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    LONDON—Hundreds of British police embarked on a massive manhunt Friday, racing to find out who placed a homemade bomb on a packed London subway train during the morning rush hour.

    The explosion — labelled a terrorist attack by police — wounded 22 people and ignited a panicked stampede to safety. Experts said London may have escaped far worse carnage because it appeared that the bomb only partially exploded.

    “Clearly, this was a device that was intended to cause significant harm,” Prime Minister Theresa May said after chairing a meeting of the government’s COBRA emergency committee.

    Police called it a terrorist attack, the fifth in Britain this year.

    Read more: Terrorism-related arrests in U.K. hit record high, officials say

    Witnesses described seeing a “wall of fire” as the bomb — hidden in a plastic bucket inside a supermarket freezer bag — went off about 8:20 a.m. while the train was at the Parsons Green station in southwest London.

    It was not a large explosion, and British police and health officials said none of the injured was thought to be seriously hurt.

    The Metropolitan Police force said there had been no arrests so far, but hundreds of detectives, aided by intelligence agents, were looking at surveillance camera footage of the subway, carrying out forensic work and speaking to witnesses.

    It’s not clear whether the device was intended to explode when it did. The site of the blast was in a leafy, affluent part of the city, not near any of London’s top tourist sites. British media reported that the bomb included a timer.

    Photos taken inside the train show a white plastic bucket inside a foil-lined shopping bag. Flames and what appear to be wires emerge from the top.

    Terrorism analyst Magnus Ranstorp of the Swedish Defence University said that, from photos, it appeared the bomb did not fully detonate, as much of the device and its casing remained intact.

    “They were really lucky with this one, it could have really become much worse,” he said.

    Police were first alerted when commuters reported a noise and a flash aboard the District Line train. Commuter Lauren Hubbard was on the train when she heard a loud bang.

    “I looked around and this wall of fire was just coming towards us. You just run,” said Hubbard, who fled the above-ground station with her boyfriend.

    Others described “absolute chaos” as hundreds rushed to flee the danger.

    “I ended up squashed on the staircase. People were falling over, people fainting, crying, there were little kids clinging onto the back of me,” said Ryan Barnett, 25.

    Mark Rowley, head of counterterrorism for the Metropolitan Police, said “this was a detonation of an improvised explosive device.”

    He said 18 people had been injured, most with “flash burns.” Health officials later said four others hurt in the bombing went to the hospital themselves.

    Rowley said Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5, was helping with the investigation, which was being led by the police counter-terrorism unit. He gave no information about potential suspects, saying “It’s very much a live investigation.”

    U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that it was another attack “by a loser terrorist,” adding that “these are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard.”

    The London police force declined to comment on Trump’s suggestion that it knew about the attacker. May said it was not helpful “for anybody to speculate” on an ongoing investigation.

    Witness Chris Wildish told Sky News that he saw “out of the corner of my eye, a massive flash of flames that went up the side of the train,” followed by “an acrid chemical smell.”

    He said many of those on board were schoolchildren, who were knocked around as the crowd surged away from the fireball.

    Commuter Richard Aylmer-Hall said he saw several people injured, apparently trampled as they fled.

    “I saw crying women. There was lots of shouting and screaming, there was a bit of a crush on the stairs going down to the streets,” he said.

    During rush hour, the London Underground train can hold more than 800 people. Trains were suspended along a stretch of the line, and several homes were evacuated as police set up a 50-meter cordon around the scene while they secured the device.

    London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the city “utterly condemns the hideous individuals who attempt to use terror to harm us and destroy our way of life.”

    May said that Britain’s official threat level from terrorism remained at “severe,” meaning an attack is highly likely, and was not being raised to critical.

    The country’s threat level was briefly raised to critical, meaning an attack may be imminent, after a May 22 suicide bombing at Manchester Arena that killed 22 people.

    Friday’s attack is the fourth in London this year, after deadly vehicle attacks near Parliament, on London Bridge and near a mosque in Finsbury Park in north London.

    British authorities say they have foiled 19 plots since the middle of 2013, six of them since a van and knife attack on Westminster Bridge and Parliament in March, which killed five people.

    The London Underground has been targeted several times in the past, notably in July 2005, when suicide bombers blew themselves up on three subway trains and a bus, killing 52 people and themselves. Four more bombers tried a similar attack two weeks later, but their devices failed to fully explode.

    Last year Damon Smith, a student with an interest in weapons and Islamic extremism, left a knapsack filled with explosives and ball bearings on a London subway train. It failed to explode.

    In its recent Inspire magazine, Al Qaeda urged supporters to target trains.

    Separately, French counterterrorism authorities were investigating an attempted knife attack Friday on a soldier patrolling a large Paris subway interchange.

    The knife-wielding assailant tried to attack a soldier assigned to a special military force protecting prominent sites following deadly Islamic extremist attacks. He was quickly arrested and no one was hurt.

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    Premier Kathleen Wynne is giving Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown six weeks to retract his false statement that she is on “trial” in the Sudbury byelection bribery case.

    Wynne, who had threatened to serve Brown with a libel suit if he had not apologized by 5 p.m. Thursday, has extended that deadline until Oct. 24.

    “Earlier this week Patrick Brown made a statement about the premier that was false and defamatory,” Jennifer Beaudry, the premier’s director of media relations, wrote in an email Friday morning.

    “His conduct in the days following his remarks has been just as disappointing. As a public figure, he should recognize that defaming another politician is unacceptable,” continued Beaudry.

    “While Patrick Brown refuses to apologize, we are encouraged that media coverage and public discussion over the last 48 hours has covered just how wrong and misleading his comments were,” she added.

    “We continue to consider all of our options at this point in time, and will govern ourselves by the timelines set out in the Libel and Slander Act.”

    According to that provincial law, a notice of defamation must be served “within six weeks after the alleged libel has come to the plaintiff’s knowledge.”

    On Tuesday, Brown said Ontario had “a sitting premier sitting in trial” and that Wynne “stands trial” in Sudbury.

    His comments came as the premier was testifying as a Crown witness in a Sudbury courtroom where Patricia Sorbara, her former deputy chief of staff, and Liberal activist Gerry Lougheed are on trial for alleged Election Act violations. Both Sorbara and Lougheed deny any wrongdoing.

    Brown has dismissed her appearance in court as “a sorry spectacle” and has declined to correct his misstatement.

    “Regrettably, Kathleen Wynne compounded the problem by this threat of a lawsuit. Her baseless lawsuit will be ignored,” the Tory leader said Thursday.

    His refusal to set the record straight had Deb Matthews, the deputy premier, accusing him of bringing Trump-style politics to Ontario.

    “There is a principle in Canada that you do not make defamatory, misleading comments about another political leader,” Matthews said Thursday.

    “In Canada, we actually expect people to be honest. There is, south of the border, a change in that culture. I do not want to see that change coming to Canada,” she said.

    “He’s a lawyer — he knows exactly what he did. He knows that he said something that was not true about the premier.”

    Wynne’s lawyer, Jack Siegel, has said “this conduct by Patrick Brown is extremely disappointing.”

    “As a matter of law, a full and fair retraction prevents a plaintiff from recovering punitive damages,” Siegel said Thursday

    “Mr. Brown’s refusal to take that simple step therefore suggests that this was not an accident and that his remarks were deliberately made with the intention of harming the reputation of the premier.”

    On Wednesday, he served Brown with a letter stating that he “made a statement about the premier of Ontario that is false and defamatory.”

    “Contrary to your statement, Premier Wynne is not standing trial. Your statement is false and misleading and appears to have been made with the intention to harm the reputation of Ms. Wynne,” the lawyer wrote.

    Last week, Tory MPP Bill Walker (Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound) was forced to apologize for comments he made on AM640 in Toronto when he erroneously said the premier was under investigation by police.

    Brown’s gaffe Tuesday came at a Queen’s Park scrum with reporters from the Star, CBC, The Canadian Press, Radio-Canada, Global, CP24, CTV, Globe and Mail, QP Briefing, TFO, Queen’s Park Today, Fairchild, CHCH, and Newstalk 1010.

    Prior to the 2014 election, Wynne launched a similar action against former PC leader Tim Hudak and MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton) over comments related to the gas-plants scandal. That matter was settled in 2015.

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    So many city hall comings and goings as September turns its back on a wet, forgettable summer.

    Last month’s farewell to the well-lived public life of Councillor Pam McConnell was just right — whimsical, poignant, haunting and real. Just like the councillor and school trustee of 35 years.

    When do we ever send off a politician with renditions of James Oppenheim’s Bread and Roses, Phil Ochs’ When I’m Gone and the capper, Who Put the Bomp? In the Cathedral Church of St. James, no less.

    And what is it about these New Democrat city councillors that so endear constituents and evoke lasting appreciation and love. Yes, love.

    Dan Leckie. Jack Layton. Pam McConnell...

    Maybe, it’s because they loved us first. Maybe it’s because they dared to spend public money to deliver public benefits to segments of the public doomed to lives of poverty and disengagement, without help. Socialists, yes. And proud of it.

    Ever since I migrated from the suburban city councils to report and comment on politicians charged with the inner city and the entire Toronto populace, I have concluded that what the suburbs lack — in spades — is the direct, relentless representation that downtowners get from a succession of councillors.

    Jane-Finch, Rexdale, Dixon, Malvern, Galloway and Lawrence-Weston Rd. would be more like Regent Park and Alexandria Park if they had been represented by Layton, McConnell and their ilk.

    It’s not just a matter of party, either. Anthony Perruzza is a New Democrat; as is Maria Augimeri and Glenn De Baeremaeker. But these suburban lefties are tame versions of the downtown socialists. And it shows.

    Meanwhile, if your suburban ward is represented by a right-wing councillor, you are doomed, or endangered, no matter your obvious and public need. How is it possible for north Etobicoke to be so bereft of public gems: amenities that define and mark a place as desirable public space; parks animated or equipped with more than trees and natural trails?

    Do you hear councillors from suburban at-risk neighbourhoods raising hell at city hall for improvements? Rarely. But you hear them crying about property taxes. You hear them threatening to block traffic if the city dares to improve their neighbourhoods with light rail transit, because, y’know, a subway is coming, in, ah, er, 150 years. And who wants those damned streetcars getting in the way of cars?

    One of the most controversial councillors of them all, Doug Ford, is about to run for mayor again. At least his brother, the late mayor, had some local and community bona fides. Besides, he engendered sympathy because he presented as goofy. Dougie has neither charm, heart, soul or wit; his is calculated goodness at its cynical and political core.

