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    A controversial Quebec bill to ban women wearing niqabs and burkas from offering or receiving public services was voted into law Wednesday.

    Members of the national assembly voted 66-51 in favour of the idea that the best way to stop women from being forced to wear a particular garment is to force women to not wear that garment.

    Bill 62, labelled as “an act to foster adherence to state religious neutrality,” is the face of contemporary dog whistle anti-Islamic politics couched as a unique commitment to secularism. Just leave that crucifix hanging on the wall behind the Quebec parliamentary speaker’s chair, please. That’s historical.

    The bill came complete with the thinnest plausible deniability — the law would also apply to masked protesters, Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée has said. The bill is also supposed to set vaguely defined limits to religious accommodation.

    If governments don’t belong in people’s bedrooms, they certainly don’t belong in women’s closets.

    We know this. On Tuesday, an Ontario MPP tabled a motion asking workplaces to butt out of those wardrobes. Liberal MPP Christina Martens tabled a private member’s bill to ban all workplaces from requiring women to wear high heels to work — not just industrial facilities or health-care facilities and such.

    Bill 62 should have been rejected for the same reason anti-abortionism would be. They are both anti-choice.

    A bill that legislates clothing ends up linking emancipation of women to how little or how much they wear. In doing so, it works against choice.

    If you, like me, don’t wear any kind of face covering, this battle isn’t about us. It is, however, about defending the rights of the tiny number of women in Quebec who cover their faces even if you can’t defend their practice.

    To be clear, I have no patience for the imposition of modesty on women, especially if those standards of modesty differ significantly from those imposed on men. This applies to expectations that women cover their faces but men needn’t.

    I equally detest the ingrained expectation of sexual allure from women that is not asked of men. This applies to the overt sexualization of women’s clothes in the name of liberation — all dressed up, women bare more skin, whether at chi-chi galas or queued up outside nightclubs. All dressed up, men bare little.

    Just as there are many reasons women might choose to wear a little black dress, there are many reasons women might choose a voluminous one that includes a face covering. For some it’s a political stance — a statement of defiance against Islamophobia; for some it’s about personal comfort and modesty; for some it is a mark of devoutness; for some it’s unthinking conformity.

    Certainly, there are those who wear it because they don’t have a choice.

    A progressive society would also support women who want to uncover their heads or faces or any parts of their body, but the desire for change has to come from within.

    Bill 62 attempts to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. An Environics study shows about 3 per cent of Canadians who are Muslim wear a niqab in public. The numbers in Quebec are not known but it’s also expected to be minuscule.

    It’s astounding that a matter that affects so few people in Quebec was prioritized as worth spending precious time and money on.

    Vallée told the CBC the legislation is necessary for “communication reasons, identification reasons and security reasons.”

    “I find it hard to see how you can have a dialogue when it’s difficult or impossible to distinguish a person’s non-verbal cues,” she said earlier this month.

    Sure, it might be uncomfortable, but is there a communication problem that “Pardon?” won’t solve?

    How were identification and security — as in women refusing to lift their veils to identify themselves to officials — established as a challenge large enough to require legislation?

    An Angus Reid poll this month showed that 87 per cent of Quebecers strongly or moderately support the bill. That makes it not the right move, just a populist one.

    Bill 62 was never about religious neutrality. It is about discomfort with overt Muslim-ness. If the conservative Parti Québécois floated a so-called Charter of Values to ban public servants from wearing all obvious religious symbols, the Liberals targeted the lowest hanging fruit of Islamic womenswear — burkas and niqabs.

    Even if we were all to agree to being collectively uncomfortable with the idea of Muslim women — or anybody — covering their faces in the public sphere, how did it become so indecent as to be banned?

    A few years ago, a woman wearing a niqab came to my hot yoga class. Her abaya restricted her movements, making them risky for her. After a few classes, she stopped coming. I’m guessing she made a choice.

    Did her choices affect me? Infringe on my rights in any way? Threaten the future of my country? If she now moves to Quebec and wants to use the bus or go to the doctor she would have to reconsider her religious beliefs or seek an official exemption for accommodation.

    There are no such restrictions for the rest of Quebec’s residents.

    Tell me again, what’s the definition of discrimination?

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


    Quebec and its niqab legislation should have stayed out of women’s closets: ParadkarQuebec and its niqab legislation should have stayed out of women’s closets: Paradkar

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    “DANGER.”

    “Do Not Enter.”

    “Streetcars only beyond this point.”

    Explicit orders to not drive into the TTC streetcar tunnel at Queens Quay are emblazoned on at least five nearby signs, with reflective ones posted at street level and more along the sloped descent leading to the underground streetcar network.

    But despite the canary yellow and fire-hydrant red beacons, flashing lights and rumble-striped pavement — not to mention the fact that the road leads into a hole — another driver got stuck in the tunnel Wednesday.

    “How this is happening is a mystery to us,” said TTC spokesperson Stuart Green. “We’ve taken a number of measures to make it very difficult to accidentally drive into that tunnel.”

    A driver made it down the ramp and about three metres into the tunnel Wednesday at about 10:30 a.m., halting TTC traffic on the 509 Harbourfront and 510 Spadina routes.

    It marked at least the 23rd time a car has blocked the tunnel at Queens Quay, where streetcars go underground to access Union Station.

    Shuttle buses were called as a replacement before a tow was order by Toronto police, with service resuming at around 11:45 a.m.

    Some transit users took to Twitter to warn of the delay.

    “Ridiculous. I have had some sympathy in the past but now it is SO obvious that is not a tunnel for cars,” tweeted @JHF10.

    “I work around the corner and I see people either do this or avoid it at the last minute every week,” a Facebook user wrote.

    A Reddit poster quipped, “Free parking.”

    The time to clear out the tracks would have been much longer and resulted in a more complicated removal had the driver journeyed further into the tunnel, Green said. The pavement at track level is sunken beneath the raised tracks, making it easy for cars to get stuck the deeper they get into the tunnel, thus requiring special vehicles for towing.

    These blocks can take between one to eight hours to clear, Green said, adding there was no damage to the tracks or other infrastructure in Wednesday’s incident.

    Over the last year, the TTC has taken a number of measures to ensure drivers do not enter the tunnel. They posted additional large signs, lowered pole lights on both sides on the entrance and installed a flashing light on a black and yellow stripped rectangular pole sign in the center of the entrance.

