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    MONTREAL—Simon Berube loves Quebec, its culture, French language and people, but he and his parents decided the best thing he could do for his future was to enrol in one of the province’s English-language junior colleges.

    Berube, 18, is a francophone and as such was not allowed to attend English primary or secondary school because of the province’s Bill 101 language law.

    But he and a growing number of his peers are choosing to attend Quebec’s pre-university English junior colleges, which are not subject to the law.

    “Some people want to travel, experience things in other parts of the world and English is the key,” Berube, who comes from Quebec’s Eastern Townships, said in an interview.

    Read more: StatCan revises census data after error over English speakers in Quebec

    Parti Quebecois leader calls for new Quebec language law in reaction to 2016 census data

    English junior colleges are in such a delicate position that some of them have an unwritten agreement with the Quebec government to avoid advertising their programs in francophone media or directly recruiting in French high schools unless specifically invited to do so.

    During a convention this weekend, Parti Quebecois delegates will debate and possibly vote on a resolution to cut funding to English colleges, known as CEGEPs, because they are attracting too many non-anglophones.

    If the PQ wins the fall 2018 election, further limiting access to English-language education could be part of its agenda.

    “Anglophone (colleges) shouldn’t be an open bar,” PQ leader Jean-Francois Lisee recently told reporters.

    It’s unclear whether Lisee supports the idea himself or brought it up in order to appease a restless base before Saturday’s confidence vote on his leadership.

    Quebec’s English community is used to having its institutions threatened by political parties trying to get votes, said Geoffrey Chambers, vice-president of an anglophone advocacy group.

    “It’s identity politics,” said Chambers, who is with the Quebec Community Groups Network. “I think it’s pandering to a very bad instinct.”

    Berube said he fully supports Quebec’s language laws, but doesn’t think they should extend to the CEGEP system.

    “French is part of Quebec,” said the second-year Dawson College student. “And if the French language is lost then the French culture in North America is basically lost and that’s something people have to understand.

    “But English is important to learn if you want to have a good job.”

    The CEGEP system was created in the late ‘60s and the schools offer two-year pre-university programs.

    In Quebec, high school ends after Grade 11 and students then enrol in a CEGEP. University programs for Quebecers are therefore three years instead of four as in the rest of the country.

    Government statistics reveal the percentage of CEGEP students from the French system enrolling in English colleges has doubled from five per cent in 1993 to 10 per cent in 2015.

    Those working for English CEGEPs know to lay low as not to attract attention.

    Marianopolis College, for instance, a private anglophone CEGEP in Montreal, refuses to say how many francophone students it has enrolled.

    Dawson, a CEGEP of 8,000 students located in downtown Montreal, wouldn’t give its number either.

    Donna Varrica, a spokeswoman for the college, said there is an “informal” agreement dating back 20 years that her institution won’t advertise its programs in francophone media or actively market to French high schools.

    Chambers said he’s not surprised.

    “There are lots of practices that are just conflict avoidance,” he said. “If you get a message from the minister saying this is not what they want you to do — don’t do it. It’s not like Dawson needs more students.”

    In fact, English schools like Dawson aren’t able to recruit as many students as they can because enrolment is capped, unlike in the French system, Chambers said.

    “Our (colleges) are already subject to a strangulation device. Enrolment should respond to the demand, but it doesn’t. Consequently, the acceptance threshold is creeping up.”

    Jana Abdul-Rahim, 17, is a newly accepted student at Dawson.

    Born in Quebec to Lebanese immigrants, she was also barred from attending English high school.

    “The first couple of years in high school I thought I would stick to French college,” she said. “Afterwards I realized I wanted to go to law school.

    “I plan on going into international law and when you’re working with the United Nations and similar organizations, English is more the language to use.”

    Chambers said if the PQ members don’t vote to cut funding to English CEGEPs over the weekend, they will likely keep trying to restrict access to English-language education.

    “They are creative,” he said about the PQ. “I think what you have to be worried about is the fact they want to do such a thing at all.”

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    A worker killed at a construction site Friday is Toronto’s second elevator-related fatality in the last two weeks.

    Sean McCormick, manager of the International Union of Elevator Constructors, Local 50, confirmed by Twitter that Tim DesGrosseilliers died Friday afternoon.

    The deadly incident happened on the construction site for the University of Toronto’s new Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the downtown St. George Campus.

    DesGrosseilliers, 52, was killed after being pinned by a piece of falling equipment while he was working in the elevator shaft, Toronto police said. A second worker was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

    The university’s online news site published a notice saying the general contractor is working with the Ministry of Labour.

    “This is something we never want to see happen on our campuses and our deepest sympathies go out to those affected,” said Scott Mabury, vice-president of operations at the university, according to the website.

    “We are working with the ministry and the general contractor to determine the series of events that led to the accident.”

    On Aug. 25, Grant Davidson, 55, was pronounced dead on scene after an industrial accident involving an elevator.

    Paramedics said Davidson was working on the elevator when a “mishap” occurred near St. Clair Ave. and Oriole Rd. just after 11 a.m. and that the coroner’s office had been notified.

    With files from Moira Welsh

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    An off-duty Peel police officer was one of two people killed early Saturday morning when the car he was driving was involved in a single vehicle crash in Mississauga, police said.

    Peel police confirmed that the officer, who was driving the car, and one passenger, were pronounced dead at the scene just before 3 a.m. at the intersection of Avonhead Rd. and Lakeshore Rd.

    Peel police Const. Rachel Gibbs confirmed one other passenger in the car was taken to hospital in serious condition following the crash.

    “The flags will now fly at half-mast out of respect for our fallen friend,” said Peel Police Chief Jennifer Evans in a statement Saturday.

    The Peel police said Toronto police would take over the investigation. Anyone with information is asked to contact investigators with Toronto Police Traffic Services at 416-808-1900.

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    A 31-year-old man is in critical condition after the motorcycle he was driving struck a hydro pole and caught fire in Bowmanville Saturday night.

    Durham Regional Police responded to the area of King St. E. and Liberty St. S. just after midnight to investigate the crash, and located the man suffering from life-threatening injuries. He had to be airlifted to a trauma centre in Toronto.

    Police say the man was driving a 2008 Harley Davidson motorcycle east on King St. when he failed to turn sharply enough to follow a bend in the road. The motorcycle slammed into a hydro pole, throwing the driver from the seat. The pole and motorcycle subsequently burst into flames, police say.

    The scene was closed through the night and into the morning for the investigation and hydro repair. Police are uncertain as to the exact cause of the accident, but believe speed may be a factor. Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact Durham Regional Police.

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    Melvin Mingo loves it when he sits around an RV park and fellow retirees get to talking about what they used to do for a living.

    “I am a retired bank robber,” Mingo, 67, says to a round of chuckles.

    Pressed a little further, he might add, “I’m a retired unsuccessful entrepreneur.”

    The affable man loves to joke but he’s telling the truth.

    Mingo was the mastermind of what is considered the largest holdup in Canadian history — a $68.5-million bond and securities heist at the Merrill Lynch Canada Inc. headquarters in downtown Montreal in 1984.

    His eyes light up when asked about the caper that landed him almost a decade in some of Canada’s toughest prisons.

    “It was such a beautiful score,” he says. “That was like everyone’s big dream. The big last one.”

    Some $5.75 million of that loot has never been recovered. Mingo has a stock answer when asked where it went.

    “That’s a story for another time,” Mingo told the Star, with a smile, during a stopover last month with his wife Susie at the Glen Rouge Campground in Scarborough.

    He is happy to talk about how, with the advent of online money transfers, his record will likely never be broken.

    He definitely didn’t spend it on his RV, which is circa 1986.

    And RV culture is a far cry from Mingo’s bank robbery days. Growing up in Montreal among criminals, drugs and schemes, he says it was the heist he always dreamed of.

    “If you hang around with thieves, what will you be? An artist? A plumber? A pizza delivery guy?”

    Mingo’s friends included members of Montreal’s Irish mob, called the West End Gang. In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, they were a force to be reckoned with in the world of truck hijackings, extortion and armed robbery. They later moved into drug trafficking, which, Mingo says, ruined everything.

    Mingo’s circle included the late Theodore (Bootsie) Orben, who worked with mobster Frank Cotroni to try to tunnel into the City and District Savings Bank in Montreal in 1967.

    Asked how they got caught, Orben told Mingo: “(I) told one person too many.”

    There was also the late John (Jackie) McLaughlin, a debt collector and scary figure even by West End Gang standards.

    “He would kill you and not think twice,” Mingo says of McLaughlin, who was killed alongside his pit bull in 1984.

    Another hit man Mingo became friendly with was Dickie Lavoie, who could do 1,000 pushups at a time. He died of natural causes in the 1980s.

    “I used to like him but he was a hit man,” Mingo says. “There is not too many people I don’t like.”

    But when it came time for his ultimate caper, he kept it secret from these nefarious associates.

    The idea for the Merrill Lynch heist came to Mingo when he was sitting in a bar that the West End Gang frequented on Crescent Street in downtown Montreal in the fall of 1984. A man who worked in the corporation’s office was trying to impress a woman from their group by telling her how much money he handled.

    Mingo’s ears perked up when he heard that millions of dollars in securities were taken by couriers up and down the elevators of the office tower on Dorchester Blvd. W. from a main floor bank.

    He didn’t tell anyone, but spent the next month scoping out the site near the Queen Elizabeth Hotel Across from Place Ville Marie.

    He did his spying from a bus stop, where there were plenty of passersby, and sometimes dressed as a courier.

    Other times, he carried a brief case and looked like an office worker on his way to work.

    He’d spend about half an hour at the bus stop each morning.

    “I’m a good blender inner. People do not pay attention.”

    He noticed that there were eight elevators in the office tower, but only one went all the way down to the basement.

    He also noted that Merrill Lynch couriers didn’t carry guns as they rode up and down the elevator.

    He cultivated a contact inside Merrill Lynch as he hatched his plan.

    “I had somebody inside,” Mingo says. “They used to trade every day. I watched for about four weeks.”

    He was particularly interested in the varied habits of the couriers who worked in the building.

    “There were two that I found particularly lazy.”

    Those two couriers always took the same elevator to the bank as it meant less walking. That was the elevator where the heist would have to take place.

    As Mingo hatched his plan, he strove to keep things as simple as possible so that fewer things could go wrong. While he likes the Oceans Eleven movies, he says their plots are far too convoluted for the real world.

    “To me, it would never happen. It’s too complicated. Too many things can go wrong. It’s nice to watch but you’ve always got to have a little reality.”

    Mingo also studied a guard who sat outside the bank near the elevator.

