down to earth, and he is very religious. And I’d like to feel I’m the same way,” said Bob Baccus, 69, a member of the Republican committee in Madison County. He insisted that devout Muslims “want you and me dead,” and said that, in his church, “we don’t have any kind of creed, man-made laws or anything else other than what’s in the Bible.”

    Such sentiments helped Moore easily defeat interim senator and former Alabama attorney general Luther Strange, 55 per cent to 45 per cent, despite Trump’s pleas on behalf of the man he nicknamed “Big Luther.”

    The preferredmediaeuphemism for Moore is “evangelical firebrand.” Extremist, bigot and theocrat are more accurate. If Moore prevails in the December general election against Democratic former U.S. attorney Doug Jones, he will become by far the most fanatical member of a caucus that has already shifted markedly to the right in the last eight years — well farther out than even hard-right Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the former senator whose vacancy they are vying to fill.

    Moore’s primary victory is another indication of the prevalence of bigotry in a Trump-era Republican party whose voters and leaders are comfortable with hostility toward racial and religious minority groups, Muslims perhaps above all others.

    Read more:

    Roy Moore wins Alabama Republican primary with Bible-first campaign

    Alabama chief justice suspended over defying same-sex marriage ruling

    Alabama chief justice makes last stand against gay marriage

    Senior party officials who preferred Strange, including Vice-President Mike Pence, rushed to embrace Moore on Tuesday night, showing none of the hesitancy that has marked the public approach to other controversial candidates over the past decade.

    “Congratulations Roy Moore! We are thrilled you ran on the #MAGA (Make America Great Again) agenda & we are for you!” Pence wrote on Twitter.

    Alabama’s gay and Muslim communities were long prepared for a Moore triumph. They watched him get elected as the state’s chief justice in 2013 even though he had been kicked out of the same job a decade earlier for defying a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the court building.

    “There is a movement in this country, hopefully a minority, that is going on to make this a Christian theological state. I call them American Talibans,” said Ashfaq Taufique, 67, president of the Birmingham Islamic Society. “They continue to challenge the secularity of this country and impose their moral values on the rest of the system, in the legislative branch and also the judicial branch.”

    Taufique continued: “Mr. Moore has said in the past that Islam is a ‘fake religion,’ and he has talked about sharia law. I have no idea what he is talking about. But he wants to implement his own sharia.”

    Moore, indeed, has declared that God’s law should prevail over American law. In 2006, he urged Congress to impose an unconstitutional religious test for office, saying Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, a Muslim, should be barred from taking his seat. In 2016, after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, Moore was again turfed from the bench for ordering state judges not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

    His popularity among conservatives does not even appear to have been affected by his repeated insistence that the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, among various other disasters and social problems, was divine punishment for America’s growing godlessness.

    “There’s kind of a hopelessness around the issue of Roy Moore, especially with progressives and LGBT people,” said Brit Blalock, 31, a gay activist and copywriter in Birmingham. “We’re hoping that the extremeness of Roy Moore will potentially give us a shot at a progressive victory. Although we live very realistically down here. It’s a constant struggle of one step forward, two steps back.”

    It is possible that Moore’s victory in one of America’s most conservative states says little about the rest of the country. But party figures of all stripes saw the outcome as another warning shot from a frustrated party base to the party establishment, a discontent that could prompt a wave of far-right primary challenges to Republican incumbents and depress party turnout in the 2018 general election.

    Strange was the clear choice of the party elite, backed by wads of cash from allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Like Trump himself, many Republican voters have grown frustrated with congressional Republicans, McConnell above all others, for their failure to keep their legislative promises like repealing Obamacare.

    Though Strange has been in Washington less than a year, he was successfully branded as an insider. There was widespread disenchantment with the way he got the seat in the first place: an appointment from scandal-plagued now-former governor Roy Bentley, whom Strange’s office was tasked with investigating.

    “I think Alabamians just preferred Judge Moore because they thought he was not part of the Washington crowd,” said Cherokee County Republican chairman Josh Summerford, 36, who works in law enforcement. “Most Alabamians know Judge Moore. And most Alabamians do not believe that Judge Moore is a racist or any of those things. Most Alabamians believe that he’s a good man.”

    Moore was backed by former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, a fellow Islamophobe and rabble-rouser who turned his Breitbart News website into a de facto organ of Moore’s campaign.

    Bannon has threatened to wage a national campaign to oust Republicans insufficiently committed to Trump’s agenda. He warned McConnell and elite Republican operatives at a Moore rally the day before the vote, saying: “All the instruments that tried to destroy Judge Moore and his family, your day of reckoning is coming.”

    Moore emphasized his outsider status with some of his trademark stunts. As usual, he rode a horse to go vote. And the night before, at his last rally, he pulled a handgun out of his pocket.


    ‘I’m anti-Muslim too’: Alabama Republicans align with anti-gay Islamophobe Roy Moore‘I’m anti-Muslim too’: Alabama Republicans align with anti-gay Islamophobe Roy Moore

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    A provincial committee has asked the auditor general to review two controversial new GO Transit stations, after Liberal MPPs abruptly dropped an effort to block the request.

    Opposition Progressive Conservative MPPs moved a motion for an audit of the stops on Wednesday at a meeting of the public accounts committee at Queen’s Park.

    The move followed a Star investigation that revealed Metrolinx approved the stations despite reports that recommended against them.

    One of the stops, called Kirby, would cost about $100 million to build and is in the Vaughan riding represented by Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca. The other, Lawrence East, would cost roughly $23 million and is part of Mayor John Tory’s “SmartTrack” plan.

    Internal documents show that the board of Metrolinx, an arm’s-length agency of the provincial government, approved the stations in June 2016 under political pressure from Del Duca’s ministry.

    Read more:

    Metrolinx pressured to approve GO station in minister’s riding

    What is the Kirby GO station and why did it get approved?

    Metrolinx pledges greater transparency after GO station controversy

    The Liberals hold a majority on the committee and had the ability to block the motion, which called for a “value-for-money” audit. At the start of Wednesday’s meeting, Liberal MPP John Fraser signalled he intended to do just that, declaring: “I won’t be supporting the motion.”

    Fraser said that, while the committee has the authority to direct auditor general Bonnie Lysyk to investigate projects, giving her such specific instructions risked infringing on her independence.

    “It’s a tool that I think should be rarely used,” said Fraser, who represents Ottawa South. “The auditor general is autonomous … She can make those decisions as to what she would like to audit.”

    However, less than 20 minutes into the meeting, Fraser asked for a recess, and left the room with his Liberal colleagues. When they returned soon after, he said he would support the motion because he was satisfied it was broad enough not to affect Lysyk’s autonomy.

    He noted that Lysyk had already stated she was aware of concerns raised about the stations, and intended to consider them as part of a wider review of Metrolinx’s regional transportation plan in her 2018 annual report.