    Toronto will benefit from a Doug Ford mayoralty as much as Etobicoke north did from a Doug Ford term as councillor. Not nearly.

    So, bully for Councillor Vincent Crisanti for endorsing Doug Ford for mayor. Crisanti is the classic old school ward heeler. He attends to local events, drops in on groups frequently to kiss the babies, squeeze the flesh. Yet his ward remains among the poorest. And his affiliation with the Fords, while giving him success at the polls, does nothing to lift Ward 1 from the dumps.

    If the likes of Layton, Joe Pantalone, Adam Vaughan represented Ward 1, the advances would have been obvious and many.

    One other “going” is chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, leaving at the end of the month. You have read nice things about her in this space. But don’t get carried away. Like the man I respect greatly — former city manager Joe Pennachetti — Keesmaat did not do enough to derail the subway to Scarborough.

    Both hid behind excuses that they cautioned the politicians against the subway and outlined the massive, unnecessary costs. But, if they did, they engaged in way too benign ways. They knew where the bodies were buried. They knew the damning details and stats and figures that a reporter could mine to show how utterly ridiculous the subway decision was. They did not rail. They did not respond as if their own money, reputation and future were at stake. Instead of leaking that information — pointing to the smoking gun — they covered up for the politicians, sometimes with incomprehensible gobbledygook.

    There is a long history of this. Civil servants swallow their tongues, do the bidding of their political masters, and then ride off leaving a predictable mess behind. We must demand and expect more from those close to the emperor.

    So, just to be clear. Politicians should not be trusted with crafting transit plans. (Just imagine what we will hear in the 2018 mayoralty election). Yes, our system requires elected officials vote and sign off. But we need a way to embolden city staff and consultants and planners to feed their information into a public pot of debate and consideration — where the data and conclusions must stand the test of reason, inquiry, study and examination.

    So much depends on a new approach. The status quo is robbing us blind and sending us to the public poorhouse.

    Now, after the horses have bolted, we are engaging auditors to tell us exactly how badly we’ve been duped.

    Royson James’ column appears weekly.

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    A former pastor who was convicted of manslaughter in the death of his pregnant wife will get a new trial because a judge “compromised the fairness” of the proceedings, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled Friday.

    Philip Grandine was accused of drugging his wife, Karissa Grandine, causing her to drown in a bathtub in October 2011.

    He was found guilty of manslaughter in 2014 and sentenced to 15 years in prison, less four months for time served in custody.

    Grandine’s lawyers appealed the conviction on the grounds that Judge Robert Clark opened the door for the jury to convict Grandine based on an “entirely speculative” theory.

    The Crown argued at trial that Grandine either put his wife in the bath or did not stop her from taking a bath after he gave her the sedative lorazepam. Then he either waited for her to pass out and drown, or held her head underwater, the Crown alleged.

    Grandine’s defence argued that Karissa took the sedatives herself and accidentally drowned, or that she took her own life.

    During deliberations, the jury asked Clark whether Grandine knowing his drugged wife was taking a bath and not stopping her was equivalent to causing her to get into the tub.

    Clark responded that the jury could find Grandine guilty of manslaughter if they determined that he failed to provide the “necessaries of life” to his wife.

    In other words, the jury could convict Grandine if they found he had known his wife had ingested enough of the sedatives to be in danger of drowning, but did not stop her from getting in the bath.

    That answer “introduced to the jury a new unlawful act — failing to provide the necessaries of life — thereby opening a door to finding the appellant culpable without needing to find he had administered lorazepam to his wife,” the Court of Appeal said in its decision.

    “The answer thereby undermined the crux of the (Grandine’s) defence – namely, he should be acquitted if the jury could not conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that he had administered lorazepam to his wife.”

    On that basis, the appeal court overturned Grandine’s conviction and ordered a new trial.

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    It’s hard to go off the grid on a residential Riverdale street, but Rolf Paloheimo has managed for two decades.

    With no hookup to municipal water or sewage and only minimal use of Toronto Hydro electricity, Paloheimo’s three-bedroom home has been making green tech livable since 1996.

    “This is the most comfortable house I’ve ever lived in,” Paloheimo said. “Absolutely, bar none.”

    Paloheimo, 63, pays only one utility bill a month, for electricity. Thanks to the solar panels covering the front of his home, that bill can be as little as nothing to $10 during summer months. He’s not connected to, and doesn’t pay for, water or gas.

    His home, dubbed the Healthy House, was the result of a February 1992 competition held by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

    Two winners emerged — one each in Vancouver and Toronto. The winning designs promoted resident health and environmental sustainability, while remaining affordable and accessible to the general public.

    Toronto-based architect Martin Liefhebber was behind Toronto’s winning bid, but couldn’t find a builder until Paloheimo, a builder and project manager, volunteered.

    He and Liefhebber built the duplex, near Withrow Park, from the ground up, and Paloheimo agreed to move his young family into one of the two units.

    “We promised to make the house self-sufficient and not use any non-renewable fuel,” Paloheimo said.

    The other unit in Paloheimo and Liefhubber’s creation became an environmentally-friendly attraction with thousands of people touring through. Today, it’s a private residential home.

    “Despite the home’s high-tech appearance, most of the products and systems are simple and straightforward,” said Chris Ives, CMHC project manager, said in a Toronto Healthy House report published after the house was built.

    “Off-grid houses do not necessarily require hours of labour for upkeep. In fact, everything in the house is easy to maintain and available in today’s marketplace.”

    Duncan Hill, manager of housing needs policy research at CMHC, said an off-the-grid approach appeals to some — but not all.

    “To be off the grid is to be independent and to be independent means you have to install, operate, maintain and look after systems that you otherwise wouldn’t have to do,” Hill said, adding that most homeowners don’t want to deal with sewage.

    Hill said the Healthy House wasn’t so much about being independent as it was about showing what was possible.

    “It was more demonstrating that you could take a house to such low energy needs, water needs, produce so little sewage that it doesn’t need those connections,” Hill said. “So if anything, you’re trying to make a point.”

    Much of the Healthy House remains true to how it was built and later featured on a 1998 stamp.

    But those years haven’t passed without some “failed ideas,” Paloheimo said.

    Two fridges with outdoor compressors couldn’t keep food frozen in the summer and were replaced. There was also a short-lived “drying closet:” a small room with circulating air to dry clothes.

    Now living alone for most of the year, Paloheimo’s energy needs have decreased.

    Toronto Hydro supplements power collected by solar panels — the only aspect of his house that remains on the grid.

    Paloheimo recently installed an above-ground air to water heat pump that provides heat in the winter and cooling in the summer, and the steel corrugated ceilings help keep the house temperate.

    Heating the house is a lot like buying the right sleeping bag for the weather, Paloheimo explained.

    “You design the house so that you don’t really need to heat it too much.”

    Under the back patio, a water tank the size of a small truck collects rainwater from the slanted roof. The water is purified by a slow sand filter.

    “One of the reasons for using the rainwater is it tastes better,” Paloheimo said. “Also, it cleans your dishes better. It’s just way better.”

    The house can use approximately 120 litres of water a day, based on the size of the tank and Toronto’s 25-year rainfall pattern. The average Canadian household uses about 250 litres per person daily.

    “That was the reason we had to concentrate on water saving features and on recycling,” Paloheimo said.

    The house isn’t connected to municipal sewers, either. Waste and waste water is filtered and biologically treated in a self-contained system. Purified water is recycled back into the home’s toilets and washing machine. Sand, grit and indigestible waste needs to be pumped out every several years.

    The Healthy House is an anomaly on the quiet Riverdale street, but the popularity of the CMHC homes demonstrated the real-world viability of environmentally-friendly homes.

    “Nobody’s talking about this being something from outer space or quirky or technically complicated,” Hill said. “It’s more just a matter of when the market is ready now, to pick it up.”

    The CMHC’s Healthy House initiative was succeeded by an Equilibrium Sustainable Housing Demonstration Initiative. Much like the Healthy Houses, Equilibrium homes are energy-efficient and reduce environmental impacts.

    Ten demonstration housing projects have been constructed in Quebec, Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba, B.C. and New Brunswick.

    The Equilibrium initiative ended a few years back, Hill said, adding that demonstration projects are always in the CMHC’s toolbox.

    Paloheimo said Toronto’s Healthy House is becoming too big for him now, but he’s sold on environment-friendly living.

    “I actually wouldn’t mind building another house,” he said.

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    EDMONTON—Omar Khadr’s visits with his controversial sister will remain restricted, but he has been granted more freedom to use the internet.

    A hearing on whether to ease some bail conditions for the former Guantanamo Bay detainee was held Friday morning in Edmonton.

    Khadr, 30, has been out on bail pending the appeal of his conviction by a U.S. military commission for five purported war crimes.

    Khadr was seeking unsupervised visits with his sister, Zaynab Khadr, who has in the past expressed support for the Al Qaeda terrorist group.

    In 2005, Zaynab was investigated by RCMP for allegedly aiding Al Qaeda, but no charges were filed. She is now reportedly living in Sudan with her fourth husband, but is planning a visit to Canada. Khadr’s lawyers had argued their client wanted to reconnect with his family and is old enough that he can’t be negatively swayed.

    Justice June Ross said there is nothing to indicate his sister has changed her views, so any contact Khadr has with her must still be made with one of his lawyers or his bail supervisor present.

    Another request to be allowed to travel more freely within Canada without having to gain permission was also denied.

    Khadr also sought unrestricted access to the internet, and was granted more freedom provided he stays away from anything to do with terrorism on the web.

    Read more:

    Omar Khadr to request loosened bail conditions, including unfettered access to sister

    $134-million claim against Khadr is based on false information and should be thrown out, lawyer argues

    He had been restricted to only using his personal devices, but his lawyer argued that was unrealistic in an age where connections to the internet are everywhere.

    The Toronto-born Khadr spent years in U.S. detention at Guantanamo Bay after he was caught when he was 15 and accused of tossing a grenade that killed special forces soldier Christopher Speer at a militant compound in Afghanistan in 2002.

    In 2010, Khadr pleaded guilty to multiple charges before a U.S. military commission, including to killing Speer, but has since said he can’t remember if he tossed the grenade. He has said he entered the plea to try to get out of Guantanamo, where he says he was mistreated, and into the Canadian justice system.

    He returned to Canada in 2012 to serve out the rest of the eight-year sentence he was given.

