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    Joy Henderson was shopping for Wolverine claws for her son’s Halloween costume last month when she saw a row of costumes at an east end store depicting her and her ancestors.

    “Dream Catcher Cutie” and “Rising Sun Princess” were being sold at the Party City alongside accessories such as Indigenous headdresses and headbands, fringe shirts and plastic tomahawks.

    “I was shocked. I expected some, but this was like a whole aisle’s worth,” says Henderson, a Scarborough child and youth worker whose family heritage can be traced to the Indigenous Lakota people of North and South Dakota. “Ceremonial wear is not a costume taken lightly,” she says.

    Incensed, she left the store deciding to find the signature X-Men claws elsewhere. She posted on Facebook about the costumes, tagged the store and called for others to do the same. 

    “We are still here, we are not costumes,” she wrote. She has not heard back from Party City and the store did not respond to the Star’s requests for comment. 

    For many people of colour such as Henderson, it’s yet another season of visual assaults like this. Year after year, Black, Indigenous and other people of colour are confronted by Halloween revellers and retailers wearing and selling racist costumes depicting a culture that is not their own. This affront is not on colour necessarily, but on cultures and ethnicities.

    “When people dress up as ‘dream catcher girls,’ they’re not appreciating the culture, they’re just commodifying it,” says Henderson.

    Over the years, Henderson admits she became jaded with the concept of native dress-up for Halloween, but she was caught off guard by the sheer number of items on the racks at Party City at a time when cultural sensitivity is peaking.

    “It’s getting old. I’m surprised people still do it,” she says.

    Each year, new photographs from parties around the world go viral on social media showing celebrities and drunk college students dressed in everything from Native American Warbonnets and Mexican serapes to geisha makeup and blackface.

    In 2012, Toronto Maple Leafs Centre Tyler Bozak was photographed during Halloween wearing dark makeup and defended it as a “tribute” to Michael Jackson. Last year, Australian actor Chris Hemsworth dressed in a “cowboys and Indians” themed costume and then added his regrets to a slew of celebrity costume apologies. 

    Disney has faced public ire since last fall when it released a brown bodysuit costume online based off the tribal-tattooed Polynesian demigod Maui depicted in the 2016 film Moana. Last month, a mommy blogger on set off the debate again, questioning whether her daughter should dress as the title character, the daughter of an Indigenous Polynesian chief.

    An op-ed published this month in the Star proclaiming it a young girl’s right to dress as a Pocahontas-style “native princess” received criticism on Twitter.

    And earlier this week, online retailer pulled a costume from its website that depicted young Jewish Holocaust victim Anne Frank.

    Read more:Anne Frank, Harvey Weinstein Halloween costumes call for drastic measures: Teitel

    While supporters cry “political correctness” and argue for free expression and “cultural appreciation,” critics denounce the costumes as racist cultural appropriation that perpetuates stereotypes. 

    It’s a recurring cultural conversation that is not going away.

    “It keeps happening because there’s some fundamental misconception around what people understand to be either scary or a collectively shared public joke,” says University of Toronto professor and cultural critic Rinaldo Walcott.

    If these costumes are “jokes” then it is clear they’re not landing, particularly for the Black and Indigenous groups so often depicted in the most controversial of costumes.

    “They are harmful and they are hateful,” says Walcott. “We understand them as not just images from a history and a past gone. Many Black and Indigenous people are still living that history today.”

    When people dress up as Pocahontas, they ignore the current struggles of Indigenous people that stem from a history of colonization in favour of a whitewashed Disney narrative that presents the character as a princess among savages. When people wear blackface, they ignore the history of white minstrel performers who used the theatrical makeup in their racist depictions of slaves, and they ignore racism that still exists today, which NFL stars and Black Lives Matter activists continue to protest around the world, including in Toronto, says Walcott. 

    “When we see people engage in blackface, dress up in fake Indigenous costumes and so on, we know that these things are meant to denigrate those groups,” he says. “We know deep in our cultural consciousness, those groups have been seen to be less than or not civilized.”  

    Intention doesn’t matter, he says. We should know better in our highly “visual culture,” that wearing a cowboy costume can’t be separated from the colonizing history of North America, says Walcott, and that widening your behind and bust for a Beyoncé costume at Halloween isn’t respect as much as racism.

    “Even when the claim is being made that it is somehow an appreciation, what it’s actually doing is reproducing stereotypes and degradations of the people that they claim they’re paying homage too,” he says.

    While some stores that sell an array of these costumes have remained mum on the subject, many educational institutions have attempted to address the issue. The Toronto District School Board’s Aboriginal Education Centre provides advice to principals each year, including having further classroom discussion around Indigenous issues. “While dressing as a super hero is one thing, dressing in a way that reduces culture to caricature suggests that the culture being portrayed is less important than others,” reads a document provided by the Centre to principals. 

    Earlier this month, the French school board Conseil scolaire Viamonde, which encompasses central-southwestern Ontario, circulated a memo asking “Is My Costume Appropriate?” Walcott calls the attempt to quell racist attire “admirable,” but takes issue with the language such as “urban ghetto dwellers” to describe certain costumes.

    It’s an issue that stays with students well into the education system. University and college students are often the worst offenders during the season. Students unions across the country have been trying to get ahead of ill-informed costume ideas for a while now. The students union at Waterloo’s University of Laurier is in its fourth year of its “I am not a costume” campaign. Last year, they included transgender issues in the project when they became aware of people wearing costumes mocking Caitlyn Jenner, the former Olympian who had recently revealed she is transgender.

    “Those costumes aren’t jokes for people who have those lived experiences,” says Jaydene Lavallie, volunteer and community engagement director with the Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group. Lavallie’s Indigenous heritage comes from her father, who is Michis-Cree from Northern Saskatchewan. For people of colour, Lavallie says, culture is not a costume.

    “It’s not a fun thing they get to put on and take off whenever they want,” she says.

    At the University of Toronto, student union vice-president of equity Chimwemwe Alao says the costume gaffes often come out of a lack of empathy and understanding, which the union’s new campaign hopes to remedy.

    “Part of it comes from people not understanding how wearing an outfit that represents another person’s culture as a costume can be insulting,” says Alao, 22, who still remembers seeing someone wearing blackface in Texas when he was trick or treating as a young kid just 11 or 12 years ago. “It was fully unabashed. The person who did it had no understanding of the historical connotations.”

    It shouldn’t take a history lesson to understand that these costumes are wrong if even young kids can grasp the issue, says Scarborough mom and youth worker Henderson.

    Some of the Indigenous kids and teens she has worked with have taken offence to costumes meant to represent their own people, from “Native Chief” imitations to sexualized “Pocahotties.”

    She’s discussed racism and cultural appropriation with her own children, who are dressing as some of their favourite film and comic book characters: Wolverine, Guardians of the Galaxy critter Rocket the Raccoon and Batman’s nemesis the Joker. It’s been instilled “from the get go,” she says, not to dress up as specific cultures and ethnicities.

