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    SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO—Heavy rain and historic, 298 km/h winds lashed the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico’s northeast coast Wednesday as Hurricane Irma roared through Caribbean islands on its way to a possible devastating hit on Florida.

    The strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever measured destroyed homes and flooded streets across a chain of small islands in the northern Caribbean, passing directly over Barbuda and leaving the island of some 1,700 people unable to communicate with the outside world.

    Midcie Francis, spokesperson for the National Office of Disaster Services for Antigua and Barbuda, said the government had so far confirmed one death on Barbuda and heavy destruction on the island.

    “A significant number of the houses have been totally destroyed,” said Lionel Hurst, the prime minister’s chief of staff.

    An estimated 25,000 people or more left the Florida Keys after all visitors were ordered to clear out, causing bumper-to-bumper traffic on the single highway that links the chain of low-lying islands to the mainland.

    But because of the uncertainty in any forecast this far out, state and local authorities in Miami and Fort Lauderdale held off for the time being on ordering any widespread evacuations there.

    Florida Gov. Rick Scott waived tolls on all Florida highways and told people if they were thinking about leaving to “get out now.”

    “Do not sit and wait for this storm to come,” Scott said Wednesday.

    But in the same breath, he acknowledged that “it’s hard to tell people where to go until we know exactly where it will go.”

    This is only the second time since satellites started tracking storms about 40 years ago that one maintained 298 km/h winds for more than 24 hours, said Colorado State University meteorology professor Phil Klotzbach. The other was the massive killer typhoon Haiyan that killed more than 6,000 people in the Philippines in 2013.

    “It’s a humdinger,” he said.

    “This thing is a buzz saw; I’m glad Floridians are taking it very seriously,” Klotzbach said. “This is going to be a bad storm. I don’t see any way out of it.”

    France sent emergency food and water rations to the French islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, where Irma ripped off roofs and knocked out all electricity. Dutch marines who flew to three Dutch islands hammered by Irma reported extensive damage but no deaths or injuries.

    While France received no immediate reports of casualties, the minister for French overseas territories, Annick Girardin, said: “We have a lot to fear for a certain number of our compatriots who unfortunately didn’t want to listen to the protection measures and go to more secure sites ... We’re preparing for the worst.”

    By Wednesday evening the centre of the storm was 64 kilometres east-southeast of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and 88 kilometres east of San Juan, Puerto Rico and heading west-northwest at 26 km/h.

    Read more:

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    Caribbean islands brace for impact of Hurricane Irma

    Cost of recovery after hurricane Harvey could top $120B, says Texas governor

    The U.S. National Weather Service said Puerto Rico had not seen a hurricane of Irma’s magnitude since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928, which killed a total of 2,748 people in Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Florida.

    “We have to prepare for the worst,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. “If we don’t, it could be devastating.”

    Puerto Rico’s public power company has cut back on staff and maintenance amid a decade-long economic crisis and the agency’s director warned that some areas could be without power from four to six months because the infrastructure has already deteriorated so badly. Outages were reported in some neighbourhoods well ahead of the storm, with more than a half million people without power and more than 4,500 without water by Wednesday evening.

    The federal government has stepped in, with President Donald Trump this week approving an emergency declaration for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. That means that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies can remove debris and give other services that will largely be paid for by the U.S. government.

    EPA officials said their biggest concerns were oil spills and power disruptions to water supply systems.

    “No matter what precautions we take, the coastal flooding will impact oil tanks,” said Catherine McCabe, a regional administrator.

    Another concern is the 20 Superfund sites in Puerto Rico and the three in the U.S. Virgin Islands, given that most are near the coast, she said. She said EPA officials in New Jersey are on standby to fly down after the hurricane passes through.

    State maintenance worker Juan Tosado said he was without power for three months after Hurricane Hugo killed dozens of people in Puerto Rico in 1989.

    “I expect the same from this storm,” he said. “It’s going to be bad.”

    Tourist Pauline Jackson, a 59-year-old registered nurse from Tampa Florida, puffed on her last cigarette as a San Juan hotel prepared to shutter its doors ahead of the storm.

    “I’m in a hurricane here, and when I get home, I’ll be in the same hurricane. It’s crazy,” she said.

    She tried to leave ahead of the storm but all flights were sold out, and she now worries about her home in Tampa.

    “When you’re from Florida, you understand a Category 5 hurricane,” said Jackson, who is scheduled to fly out on Friday.

    The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Irma’s winds would fluctuate, but the storm would likely remain at Category 4 or 5 for the next day or two as it roared past Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, the Turks & Caicos and parts of the Bahamas.

    By early Sunday, Irma is expected to hit Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott said he planned to activate 7,000 National Guard members by Friday and warned that Irma is “bigger, faster and stronger” than Hurricane Andrew. Andrew pummeled South Florida 25 years ago and wiped out entire neighbourhoods with ferocious winds. Trump also declared an emergency in Florida and authorities in the Bahamas said they would evacuate six southern islands.

    Experts now worry that Irma could rake the entire Florida east coast from Miami to Jacksonville and then head into Savannah, Georgia and the Carolinas, striking highly populated and developed areas.

    “This could easily be the most costly storm in U.S. history, which is saying a lot considering what just happens two weeks ago,” said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy.

    The mayor of Miami-Dade County said people should be prepared to evacuate Miami Beach and most coastal areas as soon as Wednesday evening. He activated the emergency operation centre and urged residents to have three days’ worth of food and water.

    The State Department authorized voluntary evacuation of U.S. diplomats and their families from the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba, where the storm was expected to arrive by Friday.

    Warm water is fuel for hurricanes and Irma was moving over water that was 1 degree Celsius warmer than normal. Four other storms have had winds as strong in the overall Atlantic region, but they were in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, which usually have warmer waters.

    Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said his government was evacuating six islands because authorities would not be able to help anyone caught in the “potentially catastrophic” wind, flooding and storm surge. People there would be flown to Nassau in what he called the largest storm evacuation in the country’s history.

    The northern parts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti could see 25 centimetres of rain, with as much as 50 centimetres in the southeast Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.

    The website said that 28 cruises had been cancelled, shortened or had their itineraries changed as a result of the hurricane.

    As Irma drew closer, Georgia and South Carolina declared a state of emergency. North Carolina declared a state of emergency taking effect Thursday morning.

    Also Wednesday, Tropical Storm Katia formed in the Gulf of Mexico off Mexico’s coast and rapidly became a hurricane. It had maximum sustained winds of 120 km/h by the afternoon and the government of Mexico issued a hurricane watch for the coast of the state of Veracruz from Tuxpan to Laguna Verde.

    Katia was expected to drift toward the coast on Thursday, according to the hurricane centre. It was located about 300 kms north-northeast of the city of Veracruz.

    And another tropical storm farther east in the Atlantic became a hurricane Wednesday evening. Hurricane Jose posed no immediately threat to land but meteorologists warned the storm’s path could change, according to the hurricane centre. Jose had winds of120 km/h and was quickly strengthening.

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    The Toronto Transit Commission has launched what it describes as a bold new public awareness campaign targeting sexual harassment, racism, homophobia and other troubling behaviour on the system.

    The initiative, dubbed “This Is Where...” was announced Wednesday and includes posters that will be placed on vehicles and in stations, as well as a website and social media campaign.

    The launch of the awareness blitz was accompanied by the rollout of a new mobile app called SafeTTC, which will allow transit riders to use their smartphones to report harassment, safety issues and other incidents.

    At a news conference at North York Centre station, TTC chair Josh Colle called the anti-harassment initiative “one of the most original and probably most important campaigns the TTC has undertaken in recent memory.”

    “The TTC knows that harassment is unfortunately too common. To do nothing about it, to try and hide it, or worse, to deny it exists, is a disservice to our customers and to public safety in general,” said TTC chief customer officer Kirsten Watson.

    “With this campaign, we are putting those who would harass others on notice. We know you’re out there, and your actions are unacceptable, unwelcome and are under scrutiny.”

    The campaign’s posters and online material use direct language that the TTC said was taken from real-life experiences reported by transit users.

    One poster is titled “This Is Where Julia was groped on her way home.”

    “Julia was exhausted after a hard day’s work and fell asleep on the blue night bus,” it reads.

    “She heard the announcement for her stop and awoke to find a stranger touching her. Julia felt sick. She felt violated. She wanted to scream… No one should have to experience this.”

    Other posters include, “This Is Where Em and Lisa were attacked for their sexuality” and “This Is Where Savi faced violence when confronting a racist.”

    Watson said the campaign is focused on all forms of unwanted behaviour, but she described sexual assault as a growing problem on the TTC. There were 55 sexual assaults reported to the transit agency during the first seven months of this year, compared to 67 in all of 2015.

    As the Star reported last October, Toronto police (who keep separate statistics) received 577 reports of sexual assaults on the TTC between 2011 and 2015, a rate of almost one every three days.

    Linda Frempong, the safety program co-ordinator at anti-violence against women organization Metrac, said she was impressed with the TTC’s efforts to address harassment and assault.

    She said the campaign’s use of direct language was significant because people may not recognize that they have been a victim or witnessed a serious incident “if you skirt around the issue and don’t name what the issue is.”

    Farrah Khan, the coordinator of Ryerson University’s Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education, said the campaign was “a good first step” but that she would have liked the TTC to have put more emphasis on witnesses’ responsibility to report.

    “We don’t want to make the onus just on the person that is harmed,” she said.

    The SafeTTC app was developed by a Massachusetts-based company called Elerts, which has supplied similar products to transportation agencies in Atlanta, Boston and San Francisco.

    According to the TTC, the app provides transit riders with a “quick and discreet” way to send photos or descriptions of incidents to the agency’s transit control centre. TTC staff will then assess the seriousness of the issue and, if necessary, respond by dispatching transit enforcement officers or contacting the police.

    All TTC subway stations are wifi-enabled, but coverage doesn’t extend into subway tunnels. The TTC said if riders try to use the app to report an incident while they’re out of range, the app will store the report and send it as soon as they connect to the network.

    In May, an American transit user sued Elerts and San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit agency for allegedly using that city’s version of the app to improperly collect passengers’ personal information. BART and Elerts have denied wrongdoing.

    Colle said the SafeTTC app shouldn’t raise any privacy concerns for Toronto riders.

    “You can turn your location services off, you can just not use the app at all,” he said.

    The TTC said the app and the awareness campaign together cost between $600,000 and $700,000.

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    Starting next year, students from kindergarten to Grade 12 will bring home new report cards that showcase skills such as creativity and critical thinking as part of the Ontario government’s education “refresh.”

    The government is also looking at changes to standardized testing as well as curriculum updates — especially in math, given recent results on province-wide testing showing just half of all Grade 6 students met provincial standards, and less than two-thirds of those in Grade 3 did.

    “We do need to look at whether we’re doing everything that we can to make sure that kids are getting those math skills,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said Wednesday at Toronto’s Lawrence Park Collegiate, where she and Education Minister Mitzie Hunter announced the changes.

    The government is already pouring $60 million to boost the number of math teachers and provide professional development, and those changes “haven’t had a long time to set,” Wynne said, but additional measures are needed.

    The new report cards, to be in place for 2018-19, are expected to include teacher evaluations on “transferable skills” — with less of a focus on areas like organization that are a part of the “work habits” section on current report cards — while retaining marks for individual classes.

    Hunter said the process is still in the early stages, but changes will be made only after consultations with experts, educators and parents.

    Unions, too, “for sure will be at the table as we transform and refresh the system, including the report card aspect,” she said later at Queen’s Park.

    “We are focusing on the learning skills and work habits and really moving toward the transferable skills, which we know are really needed in terms of measuring those things that really matter to how kids learn and how they apply that learning into the real world, after school.”