    “I looked at the motion. I don’t think that the concerns that I raised in terms of her discretion are greatly affected … so I think that we can pass that motion and, at her discretion, she will do what she feels is appropriate,” Fraser said.

    Lysyk isn’t scheduled to release her 2018 annual report until at least November of next year, five months after a provincial election expected in June.

    The Conservatives considered amending their motion to have Lysyk report back on the GO stations as soon as March, which was the earliest she said she could complete the work. But the Liberals said they wouldn’t support the earlier timeline.

    Ontario PC transportation critic Michael Harris doesn’t sit on the committee, but crafted the audit motion. He argued it would have been better for the public to see the results of the audit before the end of next year, but “we took half a loaf by passing the motion as is.”

    “There will be specific focus on Kirby and Lawrence East, and I think that that’s a win for taxpayers,” he said.

    Harris claimed the Liberals changed their minds about supporting the motion only after they realized there was a reporter in the committee room.

    “Clearly the government was hoping that nobody was watching or paying attention to this and were prepared to defeat what we felt was a realistic, fair motion,” said Harris, who represents Kitchener-Conestoga.

    Lysyk said in an interview that while her office already intended to audit Metrolinx’s transportation plan, as a result of the motion being approved, her annual report would “specifically highlight” Kirby and Lawrence East.

    The Metrolinx board approved the two stops last year as part of a package of 12 new stations proposed for a $13.5-billion expansion of GO service.

    Business cases commissioned before the vote determined that both stations would attract so few passengers that they would actually cause a net decrease in GO ridership. A report summarizing the business cases, which Metrolinx has never made public, recommended against considering either stop for another 10 years.

    In June 2016, the board met behind closed doors and agreed to support a list of 10 new stations that didn’t include Kirby and Lawrence East.

    The next day, Del Duca’s ministry sent the agency press releases, indicating he intended to announce stops that the board hadn’t supported.

    Soon after, agency officials altered their recommendations to the board to support Kirby and Lawrence East.

    Board members then met in public and approved a list of 12 new stations, including the two controversial stops.

    Since the Star’s investigation, Metrolinx board chair Rob Prichard has ordered a review of Kirby and Lawrence East. Both Prichard and Del Duca have said that neither stop will be built unless the review determines they are warranted.

    Del Duca has declined to explain why his ministry sent the press releases, dismissing the events surrounding the approvals as “historical details.”

    He has said he provided “input” into Metrolinx’s decision making process, and believes that future growth in Vaughan will support the Kirby stop.


    Auditor general to review controversial GO stationsAuditor general to review controversial GO stations

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    SAN DIEGO—The federal government gave the media a first peek Wednesday at construction of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

    Crews working on two of the eight prototypes moved dirt, with one of the crews also installing steel reinforcing bars before concrete is poured.

    Each crew gets only 60 square feet to work on their prototype, prompting some to do assembly work elsewhere before moving the structure to their designated position.

    Contractors have 30 days to finish.

    The rectangular construction zone is fenced off from public viewing in a remote area of San Diego along the Mexico border.

    The models will be tested for the ability to withstand sustained drilling with power tools and to deter crossers with anti-climbing features. They also must be esthetically pleasing from the north side.

    The government will consider the models to guide the proposed construction on the nearly 3,200-kilometre border with Mexico. Trump says he wants them to be see-through.

    Funding is a big question. The administration has requested an initial $1.6 billion (U.S.) next year to replace 22 kilometres of fencing in San Diego and build 95 kilometres in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings.

    Democrats have balked at providing the money.

    Read more:

    California sues Trump administration to prevent border wall

    Trump’s about-face on Dreamers leaves his anti-immigration supporters raging

    Trump picks four companies to build border wall prototypes


    Trump administration gives glimpse of Mexico border wall prototype workTrump administration gives glimpse of Mexico border wall prototype workTrump administration gives glimpse of Mexico border wall prototype workTrump administration gives glimpse of Mexico border wall prototype workTrump administration gives glimpse of Mexico border wall prototype workTrump administration gives glimpse of Mexico border wall prototype work

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    OTTAWA—Good journalism is “critical” to democracy but Ottawa says it won’t bail out media models “that are no longer viable.”

    Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly took the wraps off the Liberal government’s vision for culture in Canada, laying out in broad strokes a road map for everything from onscreen productions, poetry and books and the fate of small-town newspapers.

    In laying out the vision during a noon-hour speech Thursday, Joly looked at the challenges facing local media in Canada, which have been battered by sharp declines in revenue.

    Joly said she’s heard first-hand about the “importance” of local news and the different ways it can be delivered, by radio, television, local newspaper and online outlets.

    “There are no easy solutions to the challenges facing this sector,” Joly said, according to a prepared text of her remarks.

    “We start from the premise that this is a shared responsibility between government at all levels, the private sector and civil society,” she said.

    She said that “reliable” journalism is “critical” to a health democracy and that any government measures must respect journalistic independence.

    “Our approach will not be to bail out industry models that are no longer viable. Rather, we will focus our efforts on supporting innovation, experimentation and transition to digital,” Joly said.

    A report earlier this year painted a grim picture of shrinking media landscape in Canada that has cost journalists their jobs and communities their newspapers.

    Those cuts threaten traditional news outlets, which would imperil the health of Canadian democracy, warned the report, titled “The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age.”

    Written by veteran journalist Edward Greenspon and published by the Public Policy Forum, it urged changes to tax legislation. Currently, advertisements bought on foreign-owned websites like Google, Facebook and the New York Times are tax-deductible.

    It would also introduce HST and GST for digital news subscriptions and advertising on digital media that don’t meet the recommended Canadian content rules, and rebate the HST/GST on those that do.

    Revenue from these taxes, which the report estimates could reach $400 million per year, would finance a new, arm’s-length organization called the Future of Journalism and Democracy Fund, which would support digital innovation, civic journalism, local news media and Indigenous reporting.

    In laying out her vision Thursday, Joly made no mention of those proposed remedies.

    Instead, she floated the possibility of assistance through the Canada Periodical Fund, which provides financial support to print magazines, non-daily newspapers and digital periodicals.

    However, a heritage department official told a reporter at a Thursday briefing that any further details would have to wait until next year.

    In the meantime, Joly highlighted a decision by Facebook to work with Ryerson University to create a digital news incubator.


    No bailout for ailing media outlets, Ottawa saysNo bailout for ailing media outlets, Ottawa says

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    Queen’s Park is moving to allay businesses’ fears over the forthcoming increase to the minimum wage.

    Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said the government will soon unveil a package of measures to offset the impact of the $11.40 hourly wage rising to $14 in January and $15 in 2019.

    “We know this is challenging for small business — we don’t underestimate that challenge,” Flynn told reporters Thursday at Snakes and Lattes, a College Street café.

    “If government and business can work together, we can get this right,” he said.

    “You look at things like taxes, you look at things like regulations, you look at things like the employer health tax — you look at those types of things. So I think if there was going to be any sort of relief it would be amongst the existing channels between government and business.”