    “Those Halloween costumes are not depicting cultures. They’re making mockeries of them,” she says. “Kids are picking up on this. Maybe adults should listen.”

    Racist Halloween costumes are still being sold in Toronto storesRacist Halloween costumes are still being sold in Toronto stores

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    Motherisk’s flawed hair-strand tests tainted thousands of child protection cases across Canada, but was every parent who tested positive for drugs or alcohol potentially harmed in some way? How much is that harm is worth? And what’s the best way to determine who should pay?

    These are among the complex questions that were debated in a Toronto courtroom this week in the high-stakes battle over the fate of a proposed national class-action seeking millions in damages for families affected by the litany of failings uncovered at the Hospital for Sick Children’s Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory.

    Whether the class-action will proceed is now in the hands of Superior Court Justice Paul Perell, who reserved his ruling on Thursday. His decision will play a key role in shaping what promises to be years of legal wrangling in the fallout from the problems at Motherisk. Already, some 275 plaintiffs are named in a series of individual lawsuits against Sick Kids and the major players at the lab, the court heard.

    “This class-action is for the thousands of families who have received an apology but no compensation,” Rob Gain, a lawyer for the plaintiff, told the court, at the outset of the two-day hearing to determine whether the case meets the bar for class-action certification.

    The proposed class includes anyone who had a positive Motherisk hair test between 2005 and 2015, the period during which a government-commissioned review by retired judge Susan Lang concluded Motherisk’s results were “inadequate and unreliable” for use in legal proceedings. (Close family members of those who tested positive are also included.)

    Gain argued that a class-action is the best way to ensure access to justice to a vulnerable group of people who suffered a shared harm due to Motherisk’s faulty tests, ranging from parents who briefly came under the scrutiny of a child welfare agency to cases where children were removed permanently.

    “When you’re dealing with the child protection regime . . . and there’s a test result from the lab showing drug or alcohol abuse, it is not discretionary what a Children’s Aid Society does. They must act,” he said. “That act is common to the entire class.”

    However, that rationale was rejected by the defendants, who include Sick Kids, Motherisk’s founder and longtime director, Dr. Gideon Koren, and former lab manager Joey Gareri, who argued that a class-action is not appropriate because the circumstances in each case are highly individualized.

    Koren’s lawyer, Darryl Cruz, told the court that his client “obviously opposes certification.”

    Cruz said a negligence claim may be valid in some individual cases, but only if the plaintiff proves there was a false positive Motherisk result, and that result led to negative consequences.

    “The link between what happened at Motherisk and these outcomes . . . is absolutely crucial, and not simple,” he said. “In each and every claim, one needs to consider, who are the various players? How do they relate to one another? How does the outcomes flow from the various players?”

    Sick Kids lawyer Kate Crawford said the hospital is “very willing to engage in discussions about compensation with the appropriate people in appropriate circumstances,” but does not accept that there are “any common issues” that could be litigated through a class-action.

    Although much of Motherisk’s hair-testing was performed at the request of child welfare agencies, some of the lab’s tests were ordered by physicians for clinical purposes, which shows the relationships between the lab and the proposed class members are “different in every case,” Crawford said.

    Complicating matters further, the lab’s practices were “not consistent” and changed over time, as did the internationally accepted standards for hair-testing, which evolved as the science advanced, she said.

    The proposed lead plaintiff is a mother whose access to her son was “repeatedly interfered with as a result of unreliable (Motherisk) hair tests” from 2009 to 2012, according to the plaintiff’s written arguments.

    If the class-action is certified, the members of the class, however it is defined, will have to choose whether they want to pursue individual claims or join the class proceeding.

    The hearing did not deal with the merits of the case. In a statement of claim, the plaintiff argues the defendants were “negligent in (their) operation and supervision” of Motherisk, and were responsible for the consequences that followed. In his statement of defence, Koren denied the claims, arguing the tests were “accurate and reliable for their intended purpose” of providing clinical information “relevant to the medical care and safety of children.” In a joint statement of defence, Sick Kids and Gareri also disputed the claims, and said that if custody decisions were based on the tests, which they denied, children’s aid societies were responsible.

    Queen’s Park appointed Lang to probe Motherisk in late 2014 after a Star investigation exposed questions about the reliability of the lab’s hair tests. Sick Kids initially defended the reliability of Motherisk’s testing, but reversed course in the spring of 2015 after the hospital learned it had been misled about Motherisk’s international proficiency testing results, and closed the lab.

    Sick Kids CEO Michael Apkon issued a public apology in October 2015. Koren retired in June of 2015, and is now working in Israel.

    An independent commission is now probing individual child protection cases in Ontario to determine whether Motherisk’s hair tests had a significant impact on individual decisions to remove children from their families.

    Rachel Mendleson can be reached at

    Motherisk hair test was thrown out by  a Colorado judge — 22 years before the scandal blew up in OntarioMotherisk hair test was thrown out by a Colorado judge — 22 years before the scandal blew up in Ontario

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    In this, the half-century of Julia Roberts, you can pretty much take your pick of her zeitgeist-prickling moments.

    The Julia, say, who puts a Rodeo Drive store clerk on notice with the words “Big Mistake. Big. Huge!” when her character in Pretty Woman gets the snooty treatment. The Julia who later sublimates her own celebrity in Notting Hill when she so solemnly declares, “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” Or even the Julia who — in a moment out of her real-life sizzle reel — winds up leaving Kiefer Sutherland a few days before their wedding in what remains one of Hollywood’s most notorious arcs of disengagement.

    For me, a career-defining moment came in the not-talked-about-enough Mike Nichols flick Charlie Wilson’s War. It’s the movie in which Roberts pulls out her Texas twang playing the role of real-life socialite and power-broker Joanne Herring (helping to persuade a congressman played by Tom Hanks to arm Afghanistan’s resistance against occupying Soviet forces). In what is one of her all-time best scenes, the actress — long saddled with the title of “America’s Sweetheart” — sits in front of a mirror, carefully combing the mascara from her eyelashes . . . with a harrowing-looking safety pin.

    It’s quintessential Julia because she’s not only wholly insouciant about the de-clumping procedure (she makes it all look easy!), but also because she’s just so cavalier using the sharp end (the sharpness of Julia being the key to her spitfire persona, rather than the aforementioned glucose). And with the actress’s 50th birthday shuttling towards us fast — on Oct. 28 — it’s the one scene I’ve preferred to have looping in my head.

    The first woman to reach $1 billion at the box office. Heck, the first woman to reach $2 billion at the box office. The first actress to command a $20 million paycheque per film (the equivalent at the time of the highest paid actor). The first actress to sign a beauty contract worth $50 million (thank you, Lancome). One of a very few to be nominated for an Oscar in three consecutive decades.