    Hunter said standardized testing — administered in Grades 3, 6, 9 and 10 — will also be looked at, but teacher unions won’t get their wish to have it eliminated.

    Chris Cowley, the new president of the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, said he realizes provincial testing — known as EQAO — is here to stay, but “there’s a more effective way to do it.”

    “I think you can get just as good results from random sampling. Teachers spend weeks preparing for EQAO, weeks that they could be delivering the curriculum in a different way. It takes up a significant amount of time.”

    He said curriculum changes are welcome, but shouldn’t be rushed and teachers must receive timely professional development.

    “Regardless of the (upcoming provincial) election or the political reality, we want to make sure the curriculum and report cards and everything around that is rolled out in the right way,” he said.

    Curriculum changes will happen over the next three to five years, and Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said he hopes it’s done “in a positive light and in a thorough way, and with the input of front-line workers.”

    On EQAO testing, the union’s position is that it be eliminated, he added, “because that’s $100 million could go toward special education programs and students in the system.”

    He also supports any move by the government to “declutter” and refine the curriculum, focusing on a few key concepts, given the criticism that there are too many expectations for teachers to cover.

    However, Hammond also warned that if a report card revamp is in the works for the next school year, with consultations “there’s some concern that is a short timeline.”

    NDP education critic Peggy Sattler said while the Liberal government’s changes “are important and will benefit kids, the real concern is there are fundamental issues in public education that remain unaddressed,” such as underfunding and school closings, that must be dealt with first.

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    NEW YORK—Sometimes an international offensive begins with a few shots that draw little notice. So it was last year when Melvin Redick of Harrisburg, Pa., a friendly-looking American with a backward baseball cap and a young daughter, posted on Facebook a link to a brand-new website.

    “These guys show hidden truth about Hillary Clinton, George Soros and other leaders of the US,” he wrote on June 8, 2016. “Visit #DCLeaks website. It’s really interesting!”

    Redick turned out to be a remarkably elusive character. No Melvin Redick appears in Pennsylvania records, and his photos seem to be borrowed from an unsuspecting Brazilian. But this fictional concoction has earned a small spot in history: The Redick posts that morning were among the first public signs of an unprecedented foreign intervention in American democracy.

    The DCLeaks site had gone live a few days earlier, posting the first samples of material, stolen from prominent Americans by Russian hackers, that would reverberate through the presidential election campaign and into the Trump presidency. The site’s phoney promoters were in the vanguard of a cyberarmy of counterfeit Facebook and Twitter accounts, a legion of Russian-controlled impostors whose operations are still being unravelled.

    The Russian information attack on the election did not stop with the hacking and leaking of Democratic emails or the fire hose of stories, true, false and in between, that battered Clinton on Russian outlets like RT and Sputnik. Far less splashy, and far more difficult to trace, was Russia’s experimentation on Facebook and Twitter, the American companies that essentially invented the tools of social media and, in this case, did not stop them from being turned into engines of deception and propaganda.

    An investigation by The New York Times, and new research from the cybersecurity firm FireEye, reveals some of the mechanisms by which suspected Russian operators used Twitter and Facebook to spread anti-Clinton messages and promote the hacked material they had leaked. On Wednesday, Facebook officials disclosed that they had shut down several hundred accounts that they believe were created by a Russian company linked to the Kremlin and used to buy $100,000 (U.S.) in ads pushing divisive issues during and after the American election campaign.

    On Twitter, as on Facebook, Russian fingerprints are on hundreds or thousands of fake accounts that regularly posted anti-Clinton messages. Many were automated Twitter accounts, called bots, that sometimes fired off identical messages seconds apart — and in the exact alphabetical order of their made-up names, according to the FireEye researchers. On Election Day, for instance, they found that one group of Twitter bots sent out the hashtag #WarAgainstDemocrats more than 1,700 times.

    The Russian efforts were sometimes crude or off-key, with a trial-and-error feel, and many of the suspect posts were not widely shared. The fakery may have added only modestly to the din of genuine American voices in the pre-election melee, but it helped fuel a fire of anger and suspicion in a polarized country.

    Given the powerful role of social media in political contests, understanding the Russian efforts will be crucial in preventing or blunting similar, or more sophisticated, attacks in the 2018 congressional races and the 2020 presidential election. Multiple government agencies have investigated the Russian attack, though it remains unclear whether any agency is focused specifically on tracking foreign intervention in social media. Both Facebook and Twitter say they are studying the 2016 experience and how to defend against such meddling.

    “We know we have to stay vigilant to keep ahead of people who try to misuse our platform,” Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer, wrote on Wednesday in a post about the Russia-linked fake accounts and ads. “We believe in protecting the integrity of civic discourse.”

    Critics say that because shareholders judge the companies partly based on a crucial data point — “monthly active users” — they are reluctant to police their sites too aggressively for fear of reducing that number. The companies use technical tools and teams of analysts to detect bogus accounts, but the scale of the sites — 328 million users on Twitter, nearly two billion on Facebook — means they often remove impostors only in response to complaints.

    Though both companies have been slow to grapple with the problem of manipulation, they have stepped up efforts to purge fake accounts. Facebook says it takes down a million accounts a day — including some that were related to the recent French election and upcoming German voting — but struggles to keep up with the illicit activity. Still, the company says the abuse affects only a small fraction of the social network; Facebook officials estimated that of all the “civic content” posted on the site in connection with the United States election, less than one-tenth of one per cent resulted from “information operations” like the Russian campaign.

    Twitter, unlike Facebook, does not require the use of a real name and does not prohibit automated accounts, arguing that it seeks to be a forum for open debate. But it constantly updates a “trends” list of most-discussed topics or hashtags, and it says it tries to foil attempts to use bots to create fake trends. However, FireEye found that the suspected Russian bots sometimes managed to do just that, in one case causing the hashtag #HillaryDown to be listed as a trend.

    Clinton Watts, a former F.B.I. agent who has closely tracked Russian activity online, said that Facebook and Twitter suffered from a “bot cancer eroding trust on their platforms.” But he added that while Facebook “has begun cutting out the tumors by deleting false accounts and fighting fake news,” Twitter has done little and as a result, “bots have only spread since the election.”

    Asked to comment, Twitter referred to a blog post in June in which it said it was “doubling down” on efforts to prevent manipulation but could not reveal details for fear of tipping off those trying to evade the company’s measures. But it declared that Twitter’s “open and real-time nature is a powerful antidote” to falsehoods.

    “This is important because we cannot distinguish whether every single Tweet from every person is truthful or not,” the statement said. “We, as a company, should not be the arbiter of truth.”

    Leaks and counterfeit profiles

    Russia has been quite open about playing its hacking card. In February last year, at a conference in Moscow, a top cyberintelligence adviser to President Vladimir Putin hinted that Russia was about to unleash a devastating information attack on the United States.

    “We are living in 1948,” said the adviser, Andrey Krutskikh, referring to the eve of the first Soviet atomic bomb test, in a speech reported by The Washington Post. “I’m warning you: We are at the verge of having something in the information arena that will allow to us to talk to the Americans as equals.”

    Putin’s denials of Russian meddling have been coy. In June, he allowed that “free-spirited” hackers might have awakened in a good mood one day and spontaneously decided to contribute to “the fight against those who say bad things about Russia.” Speaking to NBC News, he rejected the idea that evidence pointed to Russia — while showing a striking familiarity with how cyberattackers might cover their tracks.

    “IP addresses can be simply made up,” Putin said, referring to Internet protocol addresses, which can identify particular computers. “There are such IT specialists in the world today, and they can arrange anything and then blame it on whomever. This is no proof.”

    Putin had a point. Especially in the social media realm, attributing fake accounts — to Russia or to any other source — is always challenging. In January, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency concluded “with high confidence” that Putin had ordered an influence operation to damage Clinton’s campaign and eventually aid Donald J. Trump’s. In April, Facebook published a public report on information operations using fake accounts. It shied away from naming Russia as the culprit until Wednesday, when the company said it had removed 470 “inauthentic” accounts and pages that were “likely operated out of Russia.” Facebook officials fingered a St. Petersburg company with Kremlin ties called the Internet Research Agency.

    Russia deliberately blurs its role in influence operations, American intelligence officials say. Even skilled investigators often cannot be sure if a particular Facebook post or Twitter bot came from Russian intelligence employees, paid “trolls” in Eastern Europe or hackers from Russia’s vast criminal underground. A Russian site called (“Buy Bulk Accounts at Best Prices”) offers for sale a huge array of pre-existing social media accounts, including on Facebook and Twitter; like wine, the older accounts cost more, because their history makes chicanery harder to spot.

    The trail that leads from the Russian operation to the bogus Melvin Redick, however, is fairly clear. United States intelligence concluded that was created in June 2016 by the Russian military intelligence agency G.R.U. The site began publishing an eclectic collection of hacked emails, notably from George Soros, the financier and Democratic donor, as well as a former NATO commander and some Democratic and Republican staffers. Some of the website’s language — calling Clinton “President of the Democratic Party” and referring to her “electional staff” — seemed to belie its pose as a forum run by American activists.

    DCLeaks would soon be followed by a blog called Guccifer 2.0, which would leave even more clues of its Russian origin. Those sites’ posts, however, would then be dwarfed by those from WikiLeaks, which American officials believe got thousands of Democratic emails from Russian intelligence hackers through an intermediary. At each stage, a chorus of dubious Facebook and Twitter accounts — alongside many legitimate ones — would applaud the leaks.

    During its first weeks online, DCLeaks drew no media attention. But The Times found that some Facebook users somehow discovered the new site quickly and began promoting it on June 8. One was the Redick account, which posted about DCLeaks to the Facebook groups “World News Headlines” and “Breaking News — World.”

    The Redick profile lists Central High School in Philadelphia and Indiana University of Pennsylvania as his alma maters; neither has any record of his attendance. In one of his photos, this purported Pennsylvania lifer is sitting in a restaurant in Brazil — and in another, his daughter’s bedroom appears to have a Brazilian-style electrical outlet. His posts were never personal, just news articles reflecting a pro-Russian world view.

    The same morning, “Katherine Fulton” also began promoting DCLeaks in the same awkward English Redick used. “Hey truth seekers!” she wrote. “Who can tell me who are #DCLeaks? Some kind of Wikileaks? You should visit their website, it contains confidential information about our leaders such as Hillary Clinton, and others”

    So did “Alice Donovan,” who pointed to documents from Soros’s Open Society Foundations that she said showed its pro-American tilt and — in rather formal language for Facebook — “describe eventual means and plans of supporting opposition movements, groups or individuals in various countries.”

    Might Redick, Fulton, Donovan and others be real Americans who just happened to notice DCLeaks the same day? No. The Times asked Facebook about these and a half-dozen other accounts that appeared to be Russian creations. The company carried out its standard challenge procedure by asking the users to establish their bona fides. All the suspect accounts failed and were removed from Facebook.

    Mobilizing a ‘bot’ army

    On Twitter, meanwhile, hundreds of accounts were busy posting anti-Clinton messages and promoting the leaked material obtained by Russian hackers. Investigators for FireEye spent months reviewing Twitter accounts associated with certain online personas, posing as activists, that seemed to show the Russian hand: DCLeaks, Guccifer 2.0, Anonymous Poland and several others. FireEye concluded that they were associated with one another and with Russian hacking groups, including APT28 or Fancy Bear, which American intelligence blames for the hacking and leaking of Democratic emails.

    Some accounts, the researchers found, showed clear signs of intermittent human control. But most displayed the rote behaviour of automated Twitter bots, which send out tweets according to built-in instructions.