    His comments came the same week as TD Bank warned that the wage hike could cost the province up to 90,000 jobs and the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis recommended slowing down the phase-in of the increase to protect employment.

    The province’s independent Financial Accountability Office estimates 50,000 jobs could be lost because businesses will have to reduce staff to handle soaring payroll costs.

    “They’re a forecast, they’re a guess, and you see the guesses are all over the place. They’re all over the map to be blunt,” said Flynn, noting research by OECD, the Center for Economic and Policy Research in the U.S., and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that urge a higher minimum wage.

    “I haven’t seen anything that would steer me away from the current course that we’re on. I want to make sure that everybody who works a week’s work in Ontario is able to raise a family, is able to afford the basics,” he said.

    Ben Castanie, owner of the three Snakes and Lattes board game cafés, said his 100 workers, who are already paid more than the current minimum wage, will be getting a well-deserved raise.

    “We have a little bit of catching up to do,” said Castanie, adding he does “not necessarily” think he will need to raise his prices to afford the higher wages.

    “It could be a great thing for us if everyone makes more money and has a little bit more disposable income. It’s definitely beneficial to us,” he said.

    Not all businesses are embracing the changes.

    Peter Gossmann — co-owner of Plasticap, a plastics injection molding company in Richmond Hill — said he worries about the effect on the overall labour force, not just minimum wage earners.

    His firm’s 35 unionized employees are members of Unifor and earn at least $15.80 an hour.

    “It will inflate all of the wages. It seems to me that . . . the government wants to increase . . . wages to increase their taxes,” said Gossmann, noting the provincial treasury stands to benefit most from higher salaries.

    “So it’s a windfall for the government. It’s going to contribute to inflation. Inflation contributes to higher interest rates and that stifles growth.”


    Province tries to allay business fears over minimum wage hikeProvince tries to allay business fears over minimum wage hike

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    SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO—First, Hurricane Maria knocked out power and water to Puerto Rico. Then diesel fuel, gas and water became scarce. Now, it’s money.

    The aftermath of the powerful storm has resulted in a near-total shutdown of the U.S. territory’s economy that could last for weeks and has many people running seriously low on cash and worrying that it will become even harder to survive on this storm-ravaged island.

    Read more: Trump tweets about ‘deep trouble’ in Puerto Rico, says island is billions in debt

    Parts of Puerto Rico nearing desperation as food, water and fuel supplies begin to run out

    Nearly half of Americans don’t know Puerto Ricans are also U.S. citizens

    There are long lines at the banks that are open with reduced hours or the scattered ATMs that are operational amid an islandwide power outage and near total loss of telecommunications. Many people are unable to work or run their businesses because diesel to run generators is in short supply or they can’t spend all day waiting for gas to fill their car.

    Engineer Octavio Cortes predicts it will only get worse because so many of the problems are interconnected and cannot be easily resolved.

    “I don’t know how much worse it’s going to get,” Cortes said as he joined other motorists stopping on a bridge over a river in northern Puerto Rico to catch a faint cellphone signal. “Right now it’s manageable, but I don’t know about next week or after that.”

    The father of six typically works from home or travels around the world for his job, but neither approach is possible now because the power is still out for nearly all 3.4 million people in Puerto Rico and flights off the island are down to only a few each day.

    While Cortes is OK for the moment, others don’t have nearly the same resources.

    Cruzita Mojica is an employee of the Puerto Rico Treasury Department in San Juan. While she, like many public sector workers, has been called back to work she can’t go because she has to care for her elderly mother in the aftermath of the storm. She got up at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday and went to four ATM machines only to find each one empty.

    “Of course I took out money before the hurricane, but it’s gone already,” she said. “We’re without gasoline. Without money. Without food. This is a disaster.”

    Surgical technician Dilma Gonzalez said she had only $40 left and her job hasn’t called people back to work yet in the capital. “Until they let us know otherwise, I’m not supposed to go back,” she said with a shrug as she pressure washed the street in front of her house, sending muddy debris flying.

    All are struggling with the overwhelming devastation of Hurricane Maria, which began tearing across the island early in the morning of Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm with winds of 249 km/h. It destroyed the entire electricity grid while grinding up homes, businesses, roads and farms. At least 16 people were killed. There still is no exact tally of the cost and full extent of the damage, but Gov. Ricardo Rossello says it will bring a complete halt to the economy for at least a month.

    “This is the single biggest, major catastrophe in the history of Puerto Rico, bar none, and it is probably the biggest hurricane catastrophe in the United States,” Rossello said Wednesday as he delivered aid to the southern town of Salinas, whose mayor says 100 per cent of the agriculture there was wiped out when the wind tore up plantain, corn, vegetables and other crops.

    On Thursday the Trump administration announced it was waiving the Jones Act, a little-known federal law that prohibits foreign-flagged ships from shuttling goods between U.S. ports, for Puerto Rico. Republicans and Democrats have pushed for the move, saying it could help get desperately needed supplies to the island more quickly and at less cost.

    White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Twitter that U.S. President Donald Trump had “authorized the Jones Act be waived for Puerto Rico” in response to a request from Rossello and that it “will go into effect immediately.”

    Antonia Garcia, a retiree who lives in the city of Bayamon, said she was down to her last $4. She spent a day using precious gas to look for an ATM that was in operation because she couldn’t get into her credit union, which was taking only 200 customers a day. “This has become chaotic,” she said.

    Puerto Rico was already struggling before the storm. The island has been in a recession for more than a decade, the poverty rate was 45 per cent and unemployment was around 10 per cent, higher than any U.S. state. Manufacturers of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, which are the most important segment of the economy, have been shedding jobs for years. Now everything from multinational companies to small businesses and ranches are scrambling to get enough fuel to run generators while their employees struggle to even get to work.

    Before the storm, the island’s government was in the midst of bitter negotiations with creditors to restructure a portion of its $73 billion in debt, which the previous governor declared unpayable. Rossello appeared to warn the bondholders that the storm had made things worse. “Puerto Rico practically will have no income for the next month,” he told reporters.

    Making matters worse for many consumers is the fact that those food stores that are open, typically on reduced hours, are unable to process credit or bank cards or the local system of welfare payments. The businesses are insisting on cash, even though that is technically illegal.

    Still, as in any economic crisis, there are people who find the upside. Christian Mendoza said the car wash where he works hasn’t reopened so he has been selling bottled water, even without refrigeration. “The water hot and it still went like you wouldn’t believe,” he said.

    Another relative success story is Elpidio Fernandez, a 78-year-old who sells coconut and passion fruit ice cream from a pushcart on the streets of San Juan and has a supplier with a generator. He has made up to $500 on some days since the storm.

    “Business has multiplied by a thousand,” he said, but he quickly added: “Even though I’m doing well, I don’t feel good because I know other people are suffering.”