    Canada’s Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that Khadr’s charter rights were violated at Guantanamo and Canadian officials contributed to that violation. Khadr filed a $20-million lawsuit against the government and this summer settled the case for a reported $10.5 million.

    Khadr has said he wants to move on with his life. He recently married and plans to move to the city of Red Deer, halfway between Edmonton and Calgary, to study to become a nurse.

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    MONTREAL—Canadian home sales are expected to drop to their lowest level in three years in 2018, driven largely by a decline in Ontario, the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) said Friday.

    The association expects that 495,100 homes will be sold next year after downgrading its sales forecast for 2017 on a 9.9-per-cent drop in August compared with a year ago.

    It expects sales will fall 2.3 per cent in 2018 following a 5.3-per-cent decline this year to 506,000, or 20,000 fewer than previously forecast in June.

    Seasonally adjusted sales in August rose 1.3 per cent from the prior month, due to a 14.3-per-cent boost in the Greater Toronto Area. Still, sales in this area were down 35 per cent from a year ago.

    Read more: Toronto housing market’s downturn may have an upside

    Benjamin Reitzes of BMO Capital Markets said the August data suggests the worst may have passed for the GTA following Ontario policy changes to restrict foreign buyers, but the future is unclear.

    “The Bank of Canada’s rate hikes should help contain any renewed exuberance, but if things do heat up again, expect policy-makers to step in before too long,” he wrote in a report.

    CREA projects sales in British Columbia and Ontario will fall by about 10 per cent in 2017, compared to record highs set in 2016.

    The association said sales in August were down in nearly two-thirds of all local markets, led by the Greater Toronto Area and nearby housing markets.

    In Vancouver, August sales were up 7.3 per cent from July and 21.3 per cent higher than a year ago.

    “Experience shows that homebuyers watch mortgage rates carefully and that recent interest rate increases will prompt some to make an offer before rates move higher, while moving others to the sidelines,” stated CREA President Andrew Peck.

    The average price for a home sold last month was $472,247, up 3.6 per cent compared to a year ago. Greater Toronto was up 3.1 per cent and Greater Vancouver 17.9 per cent.

    Excluding these regions, the national average price was $373,859.

    The national average price is forecast to rise by 3.4 per cent to $507,700 in 2017, lower than its prior forecast because of fewer luxury home sales in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region of Ontario.

    However, it is expected to dip by 0.6 per to $503,500 next year largely reflecting that a record number of high-end home sales around Toronto earlier this year likely won’t be repeated in 2018.

    Newfoundland and Labrador sales this year are forecast to decrease by 8.1 per cent and Saskatchewan 4 per cent.

    Alberta is projected to have the country’s largest increase at 7.4 per cent, but that’s still below the provincial 10-year average.

    Sales are forecast to grow 5.4 per cent in Quebec and 5.7 per cent in New Brunswick.

    Manitoba and Quebec are the only two provinces expected to set new annual sales records in 2017, while sales in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are on track to come up just short of all-time record levels.

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    WAUKESHA, WIS.—A Wisconsin girl who admitted to participating in the stabbing of a classmate to please horror character Slender Man will avoid prison after a jury determined that she was mentally ill at the time of the attack.

    Anissa Weier trembled as the jury’s verdict late Friday was read after a week of testimony and some 11 hours of deliberations. She wasn’t available afterward, but her attorney said Weier was relieved and cried following the verdict.

    “I’m very thankful to the jurors for taking the time to look at what was really going on with her,” Maura McMahon said, her own eyes wet from crying.

    Weier and Morgan Geyser lured classmate Payton Leutner into the woods at a park in Waukesha, a Milwaukee suburb, in 2014. Geyser stabbed Leutner 19 times while Weier urged her on, according to investigators. A passing bicyclist found Leutner, who barely survived her wounds. All three girls were 12 at the time.

    Read more: Verdict in ‘Slender Man’ stabbing trial rejected by judge, jury to continue deliberations

    Wisconsin girl in Slender Man stabbing case had ‘broken mind,’ defence says

    Both Weier and Geyser told detectives they felt they had to kill Leutner to become Slender Man’s “proxies,” or servants, and protect their families from the demon’s wrath.

    Weier, now 15, pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree intentional homicide in a deal with prosecutors in August. But she claimed she was mentally ill during the attack and not responsible for her actions, in a bid to be sent to a mental institution rather than prison. A plea agreement called for her to spend at least three years in a mental hospital if judged mentally ill, and 10 years in prison if not.

    McMahon said she hopes the case reveals that children may be dealing with mental health issues lost on adults who have become too busy with their own lives to pay attention and resources abound to help them.

    “Life is better for children when adults around them are in communication with each other,” she said.

    Deputy district attorney Ted Szczupakiewicz declined comment. Leutner’s family left the courtroom in silence; a victim witness co-ordinator told reporters the family had no comment.

    Judge Michael Bohren ordered a pre-commitment investigation report on Weier and said he would hold a hearing to decide how long to commit her after the report is completed. He could sentence her more severely than the plea agreement calls for, including up to a 25-year commitment, the same as the maximum prison time she could have received.

    The jury’s verdict came after some 11 hours of deliberations, and about an hour after it had appeared to reach a verdict in Weier’s favour only to see it rejected by Bohren.

    Though that first verdict wasn’t read in court, defence attorney McMahon said 10 of 12 jurors — the minimum required by law — voted Weier was mentally ill. On a second question that jurors had to decide — whether she was criminally responsible for her actions — 10 jurors also voted she was not.

    But it wasn’t the same 10 on both questions, according to McMahon. Bohren ordered the jury to resume deliberations.

    In closing arguments, McMahon told the jury that Weier was lonely, depressed and descended into “madness” that warranted a mental hospital rather than prison.

    McMahon said Weier’s unhappiness stemmed from her parents’ divorce, and she latched onto Geyser.

    Together they became obsessed with Slender Man, developing a condition called shared delusional disorder, McMahon said. Weier believed Slender Man could read her mind as well as teleport and would kill her or her family if she talked about him, she said.

    Slender Man, a fictional creature of the internet, is a paranormal being who lurks near forests and absorbs, kills or carries off his victims. In some accounts, he targets children. Some renderings show him as a long-limbed, lean man in a black suit, with no face; others with tentacles protruding from his back.

    “This sounds crazy, because it is,” McMahon said. “This was a real being to this child and she needed to protect those around her. At 12 years old, she had no way to protect herself from (Slender Man) except for Morgan’s advice and they swirled down into madness together.”

    Szczupakiewicz, the prosecutor, countered during his closings that the stabbing was calculated. He said the girls had planned the attack for at least four months. He asked jurors to consider why if the girls were so afraid of Slender Man they waited so long to attack Leutner.

    He also pointed out that Weier told a detective she wasn’t frightened of Slender Man until after the attack, when Geyser told her she had made a deal with the monster that he would spare their families if they killed Leutner.

    “It comes down to did she have to or did she want to?” Szczupakiewicz said. “It wasn’t kill or be killed. It was a choice and she needs to be held criminally responsible.”

    Weier, bespectacled and dressed in a long grey-and-white cardigan, visibly trembled in her seat during the closings.

    Wisconsin law requires only 10 of 12 jurors to render a verdict on whether a criminal defendant wasn’t responsible for her actions due to a mental condition.

    Geyser has pleaded not guilty to one count of attempted first-degree intentional homicide by reason of mental disease or defect. Her trial is set to begin Oct. 9.

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    CALGARY—A survey suggests Canadians have a generally positive impression of Muslims but that view doesn’t apply to some of the religion’s leadership and beliefs.

    The poll, commissioned by Think for Actions and Insights Matter, found 78 per cent of Canadians agreed Muslims should adopt Canadian customs and values but maintain their religious and cultural practices. Some 88 per cent of those surveyed said Muslims should be treated no differently than any other Canadian.

    But 72 per cent of respondents also believed there has been an increasing climate of hatred and fear towards Muslims in Canada and that it will get worse.

    Results of the poll — an online survey of 1,048 Canadians done from March 13 to Aug. 12 — were released Saturday at The Unity Conference in Calgary on Islamophobia, discrimination and systemic racism.

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    “The biggest takeaway is Canadians who are friends with a Muslim or know a Muslim individual have a positive view of Islam and Muslims and are more welcoming to them,” said Mukarram Zaidi, chair of the group that commissioned the survey.

    “Fear is the greatest factor. The majority of Canadians believe the issue of racism has increased. They are concerned about the issue of general racism and hate crimes, religious discrimination, homophobia and anti-Semitism.”

    Public perception isn’t all positive. The survey found 56 per cent believed that Islam suppresses women’s rights. There was a 54 per cent approval for imams and 35 per cent for Muslim leadership.

    “There needs to be work done within the Muslim community and their leadership to understand that the common person does not hold a lot of respect for what they’re doing,” said Zaidi.

    “Children born and raised in North America need to become an imam, because when they stand up and speak, they can speak English clearly and they can relate Islam to North American culture.”

    Calgary Imam Syed Soharwardy, founder of Muslims Against Terrorism and the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, understands why Canadians would be suspicious of Muslim leadership. He said many imams discuss only religious teaching and morality when they should speak out against fanaticism, extremism and intolerance.

    “Many Muslim leaders do not condemn ISIL, the Taliban, Al Qaeda,” said Soharwardy. “A lot of imams are doing it, but not enough.”

    Soharwardy, who was born in Pakistan, said imams should be fluent in English or French and have a good understanding of Canadian society.

    “I think most of the imams, who come from overseas and outside of Canada, they still live in silos. They still do not help people to integrate in the mainstream Canadian society.”

    Soharwardy has personal experience about the need for good language skills when talking to Canadian-born Muslims.

    “At our mosque I speak in English and Urdu, like a bilingual sort of thing. My own son says, ‘Papa, when you speak English that is fine, but as soon as you start talking Urdu, you just turn me off’ — and he understands it.”

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    The mayor of Whitchurch-Stouffville asked community members to send in “testimony” detailing the “positive impact” he has made on their lives since he became mayor — ahead of the release of an ethics report into the “CSI-style” wall that was discovered in his office washroom this year.

    In an email sent by his assistant last week, Mayor Justin Altmann disclosed to his supporters, in what appears to be a breach of confidentiality, that he is under investigation by Suzanne Craig, the town’s integrity commissioner, and that she had asked him to solicit testimony about the “positive initiatives that I have enabled and supported since becoming the mayor of our cherished town.”