    What’s left to say about Ms. 1967 that hasn’t already been amply combed through with the eye of a safety pin?

    For a solid half of her life, she’s been first-name-only famous, an all-American entity every bit as brand-able as Mount Rushmore and Big Mac and “Beat It.” From the vantage point of 2017, what’s perhaps even more remarkable? That the unmatched stretch she enjoyed between 1990 and the early aughts is one she mounted — unlike female toppers of the moment — without ever glomming onto a franchise tentpole (think: Jennifer Lawrence and the ensemble-hedging X-Men films) or relying on the obligatory two-step with a congruous male star (think: Emma Stone’s fame-frisson with Ryan Gosling in La La Land).

    The only thing Julia was leveraging as she made her climb was her Julia-ness, with the men in her movies (think: a Campbell Scott or a Dermot Mulroney) merely ponds with which to reflect that Julia-ness.

    Speaking of the latter, here’s some trivia: in 1997, after a gap that’s sometimes referred to as her “period” period (the actress then taking on mopey roles in films like Michael Collins and Mary Reilly), she doubled down on Brand Julia by breaking a record with My Best Friend’s Wedding, which earned $21.7 million in its opening weekend (toppling a prior record held by Sleepless in Seattle), and ultimately making worldwide bank of $300 million.

    The movie not only “made” Cameron Diaz, but it cemented the cultural precept of the “Gay Best Friend” a la Rupert Everett and is further notable today for two reasons.

    One, the movie hangs on the idea of a pact that Julia’s character has made with her straight male best friend that if they’re still single at all of 28, they’ll get hitched. TWENTY-EIGHT! I repeat: TWENTY-EIGHT. Using the spectrum of Julia Roberts movies as a lens into demographics, what’s even crazier, when you consider it in this post-Girls culture, is that a presumably “old maid” Julia was exactly 28, too, when she filmed the project. Age has clearly become so much more nebulous, even in the last 20 years.

    Two, My Best Friend’s Wedding remains one of the more subversive rom-coms because it dared to make its female protagonist a crackbrained anti-heroine and even, at times, a rhymes-with-witch.

    It’s an on-screen tension that’s often been at the heart of Julia’s best performances — a quality keyed in via a Daily Beast article around the time of one her meatier recent turns, August: Osage County opposite Meryl Streep. “Roberts,” the writer opined, “has always been at her acting best when she gets combative, flipping two birds to our perception of her. Much as in Erin Brockovich (the film that brought her an Oscar) or Closer, her turn in August: Osage County is a brilliant riff on her squeaky-clean image. . .”

    Many have tried to un-pretzel the idea of Ms. Mystic Pizza, chiefly among them David Edelstein of New York magazine, who when writing about her debut some years back on Broadway, argued that the very reason she’s magnetic on film (“the close-up is her voodoo”) is why she underwhelmed, relatively, on-stage. Other critics, he said, sometimes “discuss Julia Roberts with a certain amount of condescension. No one claims she’s not a true movie star, but is she much of an actress? Her industry colleagues gave her an Oscar for Erin Brockovich, but Laura Linney snagged all the critics’ prizes that year for You Can Count On Me. To critics, Julia was just being, you know, Julia. . .”

    Going on to call her a “thoroughbred,” he mused, “It’s not that she’s an icon of glamour. This is a woman who was once married in bare feet, and part of her charm is that she doesn’t move especially gracefully. It’s not that her features are refined, either. They’re outsize, even freaky: that friendly, un-patrician nose . . . that smile that’s wider than most people’s heads. It’s that somehow those clown-princess features coalesce into one of the best faces ever captured on the big screen. She’s plainly gorgeous in still photos, but it’s in motion that the real magic happens. She can entrance you with the tiniest shifts in expression. And does she know it!”

    It’s that “magic” that’s been hooking us for years now — a crack algorithm of both dizzying expression and knowing self-possession. Two-plus decades of scene-cuts, on-screen and off. Remember her alliterative marriage to Lyle Lovett? Her equally alliterative Benjamin Bratt phase? Or how about the greatest straight-up embrace of herself as a icon when she nabbed that Academy Award in 2001 — dressed in Valentino vintage — during which she all but declared that the rules didn’t apply to her, telling the rising orchestra trying to shoo her off to shush. She even threatened the conductor.

    Practiced in the hokum of being a celebrity, she once told Oprah that her status is “all a projection, and projection is very changeable. Projection comes not so much from what I’m doing but from the point of view of the person perceiving me. So it’s like a joining of two things, one of which I have no control over or understanding of.” (Smart — or what?) Julia came to fame pre-social media, of course. And it’s funny to imagine what the chute of internet outrage would have made of her during the years when she was loving and leaving.

    “I’ve never seen Facebook,” she remarked a little while back with a smidgen of pride, “but I did see The Social Network. I’ve never had Twitter.”

    Having drifted some from the blue-flame of her fame in recent years — partly because aging is circuitous for any woman in Hollywood, but mainly because the mother of three seems to be focused on Hazel, Phinnaeus and Henry — Mrs. Danny Moder has had her share of clunkers (Larry Crowne, anyone?), but also become a more interesting actress (how urgent was her performance in the HBO’s The Normal Heart?).

    Of course, that ginormous, almost ridiculous, beam endures — rising from the collective skyline as surely as the Empire State Building. Happy 5-0, lady.

    Julia Roberts at 50 makes us smile a little wider: GovaniJulia Roberts at 50 makes us smile a little wider: GovaniJulia Roberts at 50 makes us smile a little wider: GovaniJulia Roberts at 50 makes us smile a little wider: GovaniJulia Roberts at 50 makes us smile a little wider: GovaniJulia Roberts at 50 makes us smile a little wider: Govani

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    DUNEDIN, FLA.—Sheriff’s deputies conducting a child porn raid on a Florida home on Wednesday found an arsenal of guns and explosives and a homemade silencer, along with a note promising “bloody revenge.”

    Investigators found the weapons — including an AK-47 assault rifle, a 50-calibre pistol, a baseball bat with nails jutting out and 2,300 rounds of ammunition — in a locked closet in the Dunedin, Florida, home where 24-year-old Randall Drake lived with his parents, said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

    During a news conference on Thursday night, Gaultieri said that even more “troubling” is that investigators found aerial images of two schools and a water treatment plant in nearby Tampa. There was also the note written by Drake that promised he’ll have his “bloody revenge” and “the world will burn burn.”

    “I don’t know what his plan was,” the sheriff said. “He had all kinds of books and all kinds of gun powder and if he had taken those devices put them in something else and put a bunch of nails and screws and other things, he could have caused some serious damage. Because it’s the shrapnel that hurts and kills everybody.”

    The sheriff said he notified law enforcement and school officials in Hillsborough County, but so far investigators believe Drake was working alone.