    ’This is a disaster’: Money starts to run out in Puerto Rico’This is a disaster’: Money starts to run out in Puerto Rico

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    The city is being put on the hook to close the budget gap for repairs to crumbling public housing — a bill totalling $1.6 billion.

    The bulk of the remaining repairs backlog, long known and left unaddressed, is now to be the direct responsibility of the city, outlined in a 2018 budget tabled by Toronto Community Housing at the board Thursday.

    The new plan, approved Thursday, means city council is now solely responsible for $160 million annually for the next 10 years. An additional $810 million is required to fund a total $2.4 billion over the next 10 years — what is expected from other levels of government.

    It is a plan that both acknowledges the lack of investment from other governments to date and one that would ensure no more public housing units close.

    “At the end of the day all levels of government have a responsibility to invest in Toronto Community Housing, but our TCH budget calls on the city to be our line of last defence always,” said Councillor Joe Cressy, a member of the TCH board, after the vote.

    He said it’s significant that the city will now have a dedicated capital budget line item for Toronto Community Housing. On meeting that need to prevent more units being boarded up, Cressy said: “I’m optimistic the political will is there.”

    The revised plans follow a council direction moved by Cressy and passed in July that Toronto Community Housing “ensure that no additional housing units are permanently closed in 2018 and 2019.”

    The original 10-year capital repairs plan requested the city, province and federal governments split a $2.6 billion bill three ways.

    Though the city, largely through mortgage and other refinancing, has contributed nearly $1 billion, the other governments have never committed to that plan.

    There remain few additional opportunities to refinance mortgages, the TCH board heard Thursday.

    Sheila Penny, vice-president of facilities management, confirmed Thursday that a re-forecasted plan would ensure no more units are shuttered.

    Toronto Community Housing was on track to close 400 units next year on top of 600 to be closed this year.

    Today, in communities like Firgrove in North York, there are residents packing their belongings into boxes as more than 100 families are displaced from their townhomes because they are beyond repair and soon to be inhabitable.

    The repairs required are not superficial. They include roof replacement, new furnaces, elevators and plumbing problems.

    TCH data provided to the Star earlier this year showed more than 30 social housing properties are already in serious disrepair and 222 of 364 developments are ranked in “poor” condition.

    The new plan would see $300 million in repairs spending next year and in 2019, with spending ramping up to $350 million through 2026.

    City council could fulfil a request to pay the $1.6 billion through other governments, if they agreed to pay.

    The federal government announced $11 billion for affordable housing over 11 years, including social housing, but it is not yet known how much might be available for TCH and when.

    The province has not responded to repeated pleas to contribute a one-third share and has not outlined social housing spending beyond $343 million promised over three years for energy retrofits.


    City on hook for $1.6 billion to fix crumbling public housingCity on hook for $1.6 billion to fix crumbling public housing

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    In a rare decision an adjudicator has rejected the refugee claim of a Sudanese man, finding it not credible, but granted asylum to his wife and their three children.

    Normally, the negative decision against Nasreldin Ali Akad Himad would not have mattered since he would be included in the permanent residence application with the immediate family members who were recognized as protected persons.

    However, by law the 49-year-old Toronto man is considered “removable” by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). He is facing deportation Saturday and a lengthy separation from his family before he can return to Canada.

    “The government is utilizing valuable and limited resources to enforce removal of an individual who has a strong chance of returning to Canada as a permanent resident,” said the family’s immigration lawyer Ashley Fisch. “This defies any sense of logic and accountability to taxpayers.”

    Himad has already passed the criminal and medical screening, which means if he were to be deported to Sudan, it’s virtually certain he would ultimately be approved for permanent residence and return to Canada.

    With exception of cases involving refugee parents with American-born children, who are U.S. citizens and ineligible, Fisch said she is only aware of one other case at the Immigration and Refugee Board that split the decision, on a recent family claim from Libya.

    While a family often relies on the principal asylum-seeker’s risk and fear factors as the basis of a claim, sometimes each member also adds their individual unique circumstances that put their lives in danger to strengthen the collective claim.

    Although immigration officials are in charge of processing permanent residence applications and place a strong emphasis on family reunification, border agents are the ones responsible for removals.

    Himad and his wife married in Saudi Arabia, where they were both temporary residents, and sought asylum in Canada in January based on the husband’s claim that he was detained and beaten by the Sudanese National Security because of trumped up accusations of inciting unrest against the regime.

    Himad’s wife Baraka Suleman Khalefa, an Eritrean national, claimed that if she was rejected and returned to Eritrea, she would face a serious possibility of persecution.

    Their son, Ali, 18, said he feared the additional risk of forced conscription if returned to his father’s home country in Sudan, while the daughters, Rafif, 9, and Lamis, 4, claimed they would for certain be forced to undergo female genital mutilation if they stepped on Sudanese soil.

    Refugee board adjudicator Vania Campana accepted everyone’s claim but Himad’s.

    “With respect to the principal claimant . . . I do not find you to be a credible witness concerning material aspects of your claim,” Campana wrote in her decision delivered earlier this year, adding that Himad at times provided inconsistent information or was unable to recall details of the events in his claim.

    “You sir are not a person of interest to the Sudanese government because of your political opinion and I therefore find that you do not face a serious risk of persecution in Sudan on this basis.”

    The border agency said Himad is under an enforceable removal order as a failed refugee claimant.

    “The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act states that removal orders must be enforced as soon as possible. CBSA is committed to doing so,” said the agency, which denied a request by Himad’s lawyer to defer the deportation.

    Himad, who speaks broken English, said he did not have access to interpreters when he and his family crossed the United States land border to file the asylum claim, and hence did not fully comprehend the border officer’s questions resulting in the inconsistent information at his asylum hearings.

    “I have mixed feelings about the refugee decision. I’m happy my family is in a safe place now, but I’m disappointed that we would be torn apart,” said Himad, who has been working at an auto parts factory in Toronto to support his family.

    In rejecting the plea to stay the deportation, the border agency said the children will have the love and support of their mother during the period of adjustment.

    “The children can request additional support at their school which may help them excel in school faster,” said the border enforcement officer responsible for the file. “The children can remain in the care of their mother, I believe they will have every opportunity to become capable and caring individuals.”

    Fisch said currently it takes 23 months for the Immigration Department to process permanent residence applications for protected persons. Once his family receives their permanent status, Himad’s application will then be processed overseas and he must apply for an authorization to return to Canada.


    Refugee judge's decision to accept wife and reject husband 'defies logic,' lawyer saysRefugee judge's decision to accept wife and reject husband 'defies logic,' lawyer saysRefugee judge's decision to accept wife and reject husband 'defies logic,' lawyer saysRefugee judge's decision to accept wife and reject husband 'defies logic,' lawyer saysRefugee judge's decision to accept wife and reject husband 'defies logic,' lawyer saysRefugee judge's decision to accept wife and reject husband 'defies logic,' lawyer says

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    A retired OPP detective has been rejected as an expert witness for the Crown in the criminal trial of two Dalton McGuinty aides accused of deleting documents related to the cancellation of gas-fired power plants.

