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A man who badly injured a woman when he tried to kill himself by driving his car into a hydro pole has had his jail sentence effectively cut in half.
In finding the sentencing judge had gone too far, Ontario’s top court ruled on Wednesday that Constantinus Dedeckere should be released after having spent one year behind bars.
“Without minimizing the seriousness of the offence and the impact on the victim, a sentence of time served and two years probation is fit and adequate to reflect the principles of sentencing including proportionality,” the Appeal Court said.
The case arose in July 2015 when Dedeckere, then 58 and on temporary leave from a mental-health facility in London, Ont., drove his Chevy Malibu at high speed into a hydro pole on a rural road, knocking out power to Port Stanley, Ont., and spraying debris.
A woman driver, 74, slammed into the wreckage and was critically injured, requiring surgery and rehabilitation.
According to court records, the married father of four opted to attempt suicide that day after the Law Society of Upper Canada notified him he was being disbarred as a lawyer.
Dedeckere, who had a long history of mental illness and failed suicide attempts, pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
At sentencing, 14 impact statements were filed with the court. The prosecution called for a prison sentence of up to two-and-a-half years; the defence wanted a suspended sentence and three years probation.
In October 2016, Ontario court judge John Skowronski accepted that Dedeckere was a first-time offender, had pleaded guilty, and regretted what he had done. However, the judge called the “offence itself” an aggravating factor given the woman’s injuries.
Skowronski noted Dedeckere hadn’t thought his suicide plan through or considered how it might affect other road users.
“It is important to dissuade those who may be self-destructive from acting on such ideations to their detriment, and from exposing the innocent bystanders, as it were, to possible physical danger,” Skowronski said.
Skowronski sentenced him to two years in a penitentiary, followed by three years probation and a six-year driving ban.
Dedeckere appealed the sentence, arguing Skowronski focused too heavily on denunciation and deterrence, and failed to consider his psychiatric issues and rehabilitation.
The Court of Appeal agreed, saying the usual deference accorded a sentencing judge was not justified in this case.
Skowronski, the Appeal Court said, blamed Dedeckere for wanting to kill himself without considering how his bipolar disorder and depression had impaired his judgment.
“The sentencing judge determined that specific deterrence could only be met by a custodial term due to the appellant being chronically suicidal,” the Appeal Court said. “(But) specific deterrence has little relevance in the context of suicide, and general deterrence is a factor of decreased significance when sentencing those whose behaviour is driven by mental illness.”
The upshot, the court found, was that the sentence was unfit.
In re-sentencing him the Appeal Court noted that Dedeckere is now over 60, and alcohol and drugs played no role in the offence.
“There was no dispute that his sole intention was to kill himself,” the Appeal Court said. “He is genuinely remorseful for what he did. He has a loving and supportive family including his wife, four children, and two grandchildren.”
The Appeal Court sentenced Dedeckere to time served — the year he spent in prison — and two years probation.
Suicidal motorist who badly injured 74-year-old woman has jail sentence reduced
MONTREAL—The career of one of Quebec’s most popular and powerful television personalities screeched to a halt Wednesday after a string of allegations that he harassed employees and engaged in inappropriate sexual behaviour.
One of Eric Salvail’s alleged victims, Marco Berardini, said in an interview that he has been inundated with messages of support and inquiries from others who have had encounters with the host and producer since coming forward with the story of his alleged abuse, which dates back to 2003.
“There’s no satisfaction in this,” Berardini said by telephone from Los Angeles. “I wish that there was and maybe there will be but for now it’s just sad.”
A report published in La Presse cited 11 individuals who said they had been subject to harassment, abuse and inappropriate sexual behaviour while they were working for Salvail or were in his company.
They include incidents in which he allegedly made inappropriate sexual comments to his employees, where he touched employees suggestively against their will and where he exposed himself.
“In a meeting he stood up, he took out his penis and he asked what I would do to excite him,” said one person who spoke to La Presse on condition of anonymity.
The Star has not been able to independently verify any of the alleged claims.
The condemnation and the consequences of the allegations have been stunning for the award-winning host of a zany late-night talk show who was co-host just last month of the Prix Gémeaux, the French-language version of the Gemini awards for television and film excellence.
Groupe V Média, which broadcasts the talk show, En Mode Salvail, said they were suspending the show indefinitely and would also be reconsidering its partnerships with Salvail & Co., his production company.
Similarly, Salvail has been suspended from his Rouge FM radio show, which will be replaced by another show until the matter is resolved, a Bell Media spokesperson said.
Salvail’s lawyer, Jacques Jeansonne, refused to comment on the allegations, shortly before Salvail himself addressed the matter on his Facebook page Wednesday.
“I was shaken by what was published this morning. I’m approaching this situation with an enormous amount of empathy for those who I may have made to feel uncomfortable or hurt. I never meant to bother anyone,” he wrote.
“In such circumstances, I am lucky to have the support of my friends, my colleagues and my partner. I have chosen to take a professional pause of several days, a pause that will permit me to focus on these events.”
French-language public broadcaster Radio-Canda said it is re-evaluating its partnership with Salvail and his production company, but said that it had received no complaints about Salvail’s behaviour.
Corporate sponsors including Metro, McDonald’s and Air Transat have also suspended their deals in the wake of the allegations.
Salvail was to have flown across Quebec on a Boeing 737 Wednesday to pick up 75 contest winners and their guests who had won a trip to Montreal for a taping of the entertainer’s show. The carrier said it honoured the flights, but grounded Salvail.
“We believe this decision is the most appropriate in the circumstances as we wait for light to be shed on these allegations,” Air Transat said on its Twitter account.
Wednesday was also emotional and eventful for Salvail’s alleged victims, said Berardini, a Montreal-born makeup artist and stylist who now works with the biggest celebrities in Los Angeles.
He said he received hundreds of messages of support and heard from a number of people who wanted to share their own experiences of sexual impropriety.
“It makes me feel pissed off that so many people are going through this terrible thing every day. It’s making me stronger and making me want to keep standing up, because it’s not an easy thing — it’s an embarrassing thing.”
Berardini told La Presse that Salvail sought out his professional fashion advice in an awkward encounter in 2003 in which the TV host changed into a pair of skimpy black underwear and asked the stylist: “Do you think I’m sexy?”
Then Salvail allegedly made a show of adjusting the fabric.
“He didn’t masturbate, but he clearly wanted me to look at his penis,” Berardini told the paper, adding that he sought shelter in the bathroom.
“I was panicked.”
Several months later, when Berardini was hired to work on a Salvail’s television show, he recounted crouching down to get something from his bag and being accosted by the entertainer.
“He said to me: ‘Wow! What an ass! You should bend down more often. You’re wearing those jeans just to excite me.’ Then he touched his inner thigh and said: ‘And I think it worked!’ ”
Another time, Berardini told La Presse, he lost patience with Salvail’s unwanted overtures.
“He was standing in front of me and he touched my hair. He said: ‘You have such nice hair. I’d like to pull it while making love to you.’ ”
When he stood up to Salvail and told him to stop, the entertainer got angry and berated the stylist, telling him he was ugly, fat and incompetent.
“He just wanted to destroy me.”
Speaking to the Star Wednesday, he said he never wanted to come forward.
“I never wanted to lend my name to this until I heard other people’s stories, some being much, much worse than mine,” he said.
“But you know what? I work with the biggest stars in the world. I live in L.A. I’m successful and I’m lucky. That guy will never hold power over me again.”
He said it is particularly difficult for a man — gay or straight — to go public and admit being abused, harassed or exploited because of social stigmas around sexuality.
“They did nothing wrong. You just went to work and you’re supposed to be able to go to work and feel respect from people and that’s it.”
Quebec television personality Eric Salvail taking ‘pause’ after reports of sexual misconduct
“Do Not Enter.”
“Streetcars only beyond this point.”
Explicit orders to not drive into the TTC streetcar tunnel at Queens Quay are emblazoned on at least five nearby signs, with reflective ones posted at street level and more along the sloped descent leading to the underground streetcar network.
But despite the canary yellow and fire-hydrant red beacons, flashing lights and rumble-striped pavement — not to mention the fact that the road leads into a hole — another driver got stuck in the tunnel Wednesday.
“How this is happening is a mystery to us,” said TTC spokesperson Stuart Green. “We’ve taken a number of measures to make it very difficult to accidentally drive into that tunnel.”
A driver made it down the ramp and about three metres into the tunnel Wednesday at about 10:30 a.m., halting TTC traffic on the 509 Harbourfront and 510 Spadina routes.
It marked at least the 23rd time a car has blocked the tunnel at Queens Quay, where streetcars go underground to access Union Station.
Shuttle buses were called as a replacement before a tow was order by Toronto police, with service resuming at around 11:45 a.m.
Some transit users took to Twitter to warn of the delay.
“Ridiculous. I have had some sympathy in the past but now it is SO obvious that is not a tunnel for cars,” tweeted @JHF10.
“I work around the corner and I see people either do this or avoid it at the last minute every week,” a Facebook user wrote.
A Reddit poster quipped, “Free parking.”