    “He got distracted — a woman with cleavage. I knew what we had to do with him.

    Finally, on Dec. 21, 1984, Mingo and his crew were ready to roll.

    Mingo parked his station wagon nearby on University Street. His accomplices arrived separately. One of them was a woman with pronounced cleavage, whose only job was to distract the guard outside the bank.

    Mingo was dressed as a courier and pushed a dolly as he entered the building.

    As usual, he blended in. His silver semi-automatic pistol was tucked out of sight.

    His contact at Merrill Lynch had agreed to page him as soon as the crew of targeted couriers left the office for the bank.

    The plan was to ride the elevator with them, taking the securities and locking them in a basement washroom for maintenance workers.

    It should have been quick and simple but something went wrong.

    Mingo’s contact buzzed him.

    “We all made a move.”

    A husky member of his crew rode the elevator with him.

    Soon their prey would be getting on, too — they hoped.

    Mingo rode the elevator all the way up to the 24th floor and all the way back down.

    The couriers should have been on board but they weren’t.

    “I was sweating. I couldn’t figure what was holding these guys up.”

    Mingo had no idea that Brinks couriers had priority over all others and a Brinks team had jumped the line, making the Merrill Lynch couriers wait.

    Finally, about 10 minutes behind schedule, the door opened and the Merrill Lynch couriers finally appeared.

    “Come on in,” Mingo told them. “We’ve got plenty of room.”

    Once they were inside and the door was securely closed, Mingo pressed his pistol into the side of one of them and gestured towards his partner, “You’re just going to follow me and that person in front.”

    “He saw the chrome of the gun,” Mingo said.

    They rode all the way back up to the 24th floor, and then began heading down to the basement.

    “I told them, ‘Just keep your eyes down.’ ”

    The elevator seemed to stop 10 times as they headed for the basement. Whenever someone got on, Mingo tensed up.

    “I thought, ‘I hope you get off somewhere because you’ll have a bad weekend if you don’t.’”

    Finally, they reached the basement and the two couriers were left in a darkened maintenance washroom.

    Mingo and his associate tried to give them the impression that one of their crew was watching them, somewhere in the dark.

    Mingo said he didn’t dwell on the feelings of the terrified guards.

    “I’m not going to lie. I didn’t feel bad. I was pretty pumped up myself.”

    Three of his crew left in separate cars, driving slowly. The other left the scene on public transit.

    Fifteen minutes later, someone went into the maintenance washroom and freed the guards.

    The hunt for Mingo was on.

    Twenty-five minutes later, Mingo and his crew met at a pre-arranged spot — his house on Gouin Blvd.

    “It’s just a matter of stashing and counting.”

    They counted $40.4-million in negotiable securities and $28.1-million in non-negotiable items.

    Mingo found it interesting that some of the personal bonds belonged to Olympic speedskating hero Gaétan Boucher.

    Their next move was to do and say nothing.

    They just sat tight for a month, careful not to attract any attention.

    “It was all over the news,” Mingo says. “For a month I was totally quiet.”

    The heist was the talk of the town, especially in Mingo’s circles. “I said, ‘It had to be an out-of-towner.’ ” He felt the lie was necessary. “If I stole it, who’s to say they wouldn’t steal it from me? It’s only common sense.”

    Mingo had already thought out what to do with the bonds.

    “We’re not going to sit with them and never sell them and make wallpaper.”

    The problem was that some of the securities had identification numbers and there was the danger they could be traced or cancelled.

    In addition to the police, private detectives had been dispatched from the Merrill Lynch main office in New York City to locate the loot.

    Mingo’s plan was to sell the securities to an offshore banker, who would pay 10 per cent of their face value.

    That would net Mingo some $1.25 million U.S. for his share of the job.

    Moving the securities would be the banker’s challenge.

    40 days after the robbery he took a trip to Toronto to meet the banker at the Harbour Castle Hilton.

    All of the bonds fit into two suitcases.

    “They were simple cheap suitcases. The contents were nice.”

    The banker seemed impressed when Mingo opened them up but now there was another switch in plans.

    The banker said he needed time get his money together.

    They would have to meet again once he had the cash.

    Mingo still wonders if he should have done something different at this point. Perhaps it would have been best to stash the securities in Toronto.

    Again, he was worried about being robbed himself.

    “It all comes back to paranoia.”

    Twelve days after the Harbour Castle meeting, Mingo sat in a car outside the Dorval train station in suburban Montreal. He was heading back to Toronto to finally close the deal with the banker.

    Another member of his crew was driving to Toronto. Two more were taking a plane.

    If all went according to plan, soon they would all be millionaires.

    He smoked a joint to calm his nerves and noted a bellhop passed in front of the car twice.

    “Get out of the car!,” someone yelled.

    They were ordered to lie on their bellies on the dirty snow and the slush by police tactical officers with machine-guns.

    “Mel, what’s going on?” Bobby asked.

    “I don’t know,” Mingo recalls replying. “Maybe parking tickets.”

    The police looked in the trunk of the car.

    Nothing was there.

    “The biggest thing was they wanted the loot. They wanted the loot big time.”

    Mingo said he feels oddly grateful, even though he got a nine-year-prison term for robbery and forcible confinement instead of the $1.25 million.

    “Could’ve been a big party. Blew it in two years. I say, ‘Thank you.’ ”

    Mingo says he has been out of the crime world for 30 years. He had an epiphany of sorts when he had his parole taken away for trying to bribe a police officer at a speed trap while leaving a party for since-murdered mobster Frank Cotroni Jr.

    Mingo says he gave up drinking, cocaine and crime when he connected with Susie shortly after his final release.

    He credits her with saving his life, as well as enriching it.

    “I made a choice in the ’80s and left all that world behind.”

    Nowadays, his scheming is mostly concerned with how to get to a big tractor pull with Susie.

    “This is such a nice life. No one judges you.”

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    One year after the workplace accident that killed his sister-in-law, what Alusine Jabbi remembers most about the day she died is his confusion.

    Where is Amina?

    Why can’t anyone tell me what happened?

    Why is everyone still working?

    It was Sept. 2, 2016 when Jabbi rushed to Fiera Foods’ factory on Marmora St., near the intersection of Highway 400 and the 401. He had just received a call from a friend who worked at the factory telling him that his brother’s wife, Amina Diaby, had been in a serious accident.

    Jabbi, who has been in Canada five years longer than his brother and is more fluent in English, was listed as his sister-in-law’s emergency contact.

    Just a couple hours earlier he had dropped Diaby off for her afternoon shift at the industrial bakery, which mass-produces bagels, croissants and pastries for major grocery stores and fast-food chains around the world.

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

    A 23-year-old refugee from Guinea, Diaby was hired through a temp agency and had been working at Fiera Foods for just two weeks. It was her first job in Canada. She was hoping to save money for nursing school.

    When Jabbi arrived at the factory, frantic, he says he was met with blank stares from other workers and vague instructions to head to the nearest hospital. He was surprised that the factory was still buzzing with production. Trucks were being loaded as if nothing had happened. It seemed to Jabbi like it was business as usual.

    At the time, this comforted him.

    “I was thinking, ‘You know what, she’s OK because this is Canada,” he said in a recent interview with the Star. “If somebody dies at a job site or something really bad happens, they would stop.”

    Diaby was already dead. She was strangled when her hijab was pulled into a machine as she worked on an assembly line near a conveyor belt.

    Jabbi got the call from the doctor while he was on the way to the hospital. “I almost crashed my car,” he says.

    In response to Diaby’s death, the Ministry of Labour investigated the accident and slapped Fiera Foods with 38 orders for health and safety violations. They included two “stop-work” orders — indicating a hazard so great that production must cease immediately — for a conveyor belt that did not have an emergency stop button and also lacked “adequate guarding” to prevent things from being caught in machinery.

    Fiera Foods complied with the orders. Last month, the Ministry of Labour charged the company and one of its supervisors under the Occupational Health and Safety Act specifically for the lack of guarding and for failing to ensure loose clothing was not worn near a “source of entanglement.”

    The first court appearance is next Thursday.

    If found guilty, an individual can be fined up to $25,000 and face as much as a year in jail; while a corporation can be fined up to $500,000.

    Toronto police are also investigating the year-old incident. To date, no charges have been laid.

    Fiera Foods owners, Boris Serebryany and Alex Garber, refused to be interviewed for this story. The company’s lawyer and human resources manager, David Gelbloom, did respond to some of the Star’s questions in writing.

    “Fiera believes it took adequate measures to protect Ms. Diaby,” he writes. Gelbloom refused to comment further due to the pending trial for the Ministry of Labour charges.

    Jabbi says he doesn’t have the words to express how his sister-in-law’s death has affected his family.

    Outgoing and talkative, Diaby made instant connections with the people she met, he says.

    “If you’re in a room with Amina you’re going to be laughing, whether you like it or not.”

    She arrived in Canada in 2012 after fleeing a forced marriage in Guinea. She met Alusine’s brother, Sanunu Jabbi, himself a refugee from Sierra Leone, through a family connection in Toronto’s West African community. They were married that same year.

    Even before she could speak English, Diaby would somehow strike up animated conversations with storekeepers and strangers on the street, Alusine Jabbi says. “She was always talking.”

    She was beloved by her niece and three nephews, and she enjoyed going out to eat at the Mandarin Chinese food buffet. She earned the nickname “Aunty Amina” for how she mothered everyone. “Amina was something else.”

    Jabbi said he is pleased someone at Fiera will have to account for what happened, even if only to the Ministry of Labour. But he and his brother have been frustrated by the lack of information provided by all authorities involved.

    After initially meeting with ministry officials, the family says they heard nothing for almost a year. Meanwhile, no representative of Fiera Foods has ever contacted them, not even to express condolences, they said.

    “They don’t care,” Jabbi said. “I don’t even think they think we exist.”

    In his letter to the Star, Gelbloom did not address a question asking why the company has not contacted Diaby’s family.

    The Star asked Jabbi what he would say if he had the opportunity to address Serebryany and Garber. “I would just like to ask them if they care about human life,” he said. “Somebody died in your job site, you know?”

    Diaby was not technically a Fiera Foods employee, despite working inside their factory. Like many of the low-wage workers who pinch and form raw pastry dough on Fiera’s assembly lines, Diaby was employed by a temp agency.

    Fiera says it uses temp agency workers to meet fluctuating demands, but critics say, for many companies, it is a simple cost-cutting strategy. Temp workers are often paid less than permanent employees, and also save companies money on workers’ compensation insurance premiums. If a temp is injured on the job, their agency, not the workplace where they were actually hurt, is liable at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

    Across the province, the nature of temp agency work is changing. Once associated with casual office jobs, the majority of temps are now working in other sectors, such as manufacturing, construction, restaurants and driving, according to statistics obtained by the Star.