    In a blow to prosecutors, Judge Timothy Lipson ruled Thursday that former detective-sergeant Robert Gagnon, a computer forensics specialist, cannot offer opinions when testifying on evidence gleaned from computer hard drives and BlackBerrys seized under search warrants.

    Lipson said Gagnon was too close to the investigation to be relied upon for impartial interpretation.

    “This is a clear case for exclusion,” the judge said in a ruling that took one hour to deliver in ‎court.

    Comments made about the case in‎ emails and other forums by Gagnon were “the kind one would expect to hear from a partisan police investigator,” not an independent expert witness, Lipson added.

    Read more:

    Key witness at gas plants case not impartial, defence says

    McGuinty staffers ‘destroyed records they had a duty to preserve,’ gas plant trial told

    The truth about hydro in Ontario: a fact check

    The trial was delayed for two days while Lipson made his ruling in the case against David Livingston, who was the final chief of staff to McGuinty before he stepped aside as premier, and former deputy chief Laura Miller.

    They are charged with breach of trust, mischief in relation to data and misuse of a computer system in the alleged wiping of hard drives in the McGuinty premier’s office prior to Kathleen Wynne replacing him in February 2013.

    Livingston, a former investment banker, and Miller have pleaded not guilty. They face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the charges laid almost two years ago.

    Defence lawyers argued Gagnon, who was recruited out of retirement to do forensic examinations on the computers, was too involved in the investigation to be unbiased.

    Prosecutor Tom Lemon flatly rejected that assertion, maintaining Gagnon is a technical expert hired to provide technical services and advice to a police probe that involved complicated and detailed forensic examinations of computers.

    Miller lawyer Scott Hutchison said in court that Gagnon was involved in numerous meetings and conference calls about the case with OPP investigators and the Crown — and went so far as to suggest an additional charge of mischief in relation to data be laid against the defendants.

    Lipson ruled this was “the most concerning example” of Gagnon’s involvement.

    “Mr. Gagnon regarded himself as a team member.”

    Hutchison also told Lipson that expert witnesses must be “independent and impartial” and said recent legal precedents require the court to determine in advance whether expert witnesses are admissible to prevent trials from being improperly influenced.

    The gas-fired power plants were cancelled by McGuinty’s Liberal government before the 2011 provincial election.

    McGuinty, who has said the plants were scrapped because they were too close to residential areas in Mississauga and Oakville, was not a subject of the police investigation and co-operated with officers.

    Opposition parties insist the government scrapped the plants, which faced community opposition, at a huge cost to taxpayers to save Liberal seats in the 2011 vote in which McGuinty was reduced to a minority.


    Judge rejects expert witness as too biased in gas plants trialJudge rejects expert witness as too biased in gas plants trial

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    Don’t get me wrong: Hyperloop, the Elon Musk-inspired transportation technology that could one day ferry people to and from distant cities in under an hour, is extremely cool. It’s also extremely cool that this means of science fiction transportation, which moves passengers via “electric propulsion through a low-pressure tube,” might get its real-world start right here in Toronto.

    Last year, Hyperloop One, a company attempting to turn Musk’s vision into a profitable reality, launched an open call for proposals, asking scientists to develop their own hyper-speed travel routes. And just last week, the company announced the winning results, among them a proposal by a design team called HyperCan, for a route that could transport people from Toronto to Montreal in 39 minutes.

    Just imagine: No more five-and-a-half-hour road trips, no more red-eye bus rides and, most importantly, no more Tim Horton’s drive-through for dinner. If this kind of technology succeeds, it’s entirely possible that Torontonians could travel to Montreal to attend a Leafs away game against the Habs and make it home well before midnight. Thanks to Hyperloop, fair-weather Leafs fans that lose faith when their team is down a few goals after the second period may even be able to make it back to Toronto before the end of the third when (their loss) Auston Matthews turns things around for a win.

    Like I said: extremely cool.

    Read more:

    More than $2 billion in capital projects unfunded: TTC

    If it’s worth spending billions to build a subway in Scarborough it’s worth properly linking the waterfront to Union: Keenan

    And yet, it’s also extremely infuriating. It’s infuriating because there’s something far cooler than Toronto’s very own hyper-speed travel tube. And that is a plain old-fashioned travel tube, a.k.a. a subway, the kind that can get a person from one end of the city to the other.

    All this to say Toronto to Montreal in 39 minutes, while extremely cool, doesn’t count for much in the eyes of a regular TTC streetcar rider when it’s hard enough getting from Toronto to Toronto in 39 minutes.

    I’m not advocating that the city abstain from celebrating advancements in technology or embracing the future; it’s difficult to get excited about province-to-province hyperspeed travel when it takes me almost a full hour to get to work within my own city on a good day. (A good day in my definition is when my streetcar doesn’t short turn or derail, forcing the driver to leave his post and literally get us back on track. There’s nothing more pathetically Toronto than sitting on a derailed streetcar looking out the window as your driver takes a wrench to the tracks while a police officer on horseback trots by; 2018, here we come!)

    Forgive me if I am not optimistic about the Hyperloop. It just seems as though we’re really jumping the gun by applauding Star Trek-level stuff, when our congested, increasingly unaffordable city doesn’t even boast a fully wheelchair accessible transit system (the TTC has said all stations will be accessible by 2025).

    The desire for Toronto to blossom into a so-called world-class metropolis worthy of films not just shot here but actually set here is normal. I share these desires. I’m just as insecure as the next Torontonian. But none of these dreams, be they Toronto’s first Hyperloop or our very own Amazon headquarters, will come to fruition or enjoy lasting success if we don’t work on the basics.

    And there is nothing more basic than a decent, accessible transit system — one in which you can get from one end of the city to the other in a reasonable amount of time; one in which a person on horseback doesn’t reach his destination before you do.

    In the end, the biggest barrier to this basic reality is not big ideas like the Hyperloop, but politicians unwilling to take big risks in fear of losing support and, eventually, power. Digging into the earth, closing off roads, building transit where people will actually use it: These are actions that will inconvenience and anger millions in the short term.

    Unfortunately, they’re also the actions required to effect positive change. Unless someone in charge is willing to risk their power to effect that change, we can look forward to a very strange future in this city — a future where we’ll be able to get to Montreal in less time than it takes us to get home from work.

    Emma Teitel is a national affairs columnist.


    Why care about getting to Montreal in 39 minutes when the TTC can't get a commuter across Toronto in that time?: TeitelWhy care about getting to Montreal in 39 minutes when the TTC can't get a commuter across Toronto in that time?: Teitel

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    Doug Ford says his family is grateful, appreciative and “very honoured” that Toronto Mayor John Tory and others want to officially rename an Etobicoke playing field “Rob Ford Memorial Stadium.”