The time to clear out the tracks would have been much longer and resulted in a more complicated removal had the driver journeyed further into the tunnel, Green said. The pavement at track level is sunken beneath the raised tracks, making it easy for cars to get stuck the deeper they get into the tunnel, thus requiring special vehicles for towing.
These blocks can take between one to eight hours to clear, Green said, adding there was no damage to the tracks or other infrastructure in Wednesday’s incident.
Over the last year, the TTC has taken a number of measures to ensure drivers do not enter the tunnel. They posted additional large signs, lowered pole lights on both sides on the entrance and installed a flashing light on a black and yellow stripped rectangular pole sign in the center of the entrance.
Green said the number of drivers that have entered the tunnel decreased since these updates.
“We think we’ve taken a number of steps that really should prevent this, but an incident like today suggests maybe there’s something else we need to do,” he said. “We’re always looking at ways to improve safety.”
A similar incident happened in the Queens Quay tunnel in February, after an SUV was found stuck in the tunnel because the driver was “just following his GPS.”
He faced a $425 fine after blocking the tunnel’s entrance.
With files from Annie Arnone
Why do so many cars get stuck in TTC Queens Quay tunnel?Why do so many cars get stuck in TTC Queens Quay tunnel?
The Ontario Liberal government faced fierce blowback Wednesday after journalists, including the Star, uncovered allegations that the Environment Ministry ignored warnings from its own engineers about Sarnia’s Chemical Valley.
At Queen’s Park Wednesday, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the revelations were “frightening” and “unbelievable.” The allegations, made in a leaked report, suggested the provincial government has for years disregarded concerns from the First Nations community of Aamjiwnaang — surrounded on three sides by petrochemical plants — and failed to heed engineers’ worries about the risk of industrial leaks with possibly irreversible health impacts.
“It’s absolutely irresponsible…If this is happening in Sarnia, where else is it happening?” Horwath said.
“What else is out there that we don’t know about, that this government is burying and not allowing to come to public light?”
The report came to light after an investigation by the Star, Global News, National Observer, the Michener Awards Foundation and journalism schools at Ryerson and Concordia universities revealed a troubling pattern of secrecy and potentially toxic leaks in the area known as Chemical Valley. There are 57 industrial polluters registered with the Canadian and U.S. governments within 25 kilometres of Sarnia.
The investigation also raised questions about whether companies and the provincial government are properly warning residents of Sarnia and the Aamjiwnaang First Nation when potentially toxic substances — including benzene, known to cause cancer at high levels of long-term exposure — are leaked.
The leaked report was presented to the staff of Environment Minister Chris Ballard on Sept. 20 and prepared by the union representing engineers working for the provincial government, the Professional Engineers Government of Ontario (PEGO).
In question period Wednesday, Ontario Environment Minister Chris Ballard said he’d have “tough questions” for his ministry about the allegations.
“My ministry is carefully reviewing the report that was provided to them by the union representing engineers and we take very seriously the concerns that it brought to our attention,” he said, adding that the ministry has a “very transparent” system to address such concerns.
On Monday, following the investigation, Ballard said the province would fund a study to examine the health impacts of pollution on the residents of Chemical Valley — something residents have been struggling to get for nearly a decade. Though Ballard has yet to commit to a timeline or process for the study, he also said the government would introduce stricter regulations in the coming weeks.
Existing public health data about the region is inconclusive, but critics have said the information, collected at the county level, misses the impact on people living in the immediate vicinity of so-called Chemical Valley.
On Tuesday, Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said the situation in Chemical Valley — and Aamjiwnaang in particular — is “one of Canada’s top examples of environmental racism.”
With files from Robert Benzie, Carolyn Jarvis, Global News and National Observer
Ontario Liberals face blowback after allegations of ignored warnings in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley
ALBANY, N.Y.—Last March, five women gathered in a home near here to enter a secret sisterhood they were told was created to empower women.
To gain admission, they were required to give their recruiter — or “master,” as she was called — naked photographs or other compromising material and were warned that such “collateral” might be publicly released if the group’s existence were disclosed.
The women, in their 30s and 40s, belonged to a self-help organization called Nxivm, which is based in Albany and has chapters across the country, Canada and Mexico.
Sarah Edmondson, one of the participants, said she had been told she would get a small tattoo as part of the initiation. But she was not prepared for what came next.
Each woman was told to undress and lie on a massage table, while three others restrained her legs and shoulders. According to one of them, their “master,” a top Nxivm official named Lauren Salzman, instructed them to say: “Master, please brand me, it would be an honour.”
A female doctor proceeded to use a cauterizing device to sear a five-centimetre-square symbol below each woman’s hip, a procedure that took 20 to 30 minutes. For hours, muffled screams and the smell of burning tissue filled the room.
“I wept the whole time,” Edmondson recalled. “I disassociated out of my body.”
Since the late 1990s, an estimated 16,000 people have enrolled in courses offered by Nxivm (pronounced Nex-e-um), which it says are designed to bring about greater self-fulfilment by eliminating psychological and emotional barriers. Most participants take some workshops, like the group’s “Executive Success Programs,” and resume their lives. But other people have become drawn more deeply into Nxivm, giving up careers, friends and families to become followers of its leader, Keith Raniere, who is known within the group as “Vanguard.”
Both Nxivm and Raniere, 57, have long attracted controversy. Former members have depicted him as a man who manipulated his adherents, had sex with them and urged women to follow near-starvation diets to achieve the type of physique he found appealing.
Now, as talk about the secret sisterhood and branding has circulated within Nxivm, scores of members are leaving. Interviews with a dozen of them portray a group spinning more deeply into disturbing practices. Many members said they feared that confessions about indiscretions would be used to blackmail them.
Mark Vicente, a filmmaker and former top Nxivm official, said that after hearing about the secret society, he confronted Raniere.
“I said ‘whatever you are doing, you are heading for a blowup,’” Vicente said.
Several former members have asked state authorities to investigate the group’s practices, but officials have declined to pursue action.
In July, Edmondson filed a complaint with the New York State Department of Health against Danielle Roberts, a licensed osteopath and follower of Raniere, who performed the branding, according to Edmondson and another woman. In a letter, the agency said it would not look into Roberts because she was not acting as Edmondson’s doctor when the branding is said to have happened.
Separately, a state police investigator told Edmondson and two other women that officials would not pursue their criminal complaint against Nxivm because their actions had been consensual, a text message shows.
State medical regulators also declined to act on a complaint filed against another Nxivm-affilated physician, Brandon Porter. Porter, as part of an “experiment,” showed women graphically violent film clips while a brainwave machine and video camera recorded their reactions, according to two women who took part.
The women said they were not warned that some of the clips were violent, including footage of four women being murdered and dismembered.
“Please look into this ASAP,” a former Nxivm member, Jennifer Kobelt, stated in her complaint. “This man needs to be stopped.”
In September, regulators told Kobelt they concluded that the allegations against Porter did not meet the agency’s definition of “medical misconduct,” their letter shows.
Raniere and other top Nxivm officials, including Lauren Salzman, did not respond to repeated emails, letters or text messages seeking comment. Roberts and Porter also did not respond to inquiries.
Former members said that, inside Nxivm, they are being portrayed as defectors who want to destroy the group.
It is not clear how many women were branded or which Nxivm officials were aware of the practice.
A copy of a text message Raniere sent to a female follower indicates that he knew women were being branded and that the symbol’s design incorporated his initials.
“Not initially intended as my initials but they rearranged it slightly for tribute,” Raniere wrote. “If it were abraham lincolns or bill gates initials no one would care.”
Joining the sisterhood
Edmondson, who lives in Vancouver and helped start Nxivm’s chapter there, was thrilled when Lauren Salzman arrived in January to teach workshops.
The women, both in their early 40s, were close and Edmondson regarded Salzman as a confidante and mentor.
“Lauren was someone I really looked up to as a rock star within the company,” said Edmondson, an actress who joined Nxivm about a decade ago.
During her visit, Salzman said she had something “really amazing” she wanted to share. “It is kind of strange and top secret and in order for me to tell you about it you need to give me something as collateral to make sure you don’t speak about it,” Edmondson recalled her saying.
The proposition seemed like a test of trust. After Edmondson wrote a letter detailing past indiscretions, Salzman told her about the secret sorority.
She said it had been formed as a force for good, one that could grow into a network that could influence events like elections. To become effective, members had to overcome weaknesses that Raniere taught were common to women — an over-emotional nature, a failure to keep promises and an embrace of the role of victim, according to Edmondson and other members.
Submission and obedience would be used as tools to achieve those goals, several women said. The sisterhood would comprise circles, each led by a “master” who would recruit six “slaves,” according to two women. In time, they would recruit slaves of their own.
“She made it sound like a bad-ass bitch boot camp,” Edmondson said.
Edmondson and others said that during training, the women were required to send their master texts that read “Morning M” and “Night M.” During drills, a master texted her slaves “?” and they had 60 seconds to reply “Ready M.”
Trainees who failed had to pay penalties, including fasting, or could face physical punishments, two women said.