    The data provided by the WSIB also show that non-clerical temp workers in particular were more than twice as likely to be injured on the job last year than their non-temp counterparts. The disparity in injury rates has been about the same for the last decade. This, research suggests, is partly due to temp workers being insufficiently trained and being assigned more dangerous work.

    As part of a year-long investigation into the rise of temp work, the Star sent a reporter to work undercover at Fiera Foods for one month this summer.

    Our reporter — who, like Diaby, was employed by a temp agency — received about five minutes of safety training and no hands-on instruction before stepping onto the factory floor.

    Sanunu Jabbi, who struggles to speak about his wife without choking up, is adamant that she was not given enough training to safely do her job. He said he asked her after her first day at the factory if there was any safety orientation, as there was on his first day working at a construction site. “She said, ‘No,’” he told the Star.

    In an initial written response to the Star — before Gelbloom took over communication on behalf of the company — Fiera Foods spokeswoman Ziggy Romick said Diaby’s training “included specific instructions about how to work safely around conveyor systems, the requirement to wear a lab coat at all times when working and not to wear loose clothing or jewelry.”

    Romick said Diaby was “instructed to stand on a work platform beside a conveyor to monitor progress of dough moving along the conveyor.”

    She said the conveyor motor and drive shaft were “appropriately guarded” and the accident occurred “when Ms. Diaby left her work platform and moved along the conveyor where it appears she leaned over. She had removed her lab coat without permission, which is against our policy about loose clothing, and was wearing a hijab. Her hijab became entangled in a machine guard on the adjacent conveyor.”

    Romick concluded her email to the Star by calling for “clarity and guidance” from government in the “unchartered waters” of religious accommodation.

    Under Ontario human rights law, companies must accommodate workers’ religious clothing as long as it doesn’t cause “undue hardship.” An increased safety risk would constitute an “undue hardship,” because companies are obligated to protect workers from injury, according to the law. If Fiera Foods believed Diaby’s hijab presented a health and safety risk for the job she was doing, they would be required to assign her a different task; or, if none was available, not hired her in the first place.

    Diaby was hired through OLA Staffing, a temp agency based in Woodbridge. Geetha Thushyanthan, who runs the agency, declined to be interviewed for this story. In a written statement, she said “OLA Staffing takes our commitment to the health and safety of our employees very seriously and we provide our employees with appropriate workplace health and safety training.”

    Thushyanthan refused to answer a follow-up question asking her to elaborate on the training the company provided.

    The WSIB said they are still investigating OLA Staffing’s role in the death.

    Diaby was neither the first death of a temp worker at one of Fiera’s factories, nor was it the first time the company had been found to have insufficient protections for workers.

    Documents obtained by the Star show recurring safety violations at Fiera’s factories going back nearly two decades. Since 1999, the company has been hit with 191 orders for health and safety violations, including multiple “stop-work” orders.

    Fiera was also charged with a number of Occupational Health and Safety Act offences related to a lack of training in October 2015 and June 2016. Those charges have yet to be resolved.

    “We acknowledge Fiera has had Ministry of Labour orders, including stop-work orders,” Gelbloom writes in his letter on behalf of the company. “In each and every situation, Fiera worked to address and resolve each order, and, as you know, there are no outstanding Ministry of Labour orders.”

    Ministry records show inspectors had been at Fiera’s factory for a proactive inspection just two days before Diaby died. A ministry spokeswoman would not answer a question about whether the machine that caused Diaby’s death was part of that inspection.

    Police can lay criminal charges against corporations following workplace injuries or deaths under Bill C-45, which is sometimes called the “Westray Bill” after the 1992 Nova Scotia coal-mining disaster. Prosecutions are rare, but the bill was intended to hold companies criminally liable if they are found to be negligent in protecting workers.

    Toronto Police Det. Tim Thorne declined to discuss the case with the Star citing the fact it remains an open investigation.

    Sanunu Jabbi, who is quiet through most of the family’s interviews with the Star, said he doesn’t think he will ever marry again. “It’s not easy to find a woman like her.”

    His friends have suggested that he sue Fiera and the temp agency. He says he’s not interested, not now anyway. He just wants to move on.

    But the accident that took Diaby’s life has forever altered the arc of his own.

    He says he would like to return to Sierra Leone, but he can’t. He couldn’t afford to repatriate his wife’s body after she died and he won’t leave her behind.

    “I don’t want to stay. But her body is here.”


    Amina Diaby is the third temp agency worker to die at a factory owned by Fiera Foods or one of its affiliated companies since 1999.

    In a written response to questions from the Star, the company said the deaths were “separate but significant tragedies” and that in each instance, it “worked quickly to comply” with ministry orders.

    The first was Ivan Golyashov, who would have turned 35 this summer.

    He was 17 when he started working at Fiera’s Norelco Dr. factory through a temp agency in the summer of 1999. When he resumed his high school classes at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute in Thorncliffe Park, Ivan continued to work at Fiera on weekends.

    On Saturday, Sept. 25, he was assigned to clean a large mixer, a task he had never before performed nor received training for, according to a lawsuit filed by his family.

    When Ivan was finished cleaning the mixer he asked his co-worker, who was also a temp, to open the door and let him out. The co-worker, who was also allegedly untrained, accidentally activated the machine.

    Ivan was crushed to death.

    The lawsuit filed by the teen’s family against Fiera accused the company of being negligent, not only for providing insufficient training, but also in how it failed to ensure machine controls were “locked out” while someone was inside.

    The lawsuit was settled out of court and Fiera did not file a statement of defence. Golyashov’s mother, Marina, declined to comment when contacted by the Star earlier this year.

    The lawsuit also alleged that Fiera did not inform the Golyashovs of their son’s death, and, in fact, initially denied it when they frantically called the factory looking for information. The teen’s father, Alexandr, had learned of his son’s death from a friend who also worked at the factory.

    Fiera pleaded guilty to Ministry of Labour charges and was fined $150,000.

    Police investigated, but laid no criminal charges.

    “I’m satisfied this was just an accident,” Det. Ralph Ashford told the Star at the time. “If anything it was lack of training.”

    The Golyashovs’ lawsuit also alleged that Temp Industrial, the temp agency that employed Ivan, tried to render itself “judgment proof” in the wake of his death by dissolving and “fraudulently” moving its assets to a different temp agency, Temporary Labour.

    Speaking to a Star reporter the day after her son’s death, Marina Golyashov blamed herself.

    “It’s my fault,” she said. “I let him work. Children shouldn’t work.”

    The second death occurred nearly six years ago at Marmora Freezing Corp., one of Fiera’s affiliated partners, which operates a facility connected to Fiera’s main factory on Marmora St.

    Aydin Kazimov, a 69-year-old security guard, died after he was hit by a car and then run over by a truck in the factory’s parking lot shortly after midnight, on Dec. 14, 2011. First, he was struck by a worker driving his car home after a 10-hour shift at the factory. An accident reconstruction expert later testified that Kazimov was injured, but likely still alive at this point. The driver, Marlon Layugan, initially fled the scene, but returned less than a minute later. In those intervening seconds Kazimov’s unconscious body was driven over by a reversing tractor trailer and subsequently dragged for several minutes.

    Layugan was convicted of manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death and failing to stop. He was sentenced to six months in jail.

    In an agreed statement of facts read aloud at his sentencing, Justice Julie Thorburn said: “Although employees had requested reflective gear from their employer, Fiera Food Company (sic) did not equip their security guards with reflective gear until after this incident.”

    A Ministry of Labour investigation, obtained by the Star through a freedom of information request, found there was inadequate lighting, warning signs, and protective barriers to keep Kazimov safe.

    Regarding the temp agency that employed Kazimov, VIV Vision Security, the investigation said the company had been incorporated since 2007 without ever registering with the Ministry of Labour, and that it provided services exclusively to Fiera Foods.

    Of Fiera Foods, the investigation said the ministry had previously responded to “many critical injuries and many other injuries” at its factories between 1996 and 2011, and had already issued the company with around 90 health and safety orders, including 14 stop-work orders.

    Marmora Freezing Corp. pleaded guilty to charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and was fined $150,000.

    “With regard to the three separate tragedies that occurred at or near our facilities, we remain saddened,” Fiera’s lawyer and human resources manager, David Gelbloom, wrote in a letter to the Star in response to a number of questions. “Despite these tragedies, we believe that the health and safety of our workforce is our highest concern and we continue to strive for improvements.”

    — Brendan Kennedy and Sara Mojtehedzadeh

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    Self-deception has repeatedly served as a bedrock of cruelty.

    It has transformed greed into gallant heroism, where invasion of lands is adventure, displacement of natives is about saving the savages, and theft and self-enrichment is ingenuity.

    It has rationalized subjugation as the “natural order” of things. Women — at home; gays — in the closet; natives — in reserves; and Blacks — in farms or in ghettos.

    And when there emerges an equal and opposite reaction — resistance that challenges that deception — it is met with denial (Brutal — us? No, we saved you!) and dismissal (You’re not qualified to speak on this) and demand (Can’t we just leave the past behind and get along?).

    In this, I include groups around the world that have utilized cruelty to enforce domination.

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    Settler deception in Canada, however, is unique in the euphemism it employs.

    A new, painstakingly researched book debunks the myth of Canadian white benevolence and draws a straight line between past state-sanctioned injustices and current tensions.

    In Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present, Black feminist, activist-writer Robyn Maynard analyzes the work of dozens of scholars to pierce through centuries of deception and offer us a bold, unblinking — and frankly, shocking — rebuttal to the widespread sentiment that “we’re not as bad as the U.S.”

    The book weaves in Indigenous experiences and addresses how racial violence specifically impacted Black women. It is written for academics and lay people alike.

    “One of the things that prompted me to write it is that working in Black communities, growing up Black in Canada, there was so much history of anti-Black racism that even I was not aware of for much of my life,” Maynard told me.

    “People would experience anti-Black racism, but it was so negated by non-Black people around them. Their experience was seen as exaggerated or treated with disbelief. A lot of that disbelief stems from the broader disbelief that anti-Black racism has been in place for 400 years.”

    Just as “climatic unsuitability” was long used to disguise the racist motivations behind demographic selections, Maynard writes, so was a desire to avoid the “Negro problem” that existed in the United States.

    Irony alert! Canadians believed the best way to keep racism out of the country was to keep Black people out altogether.