    Ford made the comments Thursday as debate swirled about whether it is an appropriate honour for the late Rob Ford, beloved by many for his populist brand of public service and personal touch but reviled by others for his penny-pinching politics and tumultuous mayoral term scarred by substance abuse.

    “We're grateful as a family that they are going to move forward with this,” Doug Ford said in an interview, after the Star reported that Tory wrote to his council colleagues proposing renaming Centennial Park stadium, along with as-yet unspecified honours for the late councillors Pam McConnell and Ron Moeser.

    Read more:

    Rob Ford Memorial Stadium? Doug Ford wants it, John Tory backs it

    He was a terrible mayor, but naming football stadium after Rob Ford fine by me: Keenan

    Doug Ford, a former Ward 2 Etobicoke North councillor who lost to Tory in the 2014 mayoral election, and has vowed to beat him in a 2018 rematch, publicly pushed for the renaming in a March interview with CityNews, saying he didn’t know why it was taking so long to honour his brother who had also represented the ward on council and died in March 2016 after a battle with a rare aggressive cancer.

    “We’d like it to possibly be named the Rob Ford stadium. He coached there . . . . He played, himself, there and it’s local. It’s a pretty modest ask,” Doug Ford told the TV station.

    On Thursday, he said Councillor Stephen Holyday, whose Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre includes the stadium, got behind the effort and there is no awkwardness in thanking Tory, currently a political enemy, for writing to his council colleagues urging them to support the move at city council.

    “Politics is politics. We’ve known John and his family for over 25 years — he used to be a broadcaster and would kind of go after us once in a while so, it’s politics,” Doug Ford said. “You’ve got to separate politics and something like this, it’s always a sensitive area for anyone so we’re going to carry on.

    “We’re grateful, we’re appreciative and we’ve very honoured,” plus pleased about promised honours for McConnell and Moeser, he said.

    On Twitter, some celebrated the news but many panned the idea of naming a stadium, where children regularly have athletic championships, after a man who publicly struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and lied about it for months.

    Fred Shilson emailed to say Rob Ford “has not really done a lot for sports in Etobicoke,” pointing to a list of local sports boosters he called more deserving.

    A member of Tory’s executive committee, Councillor Jon Burnside, said he will vote against the Ford honour.

    “I absolutely appreciative the attempt but am on record opposing the naming of civic roads or facilities after politicians,” he said in an interview.

    “I firmly believe we should be celebrating the work of people who contribute to the building of the city without being paid. We can celebrate Rob Ford and Pam McConnell for the great work they did, but that was their job.”

    Burnside noted he recently voted against naming a short TTC access street at York University “Howard Moscoe Way” after the former city councillor and TTC chair who is about to release his memoir.

    If council insists on naming things after politicians, it should wait a decade to ensure the public still supports the change, Burnside said.


    ‘Rob Ford Memorial Stadium’ proposal triggers gratitude, groans in Toronto‘Rob Ford Memorial Stadium’ proposal triggers gratitude, groans in Toronto

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    Family and friends of Taquisha McKitty cheered outside the courtroom Thursday afternoon when a judge ruled that she would grant a two-week injunction that would keep her on life support.

    Superior Court Justice Lucille Shaw ruled that a doctor would run further tests on McKitty, 27, as her family hopes to get her death certificate cancelled.

    McKitty was declared dead by Dr. Omar Hayani on Sept. 20, after a drug overdose on Sept. 14.

    Hayani had signed a death certificate, but McKitty’s family believed the doctor acted too quickly. They argued that while she was considered brain dead — which is absolute death by Ontario law — her heart was beating and she was responsive to requests to move by friends and family.

    McKitty’s family won an emergency injunction the next day to keep her on life support but that one expired Thursday.

    Friends and family of McKitty stood outside of Brampton Civic hospital Wednesday, singing gospel songs and hoping for a miracle.


    Judge grants two-week injunction to allow Brampton woman to stay on life supportJudge grants two-week injunction to allow Brampton woman to stay on life support

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    Jared Kushner’s bad week just got a little weirder.

    On Sunday, Politico reported that the presidential son-in-law and adviser corresponded with top White House officials through a private email server (and he wasn’t the only one). On Monday, a prankster impersonating the real estate scion — apparently convincingly — asked his lawyer what to do with pictures “featuring adult content” he said he had received. The lawyer responded: “Don’t delete. Don’t send to anyone. Let’s chat in a bit.”

    While reports about Kushner’s emails are not analogous with those on Hillary Clinton’s, they nonetheless raised questions about security and hypocrisy in the chaotic Trump White House, from which Trump ridiculed Clinton for her use of a private email server long after Election Day.

    Read more:

    Jared Kushner used private email account for some White House business, his lawyer admits

    At least 6 advisers to Donald Trump have used a private email account, an issue he hammered Hillary Clinton over

    The news on Wednesday was different, but nonetheless eyebrow raising: When Jared Kushner registered to vote in 2009, he apparently identified his sex as female.

    Democratic opposition research group American Bridge spotted the error, which was first reported by Wired.

    It prompted any number of questions.

    There were only two options on the New York voter registration form he filled out: M, for male, and F, for female.

    Did he mean to register as a female? Was it unintentional? If so, how did he mess that up?

    A spokesperson for Kushner did not respond to a request for comment. Prior to 2009, his New Jersey voter registration noted his gender as “unknown,” The Hill reported.

    It’s not the first time Kushner has run into trouble with important paperwork.

    This summer, The Washington Post reported that three times, Kushner had filed updates to his national security questionnaire because of missing information.

    The first time his national security questionnaire was submitted Jan. 18, the form did not list his foreign contact and got the dates of his graduate degrees and his father-in-law’s address wrong.

    “Kushner can’t even fill out the most basic paperwork without screwing it up, so it’s a mystery why anyone thinks he’s somehow going to bring peace to the Middle East,” Brad Bainum, a spokesperson for the Democratic political action committee American Bridge, told Wired.

    Trump has given Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, a long list of responsibilities. Among other things, the 36-year-old has been charged with bringing peace to the Middle East, reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction.

    A small group of White House lawyers this summer reportedly urged Kushner to step down amid a broadening probe into whether the Trump campaign co-ordinated with Russians in the 2016 election, but the idea to force him out was ultimately rejected.

    The news that he had registered to vote as a woman also struck some as ironic given Trump’s emphasis on rooting out allegedly rampant voter fraud, which he has so far failed to identify.

    Kushner, along with former White House press secretary Sean Spicer and former chief strategist Stephen Bannon, had registered to vote in two states during the fall election, The Washington Post reported earlier this year. Dual registration was one of the signs Trump pointed to when claiming widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election, which has led to a “major investigation” into his unsubstantiated claim that millions of people illegally cast votes for Clinton.