    But Craig, best known for her efforts to bring transparency and accountability to the city of Vaughan, says all parties are “bound by confidentiality” including keeping secret “all interactions with the integrity commissioner.”

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    “The office of the integrity commissioner is bound by rules of confidentiality and cannot discuss an investigation until the report is made public to council to consider her recommendations,” Craig said. “However, the integrity commissioner has clearly stated that in any investigation she conducts, the parties are bound by confidentiality and cannot discuss any part of the investigation or interaction they have with the integrity commissioner until the investigation is brought before council for a decision.”

    According to sources, the mayor received an email from the integrity commissioner after he went public with his request to followers, telling him that he had breached confidentiality.

    Craig’s final report is expected to come to council this month. The report will make recommendations, and the six-member council will decide what action, if any, to take.

    Craig launched an investigation into the mayor this summer after staff found three large murals in Altmann’s office washroom. The murals included large photographs and drawn lines connecting pictures of current and former councillors, staff, and members of the public (including this Toronto Star reporter.)

    The mayor, who has not spoken to the Star about the wall, told local media at the time that the wall was a “mind map” and called it “normal.”

    “I am so happy that I get to tell my story now. I am so happy the integrity commissioner will get to investigate me because I have had no means to tell my story,” he told Metroland Media-York Region in July. “There is nothing criminal on the wall.

    Craig’s investigation was launched after a city staff member complained.

    But in the email sent out to “his support system” by his assistant, Debi Patterson, Altmann asked for support in his “adversity filled journey.”

    “While I have faced many challenges since joining my position as mayor of Whitchurch-Stouffville, I sincerely believe that this challenge has created the greatest opportunity to share not only my personal journey but your personal journey as well under this term of council,” Altmann said in the email obtained by the Star.

    “While it is unfortunate that some have passed judgment without knowing the whole story and many have tried to impede my ability to create the inclusive community that I am trying to foster, it pleases me that this investigation provides an opportunity to compile a list of positive initiatives that I have enabled and supported since becoming the mayor of our cherished town,” he said, adding that Ms. Craig would like to: “review and take into consideration all your personal feedback and experiences.”

    Some took his message to Facebook.

    “Our mayor, Justin Altmann, needs our help. He is being investigated by the integrity commissioner; for reasons of idiocy, rumors, false truths and convoluted drama,” said a post written on a Facebook page called “We love Stouffville” that asked people to send in “their support for Justin.”

    Altmann became one of the GTA’s youngest mayors when he won the Whitchurch-Stouffville seat in 2014.

    When asked if he breached confidentiality, Altmann said he will not provide “any public comments or statements (whether written or verbal) about the investigation” until the matter is over.

    Town councillors hired Craig as integrity commissioner in February to ensure “the codes of behaviour and ethics governing elected public officials are objectively communicated and applied. This is a critical role in maintaining public confidence in Whitchurch-Stouffville’s government,” the website states.

    The following month, council instituted an updated code of conduct.

    According to the complaint protocol available online, the goal of an ethics probe is to determine if an official has breached the code of conduct.

    According to the rules posted on the town website, confidentiality is expected while an investigation is ongoing.

    “The integrity commissioner and every person acting under his or her jurisdiction shall preserve confidentiality where appropriate and where this does not interfere with the course of any investigation,” it says.

    According to sources, Craig’s investigation included interviews with the mayor, staff and councillors. It’s unclear why Altmann asked for his supporters to weigh in.

    Sue Sherban, a former Whitchurch-Stouffville mayor who has become an outspoken critic of the current mayor and council’s actions this term, says she believes Altmann is trying to reduce the impact of the final report.

    “I believe the mayor is trying to create a headwind before the report comes out so that his supporters know that there are other residents who see him in a positive light,” said Sherban, whose picture was also posted on the mayor’s wall. “And to make it seem like what the integrity commissioner has to say (or will say) is one sided.”

    0 0

    One man is dead and another has been sent to the hospital after a shooting in Toronto’s east end early Saturday morning.

    The incident occurred at around 1:20 a.m. near Gerrard and River streets, Toronto paramedics said.

    The victim was pronounced dead on scene, and the second man was taken to a trauma centre with serious injuries from a gunshot wound.

    Details about the men’s ages were not immediately available.

    0 0

    ST. LOUIS—Hundreds of people protesting the acquittal of a white former St. Louis police officer in the fatal shooting of a Black man marched for hours in mostly peaceful demonstrations, until a broken window at the mayor’s home and escalating tensions led riot police to lob tear gas to disperse the crowds.

    For weeks, activists had been threatening civil disobedience if Jason Stockley was not convicted of murder for killing Anthony Lamar Smith, prompting authorities to take precautions. With the large protests that followed the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson still fresh in everyone’s minds, barricades were erected around police headquarters and the courthouse, among other sites, in anticipation of the verdict.

    Within hours of St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson acquitting Stockley of first-degree murder, a racially diverse crowd of protesters took to the streets — some legally carrying weapons and others toting children and waving posters.

    Read more: Protests rekindled in St. Louis after acquittal of cop in killing of a Black man

    More than 20 arrests were made by early evening, and some protesters were pepper-sprayed during confrontations with authorities. St. Louis police reported that 10 officers had suffered injuries by the end of the night, including a broken jaw and dislocated shoulder, and some journalists reported being threatened by protesters.

    Activists said they would meet again Saturday to plan further demonstrations. The band U2 cancelled its Saturday night concert in St. Louis because the police department said it wouldn’t be able to provide its standard protection for the event, organizers said.

    The 2011 confrontation began when Stockley and his partner tried to arrest Smith for a suspected drug deal in a fast-food restaurant. Smith sped off, leading to a chase that ended when he crashed.

    At the trial, Stockley testified that he saw the 24-year-old Smith holding a silver revolver as he sped away at the start of the chase. He said when he shot Smith, he felt he was in imminent danger.

    Prosecutors said Stockley planted a gun in Smith’s car after the shooting — Stockley’s DNA was on the weapon but Smith’s wasn’t.

    Dashcam video from Stockley’s police car captured him saying he was “going to kill this (expletive), don’t you know it.” Less than a minute later, he shot Smith five times.

    Stockley’s lawyer dismissed the comment as “human emotions” uttered during a dangerous pursuit.

    In his decision, Wilson wrote that the statement “can be ambiguous depending on the context.”

    “This court, in conscience, cannot say that the State has proven every element of murder beyond a reasonable doubt or that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defence,” the judge wrote.

    In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after the verdict, Stockley, 36, said he understands how video of the shooting looks bad, but that he did nothing wrong.

    “I can feel for and I understand what the family is going through, and I know everyone wants someone to blame, but I’m just not the guy,” said Stockley, who left St. Louis’ police force in 2013 and moved to Houston.

    St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner acknowledged the difficulty of winning police shooting cases but said prosecutors believe they proved that Stockley intended to kill Smith.

    Friday’s protests began with largely unsuccessful efforts at civil disobedience. Demonstrators were blocked on an entrance ramp before they could rush onto an interstate, and found the city’s convention centre’s doors locked when they tried to enter.

    Early confrontations erupted when protesters blocked a bus full of officers in riot gear and later surrounded a police vehicle that was damaged with rocks, prompting police to deploy pepper spray. A freelance Associated Press videographer said a protester threw his camera to the ground and damaged it, and he was later threatened with a beating if he didn’t put another camera away. A KTVI reporter said water bottles were thrown at him after a protester taunted him, drawing a crowd.

    As night fell, hundreds of demonstrators walked through the streets to the upscale Central West End section of the city, where they chanted and marched as people looked on from restaurants and hospital windows lining busy Kingshighway.

    Tensions escalated after protesters broke a front window and splattered red paint on the home of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, who had called for calm ahead of the verdict and later said she was appalled by what happened to Smith and “sobered” by the outcome.

    Police in bulletproof vests and helmets closed in and demanded protesters get off the lawn and the street in front of the house, eventually using tear gas to clear the area over the next two hours.

    Smith’s death is just one of several high-profile U.S. cases in recent years in which a white officer killed a black suspect, including the killing of Brown in Ferguson. The officer who killed the unarmed 18-year-old wasn’t charged and eventually resigned.

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    SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA—North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country is nearing its goal of “equilibrium” in military force with the United States, as the United Nations Security Council strongly condemned the North’s “highly provocative” ballistic missile launch over Japan on Friday.

    The North’s official Korean Central News Agency carried Kim’s comments on Saturday — a day after U.S. and South Korean militaries detected the missile launch from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

    It travelled 3,700 kilometres as it passed over the Japanese island of Hokkaido before landing in the northern Pacific Ocean. It was the country’s longest-ever test flight of a ballistic missile.

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    The North has confirmed the missile as an intermediate range Hwasong-12, the same model launched over Japan on Aug. 29.

    Under Kim’s watch, North Korea has maintained a torrid pace in weapons tests, including its most powerful nuclear test to date on Sept. 3 and two July flight tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could strike deep into the U.S. mainland when perfected.

    The increasingly frequent and aggressive tests have added to outside fears that the North is closer than ever to building a military arsenal that could viably target the U.S. and its allies in Asia. The tests, which could potentially make launches over Japan an accepted norm, are also seen as North Korea’s attempt to win greater military freedom in the region and raise doubts in Seoul and Tokyo that Washington would risk the annihilation of a U.S. city to protect them.

    The KCNA said Kim expressed great satisfaction over the launch, which he said verified the “combat efficiency and reliability” of the missile and the success of efforts to increase its power.

    While the English version of the report was less straightforward, the Korean version quoted Kim as declaring the missile as operationally ready. He vowed to complete his nuclear weapons program in the face of strengthening international sanctions, the agency said.

    Photos published by North Korea’s state media showed the missile being fired from a truck-mounted launcher and a smiling Kim clapping and raising his fist while celebrating from an observation point. It was the first time North Korea showed the missile being launched directly from a vehicle, which experts said indicated confidence about the mobility and reliability of the system. In previous tests, North Korea used trucks to transport and erect the Hwasong-12s, but moved the missiles on separate firing tables before launching them.

    The UN Security Council accused North Korea of undermining regional peace and security by launching its latest missile over Japan and said its nuclear and missile tests “have caused grave security concerns around the world” and threaten all 193 UN member states.

    Kim also said the country, despite “limitless” international sanctions, has nearly completed the building of its nuclear weapons force and called for “all-state efforts” to reach the goal and obtain a “capacity for nuclear counterattack the U.S. cannot cope with.”