    The researchers discovered long lists of bot accounts that sent out identical messages within seconds or minutes of one another, firing in alphabetical order. The researchers coined the term “warlist” for them. On Election Day, one such list cited leaks from Anonymous Poland in more than 1,700 tweets. Snippets of them provide a sample of the sequence:

    @edanur01 #WarAgainstDemocrats 17:54

    @efekinoks #WarAgainstDemocrats 17:54

    @elyashayk #WarAgainstDemocrats 17:54

    @emrecanbalc #WarAgainstDemocrats 17:55

    @emrullahtac #WarAgainstDemocrats 17:55

    Lee Foster, who leads the FireEye team examining information operations, said some of the warlist Twitter accounts had previously been used for illicit marketing, suggesting that they may have been purchased on the black market. Some were genuine accounts that had been hijacked. Rachel Usedom, a young American engineer in California, tweeted mostly about her sorority before losing interest in 2014. In November 2016, her account was taken over, renamed #ClintonCurruption, and used to promote the Russian leaks.

    Usedom had no idea that her account had been commandeered by anti-Clinton propagandists. “I was shocked and slightly confused when I found out,” she said.

    Notably, the warlist tweets often included the Twitter handles of users whose attention the senders wanted to catch — news organizations, journalists, government agencies and politicians, including @realDonaldTrump. By targeting such opinion-shapers, Foster said, the creators of the warlists clearly wanted to stir up conversation about the leaked material.

    J. M. Berger, a researcher in Cambridge, Mass., helped build a public web “dashboard” for the Washington-based Alliance for Securing Democracy to track hundreds of Twitter accounts that were suspected of links to Russia or that spread Russian propaganda. During the campaign, he said, he often saw the accounts post replies to Trump’s tweets.

    Trump “received more direct replies than anyone else,” Berger said. “Clearly this was an effort to influence Donald Trump. They know he reads tweets.”

    The suspected Russian operators at times lacked sophistication. “They are not always Americanophiles who know every nuance of U.S. politics,” said Foster, the FireEye researcher.

    For instance, last October, hundreds of Anonymous Poland Twitter accounts posted a forged letter on the stationery of the conservative Bradley Foundation, based in Milwaukee, purporting to show that it had donated $150 million to the Clinton campaign. The foundation denied any such contribution, which would have been illegal and, given its political leaning, highly unlikely.

    ‘A battle of information’

    Only a small fraction of all the suspect social media accounts active during the election have been studied by investigators. But there is ample reason to suspect that the Russian meddling may have been far more widespread.

    Several activists who ran Facebook pages for Bernie Sanders, for instance, noticed a suspicious flood of hostile comments about Clinton after Sanders had already ended his campaign and endorsed her.

    John Mattes, who ran the “San Diego for Bernie Sanders” page, said he saw a shift from familiar local commenters to newcomers, some with Eastern European names — including four different accounts using the name “Oliver Mitov.”

    “Those who voted for Bernie, will not vote for corrupt Hillary!” one of the Mitovs wrote on Oct. 7. “The Revolution must continue! #NeverHillary”

    While he was concerned about being seen as a “crazy cold warrior,” Mattes said he came to believe that Russia was the likely source of the anti-Clinton comments. “The magnitude and viciousness of it — I would suggest that their fingerprints were on it and no one else had that agenda,” he said.

    Both on the left and the pro-Trump right, though, some skeptics complain that Moscow has become the automatic boogeyman, accused of misdeeds with little proof. Even those who track Russian online activity admit that in the election it was not always easy to sort out who was who.

    “Yes, the Russians were involved. Yes, there’s a lot of organic support for Trump,” said Andrew Weisburd, an Illinois online researcher who has written frequently about Russian influence on social media. “Trying to disaggregate the two was difficult, to put it mildly.”

    Weisburd admitted that he had labelled some Twitter accounts “Kremlin trolls” based simply on their pro-Russia tweets and with no proof of Russian government ties. The Times contacted several such users, who insisted that they had come by their anti-American, pro-Russian views honestly, without payment or instructions from Moscow.

    “Hillary’s a warmonger,” said Marilyn Justice, 66, who lives in Nova Scotia and tweets as @mkj1951. Of Putin, she said in an interview, “I think he’s very patient in the face of provocations.”

    Justice said she had first taken an interest in Russia during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, while looking for hockey coverage and finding what she considered a snide anti-Russia bias in the Western media. She said she did get a lot of news from Sputnik and RT but laughed at the notion that she could have Kremlin connections.

    Another of the so-called Kremlin trolls, Marcel Sardo, 48, a web producer in Zurich, describes himself bluntly on his Twitter bio as a “Pro-Russia Media-Sniper.” He said he shared notes daily via Skype and Twitter with online acquaintances, including Justice, on disputes between Russia and the West over who shot down the Malaysian airliner hit by a missile over Ukraine and who used sarin gas in Syria.

    “It’s a battle of information, and I and my peers have decided to take sides,” said Sardo, who constantly cites Russian sources and bashed Clinton daily during the campaign. But he denied he had any links to the Russian government.

    If that’s so, his prolific posts are a victory for Russia’s information war — that admirers of the Kremlin spread what American officials consider to be Russian disinformation on election hacking, Syria, Ukraine and more.

    But if Russian officials are gleeful at their success, in last year’s election and beyond, they rarely let the mask slip. In an interview with Bloomberg before the election, Putin suggested that reporters were worrying too much about who exactly stole the material.

    “Listen, does it even matter who hacked this data?” he said, in a point that Trump has sometimes echoed. “The important thing is the content that was given to the public.”

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    I said goodbye to an old friend last week, one that has been in the family for 19 years.

    It was more emotional than I thought it would be. It was just a car, a Plymouth Breeze at that, a near-invisible sedan of which thousands upon thousands were produced. They were everywhere, so it was easy to stop noticing them, just as you might a Mazda 3 or Chevy Cruze today.

    It’s good to drive an anonymous car; nobody bothers with you.

    I was hoping the Breeze would make it to 20 years. That seemed like an achievement for something that is so expensive, yet so disposable. Plymouth doesn’t even exist anymore. The car rolled off a Detroit assembly line in June 1998. You can usually check your car’s birth date on a sticker on the inside of the driver’s door. Bill Clinton was president then, facing impeachment.

    When does a car become a classic?

    I was looking forward to getting those special license plates, although my accountant said, for tax purposes, the car was worth about 9 cents.

    On my last drive from Windsor back to Toronto in May, a plume of smoke may or may not have emanated from my car in the late afternoon traffic along the Gardiner Expressway’s long straightway near Royal York Rd. I caught sight of it in a quick rear view mirror glance. Was it my car or just my paranoid imagination? It had been making some new noises so I was looking for signs of trouble.

    Drivers of old cars know them intimately; every creak, groan, squeak, ping, knock, rattle or smell is suspect. Is something grievously bad happening? Is the car quietly burning away? And yet we rattle on in slight oblivion, hoping it’ll sort itself out as it mysteriously does sometimes. Yearly trips for the required emissions test are anxiety filled, too; will it make it another year? The Breeze always passed.

    We made it home, and I drove it down into my underground parking garage where it sat for a few more months. But it was clear it needed some big repairs. We’d reached the point when an old car becomes a volcanic money pit, an escalation from the usual instantly depreciating money pit they are the moment they’re driven off the lot.

    Sometimes older cars such as this are affectionately called “beaters.” I’ve had a few. A decade-old 1985 Pontiac Sunbird was my first, with a manual transmission so dysfunctional that it wouldn’t go into first gear without an awful fight. I planned routes to the University of Windsor that had the fewest number of stops while anticipating lights and coasting as much as possible. I also learned if you really jam the accelerator and pop the clutch, you could start in second gear. These are skills nobody should know, but I needed the car and had no money for a new one.

    My mental map of Windsor is dotted with places where it car broke down and the pay phones I called for tows. When I see people in old cars broken down on the side of road these days I think, “They’re going to remember that spot.”

    The Breeze was not a real beater; it was just old. Affectionately cared for by my Maltese Nannu during the first two-thirds of its life, it was the last car he owned before he died and it was passed down to me. He always bought Chrysler as he worked at the Windsor plant for years.

    It was very much a Catholic car and was filled with religious objects that I never removed: a Rosary deep in the glove box; a St. Therese medallion hanging from the rear view mirror, and various key chains with pictures of Padre Pio, St. George Preca (a Maltese saint) and the Madonna Tal Herba (representing a small church in my grandfather’s home village of Birkirkara) on them. Perhaps that’s why it was able to go so long without breaking down. That, and some help from whoever the patron saint of indoor parking garages and low mileage is.

    I mentioned all of this to a friend, and he said the car is like a reliquary, but it’s true, too, of secular objects. My grandfather had bought the most basic model, with hand-crank windows, but it had a cassette tape deck so I stored a bunch of mix tapes from the 90s in there and would listen to them on long trips and wonder about my decades-old curatorial choices.

    Nannu was also an old school sort that took a lot of care of his cars and fixed them himself. A box in the trunk was filled with canisters of Turtle Wax rubbing compound, transmission fluid, engine cleaner and brake fluid, most of them without websites on the label, suggesting they were moved over from the earlier Chryslers he owned. Throw in jumper cables, two full tool sets, starter fluid and road flares, and I could have run my own tow-truck service.

    I carried it all, up and down the 401 and around the GTA for six years, and this old car slowly became part of my life, even if infrequently driven. These objects that take up so much space, that require so much infrastructure and subsidy, are so dangerous, but are also where many of us spend so much time, an intimate space. Unless you’re fastidious, they collect things, as a room in your house would, but it’s a room that’s out in public, a private space moving about the world.

    In the end, I contacted “Donate a Car,” ( a service that arranges for your car to be taken to an auto wrecker and whatever money comes from resale or recycling can be donated to one of the charities on their list. Whatever few dollars come from the Breeze, as it’s taken apart, will go to the Toronto Wildlife Centre, the people who take in and rehabilitate injured animals in the GTA. You may remember them rescuing hundreds of ducks during an oil spill in Mimico Creek a few years ago.

    Perhaps the spirit of the old Breeze will live on in a few of the raccoons, coyotes and mallards they’ve helped return to Toronto’s ravines and forests.

    0 0

    This week, I regurgitated the bile I had swallowed over transit planning in the region.

    The catalyst was news that approval of new GO transit stops in Kirby and at Lawrence Avenue East came only after provincial transportation ministry pressure; Kirby is in the minister’s riding and the Lawrence stop is needed for Mayor John Tory’s dubious plan.

    I could taste again the bitterness formed over three decades of reporting the half-truths, secret deals and political interference that has sullied the transit planning process in Greater Toronto.

    Metrolinx, the arm’s-length agency that is supposed to give us the unvarnished truth about transit options and decide on which ones best serve the region’s needs, was co-opted on this file, documents suggest.

    We always suspected this, even though stellar public servants, such as Anne Golden, sit on the board.

    But now comes the evidence that Metrolinx, at first, did not approve the two stations because a consultant’s analysis showed the system would lose riders, not gain, by spending the $123 million to add those stations to the network. Then Metrolinx officials reversed the decision after interference from Steven Del Duca’s ministry, with supporting documents subsequently altered to downplay the earlier concerns.

    The political finagling was done in private, unknown to the public, until a freedom of information request from Star reporter Ben Spurr unearthed the truth.

    But worse of all, few of us care enough to raise an eyebrow once the underhanded manoeuvring became public; Del Duca easily deflected concerns. Tory continues to defend his indefensible position on SmartTrack. And Metrolinx Chair Rob Prichard ignored requests for comment, responding with a one-word, “Yes,” to Star queries about whether he stood by the station-approval process.

    This proves again how sedated we have become on the transit file.

    We are not surprised that politics trump good planning, because we have seen it play out with the Sheppard Subway, the subway extension into Vaughan and also one proposed to the Scarborough Town Centre.

    Cynical and skeptical we may be.

    But not agitated or resentful enough to demand better.

    We fall back into acceptance.

    But censorious vituperation and raw anger is needed.