    Earlier this month, Trump’s voter fraud commission, which is chaired by Vice-President Mike Pence, got off to a rocky start at its first meeting in New Jersey, with Democratic members openly questioning whether conservative analysts were overstating evidence of voting fraud.

    But Kushner’s misstated gender likely does not constitute a voter fraud, according to Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt.

    “There has to be an intent to give the false information,” Levitt told Wired. “If he (for some reason) knowingly registered as a woman — for what purpose, I could not guess — that might be described as voter fraud, though it would have negligible effect on the determination of his eligibility, and so wouldn’t amount to much anyway.”

    Comedian Samantha Bee, the host of TBS’ Full Frontal, is not cutting Kushner any slack.

    Bee, a vocal Trump critic, tweeted the article on Wednesday with the phrase “lock her up,” turning the common chant Trump supporters used on Clinton against Kushner.


    Jared Kushner registered to vote as a female in 2009 — it’s not his first paperwork mistakeJared Kushner registered to vote as a female in 2009 — it’s not his first paperwork mistake

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    Since news broke that Hugh Hefner, founder and editor of Playboy magazine, died Wednesday night at the age of 91 fans called him a “cultural icon,” and “media titan,” while critics hesitated to mourn a man they said embodied “male entitlement.”

    Oakville resident Julie McLeod remembers him another way: as a kind, gracious host.

    Hefner was well-known as a radical hedonist who played a major role in bringing sex into the mainstream of American media — a legacy that’s brought him both praise and derision.

    Read more:

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    McLeod, a former model and actress, was living in a hotel in Los Angeles in 1984 when her friend and fellow model Carrie Leigh — then Hefner’s girlfriend — invited her to stay at his famed home instead.

    “I was a young woman so I was apprehensive,” McLeod told the Star on Thursday, nodding to the controversy surrounding Hefner that he made his living largely off women’s sexuality.

    “There are a lot of people that will presume I must have been a playmate and it must have been wild. That was contrary to my experience.”

    “I am very much a feminist and I never for a moment felt any level of sexism or stereotypical treatment of females,” she said of her time with the celebrity.

    McLeod told the Star she ended up staying at the Playboy mansion for about six months as a guest, where she got to know Hefner, his friends, and many “playmates” — women featured in the magazine who stayed in the mansion’s guesthouse.

    As soon as she arrived she was given a list of where all the guests in the mansion were staying, and how to reach the butler. It was an instant signal of the luxurious lifestyle she had just entered.

    She described the time of her stay as both “wonderful” and “surreal.”

    “The most wonderful side of it was Hef’s just a normal human being,” she said.

    One time over Christmas, Hefner was worried about her being lonely, so he made sure to keep her company over a private breakfast — a small, human act of kindness, she said.

    Other times she more easily recognized the glamorous, larger-than-life celebrity hotspot the mansion was painted as in the media.

    On Christmas Eve, Hefner and his guests were sitting around a large ornate Christmas tree when Tony Bennett came out to sing.

    “You never knew who you’d see,” McLeod said.

    She said she understands why some people have a stereotypical view of Hefner — after all, he worked hard to hone his “playboy” image and project it to the outside world.

    Wild parties weren’t really part of the deal, at least not in McLeod’s experience there. On Fridays and Saturdays party guests would usually go home by 11 p.m.

    Still, “they all want to believe in that Hollywood dazzle,” she said.


    Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion a ‘surreal’ experience for Canadian who stayed six monthsHugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion a ‘surreal’ experience for Canadian who stayed six months

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    The high-profile case of an Ontario woman who alleges she was gang-raped by Paris officers inside police headquarters will proceed to trial, after the French Court of Appeal on Thursday overturned a lower court’s decision to dismiss the case.

    “This is just ‘wow.’ It’s huge for victims and women’s rights in France,” Emily Spanton said in an interview from her home in St. Catharines. “It feels like a major victory.”

    The unanimous ruling from a panel of three judges means that two Paris police officers from a prestigious anti-gang brigade will go to trial for viol en réunion— gang rape — stemming from a 2014 encounter while Spanton was visiting Paris. The trial is expected to begin next year.

    “We’re really pleased that the Court of Appeal came to this decision, and came to it unanimously,” said Howard Rubel, Spanton’s Toronto-based lawyer. “Now, an open court will be allowed to hear all of the evidence, and a decision will be made on what really happened that day back in April 2014.”

    After Spanton, 37, came forward with explosive allegations that she was gang-raped by at least two officers inside the storied Paris police headquarters, a French investigative judge launched an expansive two-year probe into Spanton’s account.

    Read more:

    French panel rules against rape trial for Toronto woman

    ‘I don’t want to live in a world where I’m silent’: French courts back Canadian’s rape allegations

    Completed last year, the probe recommended that charges be laid against two of the officers and that the case should proceed to trial, based on incriminating evidence that included an explicit text from one officer to another calling Spanton a derogatory sexual name.

    However, weeks later, a panel of French judges ruled to dismiss the case, finding there was insufficient evidence against the officers to merit a trial.

    The decision was immediately appealed by Spanton’s French lawyers — “this is not the end,” Sophie Obadia told the Star last year — and the move resulted in Thursday’s decision to send the case to trial. No detailed reasons for the reversal have yet been provided by the court, said Rubel.

    Sébastien Schapira, the lawyer of one of the two Paris officers, said in an email that the decision “is obviously very difficult for my client, who was hoping to return to normal life.”

    “(He) will again have to face unfounded accusations that continue to vary. However, he remains aggressive and confident about the outcome of the trial,” said Schapira, who has previously told reporters his client claims he had consensual sex with Spanton.

    The names of the two officers now accused of gang-raping Spanton cannot be published, according to French media lawyers, due to a provision in French law that prohibits the identification of police officers working in certain units.

    French media have previously reported that the officers, now 39 and 48, were from a prestigious anti-gang unit, and were suspended after Spanton came forward with her allegations.

    Attempts to reach the lawyer for the other officer were not successful Thursday. French media have previously reported that the officer denied having intercourse with Spanton.

    Spanton, the daughter of a now-retired senior Toronto police officer, revealed her identity to the Star last year to raise awareness about issues of sexual assault. In particular, she stressed the importance of obtaining clear consent before engaging in sexual activity.

    Spanton says she was exceedingly intoxicated on the night in question and “was in no state to give consent.”

    “We need to be having a societal conversation about what actual consent is,” she said in an interview last year.

    The case — which has become a national scandal in France — stems from an encounter between Spanton and a group of officers on April 23, 2014.

    Spanton was at a pub across from the Paris police headquarters during a trip to France, and opted to join a group of officers from the anti-gang brigade. After drinking together, Spanton and a few officers decided to go to the police headquarters across the street so Spanton could get a tour.

    As previously reported by the Star, Spanton told investigators that, once inside, she was walked past two security checkpoints, given scotch inside someone’s office, then raped by at least two officers, according a source close to the case. She then ran away and flagged down another officer inside the station to report she had been raped.