    “As recognized by the whole world, we have made all these achievements despite the UN sanctions that have lasted for decades,” the agency quoted Kim as saying.

    Kim said the country’s final goal “is to establish the equilibrium of real force with the U.S. and make the U.S. rulers dare not talk about military option for the DPRK,” referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

    He indicated that more missile tests would be forthcoming, saying that all future drills should be “meaningful and practical ones for increasing the combat power of the nuclear force” to establish an order in the deployment of nuclear warheads for “actual war.”

    Prior to the launches over Japan, North Korea had threatened to fire a salvo of Hwasong-12s toward Guam, the U.S. Pacific island territory and military hub the North has called an “advanced base of invasion.”

    The Security Council stressed in a statement after a closed-door emergency meeting that all countries must “fully, comprehensively and immediately” implement all UN sanctions.

    Japan’s UN Ambassador Koro Bessho called the missile launch an “outrageous act” that is not only a threat to Japan’s security but a threat to the whole world.

    Bessho and the British, French and Swedish ambassadors demanded that all sanctions be implemented.

    Calling the latest launch a “terrible, egregious, illegal, provocative reckless act,” Britain’s UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said North Korea’s largest trading partners and closest links — a clear reference to China — must “demonstrate that they are doing everything in their power to implement the sanctions of the Security Council and to encourage the North Korean regime to change course.”

    France’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the country is ready to work on tougher UN and EU measures to convince Pyongyang that there is no interest in an escalation, and to bring it to the negotiating table.

    Friday’s launch followed North Korea’s sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3 in what it described as a detonation of a thermonuclear weapon built for its developmental ICBMs.

    The Hwasong-12 and the Hwasong-14 were initially fired at highly lofted angles to reduce their range and avoid neighbouring countries. The two Hwasong-12 launches over Japan indicate North Korea is moving toward using angles close to operational to evaluate whether its warheads can survive the harsh conditions of atmospheric re-entry and detonate properly.

    While some experts believe North Korea would need to conduct more tests to confirm Hwasong-12’s accuracy and reliability, Kim Jong Un’s latest comments indicate the country would soon move toward mass producing the missiles for operational deployment, said Kim Dong-yub, an analyst at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies. He also said that the North is likely planning similar test launches of its Hwasong-14 ICBM.

    South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a liberal who initially pushed for talks with North Korea, said its tests currently make dialogue “impossible.”

    “If North Korea provokes us or our allies, we have the strength to smash the attempt at an early stage and inflict a level of damage it would be impossible to recover from,” said Moon, who ordered his military to conduct a live-fire ballistic missile drill in response to the North Korean launch.

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    New Democrats have a decision to make about social democracy.

    As they begin voting Monday for their next federal leader, will they have the “love and courage” to choose a mixed martial arts fighter from Brampton — a politician who relies on jujitsu sloganeering instead of slagging his opponents?

    Or are they too leery of what Jagmeet Singh represents — wary of what the electorate at large will think — to embrace him as an upgraded, updated, unconventional social democrat?

    In the homestretch, Singh has finally emerged as the favourite to finish first — if only New Democrats would stop second-guessing themselves about his suitability, electability and winnability.

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    Coming out on top hasn’t come easily for the rookie candidate who so handily out-hustled, out-muscled, out-moneyed and outshone his federal rivals in the public eye. The final vote — staggered over the next few weeks — will say as much about the state of the party as it does the country.

    Is an aging political movement with an outdated fealty to ideology ready to change with the times by embracing a new generation of social democratic fighter?

    Singh doesn’t just look different. He sounds different.

    Never mind that he would be the first party leader to wear a turban — religious attire that Quebec has spent years trying to ban for public servants.

    Quite apart from his predilection for the colourful turbans, it’s the way he wears his heart on his sleeve — and how he dresses in bespoke suits — that speaks to a personal style unfamiliar to New Democrats more closely identified with hair shirts.

    To his credit, Singh has turned a whispering campaign into a talking point that plays to his advantage.

    His video encounter this month with a raging racist has gone exponentially viral — tens of millions of views and counting — providing earned media that money can’t buy. His subdued performance — suffocating his antagonist with “love,” effectively killing her with kindness — was the kind of trial by fire that few politicians face in the glare of the spotlight.

    Reliving the video during a meeting with the Toronto Star’s editorial board, Singh said he kept his cool to calm the supporters and aides who rushed to his defence. He has spent a lifetime relying on his powers of persuasion instead of his martial arts prowess.

    Now 38, Singh’s youthful visage belies the wisps of grey hair peeking out from under his violet turban during Friday’s visit. Clad in a dapper grey three-piece suit accented by a cream pocket handkerchief (but foregoing socks in his black loafers), he displays the presence and charisma that gave him an uncommonly high profile as deputy leader of Ontario’s NDP.

    He has an unquestioned ability to inspire and disarm. The question is whether he’s willing to be unlikeable and unmoveable when he needs to take an unpopular stand.

    Singh is good at telling people what they want to hear — for example, New Democrats won’t countenance any talk of any pipelines anywhere anytime, most especially during a leadership campaign, and Singh plays along. But leaders must also be tough enough to be unloved, saying what needs to be said.

    I reminded him on Friday of his soft touch over the province’s overheated sex education controversy, when he coddled opponents in his Brampton riding by echoing the demands of socially conservative parents for perpetual consultations, rather than showing leadership as other MPPs did. Singh reverted to his newly discovered message discipline by recasting himself as a sex-ed warrior all along.

    He may be rewriting history here, but at least he has learned his lesson, at last, on the perils of pandering. No one’s perfect, least of all politicians.

    The point is to learn from your mistakes, to embrace the learning curve ahead. The best way to grow your vote is to keep growing as a politician.

    Singh still has rough edges. At our editorial meeting, he couldn’t put a figure on his proposed tax changes.

    He’s no know-it-all. As I’ve written before, perhaps that’s part of his charm at a time when voters are looking beyond polished platforms and prosecutorial demeanours in their opposition leaders.

    By all accounts, he has that ineffable quality of personality that makes up for his sometimes plodding or unpolished performances as a debater. But he is no pushover and, like Justin Trudeau — to whom he is often compared— Singh shouldn’t be underestimated merely because he’s no intellectual show-off nor smartypants politician.

    Is the party ready for a sympatico, turbaned leader who plays ideological politics differently than his traditionally righteous rivals? A Léger poll last month showed many Quebecers reluctant to vote for someone who wears such a religious symbol in the next election.

    Yet Singh is undaunted, noting he has signed up more supporters in Quebec than his rivals, expanding the pool of potential New Democrats beyond the fickle base of Bloc Québécois backers once seduced by the party’s nationalist flirtations. He is expanding the voter pie rather than walking on electoral eggshells.

    Ontario’s Liberals grappled with a similar decision point in 2013, when many delegates openly wondered if the province was open to its first lesbian premier. Kathleen Wynne went on to win the next election, surpassing expectations both electoral and attitudinal at the time.

    The turban, too, could soon be a minor footnote to Canadian political history — if New Democrats have the love and courage to choose the candidate who is head and shoulders above his rivals.

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

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    “Happy Birthday” is not a tune so much as forced misery.

    The most popular song in the English language is also the worst song in the English language. As melodic as the sound of an exploding water balloon and with a repetitive lyrical quatrain that sounds more threatening than celebratory — HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! — this is a song anyone can sing and nobody can make sound good. This “song” is to music as a rickshaw is to space travel.

    I don’t know how many times I’ve belted out “Happy Birthday” as a friend or family member stared sheepishly at the flickering candles on a cake. But what I do know is this aural atrocity never feels festive, personal, tender, thoughtful, fun or natural.

    It feels lazy. It feels like going through the motions.

    As a cultural tradition, we sing “Happy Birthday” for the same reason we say, “God bless you” after someone sneezes: it is expected and there is no alternative.

    Well, it’s time we change this because “Happy Birthday” is now a clear and present danger to civilization. After a legal battle, the song entered the public domain last year and now it’s not just a sonic horror you must endure in private with loved ones. “Happy Birthday” has stormed into TV, film, commercials and every other bubbling crook of pop culture where any fool in a paper hat can sing it as many times as he or she likes without the fear of copyright infringement.

    Remember when put-upon restaurant servers would gather around a flaming cupcake at your table and either clap out a bizarre chant or harmonize a deranged ditty they invented in-house for customer birthdays because they weren’t allowed to sing the real song? It was always a jarring experience: “It’s your birthday today, hurrray! / It’s your birthday today, no way! / Jupiter preserve your soul and for this cupcake we pay — yay!”

    What we didn’t realize at the time was those made-up songs at least required original thought, as did the hasty workarounds Hollywood was forced to deploy whenever a character celebrated a milestone.

    The restrictions on “Happy Birthday” created safeguards we took for granted.

    “Happy Birthday” was tolerable because it was controlled.

    But after this week, in which Netflix decided it wanted in on the “Happy Birthday” crimes against humanity, all I can say is buy some noise-cancelling headphones and dive under the bed because we are pretty much doomed.

    Under the guise of helping parents plan a kiddie birthday party, Netflix commissioned a global survey and then released 15 “Birthday On-Demand” videos. In these two-minute shorts, characters from popular franchises — including Barbie, My Little Pony, Trollhunters, Pokemon and Beat Bugs— serenade your child and assembled party guests with this wretched song, creating the illusion it was “made just for them,” as opposed to “made by Satan.”

    Netflix, how is this helping? The foundation is buckling under the rambunctious force of tween spirits hopped up on sugar and your idea of “taking celebrations to the next level” is to offer 15 new versions of a song that already makes me want to dive off the Bloor Street Viaduct?

    What’s next? Are you going to help pay for my kids’ braces by kicking me in the teeth? Are you going to help my daughters sleep through the night by beaming scenes from the new season of Stranger Things onto their closet doors?

    If you really want to chip in with birthday parties, dispatch an emissary who can help chaperone the little hellions to the trampoline pit or pottery workshop, or whatever offsite destination my wife selected precisely because it had nothing to do with watching a screen.

    This is a generational concern, Netflix. But it’s real. Our kids were born into a world of screens and it can be a challenge to keep them interested in the world beyond those screens. This is why “turn that off” is the new “eat your vegetables.”

    This is especially true for birthday parties, which Netflix’s own research should have uncovered. Instead of asking parents if planning a birthday party is “stressful” — 67 per cent of respondents said it was — why didn’t Netflix ask these same people if they’d enjoy a 30-minute loop of “Happy Birthday” attacks on eyes and ears?