    His parents told authorities they didn’t know what he kept in his locked closet, the sheriff said. Drake had no criminal history. He was fired in 2015 from Florida Firearm Academy in New Port Richey after he came to work with guns strapped to his thighs, officials said. He also was an Explorer with the Tampa Police Department when he was younger.

    Drake’s parents told deputies he was home-schooled.

    Gualtieri compared Drake to Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock in the way he seemed to be acting alone.

    “These are the people who are most concerning to us,” he said. “What we call the lone wolves, the sleepers who are out there, the people who are not on our radar, the people who have fallen under the radar or off of it. You don’t know about them until they engage in devastating acts and kill a whole bunch of people.”

    The note deputies found in Drake’s bedroom read: “My fury at those who imprisoned me shall be vast and without mercy. I shall have my bloody revenge, and then the world will burn burn.”

    The child porn investigation that led to the search warrant this week began in January, the sheriff said.

    Drake faces felony charges of possessing destructive devices. He left jail on a $20,000 bond, but an attorney isn’t listed on jail records.

    Police discover an arsenal of guns and a note promising ‘bloody revenge’ in a Florida homePolice discover an arsenal of guns and a note promising ‘bloody revenge’ in a Florida home

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    Four people were stabbed Friday afternoon near a school in Scarborough.

    Paramedics said they transported three teenage male victims from the scene, with one in life-threatening condition.

    The two other victims transported had serious injuries.

    The incident occurred just after 3:30 p.m. near Lawrence Ave. E. and Brimley Rd., police said.

    Paramedics said the incident unfolded both on school premises and nearby.

    The school, David and Mary Thomson Collegiate Institute, had been placed in hold and secure. It was lifted around 4:30 p.m.

    Outside the school, students and parents gathered on the lawn and sidewalk looking for answers.

    Some came in after the school day ended after they heard the news. The sound of helicopters could be heard overhead.

    Many of the students had gone home by the time of the stabbing, but there were still a few waiting to be picked up by parents or friends, the student said.

    The Toronto District School Board tweeted that they have notified the parents of a 17-year-old male victim, who is a student at the school.

    TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said it is currently unclear whether the other victims are students and how events unfolded.

    Bird said it’s possible that the initial incident happened at the plaza nearby and the victims then came onto school property.

    During a “hold and secure,” Toronto police spokesperson David Hopkinson said it should be business as usual inside the school.

    A “lockdown” is when there is an active threat inside the school building and all the classrooms inside are locked with the lights shut off, Hopkinson said.

    Four people stabbed near school in Scarborough, one in life-threatening conditionFour people stabbed near school in Scarborough, one in life-threatening condition

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    Jagmeet Singh has resigned as an Ontario MPP three weeks after taking the helm of the federal New Democrats.

    Singh made it official Friday, announcing he has stepped down as Bramalea-Gore-Malton NDP MPP.

    “It has been an honour serving the people of Bramalea-Gore-Malton and I'm looking forward to continuing this work on the federal level, building a more fair and just Canada,” he said in a statement.

    But Singh will be back at Queen's Park on Monday to meet with provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

    First elected as an MPP in 2011, he won the federal leadership on Oct. 1.

    Premier Kathleen Wynne has said there will be no byelection in Bramalea-Gore-Malton as there is a provincial election on June 7, 2018.

    Singh has not yet determined where he will run to be an MP in the 2019 federal election.

    Jagmeet Singh quits as MPP for Bramalea-Gore-MaltonJagmeet Singh quits as MPP for Bramalea-Gore-Malton

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    SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO—Tucked deep beneath the bleachers at the Coliseo Roberto Clemente Coliseum, a hulking concrete sports and concert venue, past half a dozen security checkpoints and down a tiled hallway, there stands a double row of small rectangular dressing rooms.

    The hideaways, outfitted with cots, have been home to Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, key staffers and, in some cases, their families, since Hurricane Maria brutally pinwheeled through Puerto Rico on Sept. 20. Cruz, whose blunt and provocative criticism of the federal response to the storm has made her an object of White House scorn — but also earned her many admirers — sarcastically calls the converted sleeping area “The Trump Tower Presidential Suites.”

    One evening, Cruz recalls, an observant staffer in the “suites” asked why she was wearing her pyjamas inside out.

    “Because,” she responded, “my world is inside out.”

    More than four weeks into a crisis that seems likely to stretch for months, if not years, the 54-year-old Cruz has positioned herself as the face of the island — tearful, then angry, then frustrated, then hopeful, then resolute — a made-for-live-streaming omnipresence with a mile-wide emotional range. Like Ray Nagin, the New Orleans mayor whose desperate cries for help played an early role in jolting the nation to attention about Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Cruz has demanded that people listen.

    But unlike the often-befuddled Nagin, Cruz has gone about the task with a blend of message discipline and media savvy fit for the digital age.

    On high-profile treks through San Juan, her ravaged, debris-strewn and power-starved city, she is trailed by a mayor’s office photographer and videographer, who feed images to her social media accounts. Images of her tromping through floodwaters, rescuing the elderly and delivering supplies are everywhere, because she seems to be everywhere.

    Cruz is fond of profanity, and she’s become eminently bleepable as well as eminently quotable as she tries to communicate the urgency of the plight here. She brusquely dismisses criticism of her approach, waving off portrayals that cast her as a whiner or grandstander.

    “I don’t give a s---,” she said in an interview at a folding table on the basketball court of the Clemente coliseum, now piled with pallets of bottled water and canned goods. “Because people’s lives are at stake.”

    Cruz’s smash-mouth approach to the White House administration — she has called U.S. President Donald Trump“disrespectful,” “the miscommunicator-in-chief,” and “the hater-in-chief” among other things — raises the question of whether a local official can get what she needs despite a strained relationship with Washington.

    Read more:

    A month after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is still working to get the power back on

    In Puerto Rico, 80% remain in the dark, 30% are without water — a month after Hurricane Maria

    Stranded Puerto Ricans rely on ingenuity to survive after Hurricane Maria

    “She takes risks,” said José Vargas Vidot, a physician and independent member of the Puerto Rican Senate from San Juan. “That’s a good virtue. She has earned the right to be critical because she has also taken action.”

    Trump has threatened to abandon Puerto Rico recovery efforts. He also has sniped that Cruz is demonstrating “poor leadership,” and Trump’s Federal Emergency Management Agency director, William “Brock” Long, recently told ABC that “we filtered out the mayor a long time ago. We don’t have time for the political noise.”

    Cruz seems to be banking on her ability to work around Trump, leveraging her mega-media platform and appealing directly to the public and to corporate givers. She points to truckloads of corporate donations pouring in as verification that she’s on the right path. But she also has continued to nudge the federal government to do much more, both in terms of relief resources and in delivering financial assistance to an island that has long been drowning in debt.

    “The nation has a big heart and the president has a big mouth,” Cruz said.