    I have long felt that righteous indignation might stop this madness and prevent Toronto from wasting billions of dollars in the worthy quest for transit improvements.

    The minister should resign.

    And the civilian overseers at Metrolinx, starting with chair Rob Prichard, should be sent packing.

    There is enough evidence of shoddy, misleading, unsupportable, politically-motivated, damaging and wasteful decisions to sustain outrage for months on end . . . until the culprits start taking heed.

    That came to mind when it was reported that Toronto’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat was moving on from the city at the end of September. Keesmaat did save us from the more damaging aspects of Tory’s transit plan, a scheme so obviously flawed that she risked being fired rather than endorse SmartTrack as it was proposed.

    She made it palatable, but not healthy. Now, even her improved version is being exposed as bad for transit in the corridor.

    You have probably tuned out long ago, but a quick recap reminds us of the madness that flowed from the simple task of modernizing and replacing the Scarborough RT line, running from Kennedy subway station up to the Scarborough Town Centre at McCowan and the 401.

    Instead of modernizing the RT (see Vancouver), Mayor David Miller proposed a LRT network and Queen’s Park agreed to pay the $1.7-billion price tag. Obviously, there was a stop at Lawrence Ave. East. But madcap Mayor Rob Ford bellowed “subways, subways, subways!” and had Council abandon the funded LRT for a nearly $3.56 billion unfunded subway.

    But wait! New Mayor John Tory wins the election on proposal to build SmartTrack, with a Lawrence station right next to the now-subway station at Lawrence. Keesmaat and everyone else knows you don’t need a subway stop and a SmartTrack (GO) stop cannibalizing each other in a corridor that barely has enough riders for a LRT stop.

    So Keesmaat masterminds a deal that moves the subway east to McCowan, with no stop at Lawrence. Alas, Metrolinx studies showed that, even with the compromise, a Smart-Track GO stop at Lawrence isn’t warranted, and would have the system lose riders because it would slow down the GO commute.

    Of course, Tory and Del Duca can’t take no for an answer. Kirby is in the minister’s riding. And Tory needs the Lawrence East GO/SmartTrack stop to claim his gutted SmartTrack plan remains viable.

    So Metrolinx acquiesced.

    How refreshing it would be if, at least now, freed of the constraints of the mayor’s office, Keesmaat could say clearly how disastrous the mayor’s designs were and how conflicted and less than ideal her compromised one-stop subway solution is.

    Yes, it’s asking a lot of a bureaucrat who has a long career ahead and is concerned about the repercussions. But if the Toronto region is to be rid of these political charlatans and their schemes, it will take courage from the civil servants and bureaucrats who prop them up.

    And it will take a more vigilant and determined press.

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    Andrew Hunter, the Art Gallery of Ontario’s top curator of Canadian art, resigned Thursday, according to an internal memo, and it’s hard to see it as anything less than a blow to the gallery’s progressive arc of recent years.

    The gallery confirmed Hunter’s departure Thursday afternoon. Hunter, reached on the phone, said that his resignation was not with a specific destination in mind. “I’ve always made my career decisions based on ideas, around community, and around family,” he said. “Maybe that’s a flaw — I’ve never really managed my career as a career. I always gravitate to where I feel I belong.”

    Nonetheless, the timing seems a little strange, with Hunter coming off his most triumphant exhibition, Every. Now. Then., a powerfully inclusive, unblinkingly critical take on contemporary Canadian nationhood.

    The show stands as a high-water mark for the ambitions of any museum grappling with keeping a bead on a rapidly splintering society and audience: It refutes master narratives in favour of hidden histories — driven whether by race, gender, or economic disparity — and unflinchingly demands that we, as Canadians, face the reality of our country, past and present, unpleasant though it may be.

    In a blithely celebratory moment of Canada 150, it provided a necessary drop of poison in the public ear. More importantly, it pried open wide the institution’s doors to artists and communities it had historically kept at bay. It said, in no uncertain terms, that a museum cannot function apart from the messy social context in which it dwells, but rather must do so because of it.

    In a statement, AGO director Stephan Jost praised Hunter’s work at the gallery and singled out Every. Now. Then. specifically: “Andrew has helped us think more critically, deeply and compassionately about our country and our world — and he has made an incredible difference at the Gallery as a result.”

    Hunter said that the show’s deep dive into grassroots and community arts initiatives helped reawaken his own commitment to those worlds, and spurred his decision to leave. “I feel like it pointed me more clearly in a direction I was already heading,” he said. A recent Aboriginal youth workshop Hunter attended in northern Ontario this summer solidified the urge. “It really reminded me of what’s important to me.”

    It many ways, Every. Now. Then. expressed the apex of Hunter’s ambition, which I suppose makes it a high note on which to go out. At the same time, if it signals the end to Hunter’s project, the gallery is in some trouble. Hunter was hired in 2013 as an outlier. Coming from outside the institutional system with a background in independent curating, community arts and experimental social practice (Dodolab, which he co-founded at the University of Waterloo in 2009, continues to this day), Hunter was the least conventional hire the AGO could make.

    In other words, he was exactly what it needed. Coming out of its long Frank Gehry renovation in 2009, the gallery capped its transformation with an ill-advised, out-of-the-box imported blockbuster with King Tut: The Boy King. That piqued local anxieties as to the “new” AGO’s ambitions, leaving most to fret that the gallery would further detach from its time and place to play in some kind of generically “global” context.

    Then-director Matthew Teitelbaum bore the brunt of those anxieties personally, and slowly turned the ship towards a core priority of balance, intertwining the gallery’s international ambitions with the critical foundation of its here and now. The AGO smartened up, crafting such things as long-overdue surveys of senior Toronto-based artists Suzy Lake and Stephen Andrews, and even in its blockbuster offerings never forgot the city outside its walls.

    Hunter’s appointment by Teitelbaum deepened that commitment in an outward way. Teitelbaum had reset course, and appointed Hunter to maintain it. He pushed hard against convention, even in the most conventional tasks: A retrospective of Alex Colville, inflected by filmmakers Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers, or the epic Hollywoodization of Lawren Harris, as curated by Steve Martin, which Hunter brought home and de-sanitized from its high-Modern purity, connecting it with the hardscrabble realities of early industrial-era Toronto, roiling with inequity.

    Hunter has been a leader in eroding traditional barriers, demanding marginalized histories take their rightful place alongside official versions. He championed Indigenous art, overseeing a reinstallation of the museum’s permanent Canadian collection that wove Indigenous art into the traditional display. He refused to see divisions between sectors of the art world siloed by haughty convention, and happily surrendered authority to voices unaccustomed to taking the lead.

    He led the way in establishing the museum’s first curator of Indigenous art, Wanda Nanibush (her current exhibition is a retrospective of iconic Indigenous Toronto-based painter Rita Letendre) and has gamely collaborated wherever possible — most recently for Every. Now. Then. with Anique Jordan, an African-Canadian independent curator.

    In other words, Hunter’s mission was to make the AGO relevant to the world outside its doors in a deep and real way. For maybe the first time in its history, it is. The gallery’s task now, with two key positions now vacant — Hunter’s, and the role of chief curator — is to decide whether to maintain course, or chart a new direction. It does the latter at its peril.

    0 0

    After a sustained assault from politicians investigators and victims groups, the website agreed early this year to shut down its lucrative adult page, which had become a well-known sex-trafficking hub.

    It wasn’t long before the company had new problems.

    The adult section was gone, but the sex traffic was not. In May, authorities in Stockton, Calif., charged 23 people with involvement in a trafficking ring that was using another corner of Backpage to market sex with girls as young as 14. A Chicago teenager allegedly trafficked on Backpage had her throat slit in June.

    The resilience of this platform — host to an estimated 70 per cent of online sex trafficking at its peak — is a long-running public relations mess for the tech industry. Internet freedom laws held sacred in Silicon Valley have helped shield Backpage from prosecution and lawsuits by victims of sex trafficking.

    Now the tech industry’s Backpage problem has evolved into a full-blown political crisis. An unexpectedly large coalition of U.S. politicians is aiming to hold sites such as Backpage liable for trafficking, sparking panic in Silicon Valley over the far-reaching consequences for the broader internet.

    The noisy political battle is forging unusual alliances in Washington. And caught in the middle are some of the most influential lawmakers in California.

    They find themselves struggling to reconcile a sex trafficking scourge that has hit their state hard with a remedy that Silicon Valley says would be a disaster for a free and open internet.

    Trade groups representing Google, Facebook and other internet giants warn of a “devastating impact” on the tech industry if the 1996 Communications Decency Act is tinkered with in the way some elected officials envision to hold Backpage and others liable for criminal material on their pages.

    They project “mass removals of legitimate content” by social media and other firms scrambling to shield themselves from a deluge of legal action by trial lawyers and prosecutors. The American Civil Liberties Union joined the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups in warning politicians that if they pass the law, every one of the millions of social media postings placed online daily becomes a potential liability for the company hosting it.

    But much of Congress is unimpressed by the predictions of calamity.

    The lawmakers have grown impatient with Silicon Valley’s limited success at self-policing, and its flat-out refusal to consider modifications to its cherished immunity from the illegal behaviour of posters, as enshrined by the two-decade-old act.

    Judges keep returning to that immunity in dismissing claims against Backpage, sometimes in the face of what they acknowledge may be compelling evidence that the firm condoned trafficking.

    “The Communications Decency Act is a well-intentioned law, but it was never intended to protect sex traffickers,” said Sen. Rob Portman.

    More than a quarter of lawmakers in Congress have already signed on as sponsors of bill Portman is taking a lead on that would change the act, or to a similar measure in the House. It is a formidable show of bipartisan support that is jolting tech companies. The momentum grew in August, when a Sacramento judge threw out state criminal pimping charges against Backpage, citing the immunity from such prosecution the company receives under the act.

    California prosecutors had built much of their case around allegations that Backpage helped traffickers and pimps edit their ads to evade law enforcement. “Until Congress sees fit to amend the immunity law, the broad reach . . . of the Communications Decency Act even applies to those alleged to support the exploitation of others by human trafficking,” wrote Superior Court Judge Lawrence Brown.

    The judge is allowing prosecutors to proceed with money-laundering charges against Backpage, which is accused of illegally using shell companies to trick credit card companies refusing to do business with Backpage into processing the payments of its customers.

    The company denied helping to craft any of the sex trafficking ads on its site. It is fighting the money-laundering charges. Company officials declined to comment on the congressional effort it has inspired, referring questions instead to the opposition campaign mounted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology — groups that receive substantial funding from big technology companies.

    Almost every attorney general in the United States wants the decency act changed to strip legal immunity for sites that condone or promote trafficking. Fifty of them wrote a letter to Congress a few weeks ago citing several horrific cases in which Backpage was used to traffic teenage girls. They warned the act has “resulted in companies like remaining outside the reach of state and local law enforcement in these kinds of cases.”

    California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the site would have been shut down long ago if not for the immunity. “We would have been able to stop the abuse and in some cases the death of some of these young people who got caught up in these sex trafficking rings,” Becerra said.

    Missing from the long list of sponsors of Portman’s bill is Sen. Kamala Harris, who aggressively went after Backpage when she was the California’s attorney general, and in 2013 joined colleagues in other states in signing a letter with the same demand state attorneys general sent Congress this week.

    The hesitance of Harris and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California’s senior senator, to sign on reflects how cautiously lawmakers close to Silicon Valley are treading.

    The indictment Harris filed against Backpage last year was a memorable career moment, with a three-year investigation leading to the arrest of the company chief executive as he returned from a trip abroad, and a raid on corporate headquarters in Dallas. But stripping immunity under internet law from companies like Backpage is complicated business that could have unexpected fallout. Harris still wants the decency act changed, but appears unpersuaded that the Portman plan is targeted enough.