    Green said the number of drivers that have entered the tunnel decreased since these updates.

    “We think we’ve taken a number of steps that really should prevent this, but an incident like today suggests maybe there’s something else we need to do,” he said. “We’re always looking at ways to improve safety.”

    A similar incident happened in the Queens Quay tunnel in February, after an SUV was found stuck in the tunnel because the driver was “just following his GPS.”

    He faced a $425 fine after blocking the tunnel’s entrance.

    With files from Annie Arnone


    Why do so many cars get stuck in TTC Queens Quay tunnel?Why do so many cars get stuck in TTC Queens Quay tunnel?Why do so many cars get stuck in TTC Queens Quay tunnel?Why do so many cars get stuck in TTC Queens Quay tunnel?

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    WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump in a tweet Wednesday denied that he had told the widow of a soldier killed in an ambush in Africa this month that her husband “must have known what he signed up for.”

    But the mother of the fallen soldier stood behind the account, saying that Trump “did disrespect” the family with his comments during a phone call.

    The president was reacting to a Florida congresswoman saying the family of Sgt. La David T. Johnson was “astonished” by that remark during a phone call from Trump on Tuesday. Trump said he has “proof” that the conversation did not happen as recounted by Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson. He did not elaborate, but the claim again raised questions about whether the president tapes calls and conversations.

    Wilson told MSNBC on Wednesday that Johnson’s widow, Myeshia, was shaken by the exchange.

    “She was crying the whole time, and when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part.”

    Wilson went on to say Trump “was almost like joking. He said, ‘Well, I guess you knew’ — something to the effect that ‘he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway.’ You know, just matter-of-factly, that this is what happens, anyone who is signing up for military duty is signing up to die. That’s the way we interpreted it. It was horrible. It was insensitive. It was absolutely crazy, unnecessary. I was livid.”

    “She was in tears. She was in tears. And she said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ “

    On Tuesday, Wilson told The Washington Post that Trump had told Johnson’s widow, “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”

    Wilson said she was riding in a limousine with Johnson when the president called, and said she heard the conversation on speakerphone.

    “He made her cry,” Wilson said.

    Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told The Post on Wednesday that she was in the car during the call from the White House and that “President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.”

    Jones-Johnson, speaking to The Post via Facebook Messenger, declined to elaborate.

    But asked whether Wilson’s account of the conversation between Trump and the family was accurate, she replied: “Yes.”

    The White House did not confirm or deny Wilson’s account on Tuesday.

    “The President’s conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private,” a White House official said in a statement.

    The White House had said Tuesday that Trump placed calls Tuesday to the families of all four service members killed in Niger on Oct. 4. The calls followed Trump’s claims Monday and Tuesday that his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, had not often made such calls to families. Former Obama administration officials strongly dispute that claim, saying Obama engaged families of fallen service members in various ways throughout his presidency.

    Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Fla., was found dead after initially being reported as missing after the attack.

    He was a driver assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) based in Fort Bragg, N.C.


    ‘Trump did disrespect my son’: Mother backs report of president’s ‘horrible’ call to soldier’s widow‘Trump did disrespect my son’: Mother backs report of president’s ‘horrible’ call to soldier’s widow

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    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau celebrates the second anniversary of his election victory this week with his finance minister in a self-imposed exile from the House of Commons that the opposition parties would gladly make permanent.

    Three parliamentary sitting days in the ethical storm that has engulfed Bill Morneau over his decision to keep control, albeit indirectly, of his shares in his family’s pension services company he has yet to show up in the House to face down his opposition critics.

    They allege the minister breached if not the law at least the spirit of the conflict-of-interest rules that govern elected officials, a point the Conservatives and the New Democrats hammered over the course of Wednesday’s rowdy question period.

    Read more:

    Morneau open to changing financial affairs as Conservatives, NDP demand ethics investigation

    Trudeau, Trump governments trade criticism as NAFTA talks falter

    Morneau walks himself into a political crisis: Tim Harper

    In an interview earlier this week Morneau said he had no plans to step down. But at mid-mandate Trudeau’s star economic recruit has become a liability. That’s not just because of his handling of his financial affairs. He is a weak link in a crucial spot in the government’s chain of command.

    As Trudeau’s clumsy efforts to play interference for his finance minister demonstrated earlier this week, it is a situation that the prime minister cannot, on his own star-dusted merits, mitigate.

    Had he served in someone else’s cabinet, Trudeau would not have been a natural choice for a senior economic portfolio. Morneau was meant to anchor the government’s economic team. Until further notice, the anchor is dragging down the Liberal ship.

    The finance minister’s travails are also acting as a distraction from some of the more inspired moves of the government over the first half of its mandate.

    Inexperienced ministers have accounted for much of the bad press the Liberals have endured over the past two years. But not all the Liberal rookies have been underwhelming in the execution of their ministerial duties.

    The performance of Chrystia Freeland as the lead minister on the Canada/U.S. front falls in the opposite category. The minister of global affairs is holding her own on the toughest file the government is tasked to manage, one that is not even of the Liberals’ own choosing.

    In a support role as international trade minister, first-time MP François-Philippe Champagne has also risen to the challenge. On the Quebec media hot seat over the Bombardier-Airbus arrangement this week, he succeeded in not making a delicate situation worse for his government.

    Perhaps Champagne could offer lessons to his heritage colleague Mélanie Joly who left only debris in her wake when she did the media rounds to sell her Netflix deal earlier this month.

    Freeland and Champagne were assigned their current roles as part of a post-U.S. presidential election realignment of federal resources.

    Success for Canada on that front may not be in the offing. Perhaps the best realistic outcome will amount to limiting the damage of the protectionist policies of Donald Trump’s administration. But there is a consensus that extends beyond the Liberal ranks that on this issue Trudeau has so far navigated deftly.

    Indeed one of the most notable features of last week’s first ministers meeting was the absence at least in public of provincial recrimination over Ottawa’s handing of the NAFTA file.

    Speaking of federal-provincial relations, as counterintuitive as that may seem, the decision to set a firm deadline for the legalization of marijuana was almost certainly a tactically inspired one.

    Whether one agrees or not with the promise to legalize cannabis, the Liberals did campaign on it. It is not a surprise they have sprung on their unsuspecting provincial counterparts. But absent the July 1, 2018 deadline it is far from certain that all provinces would have resisted the temptation to drag their feet on the way to creating the infrastructure required to sell cannabis legally.