In March, Edmondson arrived for an initiation ceremony at Salzman’s home in Clifton Park, New York, a town about 20 miles north of Albany where Raniere and some followers live. After undressing, she was led to a candlelit ceremony, where she removed a blindfold and saw Salzman’s other slaves for the first time. The women were then driven to a nearby house, where the branding took place.
In the spring, the sorority grew as women joined different circles. Slaves added compromising collateral every month to Dropbox accounts and a Google Document was used to list a timetable for recruiting new slaves, several women said.
Around the same time, an actress, Catherine Oxenberg, said she learned her daughter had been initiated into the sorority.
“I felt sick to my stomach,” said Oxenberg, who starred in the 1980s television series “Dynasty.”
Oxenberg had become increasingly concerned about her 26-year-old daughter, India, who looked emaciated from dieting. She told her mother she had not had a menstrual period for a year and that her hair was falling out.
Oxenberg said she invited her daughter home in late May to try to get her away from the group.
When Oxenberg confronted her about the sorority, her daughter defended its practices.
“She said it was a character-building experience,” Oxenberg said.
‘Humans can be noble’
By the time the secret group was taking shape, Mark Vicente, the filmmaker, had been a faithful follower of Raniere for more than a decade.
Vicente said he had been contacted by Salzman’s mother, Nancy, a co-founder of Nxivm who is known as “Prefect,” after the 2004 release of a documentary he co-directed that explored spirituality and physics.
Soon, Vicente was taking courses that he said helped him expose his fears and learn strategies that made him feel more resolute.
He also made a documentary called “Encender el Corazón,” or “Ignite the Heart,” which lionized Raniere’s work in Mexico.
“Keith Raniere is an activist, scientist, philosopher and, above all, humanitarian,” Vicente says in the film.
Raniere has used those words to describe himself. On his website, he said he spoke in full sentences by age 1, mastered high school mathematics by 12 and taught himself to play “concert level” piano. At 16, he entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.
Before Nxivm, he helped run a company called Consumers’ Buyline Inc., which offered discounts to members on groceries and other products.
In the mid-1990s, several state attorneys general investigated it as a suspected pyramid scheme; Raniere and his associates agreed to shut it down.
Through Nxivm, Raniere transformed himself into a New Age teacher with long hair and a gurulike manner of speaking.
“Humans can be noble,” he says on his website. “The question is: will we put forth what is necessary?”
By many accounts, Raniere sleeps during the day and goes out at night to play volleyball or take female followers for long walks. Several women described him as warm, funny and eager to talk about subjects that interested them.
Others saw a different side. Nxivm sued several former members, accusing them of stealing its trade secrets, among other things.
Vicente said he was aware of the negative publicity, including a 2012 series by The Albany Times-Union that described alleged abuses inside Nxivm.
Vicente’s views began to change this year after his wife was ostracized when she left Nxivm and he heard rumours about the secret sorority.
Vicente said he got evasive answers when he asked Raniere about the group. Raniere acknowledged giving “five women permission to do something,” but did not elaborate, other than to say he would investigate, Vicente said.
Vicente said he suspected Raniere was lying to him and may have done so before. Suddenly, self-awareness techniques he had learned felt like tools that had been used to control him.
“No one goes in looking to have their personality stripped away,” he said. “You just don’t realize what is happening.”
Followers start to flee
In May, Sarah Edmondson began to recoil from her embrace of the secret society.
Her husband, Anthony Ames, who was also a Nxivm member, learned about her branding and the couple both wanted out.
Before quitting, Ames went to Nxivm’s offices in Albany to collect money he said the group owed him.
He had his cellphone in his pocket and turned on its recorder.
On the recording, Ames tells another member that Edmondson was branded and that other women told him about handing over collateral. “This is criminal,” Ames says.
The voice of a woman — who Ames said is Lauren Salzman — is heard trying to calm him. “I don’t think you are open to having a conversation,” she said.
“You are absolutely right, I’m not open to having a conversation,” he replied. “My wife got branded.”
A few days later, many of Raniere’s followers learned of the secret society from a website run by a Buffalo-area businessman, Frank R. Parlato Jr. Parlato had been locked in a long legal battle with two sisters, Sara and Clare Bronfman, who are members of Nxivm and the daughters of businessman Edgar Bronfman, the deceased chairman of Seagram Co. and member of the influential Canadian Jewish Bronfman family.
In 2011, the Bronfman sisters sued Parlato, whom they had hired as a consultant, alleging he had defrauded them of $1 million (U.S.).
Four years later, in 2015, the Justice Department indicted him on charges of fraud and other crimes arising from alleged activities, including defrauding the Bronfmans. Parlato has denied the claims and the case is pending.
Parlato started a website, The Frank Report, which he uses to lambaste prosecutors, Raniere and the Bronfmans. In early June, Parlato published the first in a torrent of salacious posts under the headline, “Branded Slaves and Master Raniere.”
A Nxivm follower, Soukaina Mehdaoui, said she reached out to Raniere after reading the post. Mehdaoui, 25, was a newcomer to Nxivm but the two had grown close.
She said Raniere told her the secret sorority began after three women offered damaging collateral to seal lifetime vows of obedience to him.
While Mehdaoui had joined the sorority, the women in her circle were not branded. She was appalled.
“There are things I didn’t know that I didn’t sign up for, and I’m not even hearing about it from you,” she texted Raniere.
Raniere texted back about his initials and the brand.
By then, panic was spreading inside Nxivm. Slaves were ordered to delete encrypted messages between them and erase Google documents, two women said. To those considering breaking away, it was not clear whom they could trust and who were Nxivm loyalists.
Late one night, Mehdaoui met secretly with another Nxivm member. They took out their cellphones to show they were not recording the conversation.
Both decided to leave Nxivm, despite concerns that the group would retaliate by releasing their “collateral” or suing them.
Mehdaoui said that when she went to say goodbye to Raniere, he urged her to stay.
“Do you think, I’m bad, I don’t agree with abuses,” she recalled him saying. He said the group “gives women tools to be powerful, to regain their power for the sake of building love.”
Nxivm recently filed criminal complaints with the Vancouver police against Edmondson and two other women accusing them of mischief and other crimes in connection with the firm’s now-closed centre there, according to Edmondson. The women have denied the allegations. A spokesman for the Vancouver police declined to comment.
Edmondson and other former followers of Raniere said they were focusing on recovering.
“There is no playbook for leaving a cult,” she said.
‘Master, please brand me’: Inside the secretive self-help organization Nxivm
Electricity is governed by the laws of physics. Government is bound by the rules of accounting.
But political power and electrical power have one thing in common: They follow the path of least resistance.
Now, Ontario’s auditor general is trying to bend both to her will. Ahead of the next election, Bonnie Lysyk is fighting another rearguard action against the Liberal plan to curb hydro rates.
The auditor made headlines this week by accusing the government of short-circuiting the accounting rules with complex financial manoeuvres that could add $4 billion in borrowing costs over 30 years. Oddly, though, Lysyk doesn’t quibble with their plan to cut hydro rates by 25 per cent — despite her mandate to seek value for money — possibly because it’s far too popular with voters.
I’ve argued before that it’s an expedient shell game that mortgages our future by refinancing power projects over a longer amortization term. But all major parties keep promising cheap electricity today (for higher rates tomorrow), so perhaps the auditor is wiser than me by staying silent on the overall strategy.
Instead, her quibble is over tactics — that the Liberals are borrowing the money through Ontario Power Generation (OPG), their wholly-owned electrical utility, instead of carrying it on the government’s own balance sheet. And while the auditor bristles at this description, at root it’s an arcane accounting dispute — though she is surely setting the stage for a broader political dispute that could affect the coming campaign.
It’s true that the Liberals were loath to add billions of fresh debt to bankroll this hydro rebate, because they had promised in the last campaign to eliminate the budget deficit by this year (which they did). Better to bury the borrowings in their OPG subsidiary, claim a balanced budget, and cast themselves as credible stewards of the province’s finances.
This wouldn’t be the first government to rely on creative financial engineering to restructure our electricity infrastructure and engineering costs. Ontario’s consolidated balance sheet has always required a decoding ring, and the auditor is right to question its complexity — even if her answers offer no greater clarity.
She faults the Liberals for offloading the borrowing on a subsidiary, and then using creative (but legal) accounting techniques to count future “regulated” revenues as an upcoming asset. Lysyk likens that to treating your credit card debt as an asset.
That’s a peculiarly misleading analogy for the auditor to make. No, you don’t count your own credit card debt as an asset, but the bank surely does — it’s an account receivable. And a regulated revenue stream is eminently reliable cash flow.
The Liberals argue that power projects have historically remained on the books of power producers like OPG. The difference, of course, is that the old Ontario Hydro once generated all our power, before it was dismembered and downsized (it’s a pecuniary irony that OPG is being asked to clean up the mess from the stealth privatization of the energy sector).
The last time Lysyk attacked the government’s deficit calculations, an outside panel of experts rejected her arguments— because not even an auditor can make a surplus disappear from a balance sheet. There is no permanent arbiter for auditors, but Lysyk is no longer the last word on accounting disputes — merely one of many voices, right or wrong. Expect that voice to grow louder next year when she formally assesses the 2018-19 spring budget — and once again challenges Liberal claims of deficit elimination.