    French media have reported that the investigation into Spanton’s account found an explicit text from one officer to another on the night in question. The text reportedly said: “Hurry up, she is a partouzeuse” — French slang referring to a woman who has sex with multiple partners at one time.

    French newspaper Le Figaro reported that the text was deleted on the sender’s phone but found on the recipient’s.

    In late 2015, more than 100 officers and staff at the Paris police headquarters were asked to give DNA samples to aid in the investigation. French media reported at the time that three DNA traces were found on Spanton’s underwear, two belonging to officers who are now under investigation and a third that had not been identified.

    Spanton, who is now living in the Niagara region, said after the July 2016 decision not to go to trial that she decided she needed to refocus and turned to local activism, working predominantly on environmental issues in the community. She plans to attend the trial and testify, saying she already feels validated by Court of Appeal decision.

    “Even if I lose at trial now, I feel like I’ve won. I’m actually getting a trial and get to face them publicly.”

    Wendy Gillis can be reached at wgillis@thestar.ca.


    French court sends Paris police to trial on allegations of raping Ontario womanFrench court sends Paris police to trial on allegations of raping Ontario woman

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    Toronto’s 40th murder victim of the year had a few things in common with the city’s 41st.

    They were both men, both killed on the same day, for starters. Sept. 17. They were both killed by gunshot. While they are unrelated, they were both targeted killings, police say.

    Both victims were 54 years old. Both have two children. Both have ex-wives.

    Neither was “known to police,” as police say; it’s a tool they use to confirm or negate shadiness.

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    Their deaths, however, were played very differently in the media, speaking volumes about how unequally we value the living.

    Victim No. 41 was Simon Giannini, the real-estate agent killed at a downtown restaurant named Michael’s on Simcoe.

    We don’t know why he was targeted. We don’t know what, if anything, he was involved with — but he got the benefit of respect, and rightly so.

    Subsequent media stories about him consigned to him a more rounded character than a mere victim, describing a fun-loving guy, a great dad who was laughing moments before he was killed.

    Until yesterday, victim No. 40 got no such benefit.

    Everone Paul Mitchell was by all accounts an upstanding government of Ontario employee of 20 years, working for the Family Responsibility Office (FRO). He was killed in Regent Park in the early hours of that day.

    His family and co-workers were devastated. Then came the second blow.

    Their tears had not yet dried up when our mayor spoke the next day. Keep in mind police had not released a motive.

    “The fact of the matter is — and these are facts coming right from the police — that the majority, significant majority, of these incidents that are happening of this kind are gang-related or have some suspicious relationship to gang activity,” said John Tory, as he pushed for a redevelopment of the area.

    What?

    “He’s not gang-affiliated. No way. No how,” said his co-worker Kevin Douglas, who sat beside him for 10 years. Mitchell grew up in Regent Park and moved out years ago. He loved hockey and often went to Regent Park on weekends to play basketball with friends.

    “He gives back to the community. He actually goes back to visit his friends and deals with kids in the community,” Douglas said. “This is the story of the good Samaritan. I don’t know what happened. I heard he broke up a fight.”

    For those who knew and loved Mitchell, Tory’s statement added a layer of rage to the grief of the injustice of his death.

    “The statement Tory made is pathetic,” said Douglas, who wants a retraction and apology.

    If Tory or the police knew something about Mitchell that nobody else did, they should have either come out and said it or not said it at all.

    “By no means were my comments directed at any individual,” Tory told me on Thursday.

    “I understand how people might have taken the implication was about that this case.

    “We always have the benefit of hindsight, and I should have said I’m not talking about Mr. Mitchell here but I’m talking about these kinds of incidents that the police describe as targeted, that many of these are gang-related.

    “But I certainly regret the fact that it was even possible for anyone to draw a connection between those words and Mr. Mitchell.

    “I send my heartfelt condolences to Mr. Mitchell, his family and his neighbours.”

    In any case, Mitchell — the man those who know him say went above and beyond to help everyone — ended up damned by the circumstances of the neighbourhood he happened to be in.

    “There are lots of so-called bad neighbourhoods,” said Douglas. “It may be 2 per cent of the people in those neighbourhoods that are really bad. Sometimes it’s people that don’t even live there that are being bad.

    “If you are a good Samaritan and you’re giving back, you shouldn’t be ridiculed and your name drawn through the mud.

    “He doesn’t deserve that. He was a good man. His kids don’t deserve to read their mayor talking foolishness about their father.”

    I hope Tory’s words here offer him some comfort.

    The co-workers I spoke with as well as those on online forums remember Mitchell as a “wonderful, kind passionate man,” a man with a “million-dollar smile.” They admired and respected him.

    “I can’t even express the level of devastation in our office,” said Diane Gillies, a legal counsel at the FRO. “They are as upset about what happened in the media … as they are by his loss.”

    Nobody expected front-page coverage, but neither did they expect such a narrow lens applied to the tragedy. All they wanted was an acknowledgement that he was a decent, upstanding person.

    On Wednesday, the Sun published a story saying that Mitchell “was no thug,” after interviewing his friends.

    That was welcome, but it also highlighted a subtle but clear difference between the two cases. The details of Giannini’s targeted death are not known, either, but his loved ones did not have to defend his character to the media even before they buried him.

    “I came to court the next morning, and I was very distraught,” said Gillies. “And almost every single person without exception said, ‘Well, what was he doing in Regent Park.’ That was the first question. It made me think over the day that if I had been shot in Regent Park, there would have been a story, right? An accomplished white woman was in Regent Park and got shot. There must be a story behind it.”

    Mitchell’s case, of a Black man killed in Regent Park, meant certain assumptions were already made.

    “Targeted,” “gang-related” and “Regent Park” together translate into “not surprising” and the implication in parentheses: not worthwhile.

    He was far from worthless for those who knew him; he was uniquely valued. The social committee at the FRO made the unanimous decision to put all the funds it had gathered in the course of the year towards the funeral Saturday.

    Mitchell’s children are students; his son goes to high school, his daughter, Tiffany, is in university. Tiffany and her mother, Mitchell’s ex-wife, are helping arrange a funeral Saturday at the Covenant of Promise Ministries at Penn Dr. in North York.

    Tiffany also set up a GoFundMe drive to raise money for the funeral.

    What are the odds that someone will Google Mitchell’s name, read the media stories and send money? So low, that it has just managed to raise less than $2,000 of the $40,000 goal.

    Giannini’s loved ones were no doubt shattered by his loss. So were Mitchell’s. The difference was that in death, Mitchell wasn’t publicly allowed the dignity he embodied in life.

    This needs to be acknowledged, and repaired.

    Shree Paradkar writes about discrimination and identity. You can follow her @shreeparadkar


    While all eyes were on Toronto restaurant shooting, another tragedy went unnoticed: ParadkarWhile all eyes were on Toronto restaurant shooting, another tragedy went unnoticed: Paradkar

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