    Among those opposing it is Rep. Ro Khanna, the former Stanford University economist now representing Silicon Valley in Congress. He is loathe to tinker with what he says is a pillar of the internet economy. The protection online companies are given against illegal material that users lob on their platforms was foundational to the explosive growth of the industry, he said.

    “It is a reason America dominates tech instead of Europe or China, where such immunity doesn’t exist,” Khanna said. He said he feared even a narrowly targeted tweak could be exploited by lawyers and activists to attack a broad range of internet content they find objectionable.

    Tech companies, one of the most dominant lobbying forces in Washington, have been caught off guard by the fight. It wasn’t long ago that there was scant support for changes to the immunity laws that internet firms rely on, according to Eric Goldman, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University.

    “This has moved faster than tech companies can even respond to it,” said Goldman, who argues that the measure would merely drive sex trafficking to places where it is harder for law enforcement to find, and undermine the innovation economy in the process. “Can you come up with a topic more troubling to a legislator than sex trafficking? The argument that the bill may not solve the problem and actually create new problems is hard to make. Legislators are thinking, if it has a chance to help, why not try?”

    0 0

    NEW YORK—Perhaps you remember that shampoo ad hook from the last millennium: “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”

    Don’t hate Juan Martin del Potro because he’s a weapon of mass disruption.

    Beautiful too, in his tennis game, his extraordinary comeback grit — whether from two sets down in the round of 16 earlier this week or four wrist surgeries down between 2010 and 2015 — and his gentle Latin charm.

    The Gentle Giant, they call him, or The Tower — six-foot-six and 214 pounds, with a massive wing span, all the better to tattoo the court with perhaps the best forehand in the biz. Rafael Nadal certainly thinks so and it’s del Potro that the world No. 1 will be facing in the U.S. Open semifinals on Friday.

    Not, to the dismay of many — excluding the upper-deck Ole-Ole-Ole gang at Arthur Ashe Stadium late Wednesday evening into early Thursday morning — Roger Federer. That matchup, which would have been their first ever at Flushing Meadows, was what just about everybody had been salivating over as this tournament was drawing towards its short strokes.

    Except del Potro, the rangy Argentine seeded 24th, scuppered it: 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(8), 6-4.

    Which maybe should not be such a huge surprise, given that 36-year-old Federer had looked somewhat out of sorts in Queens since this Slam began, extended to five sets against also-rans in the first two rounds. Confirming, finally, that he hasn’t been in optimum match shape in the aftermath of a back injury suffered at the Rogers Cup in Montreal last month. Yeah, blame Canada.

    The bottom line is that Federer and Nadal may never now go mano a mano at the American major and the world might have to be content with the 37 times they’ve met, on four continents, including a dozen times at the three other Grand Slams, with Nadal enjoying a dominant 9-3 lead in head-to-heads.

    There would be a whiff of poignancy in forever-after failing to cross paths in the Big Apple. Much, of course, depends on whither Federer from here; if he’s got another stardust season in him at age 37. But as he quickly packed up and left the court, done with the Open for 2017 — even as del Potro was still raising his arms to the heavens (okay, roof) in sweet jubilation — the Fed Express seemed all too ready to put Queens behind him, maybe permanently.

    “When I walked off the court, I was like, ‘Finally, I can rest.’ Because I’m tired.”

    Although the subsequent few hours, he admitted, would be hard, packing up the family, going home. “It’s not the fun part. You’d rather think about how you’re going to relax tonight and have a massage and think about the match, think about the great shots you hit.

    “Now you see all the bad stuff, you know. And it’s just not so much fun. I mean, it should hurt and it does, rightfully so. But I think my perspective at this age and with the season that I have had is easier to grasp faster. So I’ll be fine quickly.”

    Maybe Nadal, waiting in the wings, would have brought out the best in Federer. But there were too many indications — in the trace of drag in Federer’s legs, some startlingly unwise shot selections, that disastrous wobble in the pivotal third-set tiebreak with del Potro after jumping out to a 3-0 lead and four set points — that the Swiss Maestro might have been KAPOWED by momentum-churning Nadal, had he managed to slide past del Potro.

    “Of course it is a pity,” Federer readily admitted afterwards. “But Juan Martin deserves it more. I feel I have no place in the semis and he will have a better chance to beat Rafa, to be honest. The way I played . . . it’s not good enough in my opinion to win this tournament. It’s better I’m out and somebody else gets a chance to do better than me.”

    In his bones, Federer knew throughout that a hard-nosed opponent could fell him at Flushing Meadows. And he never thinks that way because Federer doesn’t do negativity. “But I knew going in that I’m not in a safe place. Might have depended too much on my opponent and I don’t like that feeling. I just felt that way every single match I went into.

    “I didn’t have that feeling at Wimbledon or at the Australian Open.’’ Won both of those. “That’s why, rightfully, I’m out of this tournament, because I wasn’t good enough, in my mind, in my body and in my game to overcome these three pillars.”

    All right. So everybody get a grip and get over it.

    There is no more deserving a semifinalist than del Potro, who staggered back from two down against Austria’s Dominic Thiem despite clearly being ill — stomach flu, sounds like. Or at least del Potro delicately joked that he’s sought a medical timeout for a doctor to “rub” his bum. Popular in the clubhouse for his genial nature, adored by tennis fans, twice comeback player of the year, a bit shambolic off the court. Likely, at this moment, the most challenging adversary for Nadal (we won’t even talk about the barrens in the other half of the draw).

    In reverse order, it was del Potro who knocked off Nadal 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 in the U.S. Open semis in 2009 before upending Federer in the five-set final — snapping the then No. 1’s 40-match win streak and nailing his only Grand Slam title, severely hindered by injuries thereafter. Del Potro has also won his last two matches against Nadal, though the Spaniard leads 8-5 overall.

    “It is true that when he’s playing well it’s difficult to stop him,” observed Nadal the other night. “Probably the forehand is maybe the fastest on the tour. If he serves well and hits well his forehand, he’s a player that has a chance to win against everybody.”

    Del Potro was cautious when addressing his next match. “He’s a lefty guy, so he has a chance to find easily my backhand. So I don’t know what’s gonna be my strategy. For sure I will try to make winners with my forehands and don’t run too much, because my legs are tired.”

    In the quarter tilt, Federer himself might have been taken aback by how divided the cheering was inside Ashe; those weren’t just Argentines rooting for del Potro, despite Federer basking in home-court advantage everywhere he plays at this stage of his career.

    “I think it’s my court too,” said del Potro, speaking directly to the audience. “You make me feel happy every time I play here.”

    How can you not love the guy?

    0 0

    If the interest rate hike in July didn't register with consumers, a second quarter-point increase by the Bank of Canada on Wednesday has many borrowers taking a hard look at their mortgages and household debt levels, say mortgage specialists.

    "At the end of the day, the cost of borrowing will be higher whether the full quarter-point is passed on through prime,” said Bill Whyte, senior vice-president of Meridian Credit Union. “The banks have already raised their prime by a quarter to 3.2 per cent and most of us will follow in the next day or so."

    The central bank's surprise boost of its overnight lending rate to 1 per cent — the rate banks and other lenders use to set interest rates for mortgages and other consumer loans — will affect variable loans, home equity lines of credit and mortgages.

    It will almost certainly add a further drag on the Toronto region's dilatory housing market, he said.

    "We're still at pretty low rates, but we're not going to be as low as we once were," he said, adding that has many consumers re-evaluating their cash flow.

    A full quarter-point translates to about $72 a month on a $500,000, 25-year mortgage, said Whyte. Given that it's the second rate hike this summer, many households are paying more than $100 in additional housing expenses each month since July.

    "It's not chump change," he said.

    Meridian clients' average mortgage in the city of Toronto is about $430,000. In the areas surrounding the city it's about $230,000.

    Toronto-area home buyers tend to be emotional, said principal broker Andrea Jolly of TheRedPin Mortgage Brokerage.

    "Even if this interest rate hike doesn't affect them personally, they act like it does," she said.

    But many aren't entirely fluent with their mortgages. Those with variable-rate loans aren't always aware they can convert to a fixed-rate mortgage, usually with no cost.

    But she encourages clients to run the numbers and consider the costs carefully.

    "If you're a flipper (who wants to move a property rather than carry the cost of ownership) this probably is not the best time for you to enter the market,” said Jolly. “But if you're looking for long-term home ownership . . . under 4 per cent is still ridiculously low. It's not a bad time, money is still cheap but it still has to be a long-term strategy rather than a short-term one."

    Consumers with home equity lines of credit (HELOC) also need a strategy to pay off those loans because the option of paying the interest-only option on those loans is too flexible, she cautioned.

    "Within most lines of credit, banks will allow you to put a portion or all of the balance as a fixed rate so you can mitigate any risks with regards to the interest rates increasing,” said Jolly. “But the flexibility of being able to pay it off at any time is what lures people to that product."

    The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada warned earlier this year that 40 per cent of the 3 million Canadians who have lines of credit don't make regular payments on those loans. Twenty-five per cent make only minimum payments or pay the interest. The average HELOC debt was $70,000.

    James Laird of RateHub says interest rates are just one variable affecting the Toronto area housing market. But he believes consumers should be prepared for a "consistent and steady rising interest rate environment."

    There has already been an increase in the number of clients calling to talk about potentially locking in variable rate mortgages. The decision is entirely individual, said Laird.

    "Someone who says, 'I'm comfortable in the variable rate and I'm going to rely on the historical data that nine times out of 10 variable rates are cheaper'— that's a good decision,” he said. “Others, sick of reading the business section and not sleeping — that person should definitely lock in."

    While July's rate hike didn't appear to push Toronto-area home buyers off the sidelines, Laird said there are signs that housing market activity may be picking up after a traditionally sleepy summer with more listings on the market this week at "adjusted price levels."

    Like banks, mortgage brokers must rigorously assess clients' overall debt levels.

    Laird said he loves telling people to think in terms of car payments. A $450 monthly car payment reduces the amount of mortgage you qualify for by about $100,000. The car is a depreciating asset. The home will almost certainly increase in value.

    "We think it's prudent to buy a house. That has caused great wealth creation for Canadians for the last 100 years," he said.

    While they're fun, the same can't be said for cars with leather seats and wine with dinner.

    0 0

    Does a kid in Ontario really have to be 16 years old before he or she can be left unsupervised?

    Well, first of all, by that age, we’re talking about young men and women, not really “kids” anymore, unless they’re hockey players or gunslingers in need of a nickname.

    They’ve left what we usually think of as childhood behind and are emerging from adolescence into adulthood.

    I mean, I know times change, but Alexander the Great had founded a colony by that age, Mozart was having his symphonies and operas performed by that age, Malala Yousafzai was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by that age.

    Are we to believe it would have been illegal for them to board a Toronto bus without their parents?

    It seemed so this week, when it was widely reported, by the Toronto Sun, The Globe and Mail, Canadian Press, and Global, among others, that the legislated age at which a child can be left unattended in this province is 16.

    This was all in reporting on the case of a Vancouver man who had been told his children, aged seven to 11, were too young to be allowed to take public transit to school on their own together. BC child protection authorities told him no child could be unattended anywhere— they could not be on their own on the bus, at the park, at home, walking to the store — until they reached age 10. And that no one under 12 could act as a supervisor of children under 10.

    “He said the ministry said its decision was based on a British Columbia court ruling that found an eight-year-old could not be left at home alone. It also said that, in other provinces, the legal age to be unsupervised is much higher, including 16 in Ontario . . . . ,” said the CP report that ran on the Star’s website.

    You’ve got to imagine this news would come as a shock to Toronto’s many thousands of grade nine and 10 students who take the TTC to school every day, that legally their parents are supposed to be there holding their hands. Or the many 15-year-old neighbourhood babysitters, who it seemed still required babysitting themselves.