The conventional narrative frames this as a political clash pitting our fearless auditor against feckless Liberal politicians. In fact, her fight is with senior public servants, the provincial comptroller, treasury board staff, and outside accounting firms — all of whom describe it as a “professional disagreement” over accounting standards.
Most of these experts, who are governed by their own professional code of conduct, gave their seal of approval to the government’s books — rightly or wrongly. Lysyk countered that they are cooking the books — and demanded their internal correspondence in search of dissenters.
Without providing details, the auditor points ominously to emails (unreleased, unidentified and unquantified) from some bureaucrats questioning the government’s plans — as if this is the ultimate proof point for her point of view. Was she expecting unanimity?
Interesting but irrelevant, until you consider this fun footnote: While the auditor was demanding confidential emails from public servants who give private counsel, she flatly rejected an Access to Information request filed this year by my colleague, Robert Benzie, for her office’s sometimes testy correspondence with bureaucrats. The response? An Access to Information request demanding to know Benzie’s identity (no secrets here — he readily waived the automatic confidentiality of the process). The auditor still refused to release any correspondence.
So much for publicly accepted principles of Access to Information, transparency and reciprocity. Some watchdogs don’t like being watched.
Martin Regg Cohn’s political column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. email@example.com, Twitter: @reggcohn
Watch out for watchdogs who don’t like being watched: Cohn
WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump in a tweet Wednesday denied that he had told the widow of a soldier killed in an ambush in Africa this month that her husband “must have known what he signed up for.”
But the mother of the fallen soldier stood behind the account, saying that Trump “did disrespect” the family with his comments during a phone call.
The president was reacting to a Florida congresswoman saying the family of Sgt. La David T. Johnson was “astonished” by that remark during a phone call from Trump on Tuesday. Trump said he has “proof” that the conversation did not happen as recounted by Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson. He did not elaborate, but the claim again raised questions about whether the president tapes calls and conversations.
Wilson told MSNBC on Wednesday that Johnson’s widow, Myeshia, was shaken by the exchange.
“She was crying the whole time, and when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part.”
Wilson went on to say Trump “was almost like joking. He said, ‘Well, I guess you knew’ — something to the effect that ‘he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway.’ You know, just matter-of-factly, that this is what happens, anyone who is signing up for military duty is signing up to die. That’s the way we interpreted it. It was horrible. It was insensitive. It was absolutely crazy, unnecessary. I was livid.”
“She was in tears. She was in tears. And she said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ “
On Tuesday, Wilson told The Washington Post that Trump had told Johnson’s widow, “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”
Wilson said she was riding in a limousine with Johnson when the president called, and said she heard the conversation on speakerphone.
“He made her cry,” Wilson said.
Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told The Post on Wednesday that she was in the car during the call from the White House and that “President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.”
Jones-Johnson, speaking to The Post via Facebook Messenger, declined to elaborate.
But asked whether Wilson’s account of the conversation between Trump and the family was accurate, she replied: “Yes.”
The White House did not confirm or deny Wilson’s account on Tuesday.
“The President’s conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private,” a White House official said in a statement.
The White House had said Tuesday that Trump placed calls Tuesday to the families of all four service members killed in Niger on Oct. 4. The calls followed Trump’s claims Monday and Tuesday that his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, had not often made such calls to families. Former Obama administration officials strongly dispute that claim, saying Obama engaged families of fallen service members in various ways throughout his presidency.
Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Fla., was found dead after initially being reported as missing after the attack.
He was a driver assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) based in Fort Bragg, N.C.
‘Trump did disrespect my son’: Mother backs report of president’s ‘horrible’ call to soldier’s widow
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau celebrates the second anniversary of his election victory this week with his finance minister in a self-imposed exile from the House of Commons that the opposition parties would gladly make permanent.
Three parliamentary sitting days in the ethical storm that has engulfed Bill Morneau over his decision to keep control, albeit indirectly, of his shares in his family’s pension services company he has yet to show up in the House to face down his opposition critics.
They allege the minister breached if not the law at least the spirit of the conflict-of-interest rules that govern elected officials, a point the Conservatives and the New Democrats hammered over the course of Wednesday’s rowdy question period.
In an interview earlier this week Morneau said he had no plans to step down. But at mid-mandate Trudeau’s star economic recruit has become a liability. That’s not just because of his handling of his financial affairs. He is a weak link in a crucial spot in the government’s chain of command.
As Trudeau’s clumsy efforts to play interference for his finance minister demonstrated earlier this week, it is a situation that the prime minister cannot, on his own star-dusted merits, mitigate.
Had he served in someone else’s cabinet, Trudeau would not have been a natural choice for a senior economic portfolio. Morneau was meant to anchor the government’s economic team. Until further notice, the anchor is dragging down the Liberal ship.
The finance minister’s travails are also acting as a distraction from some of the more inspired moves of the government over the first half of its mandate.
Inexperienced ministers have accounted for much of the bad press the Liberals have endured over the past two years. But not all the Liberal rookies have been underwhelming in the execution of their ministerial duties.
The performance of Chrystia Freeland as the lead minister on the Canada/U.S. front falls in the opposite category. The minister of global affairs is holding her own on the toughest file the government is tasked to manage, one that is not even of the Liberals’ own choosing.
In a support role as international trade minister, first-time MP François-Philippe Champagne has also risen to the challenge. On the Quebec media hot seat over the Bombardier-Airbus arrangement this week, he succeeded in not making a delicate situation worse for his government.
Perhaps Champagne could offer lessons to his heritage colleague Mélanie Joly who left only debris in her wake when she did the media rounds to sell her Netflix deal earlier this month.
Freeland and Champagne were assigned their current roles as part of a post-U.S. presidential election realignment of federal resources.
Success for Canada on that front may not be in the offing. Perhaps the best realistic outcome will amount to limiting the damage of the protectionist policies of Donald Trump’s administration. But there is a consensus that extends beyond the Liberal ranks that on this issue Trudeau has so far navigated deftly.
Indeed one of the most notable features of last week’s first ministers meeting was the absence at least in public of provincial recrimination over Ottawa’s handing of the NAFTA file.
Speaking of federal-provincial relations, as counterintuitive as that may seem, the decision to set a firm deadline for the legalization of marijuana was almost certainly a tactically inspired one.
Whether one agrees or not with the promise to legalize cannabis, the Liberals did campaign on it. It is not a surprise they have sprung on their unsuspecting provincial counterparts. But absent the July 1, 2018 deadline it is far from certain that all provinces would have resisted the temptation to drag their feet on the way to creating the infrastructure required to sell cannabis legally.
The legal cannabis operation will probably not open to rave reviews. Squeaky wheels will abound on the road to a well-oiled marijuana marketing system. But from a political perspective, the reality of legalization stands to be less daunting than the doomsday picture opponents of the Liberal policy are painting.
On that score, a reality check is almost upon the federal parties.
The Conservative opposition has spent little time in question period quizzing the Liberals on the cannabis issue but they have talked up a storm about its imminent legalization in Lac-Saint-Jean, one of two Conservative ridings that will be the site of mid-mandate by-elections on Monday.
Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Two years in, Trudeau’s rookie ministers have accounted for much of the government’s grief: Hébert
This week the Toronto Sun published an article sponsored by our city’s most visible cab company, Beck Taxi. The piece is a predictably fluffy ode to the 50-year-old orange and green cab service, specifically to its renewed commitment to customer service and its development in 2012 of “Canada’s first taxi ordering app.” The article also predictably includes what is presumably a not-so-veiled dig at the popular and controversial ride-hailing service, Uber. In the words of Beck operations manager Kristine Hubbard, who is quoted throughout the piece, “We see ourselves as a company made up of people using technology. Not technology using people.”
This appears to be the go-to PR tactic of cab companies trying to survive in the age of ride-hailing services: they throw shade at the likes of Uber and Lyft, while at the same time trying to keep up with them. In August, Hubbard told Flare magazine that Uber’s presence was a “wake-up call” because it inspired Beck to improve its customer service with cleaner vehicles and courteous drivers. Diamond taxi, another Toronto cab staple, offers passengers an Uber-like app through which they can rate their rides. And recently, a cab driver in the city offered me a bottle of water.
All of this makes perfect sense. It’s entirely reasonable that cab companies are trying to adapt to a new urban travel climate in which many passengers are accustomed to getting free beverages and breath mints every time they climb into an Uber. But it’s my belief that in an effort to compete with Uber, traditional cab companies are selling themselves short. Despite all their griping about the new ride-hailing order, cab companies continually neglect to mention that they offer something that Uber, in my mind, cannot: a fleet of drivers who actually know instinctively where they are going.
I was an Uber addict until I realized that if I needed to get somewhere on time in a pinch, the service failed me. Drivers, in my experience, are kind and courteous and they always have snacks on hand. But because many of them are new to professional driving and unfamiliar with the downtown core, they are sorely lacking a sense of direction.