    “It was in the interest of coloured people themselves not to encourage their settlement in this country,” Maynard cites William D. Scott, a superintendent of immigration from 1903 to 1924. In private correspondence, though, he doesn’t hold back. “Africans, no matter where they come from, are not among the races sought.”

    This, although slavery was practised in Canada for more than 200 years.

    This, although 4,000 enslaved Indigenous and Black people helped build infrastructure and wealth for white settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries.

    While the absence of plantations meant there were fewer enslaved Black people, leaving them acutely isolated, white settler society here was not benign. It brutalized them physically and psychologically. Black women would be beaten, sexually abused, used for “breeding” and have their children torn from them.

    “The inferiority ascribed to Blackness in this era would affect the treatment of Black persons living in Canada for centuries to come,” Maynard writes.

    Maynard also exposes the hollowness of the claim that Canada was a sanctuary for runaway slaves from the U.S. and for “Black Loyalists.” Few freed Black people to whom the British promised land and equality if they fought on the British side of the 1775-1783 conflict received that promised land. Those who did were given land that was known to be infertile. Instead, Black people were forced to become cheap labour for white farmers and domestic help in white homes.

    On the other hand, in the early 20th century whites from Europe were promised and given 160 acres of free farmland.

    White landowners refused to lease or sell land to those with African features well into the 20th century. “In 1959, over 60 per cent of landlords surveyed (in Toronto) said they would not be comfortable renting to Blacks,” Maynard writes.

    This is the face of structurally enforced impoverishment.

    It continues with segregation of schools, the last of which closed in Canada in 1983. Segregated Black schools were underfunded and even abandoned by governments. Many children studied in dilapidated unheated buildings, Maynard says, taught by poorly trained teachers.

    This is the face of structurally built inequality.

    Perhaps knowing this will give pause to those among us who say things like, “These people are poor because they’re lazy.”

    Since 1444, the year that Maynard says marked the beginning of the global devaluation of Black bodies, when European raiders captured and chained Africans into ships, “rebellion was so ‘incessant’ that they were chained right hand to right leg, left hand to left leg.” This also marked the beginning of the institutionalized belief that Black movement needed to be surveilled and contained.

    In the 1920s in Canada, Black presence in public spaces continued to be restricted, in some places with “sundown laws,” or curfews imposed on Black people to be indoors by a certain time in the evening.

    “The fact is this is ongoing,” Maynard told me. “Look at how we devalue Black people’s lives.”

    The 2016 case of a six-year-old Black Grade 1 student, in a Mississauga school, written about in the Star and detailed in the book, marks the continuing containment of Black bodies.

    The child was handcuffed by attaching her hands and feet together at the wrists and ankles for apparently acting in a violent manner.

    Peel police deemed this containment necessary in the interest of safety of the 48-pound, unarmed child who was considered that dangerous even in the presence of school officials and two policemen.

    This, too, is the face of state-sanctioned racial violence.

    Maynard’s investment of emotional labour situates her book in continuing Black resistance to this violence.

    Supremacist values were foundational for the creation of white wealth.

    This does not mean all whites are supremacist. Nor does it mean all whites are wealthy.

    But perhaps it will help clarify what people mean when they say racial violence benefits all white people.

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

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    What began as a friendly challenge between immigration officials and university students has brought on a fundamental shift in how the Immigration Department deals with applicants.

    For example, now when people contact the department’s Montreal-based client support centre for help, the first thing they hear is no longer a warning that disgruntled callers should not verbally abuse the agent.

    People also won’t be brushed away quickly for their questions simply because their application has not reached the minimum processing time that officials think should warrant concern.

    The cultural shift from an enforcement mindset to a client-centred approach could mark a new era at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, which has long faced complaints about poor customer service, long processing times and failing to provide timely and accurate information to applicants.

    In January, the department quietly launched a client experience branch and appointed Michelle Lattimore, a longtime civil servant, to head the new unit, which is responsible for the client support call centre, service strategy and a new “service insights and experimentation division” of 10 staffers to make dealing with immigration a more pleasant experience.

    An improved customer service, advocates say, can make Canada a more attractive destination for visitors, students and immigrants in the increasingly competitive world of global migration.

    “I support the initiative but it may take years before it really happens,” said immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland. “What (Lattimore) needs to do is bring down the blinders. The department has information and does not disclose it to people, forcing them to use call centres. It is a core problem.”

    Read more:

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    Lattimore has been involved in the Immigration Department’s restructuring of the client services functions since the spring of 2015 but the work was sidetracked by the new Liberal government’s resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees.

    With an 85 per cent client satisfaction rate found in a department survey, it baffled Lattimore why there were still 5.2 million inquiries a year by email and phone from people looking for information on their cases.

    Last year, the department received 5,000 complaints and the top three concerns related to processing times, the call centre and the operation of the applicants’ online accounts.

    In May 2016, Lattimore spearheaded the “Family Class Design Challenge” — in partnership with the Treasury Board, Privy Council and the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) University — to explore ways to improve customer satisfaction with the spousal sponsorship program, which has always been a sore point of the immigration system.

    The design competition pitted a team of civil servants from the across the department against OCAD graduate students. The teams hit the streets to do random interviews about Canadians’ experience with the family sponsorship program.

    “We did street intercepts. We went out and actually talked to people on the streets. Eighty per cent of the people they stopped and had an experience with immigration wanted to talk about it, not all family class but they all wanted to talk about it,” said Lattimore.

    One surprising finding was that those interviewed said they were more concerned with the department’s reluctance to disclose information during the waiting period then they were with the actual length of the processing time.

    “This was the most important revelation for the department. To learn from them saying, ‘we can live with 12 months, but what we really want to know is what’s happening over the course of the 12-month period’ and the sense of assurance they are seeking from us is something we hadn’t anticipated,” noted Lattimore, who worked at Service Canada and Passport Canada before joining the Immigration Department’s program integrity branch in 2010.

    “They have no clue what’s going on. They don’t know if we’ve forgotten about them. They don’t know if we need other information. They are worried they’ve missed an email or a letter. Processing times take what they take and we don’t need to get in touch with clients every week but that paralysis impacts their lives more significantly than processing time itself.”

    Both teams in the design challenge came back with similar recommendations: get rid of the taped warning in the call centre greetings that sets the conversation in a negative tone, improve officials’ response to callers and provide better information to questions.

    Last fall, to boost transparency, immigration’s 300 call agents started pulling out a caller’s file and responding to questions even if the application has not reached its standard processing time.

    And to improve consistency, immigration agents received additional training to ask the right questions to figure out what the caller really wants and provide the correct information they need.

    Although the handling time for each call went up by 16 per cent, said Lattimore, the number of repeat calls dropped by a whopping 30 per cent in less than eight weeks, freeing immigration agents time to provide better quality information to callers.

    While the agents may be better equipped to answer callers’ questions, getting through to one is a challenge.

    Recently, Ahmad Hematyar spent 25 minutes waiting on the line hoping to talk to a live agent to inquire about the private sponsorship application of a Syrian family. The Toronto man gave up because the computer-recorded guidance didn’t lead him anywhere.

    “I followed the instructions and pressed all these buttons. It didn’t have the information that we were looking for. It tells you to go to the immigration website to check the status of your application and for processing times. You press zero and it says all the agents are busy,” said Hematyar, president of Canada Newcomers and Immigration Associations, whose group has more than 600 refugee sponsorship applications somewhere in the process.

    “We have tried to email their processing centre, but you don’t get any reply. Is our case still in the queue? Has it been transferred to a visa office? Have they lost our files? On a scale of 10, our frustration with immigration is 10 out of 10. Where’s the government accountability?”

    Another initiative introduced by the immigration department was texting spousal sponsorship applicants as soon as their full application package of love letters, photos and other proof of the relationship arrives at immigration’s mailroom.

    “Tiny investments make a big difference in people’s lives,” said Lattimore, who plans to roll out more “challenges” for ideas to improve immigration client service. “It’s not new for us to view immigration as a service. What’s new is we are looking at service from a client’s perspective.”

    Queen’s University immigration and refugee law professor Sharry Aiken said it’s too early to tell if the cultural shift for better client services at the department is genuine.

    “It is more important to have an ombudsperson at the federal immigration level. We don’t need somebody to review the experience of the consumers to tweak how the department engages with its client base,” said Aiken.

    “What we really need is an office in place with the authority to do systemic reviews and provide remedies when service standards are not met. That would really make a difference.”

    The challenge for the immigration and OCAD teams was a tie and each received a small token trophy for their great ideas, said Lattimore. The Immigration Department will conduct its next client survey in 2018.

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    James Thomson is an ex-head of Amazon Services, the division that recruits sellers to the tech giant’s marketplaces. A Canadian, he is also the co-author of The Amazon Marketplace DilemmaThe Amazon Marketplace Dilemma and a partner in Buy Box Experts. We asked him about Amazon and Toronto’s quest to win a bid process to become home to the company’s massive second headquarters.

    Q: What is Amazon looking for in a host city for “HQ2”?

    A: Amazon has publicly outlined criteria including a city with 1 million-plus population, strong training grounds for engineers, and an investment to enable the build-out of up to 50,000 people. Realistically, I see Amazon executives wanting to relocate only to a high-culture city with lower cost of living. Seattle has become very expensive to afford even on a $150,000-a-year salary for a mid-level computer engineer, so attracting new talent to Seattle is getting harder. I also expect Amazon doesn’t want to compete with a number of large local IT-dependent firms — Amazon wants a hiring advantage for at least a few years.

    Q: What are Toronto’s strengths and weakness as a bidder?

    A: Toronto is undoubtedly a cultural world-class city but has a very high cost of living and is more congested than Seattle. I doubt Amazon will put itself in a distant suburb of a major city. I also suspect there will be a stigma of putting its headquarters in another country — Amazon will have to convince a lot of existing executives to relocate, and another country with higher personal tax rates is a bigger question mark than another American city. I am not optimistic that the Ontario and Toronto governments will be excited about spending the kind of investment/tax incentives that Amazon is seeking. Yes, HQ2 is an amazing long-term opportunity, but the payment is also long-term.

    Q: What cities do you think will be the prime contenders, based on Amazon has said and what you are hearing?

    A: I have heard the cities of Austin (Texas), Charlotte (N.C.) and Pittsburgh mentioned but anticipate Amazon will accept less tax incentive/investment for a broader commitment to build out much more access to IT-trained graduates. Recruiting is a huge problem for Amazon, with over 9,000 job openings with office jobs just at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters. Most of these are engineering roles — there aren’t enough recently trained candidates in North America to support Amazon’s current growth.