    It can’t be true, can it?

    No. It isn’t true that young men and women under 16 need to be under direct parental or adult supervision at all times.

    Of course not.

    There is a section of the Child and Family Services Act that says parents are responsible to make “provision for his or her supervision or care that is reasonable under the circumstances” until their child is 16.

    But that doesn’t mean that kid can’t walk to the store alone.

    “This shouldn’t be read as no child under 16 can be left unattended. It is about the parent or caregiver being responsible for that child,” Sean McGrady, a spokesperson for Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, writes in an email.

    It’s about being responsible for the care of the young person, not dictating the form that care must take.

    And certainly not mandating direct supervision at all times.

    Not coincidentally, 16 is the age in Ontario when a person is free to choose to leave home and live on their own if they want to, and the age at which they no longer require a legal guardian. It’s the age of emancipation from parental control and responsibility, not the age of no longer needing a nanny.

    So what is the age of being allowed to ride the bus alone?

    McGrady wouldn’t comment directly.

    “What might be considered reasonable supervision and care obviously varies depending on both the circumstances and the child. Different children have different capacities and needs,” he says.

    For a child of a certain maturity, care and supervision might mean ensuring they have proper access to transit fare, and responsible adults they can call should they need help, and are aware of the route. For others, the level of care might be different.

    “There is no law in Ontario that dictates a specific age at which a child can be left unsupervised. The law is purposefully vague when it comes to choosing a specific age, because there are many variables to take into consideration,” says a brochure from the Toronto Children’s Aid society McGrady forwarded for further reading. “One eleven-year old may feel comfortable being left alone, and know what to do in case of an emergency, while another eleven-year-old may feel nervous and unsure of himself.”

    But many local societies do share guidelines.

    “Children under the age of 10 years should not be left alone. Children under the age of 12 years should not be left alone to care for other children,” says a page on the Simcoe Muskoka family Connexions website, seemingly in general agreement with the B.C. authorities who started the whole debate.

    The Ministry of Children and Youth Services sent along a statement offering further clarification of the law, agreeing with what McGrady told me. “Parents and caregivers are often in the best place to make a decision about the safety and wellbeing of their child. Ontario’s Child and Family Services Act sets out the grounds for when a child is in need of protection. It does not specify an age at which a child can be left alone, recognizing that age alone is not a sufficient safeguard when considering the supervision of children,” the statement says.

    “The CFSA sets out to protect young people from any type of abuse or neglect. To this end, under the CFSA, ‎all parents and caregivers must make reasonable plans, which will vary, according to a child’s age, maturity and circumstances, for the supervision of kids under 16 in their care.”

    So, if there’s a 15-year-old out there who was suddenly concerned about the date to the movies she had Friday night, she can rest easy; there’s no law saying her folks have to come along as chaperones.

    Whether that’s reassuring for her parents or not is, I guess, up to them.

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    MIAMI—The race to flee Hurricane Irma became a marathon nightmare for many as more than a half-million people were ordered to leave South Florida on Thursday.

    With the storm barrelling toward the tip of Florida for perhaps a catastrophic blow this weekend, normally quick trips turned into daylong journeys on crowded highways amid a constant search for gasoline and lodging. Airline seats out of Florida were in short supply as well.

    Mari and Neal Michaud loaded their two children and dog into their small sport-utility vehicle and left their home near Cocoa Beach about 10 a.m., bound for an impromptu vacation in Washington, D.C. Using a phone app and calls to search for fuel along the way, they finally arrived at a convenience store that had gasoline nearly five hours later.

    The 100-kilometre trip up Interstate 95 should have taken an hour, said Mari Michaud.

    “There was no gas and it’s gridlock. People are stranded on the sides of the highway,” she said. “It’s 92 degrees out and little kids are out on the grass on the side of the road. No one can help them.”

    The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for the Keys and parts of South Florida, including some of the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people. It was the first of perhaps many watches and warnings along the Southeastern coast over the next several days as forecasters warn the storm could hit anywhere from Florida to North Carolina.

    As people along the Atlantic Coast anxiously watched the behemoth, Irma battered the northern Caribbean, killing at least seven people and leaving thousands homeless after destroying buildings and uprooting trees.

    At least 31,000 people fled the Florida Keys, which could begin seeing wind and rain from Irma as early as Friday night, Gov. Rick Scott said. He noted the size of the powerful Category 5 storm, and told residents not to become complacent.

    Read more:

    Hurricane Irma brings death, destruction to the Caribbean

    Florida Panthers charter plane to shuttle players, staff out of Hurricane Irma’s path

    There’s no such thing as a Category 6 hurricane, no matter what Irma says

    “It is wider than our entire state and could cause major and life-threatening impacts from coast to coast. Regardless of which coast you live on, be prepared to evacuate,” Scott said.

    NASA secured Kennedy Space Center and SpaceX launched an unmanned rocket for an experimental flight. Kennedy closed its doors to all non-essential staff and a crew of about 120 people will ride out the storm on site.

    Most of the critical buildings at Kennedy are designed to withstand gusts of up to 220 km/h. Irma’s wind could exceed that if it reaches Cape Canaveral.

    With winds that peaked at 300 km/h, Irma was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic.

    With the hurricane bearing down on Florida, an Associated Press analysis shows a steep drop in flood insurance across the state, including the areas most endangered by what could be a devastating storm surge.

    In just five years, the state’s total number of federal flood insurance policies has fallen by 15 per cent, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency data.

    Florida’s property owners still buy far more federal flood insurance than any other state — 1.7 million policies, covering about $42 billion in assets — but most residents in hazard zones are badly exposed.

    With 1,350 miles of coastline, the most in the continental United States, Florida has roughly 2.5 million homes in hazard zones, more than three times that of any other state, FEMA estimates. And yet, across Florida’s 38 coastal counties, just 42 per cent of these homes are covered.

    Florida’s overall flood insurance rate for hazard-zone homes is just 41 per cent.

    Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal ordered evacuations for all areas east of Interstate 95, including the city of Savannah, and authorized about 5,000 National Guard members to help with response and recovery.

    Noel Marsden said he, his girlfriend, her son and their dog left Pembroke Pines north of Miami with plans to ride out Irma in Savannah, only to find the city was also shutting down because of Irma. Marsden isn’t sure where they’ll all end up.

    “I’ve got a buddy in Atlanta and a buddy in Charlotte. We’ll wind up one of those two places because there are not hotels, I can tell you that,” he said.

    The last time Georgia was struck by a hurricane of force Category 3 or higher happened in 1898.

    Irma’s eventual path and Florida’s fate depends on when and how sharp the powerful hurricane takes a right turn, National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini said.

    “It has become more likely that Irma will make landfall in southern Florida as a dangerous major hurricane,” the Hurricane Center said in a forecast discussion Thursday afternoon.

    The last Category 5 storm to hit Florida was Andrew in 1992. Its winds topped 265 km/h, killing 65 people and inflicting $26 billion in damage. It was at the time the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history.

    President Donald Trump urged people to “be careful, be safe” during Hurricane Irma. In a tweet, Trump remarked that Irma “is raging but we have great teams of talented and brave people already in place and ready to help.”

    Trump’s exclusive Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach — the unofficial Southern White House — sits in the path of the storm.

    U.S. air force Reserve weather officer Maj. Jeremy DeHart flew through the eye of Irma at 10,000 feet Wednesday and through Hurricane Harvey just before it hit Texas last month.

    He said Irma’s intensity set it apart from other storms.

    “Spectacular is the word that keeps coming to mind. Pictures don’t do it justice. Satellite images can’t do it justice,” DeHart said.

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    Equifax Inc. said its systems were struck by a cyberattack that may have affected about 143 million U.S. customers of the credit reporting agency, shedding light on one of the largest and most intrusive breaches in history.

    Intruders accessed names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver’s license numbers, Equifax said in a statement. Credit card numbers for about 209,000 consumers were also accessed, the company said. Equifax shares dropped more than 8 per cent in after-hours trading.

    “This is clearly a disappointing event for our company, and one that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do. I apologize to consumers and our business customers for the concern and frustration this causes,” Chief Executive Officer Richard Smith said.

    The company set up a website,, that consumers can use to determine whether their information was compromised. It’s also offering free credit-file monitoring and identify-theft protection.

    The incident is a stark reminder of the risk of consumers’ personal data being exposed online. It’s particularly worrisome for the millions of people who trust credit-reporting agencies like Equifax to handle and protect their financial information.

    Criminals took advantage of a “U.S. website application vulnerability to gain access to certain files” from mid-May through July of this year, Equifax said. The intruders also accessed dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 consumers.

    “It’s a huge deal,” said Tim Crosby, senior consultant with security-assessment firm Spohn, “You would expect these guys to have compartmentalized this data far enough away from a Web server — that there would not be any way to directly access it.”

    Equifax has been hit by breaches in the past. Experian Plc, Equifax and TransUnion, the three biggest U.S. credit-reporting companies, uncovered cases in 2013 where hackers gained illegal, unauthorized access to user information. Credit reports, purportedly on famous people ranging from Michelle Obama to Paris Hilton, were posted online in that hack.

    This is the most high-profile cybersecurity breach since online portal Yahoo reported two separate incidents. Last year, Yahoo, whose web assets were acquired by Verizon Communications Inc. earlier this year, disclosed a 2014 breach that affected at least 500 million customer accounts. A few months later, the company said a 2013 hack siphoned email addresses, scrambled account passwords and dates of birth of as many as 1 billion users.

    The Equifax breach exposed information, including Social Security and credit card numbers, that could be more valuable to bad actors and potentially more damaging to consumers.

    Some U.K. and Canadian residents were also affected. The company is working with regulators in both countries. It uncovered the breach on July 29. While the company’s investigation is substantially complete, it remains open and is expected to be completed in coming weeks, Equifax said.

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation didn’t immediately respond to emails and a phone message requesting comment about its possible involvement in an investigation.  

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    John Tory’s deputy mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong is being criticized for what’s being called a sexist comment concerning departing chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat.

    As quoted in the Toronto Sun last week, Minnan-Wong, who has publicly feuded with Keesmaat before, said he wants the next chief planner to “stick to the knitting” in performing the role at city hall.

    Keesmaat called Minnan-Wong out on the statement in an interview on CBC’s Metro Morning on Thursday.

    “I’m not going to mince words. He might as well have told me to go back to the kitchen. And just so you know, I’ve never been there. I’m not a very good cook,” she said. “I think it’s a deeply offensive comment.”

    Minnan-Wong issued an apology hours later after being contacted by a Star reporter.

    “I explicitly stated that I was not commenting on the current and retiring chief planner,” Minnan-Wong said in an email about the Sun column. “However, I unreservedly apologize to Ms. Keesmat or anyone who may have taken offence to comments I made that were taken out of context.”

    He went on to say the next chief planner “needs to focus in on planning and improving the management of a large planning department.”

    On Twitter, several councillors resurfaced the Sun article Thursday morning to denounce Minnan-Wong’s comments.

    “Chief Planner @jen_keesmaat has done great things to make TO more walkable, livable, vibrant!” wrote Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon. “No need 4 sexist comments @DenzilMW #Knitting.”

    “How can Mayor @JohnTory continue to support deputy mayor?” asked Councillor Mike Layton. “Mayor must not stand for these sexist comments from HIS hand-picked team.”

    Tory was asked last week whether he agreed with Minnan-Wong’s statement.

    He said “knitting” has a “very broad definition” and went on to equate “knitting,” or the essential elements of the chief planner’s job, to city-building. He then praised examples of Keesmaat’s work in that respect.

    “If that’s knitting, which I believe it is, then I guess Ms. Keesmaat’s successor will have lots of knitting to do,” said Tory.

    The Star asked the mayor to respond again following Keesmaat’s comments Thursday.