    Answer: because 100 per cent of respondents would have hung up, driven to Netflix headquarters and burned the place to the ground.

    I’m not saying Netflix is evil.

    I’m just saying no good can come from streaming more versions of “Happy Birthday” into a world that is no longer protected from the worst song ever written.

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    WASHINGTON—With a rally in support of U.S. President Donald Trump scheduled to take place on the Mall Saturday, one of the best-known icons of the white nationalists who helped propel Trump to power said conservatives should be demonstrating against the president, not for him.

    Richard B. Spencer, the Alexandria, Virginia, resident who coined the term “alt-right” and has become its omnipresent spokesman, said he had no plans to join the pro-Trump forces mustering in Washington in light of the president’s new willingness to shield illegal immigrants brought to the country as children from deportation.

    “If anything, I would be protesting Trump this weekend,” Spencer said in an interview.

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    His comments came as the nation’s capital prepared to host what may be the year’s most motley collection of political rallies Saturday, including the demonstration in support of the president, anti-Trump counter protests and a demonstration by fans of the rap-metal group Insane Clown Posse, who are protesting their FBI designation as a criminal gang.

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    Police in the District have worried about friction among the groups along the lines of the clashes between white supremacists and left-wing demonstrators that led to deadly rioting in Charlottesville last month.

    Spencer, who helped lead the white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, said he doesn’t expect those who share his conservatism to show up in force Saturday.

    “It’s a residue of an older conservatism,” he said of the scheduled pro-Trump demonstration. “It really doesn’t have much of anything to do with the alt right.”

    Such distinctions could be lost on left-wing demonstrators in an overwhelmingly Democratic D.C. A Facebook group called “White Supremacists Out of Washington!” that was planning to gather at Farragut Square to protest the pro-Trump rally.

    “The counter protest is to say, how can you defend someone who won’t condemn white supremacy,” said Nelini Stamp, an organizer of the counterprotest. After the violence in Charlottesville, Trump was heavily criticized for blaming protesters on “both sides” of the political spectrum rather than focusing on white supremacists.

    Authorities had plans in place, including street restrictions, to keep order and separate the groups as necessary. Looming over them is the response in Charlottesville, where police were faulted for a slow reaction as the protest turned violent.

    The D.C. Office of Police Complaints said in a statement that it would be monitoring the department’s handling of the rallies. The office was planning to deploy its staff with video and audio recording equipment throughout downtown Saturday.

    D.C. police said there would be about 15 road closures around the Mall between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., including the 9th and 12th street tunnels. Parts of C, D and E streets NW near the Mall are also among the closures.

    Metro announced that the Smithsonian station on the Mall will be closed. Trains on the Orange, Blue and Silver lines will run through the station Saturday but not stop.

    The day’s most anticipated events are the march of the Juggalos—as Insane Clown Posse fans call themselves—and the pro-Trump rally, which its organizers have dubbed the “Mother of All Rallies.”

    Jason Webber, an organizer of the Juggalo rally, said the group is apolitical but noted that many of the band’s songs decry bigotry. He said 3,000 people are planning to attend.

    Peter Boykin, president of Gays for Trump and a speaker at the conservative rally, said he expects a crowd ranging from 1,000 to 2,000.

    Webber and Boykin said they aren’t expecting brawls.

    “We think Washington D.C. is a great, safe place to have a rally, and I’m not looking for a fight,” Boykin said.

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    OTTAWA—Shortly before Christmas last year, Guy Caron travelled to Toronto and met Jagmeet Singh for breakfast. The race for the leadership of the New Democratic Party was barely a whisper in the national consciousness, but it was front of mind for these men.

    Caron, a friendly 49-year-old MP from Rimouski, Que., had heard stories of the stylish, bike-riding Sikh politician who was deputy leader of the NDP at Queen’s Park. Though neither had yet committed to running for federal leader, both Caron and Singh were mulling it over.

    They had more to chew on that day than just breakfast.

    “I wanted to get the measure of the man, the person he is,” Caron recalled months later, speaking by phone as he boarded a bus from Calgary to Edmonton in the campaign’s final days.

    During their meeting, Caron said they spoke of the many challenges facing the party, especially in the wake of its deflating 2015 election loss and Tom Mulcair’s ouster as leader in a convention the following year — 52 per cent of members voted him out — that left Caron “stunned.”

    They spoke of Quebec, too, Caron said — his home province, where the party under Jack Layton achieved its previously unthinkable breakthrough in 2011, only to see so much crumble under Justin Trudeau’s Liberal tsunami four years later.

    At the time, Caron said he was ruminating on his newfound leadership ambition, and left the breakfast thinking it would be naive not to expect Singh — a social media celebrity in certain circles, with the pop culture power of a GQ magazine spread to boot — to jump in the race, too. But he also felt the contest might not have anybody with his own mix of “economic credibility” and appeal in Quebec, prerequisites in his mind to any shot at victory for the NDP.

    Now, just days before New Democrats start voting Monday for a new leader, Caron and Singh are on the ballot. The other two candidates, Niki Ashton and Charlie Angus, are experienced federal politicians who promise to reconnect with the party’s base and win back more than what was lost to the Liberals.

    Read more:The four candidates who would lead the NDP

    In a sense, just as Singh and Caron surveyed the party’s challenges over that December breakfast, the entire leadership race has been an exercise in how to negate the hurt of 2015; to find the champion that can charge back to the glory days of relevance and power proximity that the party attained under Layton.

    Each candidate has campaigned against the backdrop of past failure. Each has tried to convince their partisan family that they have the right recipe for the future.

    This contest, at its heart, is about how to cure disappointment.

    In Olivia Chow’s mind is a metaphor: three streams, each representing a distinct school of thought for the party’s future, need to convene to form a river. One flows with a vision of a grassroots, activist movement; the second has a requirement for electoral domination in Quebec; and the third involves expanding the party’s reach into new, diverse constituencies.

    All together, that river, if properly navigated, will lead the NDP to government.

    “We have four candidates that embody those three streams, some more than others,” Chow, a former MP and Layton’s widow, told the Star recently.

    “Who would best bring those together?”

    Chow’s criterion for success brings up a question that NDP politicians are asked all the time. Is this a party that should try to appeal to a broad pool of voters for the sake of winning power, or should it stick to a strict social democratic platform and be happy with a clump of seats in the back corner of the House?

    Ashton, a 35-year-old Manitoba MP, has the most left-leaning campaign. With tuition-free education, aggressive tax hikes, staunch opposition to new oil pipelines, and frequent talk of connecting with “grassroots” activism, she appears most aligned with Chow’s first “stream” for the party’s future.

    But Ashton twists the power-principle proposition into a different choice: relevance or irrelevance. She sees the millennial age group, which she defines as 35 and under, becoming Canada’s largest voting bloc in the next election. The NDP needs to connect with them, people she believes are focused on climate change, income inequality and precarious work.

    This is why she argues the biggest mistake in 2015 was allowing the Liberals to “out-left” the social democratic party. Trudeau caught the impulse for change and spoke to progressive Canadians and younger voters. The NDP didn’t. It’s now the third party, with 44 seats.

    “We lost touch with some of our clear principles, and I believe with people that support us,” Ashton said. “There’s much work to be done in building a movement. That is what we used to be.”

    Angus, a 54-year-old veteran MP from northern Ontario, also has framed his candidacy as one that would reconnect the party with its “grassroots.” For him, the party under Layton and Mulcair became overly oriented to the daily squabbles on Parliament Hill, a political machine detached from its roots. “I heard this all the time, that the only time the party went to the base was to raise money,” he said.

    “This raises a sort of existential questions for New Democrats,” he continued. “What is the future of our social democratic movement?”

    Caron is unequivocal: the NDP must strive for power in every election. If the pitches from Ashton and Angus represent Chow’s first “stream,” Caron’s is the second: he believes he alone has the right formula, a combination of coherent, left-wing economic policy and Quebec appeal as a francophone progressive.

    “I was at Jack (Layton)’s speech that launched his leadership bid” in 2002, Caron told the Star. “He had a vision of the future that we have to form government . . . we can’t do it without Quebec.”

    Yet his opponents all agree on the importance of Quebec. In fact, they agree on a lot. Each says inequality and climate change are among the biggest challenges this century. They nod at the mention of curbing greenhouse gas emissions, the need for electoral reform, and a push to achieve reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

    “The candidates agree on pretty much everything,” said Karl Bélanger, a fixture of the party’s parliamentary staff through the Layton era and much of Mulcair’s tenure.

    “New Democrats are looking at a difference in style and tone.”

    And that brings us to the third stream in Chow’s metaphor: breaking through to new supporters.

    The audience giggled, but Jagmeet Singh wasn’t smiling. It was late August, during the only entirely French debate of the campaign in Montreal, and Charlie Angus was needling him on whether he would still try to jump from Ontario to federal politics if he loses his leadership bid.

    “With respect,” he said, casting his eyes on Angus, “I will not lose.”

    Laughter spread through the room. Even Angus seemed to be chuckling.

    “When I win,” Singh continued, “I will run in the federal election.”

    “If you lose?” Angus inquired again.

    “I will not lose,” Singh deadpanned.

    The 38-year-old Ontario legislator was, for many observers, the presumed frontrunner even before he entered the race. Bélanger called Singh’s entry, in mid-May, the “game-changer.”

    “Before that it was like a phony war,” he said.

    It might seem strange a provincial politician who is not even the leader at that level would make such a splash. Hélène Laverdière, a Quebec MP who supports Singh, said she didn’t know much about him until he showed up in Ottawa around the time he formally launched his campaign. He came to her office, and she was impressed.

    “He wanted to listen, rather than talk,” she said. “What struck me the most with him — how could I say? — it’s the leadership side. It’s the human being.”

    Whatever it is, Singh appears to have resonated. His campaign claims to have brought in 47,000 new party members, of a total roughly 83,000 sign-ups during the campaign. In fundraising, too, there’s evidence he’s in the lead: Elections Canada numbers show he raked in more than $350,000 in the second quarter of the year. That’s more than Angus, Ashton and Caron combined.

    He has also experienced some campaign flashpoints, most strikingly early this month, when a video of his response to an incensed heckler went viral. A woman — later tied to an Islamophobic group, Rise Canada — stood at a Brampton campaign event and started shouting in Singh’s face about “Shariah” and said he’s “in bed with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

    Singh’s reaction has been widely parsed and praised. He calmly repeated to the woman, as she gesticulated and yelled in his face: “We love you. We support you.”