Cabbies, on the other hand, have a deep knowledge of the city’s roads and an almost innate ability to problem solve when traffic or construction interrupts a standard route. This knowledge is not based on GPS or Waze; it is based on experience.
And when you are trying to get somewhere fast, experience matters. Yes, Uber drivers have access to navigation technology, but when that technology has a glitch or recalibrates, precious time is lost driving around in circles.
For many cab drivers, their work is a vocation, not a last resort or a way to make a few bucks on the side until a different opportunity emerges. Not long ago, I was running late for a meeting across town that I had intended to walk to. I hopped in a cab and explained my situation. The driver said, “I can get you there in 10 minutes without speeding.” And he did, via a series of alleyways, side streets and short turns only a veteran would know and, most importantly, only a veteran would know how to navigate confidently and quickly.
And yet cab companies rarely appear to market this veterans’ knowledge, choosing instead to fearmonger about the danger of getting into an Uber. This tactic doesn’t work. Torontonians are not afraid of Uber. But we are afraid of being late. The cabbie motto, therefore, shouldn’t be “Arrive alive.” It should be “Arrive on time.” Or “Arrive in silence.”
Another cab-specific perk hardly ever mentioned? In addition to knowing where they are going, cab drivers are often aloof. They are content to give one-word answers and listen to talk radio without so much as making eye contact with the person in the back seat.
I’ve noticed a tendency among Uber evangelists to frame this aloofness in a negative light. “Uber drivers are so much friendlier than cabbies,” they say. And it’s true, they usually are. I have been asked by at least four Uber drivers what my Instagram handle is. One even told me that he began driving with Uber not only to make some extra money, “but to meet people.” That’s nice for him, but for a woman travelling alone, this kind of forwardness isn’t cute; it’s annoying and creepy. I do not get into cars with strangers to meet people. I get into cars with strangers to go places. Therefore, I have come to appreciate the cab driver-passenger relationship, which can be boiled down to a series of “turn here’s” and affirmative grunts.
Cab companies, take note: you should talk up what you’re actually good at, not what you wish you were good at. Because there are probably thousands of people in this city who would trade all the free bottled water in the world to quietly whip across town.
Emma Teitel is a national affairs columnist.
Why I like taxis better than Uber: Teitel
A 26-year-old woman is dead following a single-vehicle rollover in Brampton Wednesday night.
Ontario Provincial Police says it happened just after 11 p.m. in the southbound lanes of Highway 410 near Steeles Ave.
Peel paramedics said they rushed the woman to hospital with life-threatening injuries, where she later died.
No other injuries were reported. The cause of the crash has not been determined.
The southbound lanes were closed for a police investigation, but they have since reopened.
Woman, 26, killed in Highway 410 crash
WASHINGTON—It’s known as some of the saddest ground in America, a six-hectare plot of Arlington National Cemetery called Section 60 where many U.S. personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are interred. On Memorial Day this year, U.S. President Donald Trump and the man who would be his chief of staff visited Grave 9480, the final resting place of Robert Kelly, a Marine killed Nov. 9, 2010, in Afghanistan.
“We grieve with you. We honour you. And we pledge to you that we will always remember Robert and what he did for all of us,” Trump said, singling out the Kelly family during his remarks to the nation that day. Turning to Robert’s father, then the secretary of homeland security, Trump added, “Thank you, John.”
The quiet tribute contrasts with Trump’s messy brawl this week with critics of his handling of condolences to Gold Star families who, like Kelly, have lost people to recent warfare. Trump brought up the loss of Kelly’s son as part of an attack on former president Barack Obama, dragging the family’s searing loss into a political fight over who has consoled grieving families better. Kelly has not commented on the controversy, but it was exactly the sort of public attention to a personal tragedy that the reserved, retired Marine general would abhor.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledged Kelly was “disgusted” that the condolence calls had been politicized, but said she was not certain if the chief of staff knew Trump was going to talk about his son publicly.
Trump sparked the controversy during an interview Tuesday with Fox News Radio. Asked whether he’d called the families of Americans killed in Niger nearly two weeks before, Trump replied, “You could ask Gen. Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?”
On Wednesday, a CNN report citing multiple unnamed White House officials said Kelly was caught off guard by Trump’s comment. Kelly had told Trump that Obama did not call, but had never thought the president would raise that information publicly, the report said.
Trump’s remark set many in the military community seething. Kelly is the most senior U.S. military officer to lose a child in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“I would be surprised if he comes in and starts allowing people to use his family as a tool,” said Charles C. Krulak, a former Marine Corps commandant who has known John Kelly since the mid-1990s.
There was a sense among some that Trump’s words were not an appropriate part of the national political dialogue.
“If there is one sacred ground in politics it should be the ultimate sacrifices made by our military,” wrote Chuck Hagel, a defence secretary under Obama and before that, a Republican U.S. senator. In an email to The Associated Press, Hagel added: “To use General Kelly and his family in this disgusting political way is sickening and beneath every shred of decency of presidential leadership.”
Trump has had a fraught relationship with grieving Gold Star families since the 2016 campaign, when he feuded with the parents of slain Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004.
Now the commander in chief, Trump ranked himself above his predecessors on such matters, insisting this week that he’s “called every family of someone who’s died,” while past presidents didn’t place such calls. But The Associated Press found relatives of soldiers who died overseas during Trump’s presidency who said they never received calls from him, and more who said they did not receive letters.
As for whether Obama called Kelly, White House officials said later that Obama did not call Kelly, but White House visitor logs show that Kelly and his wife attended the Obamas’ lunch with Gold Star families.
The public controversy has to have been painful for Kelly, whose son had been awarded the Purple Heart. The White House chief of staff is a military veteran of more than four decades who has rarely discussed his son’s death and refused to politicize it.
Robert Kelly, 29, was killed when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan’s remote Helmand province. His father, aware that Robert Kelly accompanied almost every patrol with his men through mine-filled battlefields, had just days before warned the family of the potential danger, according to a report in The Washington Post. When Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. rang the elder Kelly’s doorbell at 6:10 a.m. on November 9, 2010, John Kelly knew Robert was dead, according to the report.
Four days later, the grieving father with the four-decade military career asked a Marine Corps officer not to mention Robert’s death during an event in St. Louis. There, without mentioning Robert, John Kelly delivered an impassioned speech about the disconnect between military personnel and members of American society who do not support their mission.
“Their struggle is your struggle,” Kelly said.
“We are only one of 5,500 American families who have suffered the loss of a child in this war,” Kelly wrote to The Post in an email. “The death of my boy simply cannot be made to seem any more tragic than the others.”
In March 2011, Kelly accompanied his boss, Defence Secretary Bob Gates, on a visit to the Sangin district, in Helmand province — the scene of some of the most intense fighting of the war and where Robert Kelly had been killed.
As Gates’ senior military assistant, Kelly stood silently among young Marines gathering under a harsh sun as Gates applauded what they had accomplished.
“Your success, obviously, has come at an extraordinary price,” Gates said without mentioning names.
Ahead of Trump and Kelly’s visit to Robert’s grave on Memorial Day, Kelly’s voice caught when he was asked on Fox & Friends to describe his son.
“He’s the finest man I ever knew,” Kelly said. Asked to elaborate, Kelly struggled at first. “Just is. Finest guy. Wonderful guy. Wonderful husband, wonderful son, wonderful brother. Brave beyond all get out. His men still correspond with us. They still mourn him as we do.”
John Kelly kept his own tragedy out of politics. Then Donald Trump brought it up
Some had just celebrated marriages of half a century or longer. They spent their time volunteering and playing with grandchildren. A few had lived through both world wars.
The majority of the 42 people killed in the wildfires that have ravaged Northern California were senior citizens, most in their 70s or older. Several were couples who died together, including childhood sweethearts who had grown old together.
A 95-year-old man and his 75-year-old wife spent their final moments huddled in the wine cellar of their home where they had lived for 45 years.
The oldest victim — 100-year-old World War II veteran Charles Rippey, who used a walker — is believed to have been trying to make it to his 98-year-old wife, Sara, who had limited mobility after a stroke. Their caretaker barely escaped alive before the roof collapsed and the blaze engulfed the house.
An 80-year-old man never made it past his driveway after getting his 80-year-old wife into the car to escape. The two were born four days apart and died together.
Some simply clung to each other until the end.
Armando Berriz, 76, held his wife of 55 years, Carmen Caldentey Berriz, afloat in a swimming pool as walls of fire burned around them. He let go only after Carmen stopped breathing and the flames had burned out, laying her on the steps of the pool with her arms crossed over her chest. He then walked 2 miles to find help.
“This situation has been so tragic on so many levels,” said Caroline Cicero, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. “Couples who have been living together for 30, 40, 50 years, especially in their 80s and 90s, definitely might have just realized this is the end. ‘There is nothing we can do, so we’ll go out together,’ which is a beautiful thing. But it’s tragic for those left behind.”
If a spouse survived, it will be an extremely painful road to recovery, especially for older people who may never heal, said Cicero, who has worked as a geriatric social worker.