    The legal cannabis operation will probably not open to rave reviews. Squeaky wheels will abound on the road to a well-oiled marijuana marketing system. But from a political perspective, the reality of legalization stands to be less daunting than the doomsday picture opponents of the Liberal policy are painting.

    On that score, a reality check is almost upon the federal parties.

    The Conservative opposition has spent little time in question period quizzing the Liberals on the cannabis issue but they have talked up a storm about its imminent legalization in Lac-Saint-Jean, one of two Conservative ridings that will be the site of mid-mandate by-elections on Monday.

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


    Two years in, Trudeau’s rookie ministers have accounted for much of the government’s grief: HébertTwo years in, Trudeau’s rookie ministers have accounted for much of the government’s grief: Hébert

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    ALBANY, N.Y.—Last March, five women gathered in a home near here to enter a secret sisterhood they were told was created to empower women.

    To gain admission, they were required to give their recruiter — or “master,” as she was called — naked photographs or other compromising material and were warned that such “collateral” might be publicly released if the group’s existence were disclosed.

    The women, in their 30s and 40s, belonged to a self-help organization called Nxivm, which is based in Albany and has chapters across the country, Canada and Mexico.

    Sarah Edmondson, one of the participants, said she had been told she would get a small tattoo as part of the initiation. But she was not prepared for what came next.

    Each woman was told to undress and lie on a massage table, while three others restrained her legs and shoulders. According to one of them, their “master,” a top Nxivm official named Lauren Salzman, instructed them to say: “Master, please brand me, it would be an honour.”

    A female doctor proceeded to use a cauterizing device to sear a five-centimetre-square symbol below each woman’s hip, a procedure that took 20 to 30 minutes. For hours, muffled screams and the smell of burning tissue filled the room.

    “I wept the whole time,” Edmondson recalled. “I disassociated out of my body.”

    Since the late 1990s, an estimated 16,000 people have enrolled in courses offered by Nxivm (pronounced Nex-e-um), which it says are designed to bring about greater self-fulfilment by eliminating psychological and emotional barriers. Most participants take some workshops, like the group’s “Executive Success Programs,” and resume their lives. But other people have become drawn more deeply into Nxivm, giving up careers, friends and families to become followers of its leader, Keith Raniere, who is known within the group as “Vanguard.”

    Both Nxivm and Raniere, 57, have long attracted controversy. Former members have depicted him as a man who manipulated his adherents, had sex with them and urged women to follow near-starvation diets to achieve the type of physique he found appealing.

    Now, as talk about the secret sisterhood and branding has circulated within Nxivm, scores of members are leaving. Interviews with a dozen of them portray a group spinning more deeply into disturbing practices. Many members said they feared that confessions about indiscretions would be used to blackmail them.

    Mark Vicente, a filmmaker and former top Nxivm official, said that after hearing about the secret society, he confronted Raniere.

    “I said ‘whatever you are doing, you are heading for a blowup,’” Vicente said.

    Several former members have asked state authorities to investigate the group’s practices, but officials have declined to pursue action.

    In July, Edmondson filed a complaint with the New York State Department of Health against Danielle Roberts, a licensed osteopath and follower of Raniere, who performed the branding, according to Edmondson and another woman. In a letter, the agency said it would not look into Roberts because she was not acting as Edmondson’s doctor when the branding is said to have happened.

    Separately, a state police investigator told Edmondson and two other women that officials would not pursue their criminal complaint against Nxivm because their actions had been consensual, a text message shows.

    State medical regulators also declined to act on a complaint filed against another Nxivm-affilated physician, Brandon Porter. Porter, as part of an “experiment,” showed women graphically violent film clips while a brainwave machine and video camera recorded their reactions, according to two women who took part.

    The women said they were not warned that some of the clips were violent, including footage of four women being murdered and dismembered.

    “Please look into this ASAP,” a former Nxivm member, Jennifer Kobelt, stated in her complaint. “This man needs to be stopped.”

    In September, regulators told Kobelt they concluded that the allegations against Porter did not meet the agency’s definition of “medical misconduct,” their letter shows.

    Raniere and other top Nxivm officials, including Lauren Salzman, did not respond to repeated emails, letters or text messages seeking comment. Roberts and Porter also did not respond to inquiries.

    Former members said that, inside Nxivm, they are being portrayed as defectors who want to destroy the group.

    It is not clear how many women were branded or which Nxivm officials were aware of the practice.

    A copy of a text message Raniere sent to a female follower indicates that he knew women were being branded and that the symbol’s design incorporated his initials.

    “Not initially intended as my initials but they rearranged it slightly for tribute,” Raniere wrote. “If it were abraham lincolns or bill gates initials no one would care.”

    Joining the sisterhood

    Edmondson, who lives in Vancouver and helped start Nxivm’s chapter there, was thrilled when Lauren Salzman arrived in January to teach workshops.

    The women, both in their early 40s, were close and Edmondson regarded Salzman as a confidante and mentor.

    “Lauren was someone I really looked up to as a rock star within the company,” said Edmondson, an actress who joined Nxivm about a decade ago.

    During her visit, Salzman said she had something “really amazing” she wanted to share. “It is kind of strange and top secret and in order for me to tell you about it you need to give me something as collateral to make sure you don’t speak about it,” Edmondson recalled her saying.

    The proposition seemed like a test of trust. After Edmondson wrote a letter detailing past indiscretions, Salzman told her about the secret sorority.

    She said it had been formed as a force for good, one that could grow into a network that could influence events like elections. To become effective, members had to overcome weaknesses that Raniere taught were common to women — an over-emotional nature, a failure to keep promises and an embrace of the role of victim, according to Edmondson and other members.

    Submission and obedience would be used as tools to achieve those goals, several women said. The sisterhood would comprise circles, each led by a “master” who would recruit six “slaves,” according to two women. In time, they would recruit slaves of their own.

    “She made it sound like a bad-ass bitch boot camp,” Edmondson said.

    Edmondson and others said that during training, the women were required to send their master texts that read “Morning M” and “Night M.” During drills, a master texted her slaves “?” and they had 60 seconds to reply “Ready M.”

    Trainees who failed had to pay penalties, including fasting, or could face physical punishments, two women said.

    In March, Edmondson arrived for an initiation ceremony at Salzman’s home in Clifton Park, New York, a town about 20 miles north of Albany where Raniere and some followers live. After undressing, she was led to a candlelit ceremony, where she removed a blindfold and saw Salzman’s other slaves for the first time. The women were then driven to a nearby house, where the branding took place.