    Ian Capstick, a political strategist and long-time NDP insider who is neutral in the race, said the impact of the video — viewed at least 40 million times — cannot be overstated.

    Moments like that may also integral for the party’s longer-term goal of finding someone who can shine on a level with Trudeau, a political celebrity, said David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data in Ottawa. That’s important, given the history under Mulcair, when the play-it-safe strategy in 2015 backfired, Coletto added.

    “If I’m the New Democrats,” he said, “I want somebody who will get the attention of the public for a moment, and that moment is my chance to convince the public that Justin Trudeau is not as progressive as he says he is.”

    None of that is to say that Singh is a lock.

    Angus, for one, is critical of what he sees as Singh’s “too big to fail” campaign, a bid to win on the first ballot of the race, rather than building bridges with various constituencies to bring people together when the race is over. Party members will vote by ranked ballot, in a one-member, one-vote system. New rounds of voting will take place each week through October — with the last-place candidate being eliminated — until someone has more than 50-per-cent support.

    (Singh did not make himself available to be interviewed for this article.)

    Another factor is Quebec, key to the party’s electoral chances but marginal in the leadership race, with less than 10 per cent of NDP members in the province. “The paradox of this campaign,” said Farouk Karim, Guy Caron’s campaign spokesperson, “is that we know NDP members in Quebec will not elect the next leader, but Quebec will decide the next prime minister.”

    The province was at the centre of one of the biggest friction points of the campaign, when a debate in Quebec City over proposed restrictions on religious face coverings like the Mulsim niqab jumped into the leadership race.

    This was prompted by Caron, who put out a platform in late August on respecting Quebec’s distinctness as a nation within Canada. His proposal included a section on secularism, in which he explained how it has been a priority in Quebec since the official uncoupling of the Catholic Church from the provincial governing apparatus in the1960s. He said that, while he personally opposes the government telling people what they can wear, he would ultimately respect the Quebec National Assembly’s decision.

    This prompted a sharp discussion that echoed an element of the 2015 election: many believe the party’s declining fortunes in the province were due to Muclair’s firm stance against a niqab ban for citizenship ceremonies, being discussed at the time.

    Singh and Angus came out against the recent proposed legislation in Quebec, and predicted the courts would quash it. Ashton initially appeared to agree with Caron, but now says she’s against the idea in principle and trusts the National Assembly to make a decision that respects individual rights.

    The discussion is by no means settled. This week, Pierre Nantel, a Montreal-area MP, told Le Devoir he would consider ditching the NDP if the next leader doesn’t respect Quebec’s decision making.

    Statements like that may have fuelled a late surge of endorsements for Caron, who contends he’s the only one with a true understanding of Quebec’s political dynamic. Brian Topp, a prominent insider, former leader Alexa McDonough, and the Steelworkers union all backed him in the days after the secularism discussion broke out.

    There is also the practical question of French language ability, which appears to be of most concern to Angus and Singh.

    Many in the party feel that to fail in Quebec will be to return to the time when the NDP had no legitimate shot at power, thus the nuances of debates of identity and self-determination in the province need to be navigated with extreme care.

    As Coletto pointed out, the NDP has consistently trailed the Liberals in Quebec polls since Trudeau took power. “There has been a sea change,” he said. “Quebec (for the NDP) looks particularly daunting.”

    If Chow is right about her “three streams” prescription, whoever becomes the next leader needs to pull off something unprecedented for the party — enliven its social democratic base, appeal to new tranches of voters in places it has never won seats, and reclaim its Orange Wave success in Quebec.

    Back in March, at the first candidates debate in a hotel ballroom in Ottawa, none of the candidates mentioned Mulcair. They spoke instead and with great frequency, of Layton, who was practically beatified in the NDP for leading them to groundbreaking success.

    It’s been like that the whole campaign — reaching around the disappointment of the Mulcair era to try to embody the euphoria of a prior time.

    “It has interestingly become: who can be the closest to the next Jack Layton that we can possibly elect,” Capstick said. “That’s what the party has always been after: who can capture the imaginations of Canadians the way Jack Layton did.”

    In a matter of days, New Democrats will hope they have found the right person for that lofty task — catching the future by chasing the past.

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    Before the missiles came and destroyed his family’s chocolate factory in Damascus in early 2013, pretty much the only thing Tareq Hadhad knew about Canada was the little he’d picked up from MTV.

    He’d heard of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. He’d heard that Canada was “a nation of diversity.” What the rest of his family — father Isam, mother Shahenaz and four siblings — knew about their future home was the usual.

    It “was the coldest country in the world.”

    Back then, had you mentioned “Antigonish” to Hadhad, he might have responded with the Arabic equivalent of Bless you!

    “I hadn’t heard about Halifax, or Nova Scotia before,” he laughed this week. “So Antigonish was a surprising destination for me. Antigonish is not famous across the world.”

    But what a few years it’s been. And what wonderful ambassadors for Antigonish the Hadhad family has become.

    On Sept. 9, less than two years after landing in Canada — safe haven after three years in a refugee camp in Lebanon — the Syrian family celebrated the opening of a new chocolate factory in the little Nova Scotia university town that took them in.

    The accomplishments of the Hadhads, their gratitude to the locals who helped them and their almost immediate giving back to Canada have already been the subject of a TED talk by Tareq, a documentary about their experience, a speech by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the United Nations, and earned Tareq an appointment to Invest Nova Scotia, the province’s economic development agency.

    Their extraordinary story began more than 30 years ago, when Isam Hadhad was teaching himself to cook.

    “He came back to the house one night and told my grandmother that he wanted to learn to cook with chocolate,” Tareq explained.

    In the family telling, Isam Hadhad’s inspiration came after attending a wedding.

    “After the celebration he was just like really fascinated that everybody was happy when they were eating chocolate. He looked at the pictures after the wedding and the most happy pictures were the ones with chocolate.”

    His experiments began in the family kitchen.

    Before long, he was a chocolatier of renown, eventually owning the second-largest chocolate company in the Middle East, shipping his products to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt and some countries in Europe.

    Then came the war.

    A missile took out the factory. The family lost its home. Tareq and his brother were almost killed in a bombing. They decided it was time to leave Syria.

    They reckoned on travelling to Lebanon, waiting for things to calm down. They expected the war to end and to return home in a month.

    The universe had other plans.

    For three years, the family — but for one sister who was trapped in Syria when the borders closed, and remains there — was mired in a refugee camp in Lebanon.

    “It was really a terrible time,” Tareq, now 26, told the Star. Their challenge became mere survival and keeping the family intact.

    What the Hadhads had no way of knowing was that in Nova Scotia, the warmest possible welcome was already being arranged in a new home they had no idea was waiting.

    Lucille Harper works for the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre. By 2015, she told the Star, local residents decided they wanted to help displaced Syrian families.

    “There was a group of us got together and said, OK, surely we can sponsor a family.”

    They formed a group called Syria Antigonish Families Embrace, or SAFE, and applied to bring a family.

    Sean Fraser, Liberal MP for Central Nova, said the commitment during the 2015 election campaign by Justin Trudeau to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees initially concerned many of his constituents.

    “I spoke with hundreds, maybe even thousands of constituents who had mixed feelings,” he told the Star. “Any trepidation was really based out of fear; fear for security, fear for the economy, whether people would take their jobs, or fear that the community wouldn’t quite be the same.”

    Fraser said he told them the refugees “are going to change our community, but for the better.”

    At any rate, SAFE got word that a Syrian family was coming in 2016.

    “We didn’t know who was coming,” said Lucille Harper. “We just knew that a family was coming.”

    Tareq Hadhad — who speaks English and represents the family — arrived first in Antigonish, just before Christmas 2015. (He found himself playing in a boxing-day ball hockey game that’s apparently a local tradition.) Two weeks later, his family followed.

    “When Tareq arrived we were delighted,” Harper said. “As the rest of the family came, we learned a little bit more about what they had been doing.

    “We found that in Syria they had a chocolate factory. And we thought, ‘Well, that sounds good for Antigonish!’ ”

    The welcome the Hadhads received was both extraordinary and entirely typical of the greetings that the Syrians arriving in Canada received all across the country.

    The locals found housing. Antigonish is fortunate that as a university town with a hospital there were resources not always available in smaller rural towns.

    Retired teachers stepped up to help the newcomers learn English and settle in school. Health-care workers helped the refugees get health cards, find doctors and dentists and to line up initial checkups.

    The women’s centre had a settlement worker who helped with paperwork. Some rounded up winter clothes. Others made the trip to Halifax to get Syrian foods.

    “The community really wrapped themselves around the Hadhads,” Harper said.

    Then there was serendipity.

    Frank Gallant and his family made a rental house available to the Hadhads at reasonable cost. And as it happened, a Gallant daughter was raising money for university by selling chocolates at local farmers’ markets.

    “Frank knew where to find chocolate and knew where to find equipment for chocolate,” Harper said.

    And, for the second time, Isam Hadhad went to work building a chocolate factory.

    He started, as he did in Damascus, in his kitchen. Soon, Shahenaz insisted he work in the basement. He started selling at local markets. And before long, local carpenters, plumbers and electricians pitched in to build him a small shed as a “factory.”

    When the prime minister told their story at the UN, the business boomed. And last week, the Hadhads opened their new factory in a plant leased by the Sobeys supermarket chain, which is carrying their products.

    Their company is called Peace by Chocolate.

    From their arrival, the Hadhads have been eager to give back, Harper said.

    When Fort McMurray, Alta., was evacuated last year because of wildfire they donated money to victims there because “they knew what loss meant.”

    “They want to be employers here. They want to help their community. In every box of chocolate there’s a little card talking about Antigonish, welcoming people to come visit.”

    Tareq “has been such a great ambassador for the family, and the community, and the whole Syrian cause in many ways,” she said.

    “They have just integrated well, but also taken up Antigonish as a community of their heart that they want to promote.”

    Mayor Laurie Boucher told the Star the experience “really gave the community a sense of what they can do.” It also inspired creation of the sort of ongoing supports for future newcomers, immigrants on whom Canada will rely for future population growth.

    “We need as many as we can, for sure,” she said. “Getting them here is one thing, but then keeping them, especially in a small rural town like Antigonish, to be able to deliver the services that they need is another.”

    In all, it may be that Antigonish hasn’t been mentioned so often in media across Canada since former prime minister Brian Mulroney regularly sang its praises as the launching pad for his career. (He’ll be in town Sept. 20 for the sod-turning for the Mulroney Institute of Government building, named in his honour.)