Authorities identified two more elderly victims on Wednesday: Monte Neil Kirven, 81, and Marilyn Carol Ress, 71.
The heavy toll on older people has raised questions about whether more could have been done to alert the most vulnerable in time to escape.
Among the victims were those who had survived strokes, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. They could not move fast enough to escape the speeding flames. Others likely never heard the frantic calls of friends or honking of neighbours’ cars — possibly the only warning that they were in danger.
It’s only been since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that cities began drawing up emergency preparedness plans that specifically take the elderly into account, Cicero said.
Some cities, such as Culver City in suburban Los Angeles, now allow people to put their names on a list that notifies officials they need priority because they are hearing impaired or have other issues that may limit their ability to evacuate quickly.
But Cicero said she is not sure what could have been done in places like Santa Rosa, where a wildfire sprung up quickly and overtook homes in suburban neighbourhoods and remote woods at night, giving people only minutes or, in some cases, seconds to escape.
George Powell, 74, said he does not know what woke him early Monday. He looked out the window to flames and immediately woke his 72-year-old wife, Lynne Anderson Powell. She grabbed a laptop, her border collie and was driving down their mountain road within minutes.
He went for his three border collies and fled 15 minutes behind her in his own vehicle.
There was a huge wall of fire along the road. Powell said he realized later that he had driven past his wife’s Prius, which had gone off the road and plunged into a ravine in the thick smoke. Lynne’s burned body was found steps from her car; the dog was found burned to death inside.
The couple had been married 33 years and lived in the woods in the Santa Rosa area. She had recently overcome cancer.
“If I had known, I would have gone down there with her, even if it meant I would have died with her,” Powell said. “I don’t know how I’m going to cope. She was my life.
“She was my life,” he repeated.
Elderly couples die in each other’s arms during California wildfires
Right until the end, Gord Downie never looked back.
We already knew how this song was going to end. Still, when the news broke on Wednesday morning and the country gasped, the heartache we felt last year after learning about his terminal brain cancer came rushing back.
And this time it won’t go away.
Stolen from us at the age of 53, Downie is leaving when we need him most. Who will write the songs that cross generations and slice across geography? Who will be our poet laureate and history professor, our spirited raconteur and unflinching critic, our tour guide to the past and cultural voyager of the future?
Even after the diagnosis of glioblastoma, an aggressive cancer that often leaves no margin of hope, Downie did not retreat to the shadows. There was no hint of self-pity. If anything, the frontman for the Tragically Hip shifted into overdrive as he led his beloved band on a final tour in 2016, filling stadiums and moistening eyes as the country started the grim ritual of mourning what we had not yet lost.
Downie was dealt the cruellest of hands. And he doubled down on living.
“Gord knew this day was coming,” his family said in a statement on Wednesday. “His response was to spend this precious time as he always had — making music, making memories and expressing deep gratitude to his family and friends for a life well lived, often sealing it with a kiss . . . on the lips.
“Gord said he had lived many lives. As a musician, he lived ‘the life’ for over 30 years, lucky to do most of it with his high school buddies. At home, he worked just as tirelessly at being a good father, son, brother, husband and friend. No one worked harder on every part of their life than Gord. No one.”
What’s amazing about these many lives, and the hard work he devoted to each, is the lack of compromise that defined them all. He was told the end is near and he somehow found new beginnings. In the darkness, he found ways to keep creating in the light, to keep on loving and, ultimately, keep on giving.
We should all be blessed with such grace, drive and selfless resolve.
It was like Downie had discovered a kink in the space-time continuum and was operating at full speed for 60 hours per day. It was like he was determined to keep serving as a unifying force while nudging Canada in the right direction.
His new solo album, Introduce Yerself, comes out on Oct. 27. On Sunday, at 9 p.m., the CBC will air the broadcast premiere of Gord Downie’s Secret Path in Concert, which was filmed last fall at Roy Thomson Hall and is a project that “acknowledges a dark part of Canada’s history — the long-suppressed mistreatment of Indigenous children and families by the residential school system — with the hope of starting a national conversation and furthering reconciliation.”
On the most primal level, the loss of Downie the Musician hurts because of what the Hip represented for more than three decades. This was a band that scored the sound track to thousands of lives as a generation came of age.
Regardless of who you were and where you were growing up, the Hip was there when called upon. Their music filled our days and nights. And as if by sonic osmosis, all these years later, even non-fans can hum more Hip songs than they might suspect.
This is why their best-known tracks — including “New Orleans is Sinking,” “Bobcaygeon,” “Blow at High Dough,” “Courage,” “Ahead by a Century,” “Fifty-Mission Cap,” “At the Hundredth Meridian” — can now feel more like nostalgia than music. That inimitable voice will forever be a gateway to the past.
Downie’s songs are, in the end, our memories.
But on an intellectual level, the loss of Downie the Conscience may prove to be the bigger forfeiture. Secret Path started as a collection of 10 poems inspired by the 1966 death of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, an Indigenous boy who succumbed to exposure after trying to escape on foot from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School to find his family.
Downie has crusaded for reconciliation and, along the way, challenged Canada to do more. In the pantheon of popular music today, there is no natural heir apparent, at least not anyone who had the influence and power of Downie.
His convictions flowed from ideas, and not the other way around.
His sense of nationalism, often misunderstood, was rooted in equality.
But at this time of mourning, when our grief feels like looping power-chords, let us just do what Downie never did, which is look back.
Thank you, Gord, for the songs, the albums and the memories. Thank you for the cryptic lyrics and the madcap performances. Thank you for the crazy dancing and the vivid poetry. Thank you for always wanting to live in a better country and for always wanting that country to be Canada.
Dealt a cruel hand, Gord Downie doubled down on living: Menon
Ontario will have to dramatically raise taxes or slash spending in order to meet its long-term financial targets, the province’s fiscal watchdog warns.
In a 63-page report to the Legislature released Thursday, the financial accountability office (FAO) warned that Ontario’s aging population will put a squeeze on provincial coffers.
“Over the next three decades, as the baby boom cohort transitions from working age to retirement and eventually into old age, Ontario will experience significant changes in its population and economy,” said J. David Wake, the temporary financial accountability officer.
“Without government action, these demographic changes will slow revenue growth and increase spending, leading to large and rising budget deficits,” he said at Queen’s Park.
“The baby boom generation, accounting for over one-quarter of Ontario’s population, will be between 55 and 75 years old by 2020 and in the process of gradually transitioning out of the labour force. This transition is expected to lead to slower growth in employment and overall income,” Wake’s report noted.
“As the baby boomers continue to age, they will require more resources from Ontario’s health care system, increasing pressure on government spending.”
The independent legislative officer said that Ontario’s current net debt-to-gross domestic product ratio of around 40 per cent will skyrocket to 63 per cent by 2050-51.
That’s far in excess of the Liberal government’s target of a net debt-to-GDP ratio of 27 per cent.
The FAO estimated that to meet that target, Queen’s Park would have to fill an annual hole of around $6.5 billion.
“This … is roughly equivalent to removing funding for about 40 per cent of the province’s hospitals, or raising the harmonized sales tax rate by 2 percentage points or a 25 per cent increase in federal government transfers to Ontario,” the office said.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa conceded “the FAO is correct in recognizing that changing demographics will have an impact on the Ontario economy.”
“This is a reality that is faced by many other jurisdictions, including most OECD countries,” said Sousa.
“That’s why we took a leadership role in negotiations with the federal government to enhance the Canada Pension Plan and to increase health care transfers in order to transform our province’s health care system to better respond to the evolving needs of the people of Ontario.”
But Sousa pointed out that last year Ontario’s GDP grew by 2.7 per cent, which is “better than all the G7 countries and almost twice the rate of growth of Canada.”
“Balancing the budget has added stability to Ontario’s finances and positions the government to better respond to demographic challenges and unexpected global economic shocks that the province may face in the future,” he said.
“We will continue to manage any global economic challenges that arise along the way.”
Ontario will have to hike taxes or cut spending to meet fiscal targets, watchdog warns
WATERLOO, ONT.—Shopify Inc. plans to add up to 500 jobs in Waterloo, Ont., which would triple its workforce there over the next couple of years.
The Ottawa-based technology company says it plans to add between 300 to 500 full-time positions to focus on growing its Shopify Plus platform, which supports the largest and most complex retailers.
Shopify says it is also set to open another building in Waterloo by the first quarter of next year to accommodate the workforce growth.
The rapidly growing online platform builder for small businesses was founded in 2004 and has since grown to more than 1,900 employees, according to its 2016 annual report.
Its shares plunged earlier this month after it was targeted by U.S. short seller Andrew Left of Citron Research, who alleged that the company is running an overvalued get-rich-quick scheme.
Shopify’s chief executive Tobias Lutke says he will push back against the short seller’s allegations during the release of their next financial results.
Shopify to add up to 500 jobs in Waterloo
She moves. She menstruates.
Or she doesn’t move, not as a cognitive motion, a message sent from her brain — despite dramatic video that shows Taquisha McKitty bending her limbs, stretching her toes, rolling her head.
Nearly a month after the Toronto area woman was declared legally dead.