    In the spring, the sorority grew as women joined different circles. Slaves added compromising collateral every month to Dropbox accounts and a Google Document was used to list a timetable for recruiting new slaves, several women said.

    Around the same time, an actress, Catherine Oxenberg, said she learned her daughter had been initiated into the sorority.

    “I felt sick to my stomach,” said Oxenberg, who starred in the 1980s television series “Dynasty.”

    Oxenberg had become increasingly concerned about her 26-year-old daughter, India, who looked emaciated from dieting. She told her mother she had not had a menstrual period for a year and that her hair was falling out.

    Oxenberg said she invited her daughter home in late May to try to get her away from the group.

    When Oxenberg confronted her about the sorority, her daughter defended its practices.

    “She said it was a character-building experience,” Oxenberg said.

    ‘Humans can be noble’

    By the time the secret group was taking shape, Mark Vicente, the filmmaker, had been a faithful follower of Raniere for more than a decade.

    Vicente said he had been contacted by Salzman’s mother, Nancy, a co-founder of Nxivm who is known as “Prefect,” after the 2004 release of a documentary he co-directed that explored spirituality and physics.

    Soon, Vicente was taking courses that he said helped him expose his fears and learn strategies that made him feel more resolute.

    He also made a documentary called “Encender el Corazón,” or “Ignite the Heart,” which lionized Raniere’s work in Mexico.

    “Keith Raniere is an activist, scientist, philosopher and, above all, humanitarian,” Vicente says in the film.

    Raniere has used those words to describe himself. On his website, he said he spoke in full sentences by age 1, mastered high school mathematics by 12 and taught himself to play “concert level” piano. At 16, he entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

    Before Nxivm, he helped run a company called Consumers’ Buyline Inc., which offered discounts to members on groceries and other products.

    In the mid-1990s, several state attorneys general investigated it as a suspected pyramid scheme; Raniere and his associates agreed to shut it down.

    Through Nxivm, Raniere transformed himself into a New Age teacher with long hair and a gurulike manner of speaking.

    “Humans can be noble,” he says on his website. “The question is: will we put forth what is necessary?”

    By many accounts, Raniere sleeps during the day and goes out at night to play volleyball or take female followers for long walks. Several women described him as warm, funny and eager to talk about subjects that interested them.

    Others saw a different side. Nxivm sued several former members, accusing them of stealing its trade secrets, among other things.

    Vicente said he was aware of the negative publicity, including a 2012 series by The Albany Times-Union that described alleged abuses inside Nxivm.

    Vicente’s views began to change this year after his wife was ostracized when she left Nxivm and he heard rumours about the secret sorority.

    Vicente said he got evasive answers when he asked Raniere about the group. Raniere acknowledged giving “five women permission to do something,” but did not elaborate, other than to say he would investigate, Vicente said.

    Vicente said he suspected Raniere was lying to him and may have done so before. Suddenly, self-awareness techniques he had learned felt like tools that had been used to control him.

    “No one goes in looking to have their personality stripped away,” he said. “You just don’t realize what is happening.”

    Followers start to flee

    In May, Sarah Edmondson began to recoil from her embrace of the secret society.

    Her husband, Anthony Ames, who was also a Nxivm member, learned about her branding and the couple both wanted out.

    Before quitting, Ames went to Nxivm’s offices in Albany to collect money he said the group owed him.

    He had his cellphone in his pocket and turned on its recorder.

    On the recording, Ames tells another member that Edmondson was branded and that other women told him about handing over collateral. “This is criminal,” Ames says.

    The voice of a woman — who Ames said is Lauren Salzman — is heard trying to calm him. “I don’t think you are open to having a conversation,” she said.

    “You are absolutely right, I’m not open to having a conversation,” he replied. “My wife got branded.”

    A few days later, many of Raniere’s followers learned of the secret society from a website run by a Buffalo-area businessman, Frank R. Parlato Jr. Parlato had been locked in a long legal battle with two sisters, Sara and Clare Bronfman, who are members of Nxivm and the daughters of businessman Edgar Bronfman, the deceased chairman of Seagram Co. and member of the influential Canadian Jewish Bronfman family.

    In 2011, the Bronfman sisters sued Parlato, whom they had hired as a consultant, alleging he had defrauded them of $1 million (U.S.).

    Four years later, in 2015, the Justice Department indicted him on charges of fraud and other crimes arising from alleged activities, including defrauding the Bronfmans. Parlato has denied the claims and the case is pending.

    Parlato started a website, The Frank Report, which he uses to lambaste prosecutors, Raniere and the Bronfmans. In early June, Parlato published the first in a torrent of salacious posts under the headline, “Branded Slaves and Master Raniere.”

    A Nxivm follower, Soukaina Mehdaoui, said she reached out to Raniere after reading the post. Mehdaoui, 25, was a newcomer to Nxivm but the two had grown close.

    She said Raniere told her the secret sorority began after three women offered damaging collateral to seal lifetime vows of obedience to him.

    While Mehdaoui had joined the sorority, the women in her circle were not branded. She was appalled.

    “There are things I didn’t know that I didn’t sign up for, and I’m not even hearing about it from you,” she texted Raniere.

    Raniere texted back about his initials and the brand.

    By then, panic was spreading inside Nxivm. Slaves were ordered to delete encrypted messages between them and erase Google documents, two women said. To those considering breaking away, it was not clear whom they could trust and who were Nxivm loyalists.

    Late one night, Mehdaoui met secretly with another Nxivm member. They took out their cellphones to show they were not recording the conversation.

    Both decided to leave Nxivm, despite concerns that the group would retaliate by releasing their “collateral” or suing them.

    Mehdaoui said that when she went to say goodbye to Raniere, he urged her to stay.

    “Do you think, I’m bad, I don’t agree with abuses,” she recalled him saying. He said the group “gives women tools to be powerful, to regain their power for the sake of building love.”

    Nxivm recently filed criminal complaints with the Vancouver police against Edmondson and two other women accusing them of mischief and other crimes in connection with the firm’s now-closed centre there, according to Edmondson. The women have denied the allegations. A spokesman for the Vancouver police declined to comment.

    Edmondson and other former followers of Raniere said they were focusing on recovering.

    “There is no playbook for leaving a cult,” she said.