    Cruz detonated in the national consciousness shortly after Maria struck, delivering impassioned remarks at a news conference. She warned of a potential “genocide” and delivered a line that defined the early coverage of the storm: “We are dying here and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy.”

    The words she used in the news conference were such a hit that her staff printed them out on a computer and ironed them onto a black T-shirt, she said. She wore the T-shirt on a national television interview. Later, when Trump disparaged her as “nasty,” she appeared for interviews with a T-shirt that read “nasty.”

    She was going to a playbook she’d used before. Cruz confides that she has lots of T-shirts — 179 to be exact — each with a political message.

    “LGBT,” she says, launching into a long list.

    “Against contamination of our land.”

    “In favour of women’s rights.”

    As Cruz was talking, the conversation was interrupted by someone bringing over white rice and pork chops.

    “Oh my God,” she said.

    She tilted her head forward, removed her glasses, and held her face in her hands for several moments. When she lowered her hands, her eyes had welled with tears.

    “It’s warm,” she said, adding that she hadn’t had warm food in a long while.

    Cruz, like many islanders, made her way to the mainland United States. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and a master’s from Carnegie Mellon, then went on to human resources executive positions, according to her official biography.

    She gave birth to her only child, Marina Paul Yulín Cruz, in Pennsylvania, but in the 1990s she was drawn back to the island to work as an adviser to Sila María Calderón, who would later become governor.

    Cruz went on to serve as an elected member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, then launched a campaign for mayor in 2012. Few gave her a chance.

    “I wanted to be mayor but my party didn’t want me,” she said. “I was perhaps too liberal.”

    Vargas Vidot, the Puerto Rican senator, said Cruz’s independent streak has been one of her greatest virtues, but also one of her weaknesses.

    “She has a lot of forces working against her, including her own party,” Vargas Vidot said. “It’s necessary to create alliances. It’s necessary to make connections.”

    During the interview with Cruz, she occasionally fingered a rosary that dangled from her left wrist. When asked about it, she recalled without hesitation the exact day she received it: Feb. 19, 2012.

    At that time, she said, her campaign seemed to be going nowhere. But on that day that she remembers with such precision, she ran into a woman she didn’t know at a restaurant. The woman told her: “You’re going to be mayor in November.”

    She says her response was something like, “Yeah, right.”

    Shortly thereafter, a rival became embroiled in scandal, and she ended up winning an unlikely victory. She’s worn the rosary ever since.

    Not surprisingly, the attention she’s received since the hurricane has led to speculation that she has set her sights on higher office, such as the governorship. Cruz has now taken to countering the rumours by telling several local media organizations that she will not seek the governor’s office and that if she runs for anything in 2020, it will be for re-election as mayor.

    At times she effects the demeanour of a drill sergeant, loudly barking orders. She can be self-effacing one moment — laughing as a random cat strolls through her news conference or pulling off her cap to show reporters the grey roots in her dyed blond hair — and imperious the next, yelling profanities into the phone or gruffly ordering around her staffers, who scurry at the barest hint of a request.

    “She’s always been this way, even when she was little,” said Cruz’s aunt, Irma Soto, as she watched her niece. “Always the leader.”

    On a recent afternoon, as Cruz’s team of staffers and volunteers was packing to leave on a tour of San Juan, Cruz began straightening up chairs in the corner of the coliseum basketball court where she holds news conferences.

    “When I was in school, I was too short to erase the blackboard,” the diminutive mayor said. “It was my job to put away the chairs.”

    Later that afternoon, Cruz’s caravan — pickup trucks, a press van, police motorcycles — pushed off from the coliseum, sirens blaring to clear holes in the epic San Juan traffic.

    They came to a stop on a scruffy street on a bluff overlooking the city.

    Cruz bounded out of one of the lead vehicles. She wore cargo pants tucked into the brown “5.11 Tactical” brand combat boots that have become her signature look during the crisis. She wears grey horn-rimmed glasses that look like expensive designer frames.

    “They’re cheaters,” she said later with a laugh, pulling them off and pointing out how the tint is peeling away. “$19.99 at Walgreen’s.”

    Trailed by cameras and a small pack of reporters, she made her way down a street lined with modest concrete homes, looking for old people.

    At the high end of the steep street she plunged into a house where someone had told her some senior citizens lived. She popped out moments later.

    “Donde estan los viejitos?” she yelled. Where are the little old people?

    Startled neighbours, who had come out onto their porches and stoops, pointed to a small yellow house. Cruz went inside. There she found several older people, and she started quizzing them about their medicines. For all the journalists spreading across San Juan, Cruz — through her social media postings and non-stop interviews — has become, in a sense, one of the foremost chroniclers of the storm’s aftermath. In this little house, she’d found another story to tell, one she says would have been missed if her caravan had been moving too fast.

    “Then you will lose the human stories behind it and the human condition behind it,” Cruz said.

    From there, her caravan made its way deep into Caimito, an impoverished stretch of outer San Juan that was once a rural getaway but now has been swallowed by the spreading city, filling with the flimsy homes of some of the area’s poorest residents. Her destination was the home of a 9-year-old boy genius with a 140 IQ who lost almost all his books during the storm.

    Above her head, a drone — operated by a charitable organization that is distributing solar lamps — videotaped everything.

    At the base of a precipitous gravelly roadway, the procession stopped. Cruz went ahead alone as staffers held back the reporters.

    “This boy is a genius,” one of Cruz’s top aides, José Cruz, whispered in a voice reminiscent of a golf announcer narrating a crucial putt.

    A child in a blue T-shirt, shorts and Crocs emerged from a cinder block house that lost its roof to the storm and had walls patched with plywood. It clung perilously to the edge of the hillside above a steep ravine.

    “This is him,” the mayoral aide, whispered. “Look at him with his books.”

    Ever the master of ceremonies, Cruz suggested that the boy lead the camera crews on a tour of his wrecked house. Cruz hung back. With the cameras turned away from her, she and the boy’s mother embraced for a long time. Both of them were crying.

    “God,” the mother said, “will reward you for this.”

    Taking on Trump while trying to right Puerto Rico — ‘My world is inside out,’ San Juan mayor saysTaking on Trump while trying to right Puerto Rico — ‘My world is inside out,’ San Juan mayor says

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    WASHINGTON—American policy-makers admit they have not worked to analyze the economic impact of the end of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

    That absence of research applies to both the Trump administration and to the Congress.

    A research unit for Congress, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, tells The Canadian Press it has not received any requests from lawmakers for an impact assessment.

    It’s the same thing for U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade czar. Robert Lighthizer said this week that he hasn’t done the research.

    He says there hasn’t been any analysis about the economic impact of a pullout because he’s still focusing on getting a deal.

    Duncan Wood, a Washington trade-watcher with the Wilson Center, isn’t so sure — he says the U.S. is acting like it’s preparing for a pullout, and he takes no comfort from the fact the government hasn’t examined the potential impact.