And the blood, well that proves nothing.
“I am aware that there was vaginal bleeding,” Dr. Andrew Healey told a hearing in Brampton Superior Court on Wednesday. “Nobody knows if that was menstrual.”
Yet neither do they know, definitively, it wasn’t.
Cadavers don’t bleed, do they?
Yet Healey, when pressed on his answer to the menstrual questions, responded with palpable tetchiness. “What part of my sentence do you not understand?”
If a month passes and she bleeds — menstruates again — would that be convincing? A month might not be granted to McKitty, depending on how a judge decides.
But they — the doctors aligned against McKitty’s desperate family — would have us believe that their interpretation of “whole brain death” is correct. How could they possibly be wrong, those physicians, who signed off on a death certificate on Sept. 20?
Several injunctions have been granted by the court since then, allowing the family to pursue their case, an interim ruling which has kept McKitty on a ventilator.
The ventilator, argued Healey — critical care physician and division head at Brampton Civic Hospital — is keeping McKitty alive, or the illusion of alive.
Her exhalation is a passive response to the air being pumped into her lungs, no different than a balloon flattening when the air is released, an analogy belittled by family lawyer Hugh Scher.
“She’s breathing now,” said Scher.
Henley: “No, she is not.
“The ventilator is doing all the work of breathing and the expelling is a passive reaction,” Healey insisted under cross-examination.
It’s a circular argument: She’s dead because we say so, because there’s no evidence of brain stem function. Evidence to the contrary is unscientific, but only because that is the definition that has been adopted in most jurisdictions.
We are apparently not to believe what we can see with our own eyes — the distinct movements McKitty has been making and which have grown more compelling, the family maintains, as time passes, rather than diminishing. They are adamant that McKitty has responded to the stimulus of their voices, that in some way, out of the depths of her darkness, she is voluntarily making her aliveness known.
Whole brain death, which equals the finality of death, is a legal definition constituting death in Ontario: The absence of clinical neurological function, “irreversible loss of the capacity for consciousness,” said Healey.
More explicit and absolute than being in a persistent vegetative state, where a patient “would still have some capacity for consciousness.”
It’s an anguishing state of disagreement, for the doctors who claim to have science on their side but far more so for the family, who have only their instincts and their emotions and their refusal to give up on a beloved daughter, sister, aunt, niece, mother.
The doctors argue that McKitty’s movements are nothing more than a reflex and shouldn’t be mistaken for signs of life.
As court has heard, nurses have not documented any of these persistent movements on McKitty’s medical file, though the phenomenon has been discussed with the family by nurses and other doctors who’ve been involved in McKitty’s treatment. Which, frankly, has been scarcely any treatment at all. The drugs which have been administered, her parents say, were intended from the outset to best preserve the woman’s organs for possible transplant. McKitty had signed an organ donor card. Doctors do not dispute that was the reason for giving McKitty L-thyroxine after she was declared dead.
In essence, patients must be kept “alive” — blood and oxygen flowing to the organs, heart continuing to beat on a ventilator — for organs to be harvested.
The family accuses the doctors of rushing to harvest, focusing on the organs rather than McKitty as a human being. That view was supported by a retired American doctor who was brought in by the family to testify on Tuesday.
In most medical circles, Dr. Paul Bryne would be considered a heretic.
“It’s not a simple reflex, it’s more than that,” said Byrne.
No, countered Healey. It’s automatism — actions without conscious thought or intention — or spinal cord reflex, which are possible in brain-dead patients. But still, nearly a month later?
Healey said he wasn’t aware of any “good science” which shows that spinal reflex “cannot happen” after a significant period of time.
McKitty was brought to hospital on Sept. 14, suffering from a drug overdose. Tests revealed she had a mixture of oxycodone, benzodiazepines, marijuana and cocaine in her system.
And that, the family contends, influenced the decisions that were made, although no evidence has been produced to support the allegation. (Some of the social media commentary about the case has been appallingly merciless: Pull the plug on the druggie!)
“Why not her?” McKitty’s father, Stanley Stewart, demanded outside court, pleading for treatment, for a second chance at life for his daughter. “Why not in this case? What’s so special about her that she doesn’t deserve treatment, that she doesn’t deserve all of the best efforts to give her the opportunity to live? Why, because she came in under a drug situation? Is that why? So her life is less valuable because of the circumstances?”
A dozen family members were in court yesterday. The legal battle, which could run up to $200,000 in bills, is being supported by a GoFundMe campaign started by McKitty’s cousin.
“It’s been hard from day one,” said Stewart. “It’s almost gotten a little bit harder to hear some of the evidence. A lot of the things we thought are now being actually exposed. The fact that she didn’t receive treatment, any intervention. The fact that some of the stuff they did after (the death certificate was issued) were towards her organs and not towards helping her. We felt that we knew it but now it’s on the record.”
Stewart claimed that Healey hasn’t even seen his daughter in three weeks.
He alleges attending physicians have been told not to document McKitty’s movements. “What are they scared of? They (doctors) know that we know the truth and the truth is that those are not reflex, automated reflexes. Those are actual movements that are stimulated by our voices, by our touch.
“She’s not brain dead. She has brain injury.”
Alyson McKitty says there are still too many questions about what happened to her daughter. “We feel like we need answers. We feel like this wasn’t done the right way. I don’t think there were enough tests done to be able to determine that she was already deceased. It was done too quickly.
“Definitely she’s moving her entire body. She’s moving her head, she’s moving her arms, she’s moving her legs, her feet, everything.”
The family wants the death certificate revoked and a 72-hour video recording made of the patient, a request which would apparently violate the hospital’s patient privacy guidelines and institutional policy.
The family comes to the medical establishment with their heart in their hands.
The medical establishment responds with bureaucracy.
Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Woman on life support is moving and bleeding but is dead, doctors say. Her family fights on: DiManno
In a rare show of unity, all three major Ontario political parties have denounced Quebec’s controversial new law that targets Muslim women.
One day after Quebec’s Liberal government passed a law prohibiting anyone from getting or performing a public service with their face covered, MPPs at Queen’s Park expressed their collective outrage.
“We have a very close working relationship with Quebec. But on this issue, we fundamentally do not agree,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said Thursday.
“Forcing people to show their faces when they ride the bus, banning women from wearing a niqab when they pick up a book from the library will only divide us,” Wynne told the hushed chamber.
“Sometimes life in a diverse society is uncomfortable and that is exactly when it is even more important that we work to understand each other. Religious freedom is part of our identity,” she said.
“Every one of us should be able to live our lives and go about our days and practice what we believe without discrimination and without fear. This is the kind of actions that drives wedges in communities.”
While Wynne is close to Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, she said his province’s Bill 62 “would disproportionately affect women, who are sometimes already at the margins, and push them into further isolation.”
“They are our neighbours — the grandmother who, if she lived in Quebec, would no longer be able to drop off her granddaughter at a city-run daycare or a mother who would not be able to bring her children to a hospital to see the doctor. That is not the kind of society that we stand for in Ontario.”
Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton) said her party stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Ontario’s governing Liberals on this issue.
“The law brought in by the Liberal government in Quebec has no place in Ontario — indeed, it has no place in Canada,” said MacLeod.
“All Canadians have a legal right to their religious beliefs, including in the province of Quebec,” she said.
MacLeod emphasized that “there is no place for two-tiered citizenship in Canada.”
“Whether you wear a cross, a turban, a hijab, a kippah or any other religious symbol, you should never be denied any public service in the province of Ontario or anywhere else in Canada.”
NDP MPP Peggy Sattler (London West) called the Quebec law “an unprecedented action in Canada.”
“Many academics and legal scholars across the country have raised concerns that Bill 62 is a fundamental violation of human rights that will be found to be unconstitutional under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” she said.
Sattler said the law is misogynistic and undermines “women’s rights to autonomy over their own bodies.”
“There is no circumstance in Ontario in which anyone should ever be able to tell a woman what she can or cannot wear, whether high heels at work or a veil on a bus,” she said,
“Despite the guise of religious neutrality, Quebec’s legislation appears to be targeted primarily at Muslim women wearing the niqab or burka. This is a dangerous law that compromises rather than protects public safety.”
Officially, Bill 62 is the Quebec Liberals’ bid to underscore that that province is a secular place that does not promote any religion.
That ignores the fact that there is a massive Christian cross hanging in the National Assembly chamber in Quebec City where the legislation was passed.
Ontario MPPs denounce Quebec law targeting Muslim womenOntario MPPs denounce Quebec law targeting Muslim women
Sears Canada began its liquidation sales at its remaining stores across the country Thursday, but many shoppers found the deals to be underwhelming.
While signs suggest discounts of 20 to 50 per cent off — with a note that exceptions apply — relatively few items at a Toronto store appeared to be offered at half off.
Some big ticket items such as snowblowers and treadmills were only 10 per cent off.
But dozens of shoppers still braved long check-out lines to make their purchases as Sears prepares to shut its doors for good after 65 years in business.
A joint-venture group — which includes Hilco Global, Gordon Brothers Canada, Tiger Capital Group and Great American Group — is running the liquidation sales at 74 remaining department stores and eight Home stores.