    Q: Amazon is talking about long-term investment of up to $5 billion and up to 50,000 jobs. How big a deal for a city is landing HQ2?

    A: Any city that lands this deal will see a huge immediate opportunity to become a significant global centre of innovation and IT development. The big question is how much will a local government put up to make this happen. The expense is a trade-off against schools, infrastructure, health care, etc. Can Toronto support 50,000 high-net earners who all want nice homes, nice restaurants, easy commutes, etc.? Amazon is NOT a fan of unions or regulation. How does Ontario government accommodate that?

    Q: What advice would you give Toronto bid boosters as they decide how to try to land this fish?

    A: Amazon uses data to make all of its decisions. And it follows the Amazon Leadership Principles to figure out all tough problems. Position yourself along those leadership principles using very specific comparative data, and you will be speaking “Amazon talk.”

    Q: Amazon has been criticized in the past for the way it treats workers. Should this give Torontonians pause about putting considerable effort — and potentially tax breaks — into a bid?

    A: Most complaints related to warehouse employees. Unfortunate, but true. From a corporate office perspective, it is a very tough place to work but amazing growth and innovation have come from this. And thousands of people have become rather rich. What do you want from your job? After media attention to the issue, Amazon saw a huge increase in job applicants as MBAs took on the culture as a challenge to prove that they are “up to the challenge” to thrive at Amazon.

    This interview was edited for brevity.

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    Christ Church Cathedral in Hamilton, Ont., must dig up hundreds of long-dead parishioners from the “asphalt hell” of a church parking lot before building a multimillion-dollar condo tower for the living.

    The local Anglican diocese hopes to build a 12-storey, $50-million-plus condo and commercial development at 252 James St. N. in Hamilton to help the shrinking congregation remain solvent and pay climbing maintenance bills for the iconic, heritage-protected stone cathedral and associated school house.

    But to do so, the church must first “reverentially” dig up, try to identify and relocate the remains of up to 400 people buried under the back parking lot.

    “It’s time that we stopped parking on top of those people,” said the Very Rev. Peter Wall, rector of Christ’s Church Cathedral, in a presentation to councillors Wednesday. “They need to be released from asphalt hell.”

    Wall was actually at City Hall to ask councillors to consider a discounted sale of a small nearby municipal parking lot to the church. City staff will report back on the request in October.

    Wall argued the extra land would allow a larger, wraparound condo building behind the preserved cathedral and school and by extension a larger tax bill — more than $400,000 — paid to the city. (The church itself is exempt from paying property taxes.)

    The rector said any help would be appreciated given the looming $1-million-plus cost of the strictly regulated effort to exhume those buried in the long-lost cemetery.

    The asphalt-entombed graveyard opened in 1832 and closed two decades later, with the land variously used as green space, tennis courts and finally parking over 160 years. More than 700 people were buried behind the cathedral, including famed city father Richard Beasley, and many children and teenage victims of early cholera epidemics.

    When the city’s main cemetery opened on York Boulevard, Wall said many headstones moved — but not all of the bodies.

    A stone monument for Beasley and a select few headstones are the only visible remnants of the old burial plot today. The remainder is paved over for about 40 parking spaces.

    Rev. Bill Mous says lazy past protocols meant the remains were not treated with the respect they deserved.

    He says the church would like to address that issue if it is able to secure the land and permissions needed for the building project.

    “We would make sure that those remains are moved to a more dignified location, as was the intention in the late 19th century,” Mous said in a telephone interview.

    Wall took The Spectator for a basement tour under the old school beside the cathedral to see another 24 tombstones collected and stored over a century — the fate of the associated remains unknown.

    Only one stone appeared legible, naming Mary Arthur Worsop, who died in 1837 at the age of 23. The inscription also appears to refer to an infant son.

    “I’ve often looked at these and thought, see, that’s the reason we need to do something about this (lost cemetery),” Wall said.

    Wall said anecdotally, he understood building additions between the late- 1800s to mid-1900s turned up bones during construction. “It’s unfortunate, but the reality is back then construction workers were likely throwing bones in dumpsters.”

    Ground-penetrating radar has found burial shafts, coffin nails and other evidence to suggest the remains of 300 to 400 people are underfoot.

    If so, the dig and reburial would be one of the larger efforts in Ontario history, said Ron Williamson, founder of ASI Archaeological and Cultural Heritage Services.

    The veteran of four decades of archeological digs said he participated in a mass exhumation of remains for 622 parishioners of a Toronto church in 2000 for an airport extension. He believes a larger effort involving 700 burial plots took place in Kingston.

    “But this would still represent a large, unique and complex project,” said Williamson, who added it can take a day-and-a-half to “uncover and fully document” remains found in a single grave.

    A lot of work also happens outside the dig, he said, including cross-referencing church records, contacting descendants — and potentially dealing with their concerns. “Even moving a dozen bodies can be complex,” he said.

    The church worked with DPAI Architecture on early designs for a 110-unit condo and retail building, but Wall said no application has been submitted to the city yet. The new building would host the existing diocesan office and Jamesville child care centre.

    With files from The Canadian Press

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    Two top aides to former premier Dalton McGuinty go on criminal trial Monday for the alleged deletion of computer hard drives linked to the Liberals’ scrapped gas-fired power plants.

    David Livingston, 65, McGuinty’s last chief of staff in 2013, and deputy chief Laura Miller, 38, are accused of breach of trust, mischief in relation to data, and misuse of a computer system.

    The pair face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. They have denied any wrongdoing in the wiping of the hard drives in the premier’s office.

    Defence lawyers are expected to appear in court Monday, however, asking for another week to examine boxes of evidence recently disclosed by the Crown‎.

    McGuinty, who was never under investigation and co-operated with the police through their probe, is not expected to be called to testify in the trial that should run into November.

    The Ontario Provincial Police allege Livingston gave a special computer password to a non-government employee — Peter Faist, Miller’s common-law spouse — enabling him to clean the computer drives in the premier’s office before Kathleen Wynne was formally sworn in on Feb. 11, 2013.

    Faist, a computer specialist who has denied doing anything wrong and is not on trial, was paid $10,000 from the taxpayer-funded Liberal caucus budget for wiping the drives — money the party subsequently repaid the treasury.

    Both the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats believe the computers could have contained information linked to the Liberals’ controversial decision before the 2011 election to cancel the gas plants in Mississauga and Oakville, which were locally unpopular.

    The Liberals held onto all five seats adjacent to the two proposed facilities in 2011 and again in the 2014 campaign.

    Auditor general Bonnie Lysyk has estimated that moving them to Sarnia and Napanee could cost ratepayers up to $1.1 billion over 20 years.

    The trial coincides with both the legislature resuming Monday and the ongoing Election Act trial related to the 2015 Sudbury byelection.

    In that case, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s former deputy chief of staff, Patricia Sorbara, and local activist Gerry Lougheed are charged with offering an ex-Liberal candidate a job to quit the nomination race for preferred candidate Glenn Thibeaut, now the energy minister.

    Wynne will take the stand to testify on Wednesday.

    Political science professor Henry Jacek of McMaster University in Hamilton said the gas plants trial is “much harder” for people to understand, which may limit political fallout for the Liberals.

    “There can be fatigue from the gas plants . . . too much time has passed,” he said. “People think governments waste money, governments try to hide things they’ve done.”

    As well, Wynne can distance herself from the case because she was not premier at the time, although she was in McGuinty’s cabinet, noted Jacek.

    “This she can say was done before her. The public might give her a little slack. Sudbury was when she was in power,” he said.

    The trial also comes against the backdrop of a June 7, 2018 provincial election that is expected to be tight.

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    FORT MYERS, FLA.—Hurricane Irma roared through the Florida Keys on Sunday with punishing 209 km/h winds and began pushing its way north, knocking out power to more than 1.8 million homes across the state and collapsing a construction crane over the Miami skyline.

    The nearly 650-kilometre-wide storm is expected to make a slow, ruinous march up Florida’s west coast, straight toward the heavily populated Tampa-St. Petersburg area by Monday morning.

    Streets emptied across the bottom half of the Florida peninsula, and some 127,000 people huddled in shelters.

    “Pray, pray for everybody in Florida,” Gov. Rick Scott said on “Fox News Sunday.”

    Irma struck as a Category 4 but by midafternoon had weakened to a Category 2 with still-fearsome 177 km/h winds and heavy rain. A storm surge of more than 10 feet of water was recorded in part of the Keys, and similar flooding was expected on the mainland.

    There were no immediate confirmed reports of any deaths in Florida, on top of 24 people killed during the storm’s destructive trek across the Caribbean.

    Many streets were underwater in downtown Miami and other cities. Roof damage and floating appliances and furniture were reported in the low-lying Keys, but the full extent of Irma’s wrath there was not clear.

    A Miami woman who went into labour was guided through delivery by phone when authorities couldn’t reach her in high winds and street flooding. Firefighters later took her to the hospital.

    An apparent tornado spun off by Irma destroyed six mobile homes in Palm Bay, hundreds of miles away along the state’s Atlantic coast. Flooding was reported along Interstate 4, which cuts across Florida’s midsection.

    There were no immediate confirmed reports of any deaths in Florida, on top of 24 people killed during the storm’s destructive trek across the Caribbean.

    While the projected track showed Irma raking the state’s Gulf Coast, forecasters warned that the entire state — including the Miami metropolitan area of six million people — was in extreme peril from the monstrously wide storm.

    Nearly seven million people in the Southeast were warned to get out of harm’s way, including 6.4 million in Florida alone.

    About 30,000 people heeded orders to evacuate the Keys as the storm closed in, but an untold number refused to leave, in part because to many storm-hardened residents, staying behind in the face of danger is a point of pride.

    John Huston, who was riding out the storm at his Key Largo home, was already seeing flooding in his yard before the arrival of high tide. “Small boats floating down the street next to furniture and refrigerators. Very noisy,” he said by text message. “Shingles are coming off.”

    In downtown Miami, one of two dozen construction cranes looming over the skyline collapsed atop a highrise in Irma’s winds. There was no immediate word on any damage or injuries. City officials said it would have taken about two weeks to have moved the cranes out of harm’s way.

    Curfews were imposed in Miami, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and much of the rest of South Florida, and some arrests of violators were reported. Miami Beach barred outsiders from the island.

    Fort Lauderdale police arrested nine people they said were caught on TV cameras looting sneakers and other items from a sporting goods store and a pawn shop during the hurricane.

    Irma made landfall just after 9 a.m. at Cudjoe Key, about 32 kilometres outside Key West, forecasters said. By late morning, it was advancing toward Florida’s southwestern corner, moving at 14 km/h.