    ‘Master, please brand me’: Inside the secretive self-help organization Nxivm‘Master, please brand me’: Inside the secretive self-help organization Nxivm

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    Electricity is governed by the laws of physics. Government is bound by the rules of accounting.

    But political power and electrical power have one thing in common: They follow the path of least resistance.

    Now, Ontario’s auditor general is trying to bend both to her will. Ahead of the next election, Bonnie Lysyk is fighting another rearguard action against the Liberal plan to curb hydro rates.

    The auditor made headlines this week by accusing the government of short-circuiting the accounting rules with complex financial manoeuvres that could add $4 billion in borrowing costs over 30 years. Oddly, though, Lysyk doesn’t quibble with their plan to cut hydro rates by 25 per cent — despite her mandate to seek value for money — possibly because it’s far too popular with voters.

    I’ve argued before that it’s an expedient shell game that mortgages our future by refinancing power projects over a longer amortization term. But all major parties keep promising cheap electricity today (for higher rates tomorrow), so perhaps the auditor is wiser than me by staying silent on the overall strategy.

    Instead, her quibble is over tactics — that the Liberals are borrowing the money through Ontario Power Generation (OPG), their wholly-owned electrical utility, instead of carrying it on the government’s own balance sheet. And while the auditor bristles at this description, at root it’s an arcane accounting dispute — though she is surely setting the stage for a broader political dispute that could affect the coming campaign.

    It’s true that the Liberals were loath to add billions of fresh debt to bankroll this hydro rebate, because they had promised in the last campaign to eliminate the budget deficit by this year (which they did). Better to bury the borrowings in their OPG subsidiary, claim a balanced budget, and cast themselves as credible stewards of the province’s finances.

    This wouldn’t be the first government to rely on creative financial engineering to restructure our electricity infrastructure and engineering costs. Ontario’s consolidated balance sheet has always required a decoding ring, and the auditor is right to question its complexity — even if her answers offer no greater clarity.

    She faults the Liberals for offloading the borrowing on a subsidiary, and then using creative (but legal) accounting techniques to count future “regulated” revenues as an upcoming asset. Lysyk likens that to treating your credit card debt as an asset.

    That’s a peculiarly misleading analogy for the auditor to make. No, you don’t count your own credit card debt as an asset, but the bank surely does — it’s an account receivable. And a regulated revenue stream is eminently reliable cash flow.

    The Liberals argue that power projects have historically remained on the books of power producers like OPG. The difference, of course, is that the old Ontario Hydro once generated all our power, before it was dismembered and downsized (it’s a pecuniary irony that OPG is being asked to clean up the mess from the stealth privatization of the energy sector).

    The last time Lysyk attacked the government’s deficit calculations, an outside panel of experts rejected her arguments— because not even an auditor can make a surplus disappear from a balance sheet. There is no permanent arbiter for auditors, but Lysyk is no longer the last word on accounting disputes — merely one of many voices, right or wrong. Expect that voice to grow louder next year when she formally assesses the 2018-19 spring budget — and once again challenges Liberal claims of deficit elimination.

    The conventional narrative frames this as a political clash pitting our fearless auditor against feckless Liberal politicians. In fact, her fight is with senior public servants, the provincial comptroller, treasury board staff, and outside accounting firms — all of whom describe it as a “professional disagreement” over accounting standards.

    Most of these experts, who are governed by their own professional code of conduct, gave their seal of approval to the government’s books — rightly or wrongly. Lysyk countered that they are cooking the books — and demanded their internal correspondence in search of dissenters.

    Without providing details, the auditor points ominously to emails (unreleased, unidentified and unquantified) from some bureaucrats questioning the government’s plans — as if this is the ultimate proof point for her point of view. Was she expecting unanimity?

    Interesting but irrelevant, until you consider this fun footnote: While the auditor was demanding confidential emails from public servants who give private counsel, she flatly rejected an Access to Information request filed this year by my colleague, Robert Benzie, for her office’s sometimes testy correspondence with bureaucrats. The response? An Access to Information request demanding to know Benzie’s identity (no secrets here — he readily waived the automatic confidentiality of the process). The auditor still refused to release any correspondence.

    So much for publicly accepted principles of Access to Information, transparency and reciprocity. Some watchdogs don’t like being watched.

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


    Watch out for watchdogs who don’t like being watched: CohnWatch out for watchdogs who don’t like being watched: Cohn

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    Ride-hailing services may offer free snacks and other perks, but they can’t match a veteran cabbie’s knowledge of the roads, Emma Teitel writes.

    Why I like taxis better than Uber: TeitelWhy I like taxis better than Uber: Teitel

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    Taquisha McKitty’s family wants the death certificate revoked and a 72-hour video recording of her made, a request which would apparently violate the hospital’s patient privacy guidelines and institutional policy.

    Brampton woman on life support is moving, is bleeding, but is dead, doctors say. Her family fights on: DiMannoBrampton woman on life support is moving, is bleeding, but is dead, doctors say. Her family fights on: DiManno

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    GE Peterborough employees say ministry of labour made promises it hasn’t kept and “it’s hell” for the hundreds of workers who believe they developed cancer and other illnesses from working at the plant.

    Ailing GE Peterborough workers still waiting for justice, group saysAiling GE Peterborough workers still waiting for justice, group says

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    MONTREAL—Gilbert Rozon, the impresario behind Montreal’s world-famous Just for Laughs Festival, has quit the entertainment company over unspecified allegations of abuse.

    He made the announcement on his Facebook page Wednesday evening, adding that he was also resigning as commissioner of the organizing committee of Montreal’s 375th anniversary celebrations and vice president of the Montreal Chamber of Commerce.

    “I am resigning out of respect for the employees and the families that work for these organizations as well as all our partners. I certainly don’t want to overshadow their activities,” Rozon wrote in what he titled an official declaration.

    “Shaken by the allegations against me, I want to dedicate all my time to review the matter. To all those who I may have offended in my life, I’m sincerely sorry.”

    Le Devoir reported interviewing nine women about their alleged experiences of harassment, abuse and sexual assault at Rozon’s hands over the last three decades.

    One woman reported that in June 2016 she awoke following an evening of drinking to find Rozon having sex with her against her will, something that Rozon himself later disputed in an email exchange.

    “I froze, I pushed him away, slammed the door and went into another room,” said Geneviève Allard. Later, Rozon allegedly remarked that both of them had cheated on their partners.