    And it may also be that Atlantic Canada hasn’t been as synonymous with chocolate since the Ganongs set up in St. Stephen, N.B.

    Harper said there are now several Syrian families in Antigonish, with the fourth family sponsored by SAFE scheduled to arrive Sept. 21.

    She delights in telling of other success stories among the newcomers.

    Majd al Zhouri was 19, when his family arrived. Because of the war, he had to leave school at 15, then work in Lebanon to help support his family.

    “So he came here with a Grade 9 education and in a year and a half learned English, completed high school and got accepted in an engineering program at Saint F.X. (St. Francis Xavier University).”

    And al Zhouri’s accomplishment doesn’t stop there. As part of learning English, he began to write his story. A friend helped him turn it into a one-act play, titled To Eat an Almond, a story about fleeing the war.

    When al Zhouri, now 21, first performed it, “everyone was in tears at the end,” Harper said.

    The learning continues, and it works both ways.

    “Now, the community in Antigonish gets invited to celebrate Eid with the families,” Harper said. “So we’re learning more about the whole Islamic faith, and the celebrations and what they mean and the sharing of food. And the families, they’re just incredibly generous.

    As for Tareq Hadhad, who laughs easily and often, he knows a lot more about Canada now than he did just a few years ago.

    “There’s is so much about this country more than just the weather.”

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    LONDON—British police say that armed officers are searching a home in a London suburb and evacuating neighbours as a precaution as part of the investigation into the subway blast.

    Police say the operation is taking place in Sunbury, an area on the southwestern outskirts of the capital and about eight kilometres from London’s Heathrow Airport.

    Police said cordons were put in place around the neighbourhood to clear the area for police.

    Police earlier Saturday arrested an 18-year-old suspect in the port of Dover and are hoping to gather information from the suspect in custody. Police said no further arrests have been made.

    The fast-moving inquiry into the subway blast that wounded 29 people has shifted to Sunbury, on the outskirts of the British capital, where neighbours were evacuated amid the police operation as a precaution.

    A no-fly zone was established over the area to keep out small planes and drones as police moved in and police cordons were put in place to keep the public well away.

    No details about the police search were released, but it came after the arrest of an 18-year-old man who is being held under the Terrorism Act. The man was arrested Saturday morning by Kent police in the port of Dover on the English Channel.

    Read more: Britain raises terror alert level to ‘critical’ after homemade bomb injures 29

    Dover is a major ferry port for travel between Britain and France — and it was not clear if the suspect was trying to board a ferry for France when he was taken into custody.

    “We have made a significant arrest in our investigation this morning,” Deputy Assistant Police Commissioner Neil Basu said. But he warned that the investigation was ongoing and the terrorist threat level remains at “critical,” meaning that top British security services believe that another attack is imminent.

    Basu’s comments suggested that other dangerous suspects may still be at large.

    Police Commissioner Cressida Dick called the arrest “very significant” but said the public should still be vigilant.

    The 18-year-old suspect hasn’t been charged or identified. Police say he was being brought to a south London police station for more questioning. Police haven’t said if he is suspected of planting the bomb or of playing a supporting role in a possible plot.

    Authorities had increased Britain’s terrorism threat level to “critical” late Friday — the highest possible level — after a bomb partially exploded on a subway train during the morning rush hour.

    Police are combing through closed-circuit TV images and have extensively studied the remains of the explosive device. Images from inside the subway car showed that it was contained in a bucket with wires hanging out of it and concealed in a plastic shopping bag.

    The train hit by the bomber at Parsons Green station in southwest London had video cameras in each car, and the London Underground network has thousands of cameras at the entrances to stations and along its labyrinth of subterranean and aboveground passageways.

    Officials have hinted there may be more than one person involved, but haven’t released details in what is termed an ongoing and covert inquiry.

    Prime Minister Theresa May said raising the threat level to its highest point was a “proportionate and sensible step.” Police called on the public to be vigilant.

    The soldiers will add to the armed police presence Saturday at public places to deter further attacks.

    The bomb went off around 8:20 a.m. Friday as the District Line train, carrying commuters from the suburbs — including many school children — was at the Parsons Green station. In all, 29 people were wounded, some with burns, but none of the injuries were believed to be life-threatening.

    The station was reopened Saturday, officials said, restoring some normalcy to London’s transport network after a day of severe disruption. There was no sign of panic among Londoners and the weekend life of the multicultural city continued undeterred by the raised threat level.

    Officials said the bomb was intended to do grave harm to commuters. Analysts said the carnage would have been far worse had the entire device exploded.

    “They were really lucky with this one. It could have really become much worse,” said terrorism specialist Magnus Ranstorp of the Swedish Defence University.

    Daesh, also known as ISIS, claimed responsibility for the attack, which it said was carried out by an affiliated unit.

    Britain has endured four other attacks this year, which have killed a total of 36 people. The other attacks in London — near Parliament, on London Bridge and near a mosque in Finsbury Park in north London — used vehicles and knives.

    In addition, a suicide bomber struck a packed concert hall in Manchester in northern England, killing 22 people. That attack in May also briefly caused the threat level to be set at “critical.”

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    A series of Star stories has raised questions about how Metrolinx, an arms-length agency of the provincial government, approved a new GO Transit station in the transportation minister’s riding last year, despite internal reports that suggested it shouldn’t be built.

    Today we take a closer look at the Kirby GO station:

    What is the Kirby project?

    Located in an area largely surrounded by natural spaces and farmland in the City of Vaughan, Kirby would cost an estimated $100 million to build. The site is roughly 10 kilometres north of the Toronto border on GO’s Barrie line, in Liberal Minister Steven Del Duca’s riding of Vaughan.

    Why is Metrolinx building new GO stations?

    As part of a $13.5-billion expansion of the GO Transit network, known as regional express rail (RER), Metrolinx plans to quadruple the number of GO trips in the region by 2025.

    Metrolinx is adding new stations as part of this major expansion. The number and location of the stops is crucial to the success of RER; each new station gives a community greater access to transit, but also increases travel times by forcing trains to stop more often. Longer trips could discourage some people from using GO.

    What did the analysis of Kirby find?

    An initial business case study Metrolinx commissioned concluded that building Kirby would have negative effects on the region; it could increase car traffic, reduce the number of people taking transit, and create more greenhouse gas.

    Residential development is slated for the area next to the station, and, by 2031, the projected density could meet the low end of the range to justify a regional rail station, the business case found. But opportunities to add more homes and businesses around the site are limited because the surrounding lands are either outside the city’s urban boundary, occupied by low-density housing, used for agriculture, or lie in the protected Oak Ridges Moraine and Greenbelt.

    By 2031, roughly 5,100 trips would be made to and from the stop every day. But most of those would not be new riders. More than half would be people who already use the Maple and King City GO stations, which are both about 3.5 kilometres away.

    Meanwhile, the time delay caused by Kirby would induce roughly 3 per cent of “upstream” riders on the Barrie line to take their cars, instead, leading to an overall net loss of 188 riders per day.

    “The potential benefits generated by a new station are insufficient to offset the potential negative impact on upstream riders,” concluded a June 2016 draft of the business case.

    “Overall, the (business case) found that a Kirby Station does not meet many of Metrolinx objectives for a new station.”

    A June 2016 summary report of business cases for all the shortlisted RER stops ranked Kirby last out of seven potential new stations on the Barrie line, and determined it “should not be considered further during the next 10 years.”

    How was Kirby approved?

    On June 15, 2016, the Metrolinx board met in private and endorsed 10 new GO stops. Informed of the station analyses, they decided not to go ahead with Kirby.

    The next day, Del Duca’s ministry sent Metrolinx draft press releases that showed the minister intended to publicly announce that stations the board hadn’t approved were going ahead. They included Kirby and Lawrence East, a Scarborough station that is part of Mayor John Tory’s “SmartTrack” plan.

    Metrolinx officials were shocked by the press releases, and initially pushed back against the ministry. However, days later then-CEO of Metrolinx Bruce McCauig sent staff a “proposed revision” to Metrolinx’s recommendations to the board. They now recommended Kirby and Lawrence East should be built.

    The board met in public on June 28 and approved the new list of 12 stations, including Kirby and Lawrence East.

    What was the public told about how Kirby was approved?

    Very little. Metrolinx didn’t publicly acknowledge the private meeting at which the board decided not to proceed with Kirby. Results of the analysis of all the proposed new RER stations, which cost the public about $1 million, were delayed or never released at all.

    Metrolinx didn’t publish business cases for any of the potential new stations until almost nine months after the vote. The agency never released the summary report that recommended Kirby not be considered for another decade. Details of how the stations were approved were uncovered last month through a freedom of information request filed by the Star.

    What have Metrolinx and Minister Del Duca said about Kirby?

    Both Metrolinx and Del Duca say that the business cases are meant to be just one factor in the approval process, which also includes consultation with local communities and collaboration between the ministry and Metrolinx.

    Del Duca has said he provided “input” on Metrolinx’s decision, and suggested that while reports found Kirby wouldn’t attract sufficient riders, the station is still justified now because he believes it will eventually have enough demand. “As we have learned, building after-the-fact is almost always more expensive and more disruptive, and leads to more regional gridlock in the interim,” he said in a statement last month.

    The minister has responded to accusations that he wanted the station to be approved in order to win votes by pointing out that he plans to run in a different riding in next year’s election.

    Metrolinx officials and the minister have declined to answer questions about whether Del Duca’s ministry improperly interfered with the approval process by pressuring the board into changing its decision. This week, the minister said he wasn’t interested in the “historical details” of how the station was approved.

    Neither Metrolinx nor the ministry has produced a detailed report that shows Kirby would have positive effect on the GO network.

    What’s next?

    Metrolinx board chair Rob Prichard has ordered a “thorough and comprehensive” review to determine whether Kirby and Lawrence East should be built. Both Prichard and Del Duca have said Metrolinx won’t proceed with the stations unless the additional analysis finds they’re justified.

    However, the review will not examine the role political influence played in the stations’ approval.

    On Thursday, Metrolinx said that, from now on, it will publish business-case studies for projects before they go to a vote, and will post the minutes of closed-door board meetings.

    An opposition MPP and a transit advocacy group have asked the provincial auditor general to investigate whether Kirby and Lawrence East are a good use of public funds.

    Metrolinx plans to enter into contracts for new RER stations next spring.

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