    U.S. officials admit they haven’t analyzed the economic effects of ending NAFTAU.S. officials admit they haven’t analyzed the economic effects of ending NAFTA

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    The Peloponnesian War (Athens vs. Sparta): 27 years.

    Punic Wars (Rome vs. Carthage): 118 years.

    Wars of the Roses (House of Lancaster vs. House of York): 32 years.

    Hundred Years War (England vs. France): 1337 to 1453.

    Thirty Years War (most of Europe): 1618 to 1648.

    Conflicts around the planet that claimed at least 1,000 lives in 2016: 14.

    The War on Terror: World without end.

    One may not agree with the war on terror, its claims and its objectives, but there’s no doubt that such a global waging exists, with civilians, as always, caught in the crossfire.

    And we won’t see the end of it in our lifetime, probably our children’s lifetime.

    It’s certainly not possible to strike ISIS off the list following this past week’s recapture of Raqqa — de facto capital of the Islamic State caliphate — by U.S.-backed forces.

    Indeed, even as ISIS (Daesh, ISIL) sank to its knees as a territorial power in northeast Syria, radiating into Iraq, a sideways dilemma erupted with Iraqi troops driving Kurdish forces out of the contested city of Kirkuk — crucially, the disputed oilfields — which Kurdish separatists had held for three years. Took it back after Iraqi forces fled the region in the face of a lightning strike onslaught by ISIS jihadists.

    Twenty-four hours earlier they’d been allies, Kurds and Iraqis. Without the Kurds, there would have been no Operation Inherent Resolve, the coalition of 69 countries which has smashed ISIS to smithereens, at least as a self-declared pseudo-state.

    But Kurds are the sadsacks of history, endlessly betrayed, their aspirations for independence — the ethnic Kurd population estimated as about 35 million spanning four countries — repeatedly and violently suppressed.

    So, Baghdad wasn’t having any of it, especially following another referendum last week by the Kurdistan Regional Government, with 93 per cent casting votes for independence. Turkey, which is petrified of its own Kurdish population, wasn’t having any of it. Iran, with nearly 7 million restive Kurds, wasn’t having any of it.

    Change coalition partners and dance, although for now most of the peshmerga troops, outgunned and outmanned by the Iraqi military, evacuated peacefully, along with tens of thousands of fleeing civilians jamming the road from Kirkuk to Erbil.

    Kirkuk, in the past decade, has been claimed both by the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish regional authority in Erbil.

    It’s the oil of course: the region had been earning about $8 billion (U.S.) a year from oil exports since 2014.

    Oil is power. Geopolitics is stomach-turning.

    The ambiguous fate of Kurds is but one reason — not even the main one — why the liberation of Raqqa and the purported death throes of ISIS does not merit a victory lap. There were lessons learned by president George W. Bush’s premature “Mission Accomplished” speech in 2003 from the flight deck of the USS Lincoln, in which he declared an end to major combat in Iraq. In November, 2015, president Barack Obama similarly declared that the pushback campaign against vast territorial gains by ISIS had “contained” the terrorist organization. Next day, gunmen who pledged fealty to ISIS killed 120 people in Paris.

    Having transformed terrorism as a global entity, there’s no reason to think ISIS will turtle, regardless of triumphalist proclamations.

    The four-month Raqqa offensive, with the multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Forces at its pointy end, supported by heavy air coverage, tactically advised by U.S. special forces on the ground, has left the city in ruins. We are encouraged to believe that ISIS is ruined also.

    “Overall, ISIS is losing in every way,” Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said at a press conference on Tuesday. “We’ve devastated their network, targeted and eliminated their leaders at all levels. We’ve degraded their ability to finance their operations, cutting oil revenues by 90 per cent. Their flow of foreign recruits has gone from about 1,500 fighters a month down to near zero today. ISIS in Iraq and Syria are all but isolated in their quickly shrinking territory.”

    Al Qaeda, from which death cult ISIS emerged in Iraq and later became a rival, had warned the Islamic State about the perils of declaring a territorial caliphate. A geographic target could be kinetically attacked and defeated. Ideology can’t. And ideology is the oxygen for terrorism. Which is why the world needs to brace itself for the next reminder from ISIS that it’s still here, can still deploy acolytes, can still unleash horrors. It may no longer command a quasi emirate, enforcing its austere version of Islamic law upon a subjugated populace — beheadings, stoning, crucifixion, sexual slavery and genocide against religious minorities. But it hasn’t sheathed its sword. It retains active franchises operating from Libya to Yemen to Afghanistan.

    Thus the wisely subdued reaction internationally, almost anticlimactic, to a coalition war which has gone widely undocumented by media.

    What remains to be seen is whether the blow ISIS has absorbed has blackened its propaganda lure among recruits. On the surface it certainly looks like they backed a loser. The epic battle between good and evil which ISIS avowed — supposedly foretold by seventh century Islamic prophecies — never happened. But even amidst the rubble of thwarted glory, the Islamic State has emerged as a transnational organization, with battle-hardened leaders who arrived from various jihadist battlefields across the globe, joined now by enthralled naïfs who made their fighter stones in the last three years. Zealotry is remarkably enduring.

    With no co-ordinated political strategy to blunt Daesh’s fundamental ideology — the Americans will doubtless lose interest now, just as they did in Afghanistan with appalling consequences — the remnants of ISIS, like the remnants of Al Qaeda, the remnants of the Taliban — can regroup, recalibrate and re-envision with deadly impact. The animosities that animated ISIS haven’t been uprooted. Unlike the Islamic State, the cycle is unbroken.

    Meanwhile Al Qaeda, left largely ignored as the counter-insurgency efforts focused on ISIS, appears well situated for a comeback, expert analysts fear. On the eve of Sept. 11, there were only about 400 Al Qaeda members in Iraq. Now their numbers are estimated at 20,000 in Syria alone. And the quagmire that is Syria will continue to inspire rebel-rousers from around the globe.

    Just what the world needs: Retro Al Qaeda.

    “Al Qaeda will try to unify the global jihadi movement under its command,” Ali Soufan, the former FBI special agent who led the investigation of the bombing of the USS Cole and supervised counterterrorism investigations surrounding Sept. 11, told National Public Radio a few days ago. “And I believe they have a strategy to do so.”

    And they’ve got a charismatic millennial leader to coalesce around for Al Qaeda 2.0: Hamza bin Laden. Son of.

    Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

    Daesh has been beaten on the battlefield, but the war on terror is far from over: DiMannoDaesh has been beaten on the battlefield, but the war on terror is far from over: DiManno

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    A judge has decided not to allow the testimony of a retired American physician brought to court by the family of a Brampton woman who was declared dead in September but has remained on life support.