    Allard filed a formal complaint with the police last December, the newspaper reported.

    Read more:

    Quebec television personality Eric Salvail taking ‘pause’ after reports of sexual misconduct

    Weinstein scandal will accelerate Oscar housecleaning: Howell

    Actually, Woody Allen, a witch hunt is exactly what Hollywood needs: Menon

    Among the other alleged victims was a well-known actress, Salomé Corbo, who said she was 14 years old in 1990 when an intoxicated Rozon slipped his hands into her underwear and digitally penetrated her during a party

    The TVA network reported that Montreal police had launched an investigation into a complaint of sexual assault that allegedly occurred in Paris in 1994. The woman was reportedly among a group of Rozon’s alleged victims who came together Tuesday in Montreal to discuss their ordeals.

    The network also reported that another young woman, aged 20 when she worked for the Just for Laughs festival in 2010, had her backside slapped by Rozon as a means of congratulations and was told on another occasion: “Your breasts look great in that dress.”

    Another woman, Marlène Bolduc, wrote on Twitter Wednesday that she worked for Rozon’s festival in the summer of 2016 as a rickshaw driver and ended up one night pulling Rozon home along with a group of his friends.

    Rozon allegedly commented during the ride on her “beautiful arched back” and remarked: “Those thighs have got to be pretty firm.” She said he also used his scarf to whip her as if he was riding a horse-drawn carriage.

    “It’s not insignificant. It’s sexual harassment. Gilbert Rozon, my body belongs to me. You cannot take ownership of it, sexualize me and humiliate me,” Bolduc wrote. “You reduced me to an object. You terrified me to the point that I was frozen.

    Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said in a statement that he was disappointed to learn of the “serious allegations of sexual misconduct.”

    “I totally support all the men and women who decide to express themselves concerning the abuse they have suffered. We have to protect the victims.”

    Rozon pleaded guilty in 1998 to fondling a 19-year-old woman. He said the incident pushed him into therapy and reflection on the transgressions so often committed by powerful people.

    “I looked at politicians here and abroad, like Bill Clinton, and I asked myself, “Does power go with the obligation to seduce and conquer?” he told an interviewer in 2011.

    Rozon received a $1,100 fine and one year of probation, according to published reports.

    In 1999, he was granted an unconditional discharge after a judge ruled that having a criminal record for sexual assault might prevent Rozon from travelling internationally, affect his business and hamper Montreal’s economy, the CBC reported at the time.

    Rozon had also been charged with unlawful confinement involving a 31-year-old woman, but the charge was withdrawn by police due to lack of evidence.

    A Quebec actor, Guillaume Wagner, brought the concerns surrounding Rozon to light Wednesday when he wrote on Facebook: “I won’t work for Just for Laugh so long as an agressor is the boss.”

    Wagner added that he was aware of Rozon’s past brush with the law and thought he had reformed.

    “Then I heard stories. And then others. And recent ones. It’s starting to come out. It will continue to come out,” he wrote. “When men break lives, the least we can do is to break the silence.”

    Rozon’s resignation was the second bombshell to shake Quebec’s entertainment world Wednesday.

    Earlier in the day, television host and producer Eric Salvail was alleged to have engaged in inappropriate sexual behaviour, which resulted in the talk show and radio show he hosts being suspended.

    Montreal’s La Presse newspaper reported having collected the testimony of 11 people Salvail is alleged to have sexually harassed, improperly touched or to have shown his penis.

    One of Eric Salvail’s alleged victims, Marco Berardini, said in an interview that he has been inundated with messages of support and inquiries from others who have had encounters with the host and producer since coming forward with the story of his alleged abuse, which dates back to 2003.

    “There’s no satisfaction in this,” Berardini said by telephone from Los Angeles. “I wish that there was and maybe there will be but for now it’s just sad.”

    “In a meeting he stood up, he took out his penis and he asked what I would do to excite him,” said one person who spoke to La Presse on condition of anonymity.

    The Star has not been able to independently verify any of the alleged claims.

    Salvail’s lawyer, Jacques Jeansonne, refused to comment on the allegations, shortly before Salvail himself addressed the matter on his Facebook page Wednesday.

    “I was shaken by what was published this morning. I’m approaching this situation with an enormous amount of empathy for those who I may have made to feel uncomfortable or hurt. I never meant to bother anyone,” he wrote.


    Just For Laughs founder Gilbert Rozon resigns over abuse allegationsJust For Laughs founder Gilbert Rozon resigns over abuse allegations

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    Calling it a tool with “the potential to save lives,” Toronto police are renewing their push for greater deployment of conducted energy weapons, saying more front-line officers should have access to the weapons during tense and possibly deadly interactions.

    But at a public meeting Wednesday on the possible expansion of Tasers to more front-line officers, critics pushed back against the device, better known as a Taser, raising concerns about increasing weaponization of police and unknown medical impacts on those with mental-health challenges.

    “We don’t need Tasers. We need de-escalation,” said Peter Rosenthal, a Toronto lawyer who has represented families of people killed by police.

    Currently, only front-line supervisors and some officers in specialized units carry the weapon. The Toronto police is asking its civilian board to expand deployment to on-duty Primary Response Unit constables and to on-duty constables from designated specialized units.

    No details about the number of Tasers or total cost have been released. Toronto police deputy chief Barbara McLean said at Wednesday’s meeting that a formal request will be sent to the civilian board.

    Read More:

    Police need to talk, not use Tasers

    Should cops carry Tasers? Public to weigh in at Toronto police board meeting

    Outgoing deputy chief ‘unreservedly’ endorses Tasers for front-line cops

    The weapon would “never to be used as a substitute for de-escalation” and would be part of a suite of tools available to officers, she said. The weapon has “the potential to save lives,” she said.

    Board chair Andy Pringle said no decision would be made immediately and that expanding the deployment of the weapon is an “active discussion.”

    Dr. Peter Collins, a forensic psychiatrist who has been called in by Toronto’s Emergency Task Force to help during crisis calls, says despite the emphasis placed by Toronto police on communication and verbal de-escalation, “unfortunately not everyone will respond to that type of approach.”

    “Some individuals are not going to respond and you have to have other options,” Collins said.

    Tasers, the only brand of CEW approved for use in Ontario, incapacitate a person through the deployment of two darts connected by wires, which deliver an electric current. The weapon causes involuntary muscle spasms and temporary loss of motor control.