    Key West Police urged anyone riding out the storm in that city to “resist the urge” to go outside during the eye, the deceptively calm interlude in the middle of a hurricane. “Dangerous winds will follow quickly,” police said in a Facebook post.

    “Once this system passes through, it’s going to be a race to save lives and sustain lives,” Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long said on “Fox News Sunday.”

    With FEMA still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Irma could test the agency’s ability to handle two disasters at the same time.

    Even before the extent of its potential devastation was clear, the storm made a huge swath of the peninsula’s bottom half unrecognizable.

    Normally bustling streets were ghost towns. Famed party stretches including Duval Street in Key West and Ocean Drive on South Beach were shuttered. Sunday church services were called off, and theme parks were closed.

    Irma was at one time the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, with a peak wind speed of 300 km/h last week.

    It left more than 20 people dead across the Caribbean, and as it moved north over the Gulf of Mexico’s bathtub-warm water of nearly 32 C, regained strength.

    Its hurricane-force winds extended 130 kilometres from its centre.

    Meteorologist Ryan Maue of WeatherBell Analytics said the entire Florida peninsula will be raked by Irma’s right front quadrant — the part of a hurricane that usually brings the strongest winds, storm surge, rain and tornadoes.

    The Tampa-St. Petersburg area, with a population of about 3 million, has not taken a direct hit from a major hurricane since 1921. The wind was already picking up in St. Petersburg, some 1045 kilometres north the Keys, and people began bracing for the onslaught.

    “I’ve been here with other storms, other hurricanes. But this one scares me,” Sally Carlson said she snapped photos of the waves crashing against boats. “Let’s just say a prayer we hope we make it through.”

    The governor activated all 7,000 members of the Florida National Guard, and 30,000 guardsmen from elsewhere were on standby.

    Forecasters warned that after charting up Florida’s west coast, a weakened Irma could push into Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and beyond. A tropical storm warning was issued for the first time ever in Atlanta, some 200 miles from the sea.

    Given its mammoth size and strength and its projected course, Irma could prove one of the most devastating hurricanes ever to hit Florida and inflict damage on a scale not seen here in 25 years.

    Hurricane Andrew smashed into suburban Miami in 1992 with winds topping 265 km/h, damaging or blowing apart over 125,000 homes. The damage in Florida totalled $26 billion (U.S.), and at least 40 people died.

    Read more:

    Photos: Hurricane Irma leaves trail of destruction in Caribbean, U.S.

    Hurricane Irma topples homes, floods cities after barrelling through Cuba

    After Irma, an eerie online silence from tiny Caribbean islands

    Ontario man describes harrowing scenes from hurricane-battered U.S. Virgin Islands

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    After 30 years on the loftiest uplands of Canadian intellectual life, Stephen Toope still has the capacity — as all great teachers and most happy human beings do — for awe and wonder.

    And in his case, there’s a lot to be awed about.

    On Oct. 2, the legal scholar from the Munk School of Global Affairs at U of T will be installed as vice-chancellor at Cambridge University. He will be the 346th person to hold the post since the school’s founding more than 800 years ago, and the first non-Briton.

    “As a West Island boy from Montreal, I feel extraordinarily privileged,” Toope, 59, said in an interview as he prepared for the move from Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood to one of the world’s most prestigious academic institutions.

    He said that, while he packed, he pictured Isaac Newton at Cambridge (where he had a famously inspirational encounter with a falling apple in the 17th century and discovered gravity). He has imagined the roster of geniuses to pass through before and since. And he has had to remind himself, from time to time, that “it’s not utterly crazy that I’m going there.”

    While the Cambridge chancellor is a ceremonial post, the vice-chancellor is the main administrative and academic officer of the university and de facto head, nominated by the University Council and approved by the school’s Regent House to a non-renewable seven-year term.

    Before choosing him, Cambridge conducted an international search led by Ian White, master of Jesus College, who said Toope “has impeccable academic credentials, a longstanding involvement with higher education, strong leadership experience and an excellent research background.”

    Toope, who earned his doctorate at Cambridge in 1987, said he wasn’t even aware a search was on for a new vice-chancellor at his alma mater when he received a call from headhunters.

    “It was really quite . . . stunning,” he said, pausing, uncharacteristically, to search for a word.

    “I was surprised and honoured even to be considered.”

    Even so, the timing wasn’t ideal.

    He was only two years into an appointment as director of the Munk School, after eight years running the University of British Columbia, where he landed after serving as dean of law at McGill.

    Toope had planned on spending the “next five, 10 years, whatever” at Munk, he said, especially after his wife and three children — now in their 20s and pursuing their own studies — had already suffered uprooting for the sake of his career.

    “But,” he said, smiling. “It’s very hard to say no to a place like Cambridge.”

    When Stephen Toope was named president of UBC in 2006, Justice Rosalie Abella of the Supreme Court of Canada called him “brilliant, humane, considerate and fearless.”

    UBC, she said, “should be electrified.”

    Electrifying is not a notion that usually leaps to mind when discussing scholars. And it would be easy to suspect Abella of some hyperbole. Except that similar admiration of Toope’s talents and virtues seem to come from just about anyone who’s crossed his path.

    “He sparkles,” Paul Davidson, a friend of more than 25 years and president of Universities Canada, told the Star.

    “He’s gritty and grounded. He’s authentic and genuine. He is very much a 21st-century academic leader,” Davidson said. “He’s as comfortable with refugees as he is with royalty.”

    Toope earned an undergraduate degree in literature and history from Harvard, degrees from McGill in common and civil law while editing the McGill Law Journal, and a PhD from Cambridge.

    After articling with then chief justice Brian Dickson at the Supreme Court of Canada, he taught law at McGill, before becoming the faculty’s youngest ever dean at age 34.

    As a scholar, Toope has specialized in human rights, international dispute resolution, international environmental law and the use of force. He has published articles and books on change in international law and the origins of international obligation.

    He was research director of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1991, has been president of the Canadian Council on International Law, served as an observer in the first free elections in South Africa in 1994, and was founding president of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, a non-partisan scholarship institute focusing on the former prime minister’s interests of social justice and Indigenous issues.

    From 2002 to 2007, he served on the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. As a result of that experience, he was asked to serve as an independent fact-finder for the federal O’Connor Inquiry into the torture in Syria of Canadian Maher Arar.

    As such, Toope said he has experienced “life much closer to the ground than might be assumed,” with first-hand experience of injustice, cruelty, pain. In his investigations into the tortured and disappeared, “I’ve worked with people in rural parts of Africa, rural parts of Latin America, rural parts of Asia, Southeast Asia in particular, and had to deal with people who were really suffering.”

    In addition, the Cambridge recruiters likely noticed traits that suggest a large heart and sense of humour as well as a big brain, what the Brits call an all-rounder.

    Toope’s a good sport. At UBC, he once took up a student leader’s dare to join him as part of a fundraising effort in a duet of the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) in front of a packed theatre.

    The episode revealed a becoming lack of pretention, along with his background as a boy soprano in church choirs and a fondness for the arts — shared by his wife, Paula Rosen, a singer-songwriter and speech pathologist who is able, Toope admits, to bring him back to terra firma should he get too serious or over-impressed by his own resumé.

    “These days, when there’s so much emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, it’s nice to see somebody bring their whole selves to their academic work,” his friend Davidson said.

    And for Stephen Toope, that “whole self” also includes a deeply traumatic experience.

    In 1995, three youths — aged 13, 14 and 15, later said to be high on drugs — broke into a house in suburban Montreal, thinking it was empty and intending on an easy score.

    Inside, retired Anglican Church minister Frank Toope, 75, and his wife Jocelyn, 70, were asleep in bed.

    When the Toopes awoke to the noise of the intruders, they were bludgeoned to death.

    The youths reportedly bragged the next day at school of their deeds. After their arrest and subsequent trial, the three were sentenced under the Young Offenders Act to a combined total of less than 15 years.

    Toope was 37 and law dean at McGill when his adoptive parents were murdered. Twelve years later, he was invited to speak at graduation ceremonies in Montreal’s Dawson College — where, at the start of that academic year, a gunman had gone on a rampage, killing 18-year-old Anastasia De Sousa and injuring 20 others.

    It was thought Toope might have something helpful to say to the students. He did.

    “I had been raised in a loving family,” he told them. “I had been blessed with incredible educational opportunities. I had a great job as dean of law at McGill University, a wonderful wife, a lovely little daughter and a son who had just arrived.”

    But on that day in 1995, three “teenage boys, who had no real motive, who had killed for fun,” tore his world apart.

    There’s no single way to react to such things, he said. “I can only tell you how I reacted.

    “I said no. No, you pathetic boys are not going to destroy the memory of my parents, who lived rich and gentle lives. No, you are not going to define my existence or that of my family. No, you will not turn me into a fearful person. No, you will not teach me to hate.”

    And they didn’t.

    As he looked back on that speech during an interview with the Star, Toope uses a word he often does. He considered it a “privilege” to speak to those students.

    “It was a difficult moment,” he said. “But I have actually been through something that may be of relevance to these kids, who had to experience something that no students should ever have to experience.”

    As Paul Davidson sees it, the United Kingdom, possibly the world, is having something of a “Canada moment.”

    When Toope arrives in the U.K., he will find Canadians as governor of the Bank of England, chief executive of the Royal Mail, and the U.K.’s Information Commissioner.

    And Toope’s appointment is another “example of the pretty darn impressive talent” this country has to share, Davidson said.

    Not, of course, that there isn’t heavy lifting ahead.

    Last year, for the first time, Cambridge did not place in the top three in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, which started in 2004. In the 2016-17 list out this week, it placed fourth.

    “It means Cambridge has to look at itself and see whether it’s doing as good a job as it can,” he has said.

    Not least of Toope’s challenges will be the ramifications for the university sector — at an institution that draws significant research revenue from the European Union — of Brexit.

    There have been concerns about a Brexit brain drain as European academics leave British universities and fears over impacts on funding, enrolment, exchange programs, teaching quality and research collaboration. It’s been estimated that European students accounted for more than 5 per cent of British university enrolment, contributing ₤3.7 billion to the U.K. economy and providing more than 30,000 jobs.

    “I think they were very open to someone from outside the United Kingdom, partly because of the Brexit phenomenon, and their wanting to continue to send messages of openness,” Toope has said.

    It also can’t have hurt his chances that his fundraising credentials are almost as impressive as his academic achievement and that at UBC he led a $1.5-billion campaign that surpassed its goal and oversaw a host of campus infrastructure improvements. Or that a major accomplishment at Munk was to head a planning exercise to develop a modern strategic plan for the school.