    Dr. Paul Byrne, a specialist in pediatrics, was brought in by Taquisha McKitty’s family to serve as an expert. He has written about brain death and has testified in court in cases about brain death in the U.S.

    Judge Lucille Shaw ruled on Friday that she would deny Byrne’s testimony over his lack of understanding of the Canadian medical guidelines, and his “lack of independence, partiality and bias” on the subject of brain death, which constitutes death in Ontario.

    “Dr. Byrne cannot be an independent witness . . . when he opposes the concept of brain death,” Shaw told the court.

    Byrne is the president of Life Guardian Foundation, a Christian organization he co-founded, which disagrees with the concept of brain death.

    Byrne told court earlier this week he thinks brain death is a made-up concept meant to facilitate the collection of organ donations.

    He testified that he would never pronounce someone dead solely because their brain has stopped functioning, even though he recognized that is a respected medical opinion and legal standard in the U.S.

    Shaw ruled that Byrne has never reviewed the Canadian medical guidelines on determination of death before the case, and has never applied them.

    Brain death in Canada, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, requires “the irreversible loss of the capacity for consciousness combined with the irreversible loss of all brain stem functions . . . including the capacity to breathe.”

    McKitty, a 27-year-old mother of a young daughter, was declared dead on Sept. 20 by Dr. Omar Hayani at Brampton Civic Hospital after he determined that her brain had ceased functioning.

    Shaw granted a two-week injunction to keep McKitty on life support on Sept. 28.

    McKitty’s family argues that she is moving voluntarily, and that she is not brain dead, and hopes to have her death certificate revoked.

    Hugh Scher, the lawyer for McKitty’s family, intends to seek another expert, ideally a Canadian neurologist.

    With files from The Canadian Press

    Judge dismisses doctor’s testimony in legal battle to revoke death certificate for Brampton woman on life-supportJudge dismisses doctor’s testimony in legal battle to revoke death certificate for Brampton woman on life-support

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    “Please, baby, pleeeease. I’d do anything for you. I’m nothing without you. I neeeeeeeed you. Please!” That’s an enduring theme of pop music lyrics, but it’s actually a really terrible romantic overture. “I’m a desperate lonely loser who needsyou to make me less desperate and lonely” is the kind of pitch that will turn almost no one on. No one you want around, anyhow. What’s in it for them?

    And yet it remains common among lyricists and heartsick wannabe romantics. And as it is in love, so it is, apparently, in business.

    I was thinking about those pleading crooners while scanning news items about cities making their bids for Amazon’s affection. The online retail giant announced it was accepting offers for a city to host its second headquarters (and the 50,000 high-tech jobs expected to come with it) and suddenly mayors were on their knees belting out ballads.

    Tucson, Ariz. promised to create a whole new city, name it after Amazon, and install the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, as mayor-for-life. Chula Vista, Calif. offered $400 million in tax incentives. Newark, N.J. upped the grasping bribery stakes to $7 billion.

    All of this was enough to make a Torontonian cringe while waiting to see what sort of sorry self-abasement our own region’s bid package was likely to contain. And yet, when the Toronto Region bid book for Amazon came out this week, it didn’t contain a rendition of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” Instead, it was more like something from the independent women period of Destiny’s Child: “Don’t you want to dance with me? Can you handle, handle me?”

    No begging involved. What incentives were we willing to offer? None.

    Well, not none, exactly. The city’s bid offered the incentive of locating in Toronto: an amazing city to live in, and an amazing place to do business. It explains what we are, why we’re attractive, and why anyone would be foolish to overlook us. Amazon would be lucky to locate here. And that ought to be incentive enough.

    How absolutely refreshing.

    After all, this is a city that has never failed to contemplate how an Olympics or a World’s Fair or some other bit of external validation might finally “make us want to be a better city,” to paraphrase Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets. That’s our history: If we win our bid for this BIG DEAL THING, maybe we can finally develop the Port Lands! If we land that GIANT EVENT, maybe we’ll get around to building the transit we should have built for ourselves decades ago. Affordable housing construction? Maybe we could DO IT FOR THEM, if only they’ll reward us with their affection.

    And yet somehow, finally, in considering the prospect of inviting a new global tech giant to the city, we became aware of our own attractiveness. And felt some confidence in ourselves, with or without them. It’s like a recipe for success from a self-help manual: love yourself first.

    The submission reads like a manifesto of civic self confidence: “From safety, crime, healthcare, and education, to housing, culture, and economic as well as geophysical stability, the Toronto Region leads North America on every important quality of life metric,” it says in one place. “Ontario was the first province in Canada to legalize same-sex marriage in 2003. We remain signatories to the Paris Climate agreement. We believe in — and enforce — gun control. Abortion is in no danger of being repealed, and birth control is accessible. We have universal healthcare and robust public schools,” it goes on. “We are also fun,” it also says, maybe protesting too much.

    Of course, it makes the economic case for a large American company, too. It emphasizes that Toronto has the most educated workforce of any major North American city. It clues them in that our government healthcare system would save a company like Amazon $600 million a year. It points out that our talent level ranks very high but, in comparison to a major American city, our average wages are very low. The corporate income tax rate is 12.5 per cent lower than the American average and business operating costs here are “26 per cent lower than comparable tech markets.”

    Presumably, all of this is what helped drive Google’s decision, announced formally last week, to locate a new city-building laboratory here. And it’s also why Toronto is already the third-largest tech hub in North America, and is the fastest growing tech market in the world.

    But beyond those specific business benchmarks, it’s fascinating to see what this proposal emphasizes. There are two pictures of the Pride Parade. Another picture of bike lanes. A picture of a graduating university class that shows off the city’s obvious ethnic diversity alongside bragging points stats: “We welcome more new immigrants each year than New York, L.A., and Chicago combined. We speak over 180 languages and dialects.” Lots of fawning over our walk scores and the growth plans for our transit system.

    It’s great that we put all this stuff down to entice a business to locate here. It’s a document aimed at Amazon, but it’s there ready to send out to virtually any other company looking to see what we offer.

    Let Amazon decide whatever it wants. We’ll be fine either way.

    But I kind of wish our local politicians would also look at it and see what we’re bragging about when we talk to other people about why they should move here. Because it seems too often they forget those things when they’re talking to those of us who already live here.

    If transit and cycling and walkability are big selling points, why do so many of our provincial and municipal debates revolve around protecting the commute times of car drivers, at almost all costs? If transit expansion and service is such an economic asset, why are we always hacking our plans back over budget worries? All these things we want to show to other people: why don’t we focus on building them up even better for ourselves? Take some pride in those things, even when no one else is looking?

    Edward Keenan writes on city issues Follow: @thekeenanwire

    There’s no begging in Toronto’s Amazon bid: KeenanThere’s no begging in Toronto’s Amazon bid: Keenan

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    MONTREAL—Somewhere in the Quebec government’s legal department, a team of lawyers is bracing to argue in court in what may be the not-too-distant future that the wearing of dark sunglasses puts the safety of the province’s public transit system at risk. Ditto presumably in the case of local libraries and city parks.