    The weapon has become popular within police services in Ontario as a less lethal option for officers in comparison to a firearm. Since the province of Ontario stopped restricting Taser use to supervisors and select officers in 2013, virtually every police service in the province has expanded use of the weapon except Toronto.

    Ron Bain, executive director of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP), said his organization has long supported Taser deployment to front line officers. The fact that Toronto police officers have restricted access to the weapons means there is now a risk to public and officer safety. The Toronto police board “has the power and authority” to fix the situation, Bain said.

    But some members of the public, legal experts and rights organizations are speaking out against greater Taser deployment. High on their list of concerns are the unknown health risks, particularly to people with mental illness.

    “CEWs are not harmless weapons. CEWs are weapons that are intensely painful and can potentially lead to serious, even lethal, injuries,” wrote Rob De Luca, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s public safety program, in a letter to the police board in advance of Wednesday’s meeting.

    In a written submission to the Toronto police board, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) says the use of CEWs “raises serious human rights concerns because people with mental health disabilities tend to have more frequent contact with police, and may be more likely to be Tasered because of behaviours and responses to police instructions that appear ‘unusual’ or ‘unpredictable.’”

    “They may also be more likely to die after being Tasered,” says the OHRC submission.

    Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), continues to probe the death of Rui Nabico, 31, who was killed after he was Tasered by a Toronto police officer. Earlier this year, the SIU cleared Toronto police in the death of Rodrigo Almonacid Gonzalez, who was Tasered eight times but whose death the coroner concluded was due to acute cocaine toxicity.

    Following the high-profile death of Sammy Yatim — who was shot eight times by Const. James Forcillo, then Tasered by another officer — Toronto police tapped retired Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci to conduct a review of police use of force on those in mental-health crisis. Among Iacobucci’s recommendations was that Toronto launch a pilot project allowing front line officers greater access to Tasers.

    But the recommendation came with a caveat. Iacobucci expressed concern about the unknown health risks posed by the weapon, particularly to people with mental illness, wondering if the population might be particularly vulnerable to the potentially serious effects of Tasers due to a higher likelihood of pre-existing medical conditions, prescription medications, substance abuse issues and high levels of agitation.

    “The absence of definitive research into the risks of CEWs for populations who are likely to encounter the police in non-criminal contexts is a problem,” Iacobucci wrote in his 2014 report.

    The retired judge recommended Toronto police “advocate for an interprovincial study of the medical effects of CEW use on various groups of people (including vulnerable groups such as people in crisis).”

    However, the recommendation was among the few Toronto police did not implement.

    “While the Service recognizes the value of continual research, it remains satisfied that the current medical research has found no persuasive evidence of risk to vulnerable persons,” Toronto police said in response.

    However, critics have questioned the quality of research on CEWs, including that some studies were conducted or funded by the weapon manufacturers.

    Wendy Gillis can be reached at wgillis@thestar.ca


    Critics question Toronto police push for more TasersCritics question Toronto police push for more Tasers

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    Police are investigating after a British Columbia man had around $500,000 worth of rare coins and bills stolen from his vehicle while it was parked in Mississauga last month.

    The 68-year-old man had travelled to Ontario for a collectibles convention, police said. He parked in a hotel parking near Edwards Blvd. and Derry Rd. on Sept. 28, leaving two bags of coins and bills inside his vehicle.

    According to police, a suspect — described as a balding man with a heavy build and between the ages of 35 and 45 — broke into the collector’s vehicle at around 1 p.m. that day and walked away with the bags.

    The stolen bank notes and coins include an American $20 coin and Canadian $5 bills issued by the Bank of Hamilton and the Molsons Bank.

    Surveillance video of the alleged suspect has been released by police.


    $500,000 in rare coins and bills stolen in Mississauga$500,000 in rare coins and bills stolen in Mississauga

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    Six reasons for optimism as the Raptors prepare to open the NBA regular season:

    Consistency

    There’s something to be said for having groups of players who are familiar with each other. Not only can they figure things out as a group during games, but they have the ability to get on each other away from the games to draw out the best in each other. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas have been together for six seasons, which gives them a leg up on much of the competition.

    All-star back-court

    There’s always going to be legitimate debate about which back-court combination is the best in the league, in the conference and even in the division. But no matter what style of offence they are asked to play or what their defensive assignments are, there’s no denying that Lowry and DeRozan are legitimate NBA all-stars and have been for three seasons now.

    The schedule

    It’s absolute torture to start — a season-long, six-game road trip right off the bat, and another journey to the west coast before December is half finished — but once it turns, it turns well. The Raptors do not play a game outside of the Eastern time zone after Valentine’s Day. That’s 25 straight games with the longest flight being to Florida. The longest road trip is three games, and two of them — at the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks — don’t require even changing hotels.

    The East

    The Eastern Conference is certainly not as deep as the West, but it’s the only one the Raptors have to worry about winning. There seems to be a clear distinction between the top four teams — Cleveland, Toronto, Boston, Washington — and the rest, and that could be a huge factor when the post-season begins in six months or so.

    The memories

    It’s the “been there, done that” syndrome, and maybe it comes into play next May and June. Having tasted the Eastern Conference final once, knowing what it takes to beat the mighty Cavaliers in a game — maybe not a series, yet, but a game — could give the Raptors the post-season confidence to take one more giant step.

    Diversification

    The Raptors were much easier to guard in the cauldron of the playoffs with such a heavy reliance on the offensive skills of DeRozan and Lowry. If they can make alterations to turn more players into consistent scorers and contributors — and they’ve got the season to figure out how — it’ll help when needed most.


    Raptors season preview: Six reasons for hopeRaptors season preview: Six reasons for hope

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    Right until the end, Gord Downie never looked back.

    We already knew how this song was going to end. Still, when the news broke on Wednesday morning and the country gasped, the heartache we felt last year after learning about his terminal brain cancer came rushing back.

    And this time it won’t go away.

    Stolen from us at the age of 53, Downie is leaving when we need him most. Who will write the songs that cross generations and slice across geography? Who will be our poet laureate and history professor, our spirited raconteur and unflinching critic, our tour guide to the past and cultural voyager of the future?

    Even after the diagnosis of glioblastoma, an aggressive cancer that often leaves no margin of hope, Downie did not retreat to the shadows. There was no hint of self-pity. If anything, the frontman for the Tragically Hip shifted into overdrive as he led his beloved band on a final tour in 2016, filling stadiums and moistening eyes as the country started the grim ritual of mourning what we had not yet lost.