    Toope succeeds Prof. Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, a Welsh immunologist who was paid a salary of ₤335,000 (about $530,000 Canadian) along with a basket of other perks, including residence at the vice-chancellor’s lodge, valued at £4.5 million. According to Ontario’s Sunshine List, Toope earned $310,954.44 at the Munk School last year.

    Toope considers this a new “anxious age,” a time of particular risk and uncertainty across the world and for Canada in particular as American diminishment globally demands a reordering of relations.

    “We won’t actually see America being great again in the way that some proponents of that phrase have indicated.”

    And, to some extent, a reimagining of universities at a time when all “content” institutions face threat and upheaval.

    The good news is that there’s been no hint of animosity awaiting him in Cambridge because of his untraditional origins.

    “I thought there would be a moment when one or another person would say, ‘Well, why should we really be looking at you? Aren’t you some trumped-up little colonial?”

    But there hasn’t. Even so, Canada’s latest gift to the mother country intends to tread carefully.

    “I’m not going to run in and tell them they’ve been doing everything wrong for the last 800 years.

    “I’d be a fool to do that.”

    And that’s one thing he’s not called.

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    TORONTO—Caroline Mulroney has been named the Progressive Conservative nominee for the riding of York-Simcoe.

    Mulroney, vice-president of an investment firm and daughter of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, accepted the nomination at a meeting in the riding on Sunday.

    In a speech, she criticized the province’s Liberal government for its controversial minimum wage hike and thanked her parents for teaching her the importance of public service.

    York-Simcoe, north of Toronto, has been held by Progressive Conservative Julia Munro since 1995.

    Munro has announced that she is retiring, and that she supports Mulroney’s campaign.

    Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown congratulated Mulroney on her nomination on Sunday.

    “Caroline is a fantastic addition to our modern, inclusive and pragmatic Ontario PC team,” he said in a statement.

    “Caroline understands the importance of public service, and I know that she would do a fantastic job filling the shoes of Julia Munro as MPP.”

    Mulroney is the vice-president of Toronto-based BloombergSen Investment Partners, and used to work at a venture debt fund. She also co-founded the Shoebox Project for Shelters, which collects and distributes gifts to women who are homeless or at risk.

    Ontario’s provincial election will be held in June.

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    The federal government has “abandoned” Canadian citizens — medical students, teachers and tourists — on the hurricane-ravaged island of St. Maarten, their families say.

    While Americans leave the island on military and charter airplanes, Canadians are advised to visit a government website with a list of shelters, creating a desperate situation, especially as food supplies run low and reports of looting increase, say relatives interviewed by the Star. Some families said a few Canadians were able to leave on a Sunday flight, but other tourists, students and teachers remained.

    There is spotty cellphone and internet service but the Canadian government repeatedly suggests stranded citizens get advice from its website.

    “The frustration in dealing with the Canadian government is that they are not willing to help Canadians one iota,” said Robert Barnard, whose sister is a teacher on the island.

    “They are not willing to send food. They are not willing to send water. They are not willing to send flights. They are not willing to send boats. They are not willing to do anything for Canadians,” Barnard said.

    Global Affairs Canada issued a news release on Sunday saying “all options are being considered by the Government of Canada to assist Canadians in leaving the affected regions. “ It said diplomatic missions are liaising with local authorities, airline and tour operators.

    After making four calls on Sunday to the “very nice” people at Global Affairs Canada, Kingston’s Lacey Cranston concluded the federal government’s plans to evacuate citizens do not exist.

    Her parents, Darrell and Debby Sheppy, of Windsor, were sent to the airport on Saturday by their St. Maarten resort with 148 other visitors. According to Cranston, most got flights out because their countries had requested evacuation assistance.

    As her parents returned to the resort, gunshots were fired. The hotel deemed it dangerous, so on Sunday morning they were driven to the Princess Juliana Airport but still couldn’t get a flight.

    “They are now spending the night in the airport parking lot,” she said.

    About 70 per cent of homes on the Dutch part of St. Maarten were badly damaged or destroyed when Hurricane Irma swept through last Wednesday.

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    To the southeast, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said 90 per cent of the structures and vehicles on Barbuda were destroyed. About 1,400 people live on the island and most have now been evacuated to Antigua.

    Cranston said Global Affairs Canada suggested they look online for the list of shelters but the Dutch military told them shelters are dangerous.

    “I can’t believe that I live in a first-world country that can’t get it’s s--t together to get its citizens home.

    Mariel Chan is a medical student at the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine and was able to FaceTime with her sister, Global Affairs Canada texted students to say there was a flight Sunday morning, but they could not get a seat on the plane

    Chan said Dutch and American officials told her “they have no word that Canada is trying to help us.

    “Honestly, there’s no option for us. We are stranded here. I don’t know what to do,” she said, and began to cry.

    There is a lot of confusion about flights and what nationalities are able to leave. While on FaceTime, Chan stopped another Canadian student, a young man, who pleaded for someone to “please donate a plane to help Canadians get home.

    “Trudeau, are you listening?” he asked.

    Janine Fung a medical student said she got a flight out last Monday, before Irma blew in. Fung is trying to help her friends get home.

    “It’s pretty ridiculous,” she said. “The Americans left. The Venezuelans were able to leave. Even the pets have been evacuated before the Canadians.”

    “At first everyone was optimistic and they were running clinics with the Americans to help keep the country going. Now, they are just desperate,” Fung said.

    Monique Balmforth has choice words to describe the “abandonment” of her brother, Michael Moriarty and his wife, Meryl, a civilian employee with the Toronto Police department.

    “All the government does is send us links to its SOS website,” Balmforth said. “All they said was, hold tight and listen to local officials. That’s a bit hard, when there’s looting, the local hotel didn’t want them and the island doesn’t really exist any more.”

    The couple spent seven hours at the airport, couldn’t get a flight but got a free “rescue mission” flight to Puerto Rico — an island that is dealing with its own struggles from Irma. They still have no idea how they’ll get home.

    “I hope they’re not going from one bad to another. Honestly, if they had received any concrete information from Canada, saying we will be there to pick up Canadian citizens, they might have waited it out. I think they just felt lost and totally left to their own devices.”

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    My nanny never dealt me dope.

    That’s why I’m flummoxed by the flurry of protests against Premier Kathleen Wynne, accused of being Ontario’s nanny-in-chief in the matter of marijuana sales.

    Pushing dope isn’t in the job description for normal nannies. And yet our premier is prepared to serve it up.

    Seems nanny is now a dirty word in our ideological wars, hurled at any hint of government regulation or red tape: Seatbelt laws, motorcycle helmets, gun registries, booze controls, drug restrictions — all evidence of the nanny state repressing and dressing us down, conspiring to inhibit our presumed right to imbibe and inhale in a haze.

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    How to fathom the fog that has fallen over opposition politicians, pundits, hipsters, humorists and potheads taking potshots at our putative nanny premier for being so dopey about dope? Let us deconstruct the inanity of the nanny narrative, and get down in the weeds on weed:

    Wynne’s government is apparently under fire for spelling out how one might visit a government marijuana joint for a joint or two starting next summer. For the first time in Canadian history, one will be able to procure competitively-priced cannabis without risk of arrest, rip-offs, contamination, dilution, distortion or extortion.

    Wynne has promised to open 40 new government owned and operated marijuana stores to meet the July 1, 2018 deadline set by Ottawa for national sales, doubling that number by 2019 and reaching 150 outlets within two years. Online sales will also let you get spaced out via cyberspace starting next summer.

    Yet a clamour has erupted on behalf of corner stores and dispensaries getting their fair share. Even the small business lobby over at the CFIB is squawking about our meddling nanny premier.

    Incidentally, this isn’t so much incipient sexism as it is conventional name-calling: The terminology predates her, first sticking to Dalton McGuinty, a.k.a. Premier Dad, for supposedly presiding over a nanny state.

    Full disclosure: I never had a nanny. Nor did I get far with toking or smoking dope (not that I deny inhaling — I just kept exhaling involuntarily in a fit of uncontrolled coughing).

    I’m not much of a beer drinker or boozer either. But that hasn’t disqualified me from pronouncing, as a political columnist, on our bogus Beer Store framework, or the ups and downs of the LCBO.

    Critics who compare the new marijuana framework to the ossified oligopoly of the Beer Store are comparing apples and oranges — akin to conflating hemp and hops. The Beer Store was revealed as a privately-run anachronism, a consortium of big multinational brewers profiting from a government license to print money — unlike the LCBO, a reasonably efficient, publicly owned entity whose revenues accrue to the treasury.

    Another allegation is that the province will gouge dope smokers while greedily cashing in. Yet why wouldn’t the government seek to maximize revenues in the same way that it profits from alcohol and tobacco sales, especially given the obligation for costly new public education campaigns to counter abuse?

    Yes, the future price of marijuana must remain competitive with the underground market. But most Ontarians don’t pine for a dramatic expansion in dope sales, let alone a free-for-all.

    That any government, of any political stripe, would suddenly turn on the tap for tokers is a stretch. Allowing the private sector to muscle in on the marijuana trade would require a far greater regulatory bureaucracy to licence and inspect small outlets.

    By retaining sole control, at least initially, the government can slowly roll out its retail channel for tokers to roll their own. It can determine precisely where and when to situate those stores, measuring market demand while testing the tolerance of local neighbourhoods.

    Where privatization requires costly and clunky regulation, publicly owned distribution benefits from stronger responsibility, accountability and transparency, with well-trained, unionized employees. The LCBO also has the advantage of being a trusted supplier, which explains why a Nanos Research poll commissioned by the OPSEU union last year showed it was the preferred choice of Ontarians as a retail outlet.

    To those who dream of dope distribution on demand, be careful what you wish for. You can have too much of a good thing.

    Ontarians tend to moderation in all things, not least marijuana. When the haze settles, critics might discover that people no more pine for a dope dispensary on every doorstep than they welcome a pusher on every corner.

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

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    WASHINGTON—Veteran Republicans are bailing on Congress in growing numbers, as GOP control of Washington fails to produce the unity or legislative successes party leaders wish for. With President Donald Trump willing, if not eager, to buck fellow Republicans and even directly attack them, a number of lawmakers no longer wish to be involved.

    The latest was two-term Rep. Dave Trott of Michigan, who said in a statement Monday that he’d decided after careful consideration that the best course for him was to spend more time with his family and return to the private sector.

    In contrast to those diplomatic words was Trott’s most recent tweet, sent in mid-August: “I think America needs more unity and less divisiveness...meaning @realDonaldTrump should focus more on golf & have less press conferences.”