Discounts are available on all Sears's own brands, including Kenmore, as well as brand name men's and women's apparel, and a variety of other categories including home decor, toys, furniture, and major appliances.
“Selected fixtures, furnishings and equipment in the closing stores will also be for sale,” said the joint-venture group.
Sears Canada gift cards will be honoured throughout the sale as well, the group said. However, Sears Canada stopped honouring extended warranties as of Wednesday.
Liquidation sales at 49 Sears Hometown stores were expected to start Thursday, or sometime soon, but discounts there will vary, according to Sears Canada spokesman Joel Shaffer.
Some items are also listed for clearance on the Sears Canada website, including a four-piece outdoor furniture set discounted from $499.99 to $299.95. However, not everything online has been marked down just yet.
The sales are expected to last between 10 to 14 weeks. Sears Canada timed its liquidation sales to take advantage of the busy holiday shopping season to maximize the value it could attain for the inventory.
The retailer has been in creditor protection since June, but was unable to find a buyer which would allow it to keep operating.
Sears Canada received court approval to proceed with its liquidation sales last week. A group led by its executive chairman Brandon Stranzl had been in weeks-long discussions with Sears Canada to purchase the retailer and continue to operate it. However, no deal was reached.
Stranzl resigned from Sears Canada's board of directors on Monday.
Deals scarce in Sears Canada liquidation sale
Roger Fowler has been fighting for 26 years for compensation for the cancer he says was caused by the many years he worked amid asbestos and chemicals at the General Electric plant in Peterborough.
His hopes were raised earlier this year when the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board promised to take another look at some 250 previously rejected cases.
Then, last Friday, Fowler received a call from the WSIB and was told that, yet again, his case wouldn’t be reexamined — because it has been denied in the past.
“I was so upset I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat,” said the 71-year-old, bursting into tears several times while he spoke, adding he immediately reached out to his MPP but hasn’t heard back.
“I don’t know where I’m at or what’s going on.”
“It’s hell” for the hundreds of workers who believe they developed cancer and other illnesses from working at the plant, whose claims for compensation were dismissed by the WSIB — often despite strong medical evidence — and who are left waiting for reconsideration of their cases, he added.
Another 70-plus new cases are now also in limbo.
Fowler, who has had a number of surgeries and now suffers from recurring hernias, was among a small group who came to Queen’s Park on Wednesday to urge the government to take action.
The Labour Ministry had promised $2 million in funding for a special, locally based team to help workers build their claims, which they were later told was going to be cut to $1 million. In any event, the money still hasn’t materialized.
“We are here to demand the government quit breaking its promises,” said New Democrat MPP Cindy Forster (Welland), her party’s labour critic. “It has made a number of promises to this group of workers, their families and their widows this year. Since March, they have been promised that cases were going to be reviewed and that there was going to be funding” available to help prepare them.
A 2016 Star investigation uncovered the “lethal legacy” of the plant. Earlier this year, a study by Unifor, the employees’ union, found that conditions in the GE plant contributed to an “epidemic” of workplace illnesses for those who were employed between 1945 and 2000.
The Peterborough employees, the report found, were exposed to thousands of toxic substances— about 40 of them believed to cause cancer — at levels well beyond what is safe.
Aaron Lazarus, vice-president of communications for the WSIB, said that since 1993, about 80 per cent of the 2,400 claims regarding GE Peterborough were allowed. Critics, however, have raised concerns that the number of approved cancer claims is much lower.
Given updated information and new science on the risks of exposure, “we have responded to community concerns by launching a review of more than 250 claims,” Lazarus said, adding he anticipates all cancer-related claims will be reviewed by early 2018.
“We are also encouraging anyone who believes they became ill because of their workplace but does not have a claim with us to file one.”
“If you look at the history of this, you’ve got a population of people that worked at GE that were exposed to chemicals in a way they simply should not have been,” Labour Minister Kevin Flynn told the Star on Wednesday.
“They were let down by the health and safety associations that were supposed to help them, by the clinics that were supposed to help them, by their own trade union, by their employer and perhaps by the WSIB at the time.
“What I’ve tried to do is put in place a process that is going to deal with a majority of the outstanding claims — to deal with about 250 claims that I think we can get to very, very quickly and get the justice that these people deserve.”
Last month, the WSIB said a review team would look at both cancer and non-cancer-related claims. The agency also said it would look at claims from widows, widowers and children of former workers who died without realizing their deaths may have been linked to a workplace illness.
Flynn said a number of the 250 cases have been processed and benefits paid, and “we are closely monitoring this process to ensure that there is continued progress.”
He said money for a special team to help workers prepare claims for the WSIB is still being reviewed.
Some in the community are skeptical about the WSIB handling claims fairly, when it was the very body that denied workers in the first place.
However, Flynn said the WSIB “is an autonomous agency of the government. Only it can determine the process whereby workers’ benefits will be determined. We do continue to look at other methods of adjudicating claims more efficiently and fairly.”
The plant has employed tens of thousands of workers over its 125-year history in Peterborough, and their health and safety has always been the company’s “No. 1 priority,” GE has said.
The plant, which is slated to close, produced appliances, nuclear reactor fuel cells and locomotive engines.
Forster said the minister has made commitments, and must follow through.
“You have raised the hopes of all of these people who are ill, and all of these people who are worried about becoming ill, and not taking any action on it in a seven-month period of time” is despicable, she said.
“Nobody’s listening — that’s the hardest part for us to take in our little tight-knit community,” added Sue James, whose father worked at GE for 36 years. She herself worked there for 40. Her father died of lung and spinal cancer.
She said families have been pleading with different governments for years.
Her hope is that Flynn will allow automatic compensation for any claims from workers who were employed between 1945 and 2000, as he has said he’s considering.
‘It’s hell’: Ailing GE Peterborough workers still waiting for justice, group says
OTTAWA—Finance Minister Bill Morneau has committed to sell off all his shares in his former company and says he will place his assets in a blind trust to go “above and beyond” Parliament’s ethics rules to avoid any conflict of interest.
The declaration comes after days of accusations from Conservatives and New Democrats that he stood to potentially profit from his government’s pension reform bill, which could create business for his family company Morneau Shepell. He was also blasted for not placing his assets in a blind trust, like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has done with his personal wealth, and his belated disclosure of a French company that he co-owns with his wife.
“I need to do more,” Morneau told reporters in Ottawa Thursday afternoon.
“This is a way to ensure Canadians, with the highest level of confidence, that there are no conflicts of interest.”
Morneau also repeated what he said during an earlier news conference Thursday: that he feels the controversy about his personal wealth has been a “distraction” when he is trying to roll out changes to controversial tax proposals.
Morneau maintained that he hasn’t broken any rules by not having a blind trust, but outlined three steps he will take nonetheless. He said that he will place his assets in a blind trust. He will also sell off his and his family’s assets in the company founded by his father in 1966, Morneau Shepell.
After his office declined repeatedly to say how many shares Morneau has in that company, the finance minister revealed that he has “about a million” shares that he will now sell. As of Thursday afternoon, Morneau Shepell shares were selling for roughly $21 each on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
According to regulatory filings for corporate insider, Morneau had more than 2 million Morneau Shepell shares when he resigned from the company after the 2015 election.
The third step he committed to taking was to maintain the conflict of interest “screen” recommended by the ethics commissioner when he was elected, so that he is not involved in how his existing shares are sold off.
At the earlier news conference Thursday morning, Morneau insisted that he followed the advice of Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson “to the letter” and is not in a conflict of interest, as alleged by the Opposition.
However he refused to answer more questions about the handling of his personal wealth at a news conference in Erinsville, Ont. Thursday morning, suggesting he will make an announcement about the controversy later in the day.
“I’m happy to say that we have a system that allows people to come into public life having already had careers outside public life. And it allows us to go through that system to make sure that we put ourselves in a position where we don’t have conflicts of interest. And I am going to have more to say about this later today, so stay tuned.”
Morneau is expected to make his first appearance all week in the Commons Thursday afternoon.
While he was absent for three days, the Conservative and New Democrat Opposition slammed him for failing to sell his shares, putting them in a blind trust, or publicly disclosing details of his personal financial portfolio all while, his critics contend, drafting tax measures that don’t hit him, and other bills that will aid his family company.
Dawson and Morneau said this week she originally told the finance minister that because he does not directly hold shares — valued now at an estimated $40 million — he was not required to either sell them or put them in a blind trust.
Dawson told reporters that only “controlled” assets must be sold or put in a blind trust under the Conflict of Interest Act, and recommendations she set out in 2013 to close that loophole — to cover both direct and indirect holdings — were never adopted.
Morneau said Thursday, “I followed the rules, I followed her opinion and I can explain thus that I am not in a conflict. But I will be talking about this later today to ensure that everyone fully understands the situation.”
“I set forth my assets, I followed the advice of the ethics commissioner to the letter, and I think what that does is it allows us to continue with the work we’re going to do free of conflicts.”
‘I need to do more’: Morneau says he’ll place assets in blind trust to avoid conflict of interest