    In an emailed statement, Tory said: “The comment was inappropriate. I’ve communicated that to the deputy mayor, and I understand he will be issuing an apology.”

    In 2012, Minnan-Wong said the medical officer of health Dr. David McKeown should also “stick to his knitting,” as quoted in The Globe and Mail.

    Other politicians have fallen afoul of the phrase. In 2006, Peter MacKay, then deputy leader of the Conservative party, told Nova Scotia MP Alexa McDonough to “stick to her knitting,” CBC reported. After she accused him of making a “sexist slur,” MacKay apologized.

    It’s not clear the analogy is necessarily sexist, an expert notes. “Because the phrase ‘stick to one’s knitting’ was popularized by Tom Peters in his book about excellent leaders, you could argue that it isn’t sexist,” said Rieky Stuart, an associate at the non-profit Gender at Work.

    “But context is everything, and, perhaps, at a subconscious level, the phrase came into the councillor’s mind because of his thinking about Ms. Keesmaat. That type of unconscious bias is common; who among us hasn’t been embarrassed by a similar comment showing our unconscious race, class or gender bias? Being aware of this potential problem and checking for bias before we speak helps us to become more mindful. So does Ms. Keesmaat’s feedback.”

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    Carrying signs saying “We are here for Dafonte,” demonstrators protested outside an Oshawa courthouse Thursday before a brief hearing for the Toronto police officer and his brother charged with assaulting the Black teen.

    “(Toronto police) Chief Saunders is saying this is not a cover-up. But this is a clear definition of what is wrong with policing in Ontario,” said Rodney Diverlus, a member of Black Lives Matter Toronto and one of about two dozen protestors.

    Const. Michael Theriault, 25, and his brother, Christian Theriault, 21, are charged with aggravated assault, assault with a weapon and public mischief in relation to the alleged beating of Dafonte Miller on a Whitby street in December.

    The brothers — whose father John Theriault is a longtime Toronto police officer currently assigned to the professional standards unit — did not appear in court Thursday, where a brief hearing was held to arrange pre-trial hearing dates.

    Read more: SIU investigation into Toronto officer charged with assault will not be available at trial, judge rules

    Currently out on bail, the brothers were ordered to appear in person at a court date later this month.

    Miller, 19, was seriously injured on Dec. 28, 2016 after an early morning encounter with the Theriaults on a residential Whitby street. His injuries included a broken orbital bone, broken nose, a fractured wrist and damage to an eye that’s so severe it will have to be surgically removed.

    The high-profile case has raised questions about the conduct of the off-duty cop and his brother, as well as the response by Toronto police and Durham Regional Police. Durham police was called in to investigate on the night of the incident and charged Miller, not the Theriaults, with assault and other charges that were later dropped.

    In spite of a provincial law requiring police to contact the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) immediately after incidents where civilians were seriously injured in interactions with officers, the police watchdog was not informed of Miller’s injuries until four months later — and only then by Miller’s lawyer, Julian Falconer.

    Once the SIU learned of Miller’s injuries, the watchdog launched an investigation that resulted in charges against the Theriault brothers in July.

    The SIU typically does not investigate incidents involving off-duty officers, but will take on a case if the off-duty cop identifies himself as a police officer during an occurrence that leads to serious injury, death or allegations of sexual assault.

    Saunders told reporters last month that Toronto police determined they would not contact the SIU because they understood that Michael Theriault had not identified himself as a police officer during the incident. Meanwhile, Durham police have said they did not contact the SIU because it was Toronto police’s role to contact the SIU as the employer.

    Falconer, Miller’s lawyer, told a press conference at Queen’s Park last month that he believes there was a “deliberate and intentional effort on the part of police authorities to conceal a crime by one of their own.” He alleges there were attempts by the Theriaults’ father to conceal his sons’ alleged crimes.

    Saunders has strongly denied allegations of a cover-up, saying his officers acted in “good faith.”

    Outside court Thursday, protestor Ravyn Wingz accused the Theriaults of “taking the law into their own hands.”

    “We will not rest until justice is put upon these officers,” Wingz said, before the group headed into the courthouse.

    According to Falconer’s summary of the incident, which has not been tested in court, Miller and his friends were walking down the street when they were confronted by the Theriaults, who had been sitting in the garage of their home nearby. Michael Theriault, who was off-duty, identified himself as a police officer and asked what the young men were doing.

    When Miller and his friends did not reply and kept walking, the Theriaults chased after them and caught up to Miller and proceeded to punch him, kick him, beat him with a metal pipe and strike him in the face, according to Falconer.

    Durham police were called to the scene, where Michael Theriault told officers he and his brother had heard noises coming from a car in their driveway, and saw Miller and one of his friends running away from the car, according to Falconer. Michael Theriault told Durham police that change used for grocery money was missing from the car, the lawyer said.

    Miller was charged with theft under $5,000, assault with a weapon and possession of a small amount of marijuana. The charges were later withdrawn by the Crown.

    Wendy Gillis can be reached at

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    Strong ties to west-end Toronto and love for his family spurred a well-know Canadian businessman to give one of the largest donations St. Joseph’s Health Centre has ever received.

    Peter Gilgan, founder and CEO of Mattamy Homes, a residential homebuilding company, provided the community hospital with $10 million.

    “This is because of you,” said Gilgan at a conference at St. Joseph’s, referring to his 95-year-old mother, who was in attendance. “The circle of life continues,” he added.

    His donation will be added to the Promise Campaign, a health care initiative established to expedite the delivery and quality of services.

    The campaign has a target of $70 million — it sits at about $60 million after Gilgan’s donation, said its co-chair.

    Gilgan has connections to the west-end: he and his six siblings were born at St. Joseph’s and grew up in Parkdale. He is a heavyweight philanthropist, having contributed funds to multiple health facilities in the city over the years — in 2014, for example, he gave $30 million to St. Michael’s Hospital to go toward a new facility for the critically ill. In 2011, Gilgan donated $15 million towards Ryerson University’s athletic centre, in the former Maple Leaf Gardens.

    “It’s transformative for us,” said Maria Dyck, president and CEO of the St. Joseph’s Health Centre Foundation. “We serve about a half a million people here in Toronto’s west end.”

    These funds are earmarked for reconfiguring outdated buildings and advancing facilities, said Dyck — the emergency department, for instance. Part of the hospital will be renamed the Gilgan Family wing.

    “We have one of the busiest emergency departments in the city,” she said. “We have over 100,000 people visit every year.”

    And the department is operating beyond capacity — it can accommodate about 65,000 people per year, said Dyck. The last time it underwent an update was over 10 years ago.

    “The place really feels it. We still aren’t configured as well as we’d like to be to meet the volume, so this gift will help with that, along with outpatient care. We’ve been waiting for a long time for this.”

    Mayor John Tory lauded the hospital and Gilgan’s gift.

    “St. Joe’s always has been one of those great places that’s never lost its way as a community hospital,” he said. “There are few, if any, who have the depth and scale of commitment to philanthropy and community building than has been shown by everything that Peter Gilgan and his family have done,” he said.

    CIBC CEO and President Victor Dodig, who co-chairs the Promise Campaign with Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, called the hospital the “quiet, unsung hero of health care.”

    Gilgan has the potential to lead by example, he added.

    “People get encouraged to give as well because they see the social return that comes from investing in the community, the benefit, and Peter Gilgan’s a leading light, in that regard.”



    Generous givers

    Other notable donations to Toronto and GTA hospitals:

    $130 million: Rogers family to the Hospital for Sick Children, University Health Network and the University of Toronto, 2014

    $50 million: Myron and Berna Garron to Toronto East General Hospital (main campus now renamed Michael Garron Hospital), 2015

    $50 million: Slaight Family Foundation to the University Health Network, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, St. Michael’s Hospital, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Mount Sinai Hospital, 2013

    $50 million: Joseph and Wolf Lebovic to Mount Sinai Hospital, 2006

    $40 million: Peter Gilgan to the Hospital for Sick Children, 2014

    $37.5 million: Linda Campbell, Gaye Farncombe and Susan Grange to Princess Margaret Hospital, 2008

    $37 million: Peter Munk to Toronto General Hospital, 2006

    $35 million: Larry and Judy Tanenbaum to Mount Sinai Hospital, 2013

    $30 million: Peter Gilgan to St Michael’s Hospital, 2014

    $30 million: Myron and Berna Garron to the Hospital for Sick Children, 2010

    $30 million: Arthur and Sonia Labatt to the Hospital for Sick Children, 2007

    $25 million: Li Ka-shing to St Michael’s Hospital, 2011

    $25 million: Larry Tanenbaum to Mount Sinai Hospital, 2006

    $25 million: Li Ka-shing (Canada) Foundation to St. Michael’s Hospital, 2005

    $25 million: Audrey Campbell and daughters (Thomson family) to Institute for Breast Cancer Research at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital, 2004

    $20 million: CI Financial to Orthopaedic & Arthritic Institute at Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre, 2005

    $15 million: Muzzo and de Gasperis families to the Mackenzie Vaughan Hospital, 2017

    $5 million: Eugene Melnyk, St. Joseph’s Health Centre, 2005

    Sources: Star files

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    Tech giant Amazon is looking to establish a second HQ in a city in North America and Toronto is aiming to get it. Municipal and provincial officials know competition will be fierce for the facility, which will generate tens of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in investment and potentially massive spinoffs. But they are determined to do all they can to secure it.

    Seattle-based Amazon announced Thursday its search for a home for “Amazon HQ2,” adding it expects to invest “more than $5 billion (U.S.) in construction and grow this second headquarters to include as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs.”

    Inviting competitive bids, Jeff Bezos, the online retail giant’s founder and chief executive, added that the new complex will be a “full equal” to the company’s Seattle “urban campus,” which has 33 buildings, measures 8.1 million square feet and boasts 24 restaurants and cafés.

    In an interview, Mayor John Tory called the chance of securing the facility for Toronto, which is on the cusp of a tech boom, “the Olympics of bidding, for 50,000 jobs over time . . . it’s gigantic.”

    Tory said Amazon’s request-for-proposal outline of what it wants in a winning bid sounds as though it was written for Canada’s biggest city. It asks for a large educated workforce and the “presence and support of a diverse population, excellent institutions of higher education, local government structure and elected officials eager and willing to work with the company.”

    “We should be bidding for this and be very, very competitive and I’m in the midst of talking to the other governments to make sure that’s what we do,” the mayor said Thursday afternoon, adding they were determining who should “quarterback” the proposal, which must be submitted by Oct. 19.

    Within hours of Amazon’s morning announcement, a raft of North American states and cities, including Vancouver, Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Detroit, signaled plans to fight for a tenant weighty enough, according to tech industry observers, to trigger the creation of new firms and propel a city to the status of a global player.

    In a Bloomberg news column Conor Sen, a portfolio manager for New River Investments in Atlanta, said Amazon’s real options are Toronto, Boston, Washington, Atlanta, Dallas and Denver.

    Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid told the Star’s Robert Benzie that Ontario officials are already working hard to lure the new flagship site for Amazon, which announced in June it would add 200 staff to the 600 at its Toronto office. The company also has workers at a corporate office in Vancouver and a Montreal-based “cloud region.”

    “This is a groundbreaking type of investment; I mean, they’re talking 50,000 jobs, and there’s no question that we wouldn’t be bold enough to be very ambitious when it comes to trying to land this,” said Duguid, adding that Ontario’s chief investment officer Allan O’Dette “is already on this” and the province has heard expressions of interest from officials in Toronto and other municipalities.

    “We certainly would work with our federal partners as well; something like this would probably require all three levels of government working together.”

    While Toronto’s educated workforce, powerhouse cluster of universities, booming Toronto-Waterloo tech corridor and internationally recognized quality of life all tick boxes on Amazon’s wishlist, the company also wants bidders to outline “total incentives offered for the project.”