    For a province to declare war on sunglasses is pretty unique in the history of Canada. For a government to do so in the name of the separation of church and state is even more remarkable.

    And yet according to Quebec’s Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée, the sunglasses ban is part of Bill 62, the just-adopted law that requires Quebecers to uncover their faces to provide or receive provincial and municipal services.

    Vallée’s contention is that critics who describe the law as a discriminatory attack on the fundamental rights of the minority of Muslim women who wear the face-covering niqabs and/or burkas have it wrong.

    One can understand why so many would have come to that conclusion given that the bill’s title is: “An act to foster adherence to state religious neutrality and, in particular, to provide a framework for requests for accommodations on religious grounds in certain bodies.”

    Notwithstanding the bill’s label, Vallée’s says that under her law someone sporting dark sunglasses would be treated in the same way as a woman wearing a face-covering veil. Both would have to remove them for the duration of a transit ride or in the minister’s own words for “as long as the service is being rendered.”

    Vallée’s comments mostly illustrate the lengths to which Premier Philippe Couillard’s Liberal government has to go to claim that it has, if not a public policy rationale, at least a legal footing for its dubious bill.

    Unless some smaller Quebec town wants to wage war on face-covering snow apparel, Bill 62 may not be tested in real life anytime soon.

    Muslim women who veil their faces are hard to come by anywhere in Quebec but in particular outside Montreal. Denis Coderre and Valérie Plante — the two main candidates vying for the mayoralty of the province’s metropolis in next month’s municipal election — have both vouched to disregard the new law. The union that represents the city’s employees is also set to give its prescriptions a pass. There are no penal sanctions for those who fail to apply Bill 62.

    Indeed there are those who believe Couillard’s plan was to fend off charges that his government is failing to address the religious accommodation issue with a bill that is neither applicable nor legally viable.

    What the new law will not do is end Quebec’s decade-long travails on the front of the accommodation of religious minorities.

    It may not even be on the books long enough to be thrown out by the courts on constitutional grounds. That’s because it could be replaced by a more restrictive but not necessarily more constitutional law on religious wear sooner rather than later.

    If elected to government next fall, either of Quebec’s main opposition parties would replace the Liberal ban on face-coverings with a wider one that would prohibit judges, crown attorneys, prison guards and police officers from wearing religious garments at work.

    The Coalition Avenir Québec — whom the latest of polls cast as the ruling Liberals’ main election rival — would add elementary and secondary school teachers to the list of those on whom it would impose a secular dress code.

    The niqab flare-up in the 2015 election, the more recent backlash over M103, the federal Liberal motion dealing with Islamophobia, the floating of a values test on would-be immigrants at the time of the federal Conservative leadership campaign have demonstrated that the debate over the accommodation of religious minorities is not limited to Quebec.

    On Friday, a tweet by Ontario Tory Leader Patrick Brown suggesting that, absent a federal intervention, the province should support a Charter-based court challenge of the Quebec law prompted a load of pro-Bill 62 responses from followers purporting to be Ontario voters.

    Two decades ago the federal government sought guidance from the Supreme Court on the divisive matter of Quebec secession. If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wanted to be proactive in the festering debate over reasonable accommodation, he would seek the advice of Canada’s top court on achieving a Charter-friendly balance between the rights of religious minorities and the values of a secular society.

    Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

    Quebec’s Bill 62 declares war on sunglasses: HébertQuebec’s Bill 62 declares war on sunglasses: Hébert

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    Premier Kathleen Wynne has served Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown with a libel notice for claiming she’s on “trial” in the Sudbury byelection bribery case.

    Having given Brown the requisite six weeks to apologize for his statement on Sept. 12, the premier’s lawyers served the Tory leader with the legal papers on Friday at his Orillia constituency office.

    “You have refused to retract or apologize for those defamatory statements and have made further defamatory statements about Premier Wynne,” lawyers Jack Siegel and Sheldon Inkol of Blaney McMurtry LLP said in a four-page letter.

    The notice is the next step toward a defamation suit being filed in court.

    It stems from Brown telling a Queen’s Park media scrum that Ontario had “a sitting premier sitting in trial” and that Wynne “stands trial” in Sudbury.

    His comment was made the day before the premier testified as a Crown witness in a Sudbury courtroom where Patricia Sorbara, her former deputy chief of staff, and Liberal activist Gerry Lougheed are on trial for alleged Election Act violations, which they deny.

    “Your statements above are false and defamatory. The express meaning of these statements is that Premier Wynne was on trial for bribery, which was not the case,” wrote Siegel and Inkol, adding Brown had the “intention of further harming Premier Wynne’s reputation.”

    “A further implied meaning of these statements is that Premier Wynne is unethical and was under investigation by the police for a criminal act.”

    The lawyers said Wynne, whose legal bills are being paid by the Ontario Liberal Party, could seek an “award of aggravated and punitive damages” if the case proceeds to court.

    An unrepentant Brown accused the premier of using the libel notice “to deflect from news that 180 pages of emails and documents were released to the public yesterday during one (of) her two political corruption trials.

    “Her Liberal government is also under fire from an explosive report on hydro from the auditor general,” said the Tory chief, a lawyer by training.

    “Make no mistake, it is political corruption that’s on trial. And the premier is oblivious to the fact that her party is politically corrupt,” he said.

    “It was a sad day for Ontario and truly a sorry spectacle that the premier of our province testified in a trial,” said Brown.

    “No one wants to see the premier of our province debased or humiliated. Regrettably Kathleen Wynne compounded this with baseless legal threats against me.

    “Her baseless threats will be ignored.”

    Speaking to reporters in Windsor, where she was co-hosting the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Wynne urged Brown to recant.

    “An acceptable outcome for me is to have a debate about the truth — whatever the subject we’re talking about — to talk about the facts and to talk about the substance of the issues,” she said.

    Two Star reporters and a columnist were in Brown’s Sept. 12 press scrum along with journalists from CBC, Radio-Canada, The Canadian Press, The Globe and Mail, QP Briefing, Global, CP24, CTV, TFO, Queen’s Park Today, Fairchild, CHCH and Newstalk 1010.

    Prior to the 2014 election, Wynne launched a $2-million libel action against former Tory leader Tim Hudak and MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton) over their comments about her alleged role in former premier Dalton McGuinty’s cancellation of gas-fired power plants in Oakville and Mississauga. That matter was settled out of court in 2015.

    NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has called on Brown to “absolutely” say sorry to Wynne.

    “People are human beings. You make a mistake, you apologize. There’s not enough of that in politics,” Horwath said last month.

    Kathleen Wynne serves Patrick Brown with libel noticeKathleen Wynne serves Patrick Brown with libel notice