    Read the latest news on U.S. President Donald Trump

    Trott joins a string of moderate Republicans, including Reps. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, Dave Reichert of Washington state and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who are not seeking re-election.

    Each of these seats will be heavily contested by Democrats eager to take back control of the House, and rumours abound of other GOP retirements still to come. Michigan Republican, Rep. Fred Upton, is mulling a campaign for U.S. Senate, according to party operatives who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

    Also Monday a senior GOP senator, Bob Corker of Tennessee, issued a statement indicating indecision about his future following a CNN report stating that the influential chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee had not yet decided whether to seek re-election next year.

    “It’s not an automatic for me. It just isn’t,” Corker told reporters, although he added that as chairman he has “a lot of impact without passing legislation. I can influence things. This is more about just what I believe to be the right thing to do.”

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    Although Republicans are hopeful Corker ultimately will decide to run — he already has $7.5 million in his campaign account — the senator was in Trump’s Twitter crosshairs in August after criticizing the president’s response to the racially motivated protests in Charlottesville.

    “Tennessee not happy!” the president declared after claiming that Corker was “constantly” asking him whether or not he should run again next year.

    The developments have alarmed GOP operatives concerned that the trickle of retirements could turn into a flood unless congressional Republicans and Trump can come together and produce on their promises, particularly by overhauling the tax code. And, with Trump bypassing Republicans to make deals with Democrats, and encouraging primary challenges against sitting GOP senators, the retirement decisions also reflect concerns among some about whether they will get party support when they need it, especially with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon threatening all-out war on congressional leadership.

    “There are some stability concerns in the party about whose team everyone is on,” said Josh Holmes, a GOP consultant and former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Concerns about whether your party is really with you.”

    It all illustrates that, far from producing unity within the Republican Party, the Trump era appears to be exacerbating existing GOP divisions while creating new ones. The familiar divide between pragmatic and ideologically driven Republicans has been heightened, while Trump’s deal-making with top Democrats last week is forcing elected Republicans to choose sides between Trump and GOP leaders McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan.

    “The party never united around Trump as it would another nominee, let alone president, and Trump is not a limited government conservative,” said Alex Conant, a former top aide to Sen. Marco Rubio. “And so he is not a traditional Republican and as a result is going to clash with the traditional Republicans that fill the ranks of Congress.”

    The chaos and uncertainty produced by Trump and his orbit would be more acceptable to congressional Republicans if the party was achieving legislative success. Instead, its long-standing promise to repeal and replace Barack Obama’s health care law collapsed on the Senate floor in July, while other priorities are moving slowly. As a result, a number of Republicans on and off Capitol Hill have come to view tax reform of some kind as a must-pass priority, without which the dam would likely break on retirements and Republicans would be in serious jeopardy of losing control of the House.

    “Republicans need to put points on the board, to deliver and show they are getting something done,” said Tom Reynolds, a former New York congressman who once chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee and is now a lobbyist.

    Yet despite enthusiasm among Republicans, any final tax plan is a long way off, and many analysts are already predicting that Republicans will end up settling for some tax cuts that add to the deficit rather than full-blown reform.

    For their part, Democrats are projecting increased confidence about their prospects in next year’s mid-terms, especially in the House, where they must gain 24 seats to win the majority. Republicans have a 240-194 edge, with one vacancy. Democrats have their highest hopes pinned on the 23 districts where GOP House candidates won last year, as did Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pointed to Trump’s overall approval rating nationally, which has dipped below 40 per cent.

    “There’s probably nothing more dispositive of who wins next year’s elections than where the president stands a year before,” Pelosi told reporters Friday. “The year is fraught with meaning because that’s when people decide whether to run or not, and that really is a timetable that’s very important to us, and very positive for us right now.”

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    More than 210,000 Ontario students are going to college or university tuition-free this school year — roughly one-third of those who study full-time — under a new provincial financial aid program that covers fees for those from lower-income families.

    And applications for OSAP, the provincial aid system, are up 10 per cent over last year — or more than 50,000 students.

    “This is far greater than we expected,” said Deb Matthews, minister of advanced education and skills development, in a telephone interview following a visit to Ottawa’s Algonquin College. “So we are absolutely thrilled to have 50,000 more applicants this year than last year at this time. We are very, very pleased with the increase.”

    While the government does not yet have a firm dollar figure on the final cost, “that is the commitment we made to students — it’s a great problem to have. Our commitment is that every student who is eligible will get the support they need,” she said. “We will figure out a way to make that happen.”

    When it was announced, the government said axing tax credits for tuition and education would save $145 million this year, enough to cover the expected costs for 2017-18.

    The free tuition grants are part of a number of changes to the student assistance program, which makes mature students eligible for the first time, and also requires repayment only after grads are earning $35,000 a year, up from the current $25,000.

    The government is now providing students with aid money up front, before tuition bills arrive, for families earning less than $50,000. Some 70 per cent of those students were expected to receive more in grants than average university tuition rates.

    About half of students from homes earning $83,000 were also to receive more than they’ll pay in tuition.

    The government is also opening OSAP applications for the 2018-19 school year early — in November — to help students to plan ahead for college and university.

    Critics have the said the Liberals aren’t putting any more money into post-secondary, but rather just moving funds around, and note that Ontario has the highest university tuition rates in the country.

    0 0

    Emergency department wait times hit record levels this summer, according to the umbrella organization representing Ontario hospitals, prompting it to warn that the health-care system is headed for a “crisis” this winter unless the province takes quick action.

    With weeks to go before flu season strikes, conditions strongly point to a capacity crunch this winter without further action, the Ontario Hospital Association said in a statement issued Monday.

    “Many hospitals have operated through the summer under very unusual and worrying surge conditions,” OHA president Anthony Dale said. “The evidence strongly suggests that . . . further investments are urgently needed this fiscal year in order to ensure timely access to services for patients.”

    This past July, 10 per cent of patients waited longer than the provincial average of 30.4 hours to be placed in an inpatient bed from the emergency department, according to the association. This is the longest that patients have ever had to wait in the month of July since the province began measuring these waits nine years ago, the OHA said.

    Hospital activity normally slows down in the summer, but over the last few months, many of the province’s largest hospitals were more than 100 per cent full, the organization said.

    The OHA’s statement called for “rapid and aggressive new investment in hospital services, and services across the (health system), to avoid a possible capacity crisis within Ontario’s health-care system this winter.”

    The organization is hoping that the provincial government will include extra funding for hospitals in the fall economic statement, as it did last year.

    Health Minister Eric Hoskins said that while he is aware there is always more work to be done, health care is a top priority for his government. That’s why the province hiked operating funding for hospitals by 3.1 per cent this year, for an increase of $518 million, he said.

    Hoskins also pointed out that his government is spending more than $20 billion on hospital infrastructure over the next decade.

    The OHA is worried about a repeat of last winter, which saw many hospitals create “unconventional spaces” for patients because they were so full. Hospitals were forced to convert lounges, classrooms, offices and even storage rooms into patient rooms.

    “The root of today’s capacity challenge is that far too many frail elderly patients can’t get access to the care they really need outside of the hospital setting,” Dale said, adding that the province has a good plan to reform the system but needs to pick up the pace.

    Frail seniors often find themselves stuck in hospital beds even though they no longer need acute care. There is not enough space for them in long-term care homes or they are not frail enough to require such care. At the same time, they are too frail to return home, even with home-care supports.

    There is a big push on in Ontario for the creation of affordable, subsidized congregate living arrangements for seniors where they could get regular help from personal support workers and health-care professionals.

    New Democratic Leader Andrea Horwath said the mandate of the upcoming public inquiry into the murder of long-term care home residents should be expanded to address such issues.

    The inquiry will look into the circumstances surrounding eight murders to which nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer pleaded guilty in June.

    Horwath called on the government to reverse decade of cuts to the health system.

    “The last Conservative government fired 6,000 nurses, eliminated 7,000 beds and shuttered dozens of hospitals. When the Liberals came to power, instead of reversing those cuts, they froze health care spending, slashed more front-line jobs, and continued to worsen the health-care crisis across the province,” she said.

    0 0

    Karen and Neno Vukosa left for a holiday to Turks and Caicos on Sept. 2.

    Two days later, they were frantically calling airlines, trying to get out of the island that they then knew was about to be hit by a catastrophic, Category 5 hurricane.

    “We tried and tried and tried to no avail,” Karen said.

    “There was no way to get off that island,” Neno said.

    Now they’re home.

    Two flights from Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, landed Monday evening in Toronto: one Air Canada flight, and one WestJet flight.

    The passengers described harrowing scenes of destruction from Hurricane Irma on that island.

    “I’ve never heard anything like that before,” Karen said of the winds during the peak of the hurricane’s impact on Turks and Caicos Thursday.

    The couple was in a safe room in a resort. They were not injured, but they were frightened.

    “The biggest fear,” Neno said, was not getting out before the oncoming Hurricane Jose struck.

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    Canadians stranded across the Caribbean amid ‘pure anarchy’

    Lack of help from Ottawa riles Canadians stuck in Caribbean

    Photos: Hurricane Irma leaves trail of destruction in Caribbean, U.S.

    Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland was at Pearson airport to greet passengers of the Air Canada flight in Terminal 1.

    Freeland said tickets weren’t what got people on that plane. The priority was that they were Canadian or with Canadians.

    It was important to her, she said, to be at the airport to welcome them home.

    She lauded pilot Rex Vijayasingham, who passengers said was instrumental in returning them to Canada.

    The plane was supposed to come back Sunday. Freeland said Boris Johnson, the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, helped assure her that the plane would come back Monday night, with Canadian passengers.

    That happened, and there were even extra seats on the two flights for 50 Americans to be able to get off the island.

    For those on the flight, getting home to Canada seemed shrouded in uncertainty since last Monday.

    Michael Rhude, another of the passengers, described his frustration with Air Canada, which he said never contacted him while he was out of the country.

    Rhude and the Vukosas received some updates from Global Affairs Canada, but felt more could have been done to help them out of a dire situation.

    “Everyone is coming after the fact,” said Neno, who described Freeland’s trip to the airport as an example.

    He felt that the government should have tried to get all Canadians out Monday and Tuesday, before Irma hit.

    Instead, they described hearing about this “phantom flight” through the grapevine, and were relieved to get on board.

    Now that they’re home, the Vukosa’s concerns are with the local islanders on Turks and Caicos.

    “They have a long road ahead of them,” Karen said. Their homes may have been destroyed but still “they helped us where they could,” she said.

    Freeland said now that the Canadians are on their ways home, it is time to focus on humanitarian efforts for the islands.

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