    Duguid made no promises, but noted his government has spent $3 billion on incentives for businesses over the years to “leverage” $27 billion in investment and create 170,000 jobs.

    Also keen is Toronto Global, established this year with funding from all three levels of government to lure companies to the Toronto region.

    “We read the (request for proposal) this morning and said the only place you’re going to get all of this is Toronto, so let’s go,” said the agency’s chief executive Toby Lennox.

    The opportunity comes at a fortuitous time for Toronto. Uber and Thomson Reuters have both made significant recent tech investments in the city.

    Waterfront Toronto will soon announce the winning bidder to build a high-tech test neighbourhood in Quayside on the city’s eastern waterfront. Companies vying for that prize reportedly include Sidewalk Labs, a sister company of Google.

    “I think Toronto is a really reasonable place for a company the scale of Amazon to look at,” said OCAD University president Sara Diamond, adding that all levels of government have done a great job positioning the Toronto region for major tech investment.

    Toronto’s emergence as a cultural magnet and sports city, and strong edge over U.S. cities in public education and health care, should also help, she said.

    Abdullah Snobar, executive director of Ryerson University’s DMZ business incubator, called Toronto “an underestimated, but hugely accomplished, city.”

    “We pack a punch way above our weight,” but should work on “celebrating our successes, telling our story a little better,” he said, predicting Toronto’s predictability and stability, compared to what’s happening in the U.S., will appeal to a global company such as Amazon.

    Toronto also boasts large swaths of central undeveloped land, particularly in east downtown. David Gerofsky, chief executive of developer First Gulf, says his company’s East Harbour site at the former Unilever site could host Amazon as an environmentally sustainable transit hub that can host up to 70,000 workers in 12-million-plus square feet.

    “There’s no other site like it with scale in the heart of a major city and that’s what makes it quite unique,” he said.

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    HOUSTON—Roiling waters in the streets have given way to steaming piles of garbage on the curbs.

    Hurricane Harvey’s record-setting rains created heaps of ruined possessions that now line entire neighbourhoods, nearly up to the rooftops of the homes that were swamped. All that sodden drywall, flooring, furniture, clothing and toys adds up to an estimated 6.1 cubic metres in Houston alone, enough to fill the Houston Texans’ stadium two times over.

    Texas and city officials have pledged to make a priority of the monumental task of cleaning it up, though they stopped short of giving specific timelines, mindful that such cleanups have dragged on longer than anticipated after other major storms.

    “We want to get it removed as quickly as possible,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters Thursday.

    Read more:

    After Harvey, mould ‘monster’ invades Texas homes

    More than 500,000 ordered to evacuate as Hurricane Irma bears down on South Florida

    Hurricane Harvey shows that if disaster strikes, we’ll be stuck: Hume

    For now, the piles big and small have become evidence, of sorts, of the losses from more than 200,000 damaged homes up and down the Texas coast.

    Not only are the heaps eyesores, but they are starting to give off a musty funk. And the longer they sit, officials warn, they could become havens for mould, not to mention snakes, rats, skunks and other critters. The junk could also turn into projectiles if, heaven forbid, another hurricane strikes.

    “I just can’t stand it anymore,” said Peggy Lanigan, who took a break from clearing out her Houston home that flooded for the first time in 22 years.

    The city is pushing to complete a “first pass” of debris removal within 30 days, said Derek Mebane, deputy assistant director of Houston’s solid waste department. He said collecting subsequent piles could take months and warned that if Hurricane Irma causes extensive damage in Florida, the cleanup in Houston could be slowed if resources are diverted. While local crews do the pickups, FEMA covers 90 per cent of the costs.

    As it stands now, clearing even just one Houston street can take days. Some piles are so massive that a single stack of debris from one home can fill an entire truck.

    Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner this week pleaded for help, asking for anyone with heavy equipment suitable for debris removal to reach out.

    The trash will go into the city’s existing landfills. San Antonio trucks have been sent in as part of an agreement between the two cities to help each other in disasters, the mayor said.

    Soon after the storm hit, state officials suspended some environmental rules on waste removal that they said could impede the pace of disaster recovery, which raised concerns among environmentalists.

    Trash looters are another concern. Some homeowners spray-painted messages on mattresses to leave them alone because the debris is needed for insurance claims. Others posted signs saying they were just drying out items they intended to save.

    Mike Martinez said a king-sized mattress that had been floating in his bedroom days earlier was taken from his yard along with a La-Z-Boy sectional couch. The $5,000 (U.S.) sofa still looked brand new after the flood but was like a sponge if you sat on it. He couldn’t understand why anyone would take it because it’s contaminated with floodwater and probably mould.

    “It was like a parade of people going by looking at the devastation,” Martinez said. “Then there was a parade of people picking up the garbage.”

    Overturned sofas, listing mattresses and toppled chairs dominate the rubble while smaller, more intimate items hide in the cracks.

    The piles also created a sort of archeological record of the households from which they came. There’s a mouldering red cooler, a beat-up blue kiddie pool, a pornography stash spilling onto the street. Brand-new golf balls, a full jar of mangoes and a twisted artificial Christmas tree. A book titled The Inheritance of Loss seemed particularly poignant.

    Sherri Blatt’s main concern is that it could be a long wait before the mess is carted away. “This is too long,” she said. “Once all the stuff is gone, I’ll feel safe.”

    Almost on cue, a garbage truck rumbled around the corner. But it wasn’t there for flood debris — only for the trash that hadn’t been picked up in a week and was adding its own odour to the mix.

    0 0

    The Lower Don Trail, a Pan Am Games legacy project, was originally supposed to open in Summer 2016.

    It didn’t.

    Then it was supposed to open in Spring 2017, then July, then mid-August, but the $3.6-million, 4.7-kilometre trail remains under construction.

    But there is light at the end of the tunnel for pedestrians, cyclists and ravine-lovers: The trail will officially reopen — over a year late — on Sept. 23.

    “The delays were outside the city’s control, and we hope that once the trail is reopened, users will see the value in the improvements,” wrote Parks spokesperson Matthew Cutler in an email.

    Read more:

    Construction and confusion on the Pan Am Path

    Don Valley trail closures will continue till July

    According to Cutler, the delays to the “complicated” project included 15 separate permits needed from Metrolinx, the relocation of a large fibre-optic cable and the discovery of an unexpected culvert foundation. The mayor’s office pointed out that summer flooding further complicated construction in the narrow floodplain.

    On a city blog devoted to updates on the project, commenters expressed their lack of confidence.

    “This is unconscionable to delay us for another season,” wrote Steve Allen in March, when the timeline was pushed back to summer. “I bet that it won’t even be completed by July,” he correctly predicted.

    A person named Christopher wrote, “Really it’s a shame this has taken so long and that a full closure was needed for so very long,” adding that he was disappointed to lose two summers to the delays.

    Mayor John Tory has made tackling construction delays a priority for his administration, and on some road projects has supported spending additional funds to speed up the timeline.

    But mayoral spokesperson Don Peat wrote in an email that elements of this project were outside of city control and that the mayor is “confident” staff learned lessons from the project that they’ll apply in the future.

    “Mayor Tory is committed to getting Toronto moving and has worked tirelessly to make sure city projects get done as quickly as possible where possible,” wrote Peat.

    Cutler says that despite the headaches, the renovated Lower Don Parklands brings with it a number of features. There’s a new rail underpass, the new Pottery Road pedestrian and cycling bridge, the paved Bayview multi-use trail, new art installations and improved way-finding.

    The improvements fit in with the city’s plans to invest in Toronto’s ravines. Cutler says that city staff’s Ravine Strategy will be presented to council’s executive committee on Sept. 26.

    Rudy Limeback, 67, is excited for the Lower Don Trail. The semi-retired Leaside resident uses the trail once a week and likes that the project will make the ravine accessible to more people.

    “I don’t really mind how long it’s taken,” he said. “Things like the Lower Don Trail are exactly what I want my taxes going to.”

    0 0

    Cautionary tales about foxes guarding henhouses and Dracula running the blood bank spring to mind at news that Morgan Spurlock is running a fast-food restaurant.

    This is the New York filmmaker who put McDonald’s on the hot griddle with Super Size Me, his celebrated 2004 documentary — alternately hilarious and horrifying — in which he used his own body as a lab experiment. He ate nothing but McDonald’s food for a month, three meals per day, documenting the weight gain (24 lbs.) and other serious health issues that ensued.

    Let’s just say that McDonald’s didn’t give him any Customer of the Month prizes, as the film opened the eyes of many a speedy eater to the perils of a steady drive-thru diet. But 13 years later, Spurlock is back with Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!, world-premiering Friday at TIFF, in which he opens his own “fast casual” restaurant, a pop-up grilled chicken sandwich joint he briefly operated in Columbus, Ohio.

    Read the latest coverage on TIFF

    The resto is called Holy Chicken!, and he plans to have a pop-up version near TIFF Bell Lightbox so people can sample his “delicious” wares. He even muses about possibly making a real fast-food chain out of it, because he’s proud of his sandwiches, even if they tilt the scale at between 700-850 calories each.

    Has Spurlock, now 48 and the father of two kids, finally crossed over to the dark side? Or is he just having us all on? He insists it’s all part of his continuing public service to consumers, educating them about what they stuff into their mouths.

    “This isn’t about getting one over on people,” he says from the kitchen of his New York City home. “I think the biggest thing is about letting people understand what’s happening around them.

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    “What Holy Chicken! does is we’ve created a place where someone finally tells you the truth, and this is what’s happening. We live in a world where people lie to you all the time, and we said, ‘Well, what happens if a fast-food restaurant finally actually tells you the truth about everything?’ ”

    The truth, for example, about how restaurants play fast and loose with the facts in marketing their food as “healthy” or “natural” or “organic.”

    Did you know, for example, that it’s perfectly legal for restaurants to put fake grill marks on chicken?

    “Countless restaurants put on fake grill marks,” Spurlock says.

    “If you go to a Subway right now and you get a grilled chicken sandwich, there are grill marks on it that have been there since the factory. They’re put on in the factory just so you can make yourself feel better about the choice you’re making.”

    Spurlock wants us to wake up and stop being dumb clucks:

    Let’s get this straight: With Super Size Me 2 are you trying to call out fast-food companies again or are you siding with them by opening your own chicken sandwich stand?

    I think the goal for us was to explore what actually goes into the opening of a fast-food restaurant: how difficult it can be, from both from a food-raising, food-processing, food-selling point of view, to a staffing point of view, to a messaging point of view. The first film really made you look at food in a very different way; I think this will make you look at restaurants at a completely different way . . . It’s kind of told from this industry perspective of “What can I do, what can I accomplish, how do I go about it? And what is my role as a corporate entity?”

    It sounds like you’ve gained a bit of sympathy for the food industry.

    Absolutely! You do recognize the role of capitalism in our society. At the same time, it doesn’t mean they can claim zero responsibility, which I think is a problem with a lot of these companies. They’ll say, “It’s not our fault, it’s these consumers! They can make these choices!”

    You’d agree that consumers do bear some responsibility to be more aware about their food?

    Yes. The problem that I think came out of the first film, was when I would meet people and they were like, “Oh, I saw your film, I never go to McDonald’s any more — now I only go to Burger King!” And I was like, “I don’t know if you got the whole message of the film . . .”

    I heard that you paid $15 (U.S.) per hour to your Holy Chicken! employees, nearly double the Ohio minimum wage. Can you make money doing that?

    We believe we could. I believe any of these corporations — if they would actually be willing to do that — would still be making money. I think the problem is that greed suddenly starts to affect your bottom line and you make choices that are based on the people at the top, versus the people at the bottom.

    Do you put fake grill marks on your chicken sandwiches?

    You’ll have to come have yourself a delicious grilled chicken sandwich!

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