    Downie was dealt the cruellest of hands. And he doubled down on living.

    “Gord knew this day was coming,” his family said in a statement on Wednesday. “His response was to spend this precious time as he always had — making music, making memories and expressing deep gratitude to his family and friends for a life well lived, often sealing it with a kiss . . . on the lips.

    “Gord said he had lived many lives. As a musician, he lived ‘the life’ for over 30 years, lucky to do most of it with his high school buddies. At home, he worked just as tirelessly at being a good father, son, brother, husband and friend. No one worked harder on every part of their life than Gord. No one.”

    What’s amazing about these many lives, and the hard work he devoted to each, is the lack of compromise that defined them all. He was told the end is near and he somehow found new beginnings. In the darkness, he found ways to keep creating in the light, to keep on loving and, ultimately, keep on giving.

    We should all be blessed with such grace, drive and selfless resolve.

    It was like Downie had discovered a kink in the space-time continuum and was operating at full speed for 60 hours per day. It was like he was determined to keep serving as a unifying force while nudging Canada in the right direction.

    His new solo album, Introduce Yerself, comes out on Oct. 27. On Sunday, at 9 p.m., the CBC will air the broadcast premiere of Gord Downie’s Secret Path in Concert, which was filmed last fall at Roy Thomson Hall and is a project that “acknowledges a dark part of Canada’s history — the long-suppressed mistreatment of Indigenous children and families by the residential school system — with the hope of starting a national conversation and furthering reconciliation.”

    On the most primal level, the loss of Downie the Musician hurts because of what the Hip represented for more than three decades. This was a band that scored the sound track to thousands of lives as a generation came of age.

    Regardless of who you were and where you were growing up, the Hip was there when called upon. Their music filled our days and nights. And as if by sonic osmosis, all these years later, even non-fans can hum more Hip songs than they might suspect.

    This is why their best-known tracks — including “New Orleans is Sinking,” “Bobcaygeon,” “Blow at High Dough,” “Courage,” “Ahead by a Century,” “Fifty-Mission Cap,” “At the Hundredth Meridian” — can now feel more like nostalgia than music. That inimitable voice will forever be a gateway to the past.

    Downie’s songs are, in the end, our memories.

    But on an intellectual level, the loss of Downie the Conscience may prove to be the bigger forfeiture. Secret Path started as a collection of 10 poems inspired by the 1966 death of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, an Indigenous boy who succumbed to exposure after trying to escape on foot from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School to find his family.

    Downie has crusaded for reconciliation and, along the way, challenged Canada to do more. In the pantheon of popular music today, there is no natural heir apparent, at least not anyone who had the influence and power of Downie.

    His convictions flowed from ideas, and not the other way around.

    His sense of nationalism, often misunderstood, was rooted in equality.

    But at this time of mourning, when our grief feels like looping power-chords, let us just do what Downie never did, which is look back.

    Thank you, Gord, for the songs, the albums and the memories. Thank you for the cryptic lyrics and the madcap performances. Thank you for the crazy dancing and the vivid poetry. Thank you for always wanting to live in a better country and for always wanting that country to be Canada.

    vmenon@thestar.ca


    Gord Downie made us want to fix Canada: MenonGord Downie made us want to fix Canada: Menon

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    A 26-year-old woman is dead following a single-vehicle rollover in Brampton Wednesday night.

    Ontario Provincial Police says it happened just after 11 p.m. in the southbound lanes of Highway 410 near Steeles Ave.

    Peel paramedics said they rushed the woman to hospital with life-threatening injuries, where she later died.

    No other injuries were reported. The cause of the crash has not been determined.

    The southbound lanes were closed for a police investigation, but they have since reopened.


    Woman, 26, killed in Highway 410 crashWoman, 26, killed in Highway 410 crash

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    Facebook Canada is on Thursday announcing a hotly anticipated plan for shielding the 2019 election from cyber hacks and the spread of fake news and misinformation online.

    The social media network’s “Canadian Election Integrity Initiative” puts much of the responsibility on political players and citizens.

    It includes a “cyber hygiene guide” for MPs and political parties that outlines best practices for guarding against malicious hackers and identifies common ways bad actors commandeer Facebook accounts and wreak mischief online.

    Politicians, their top staffers, parties and eventually election candidates will also get exclusive access to a special crisis email line linked to Facebook’s security team, should their page be compromised.

    “This is very much a proactive effort,” Kevin Chan, Facebook Canada’s head of public policy, said in an interview.

    The platform has been under scrutiny for enabling Russian-linked groups to place thousands of ads during the 2016 U.S. election in an attempt to spread discord.

    “We are very lucky and fortunate, in a way, that we have the luxury of thinking about this two years in advance,” Chan said.

    As such the lead-up to Canada’s federal election will also be spent tackling the scourge of political misinformation, via a digital news literacy campaign helmed by MediaSmarts, a non-profit agency headquartered in Ottawa.

    MediaSmarts will roll out a series of public-service-announcement video clips in French and English that will teach citizens how to spot fake news, authenticate credible sources, understand the difference between fact and opinion, and identify emotionally-charged or inflammatory posts.

    There will also be “missions” — or interactive online games — to test if people have the skills to recognize a misleading post before sharing it.

    “People would come away feeling they ought to authenticate (a story),” said Matthew Johnson, MediaSmarts’ director of education.

    He said the public plays just one part in improving digital democracy.

    “We don’t think the burden of misinformation should rest entirely on us (citizens),” he said, adding Facebook’s move is a “very encouraging” start.

    Chan said there is potential for further action closer to 2019, such as cracking down on fake accounts that disseminate deceptive content. The company did so in the run up to the recent election in France, targeting 30,000 inauthentic accounts.

    Facebook has also vowed to make political advertising on its site more transparent and to beef up its ad review process, among other measures.

    “It is not a silver bullet — I don’t think anything is,” Chan said. “That’s not to say as a platform we don’t take our responsibility seriously and we don’t want to do what we can.”

    Johnson and Chan will be in Ottawa for the announcement, which will include a panel discussion on digital civic engagement featuring Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould.

    Gould lauded Facebook’s move, but said it’s “only a first step.”

    “There is much more to be done, and social media platforms have a responsibility to take action to ensure the continued protection of our democratic process,” she said in a statement to the Star. “I encourage all digital platforms to think critically about their current practices and how they can create spaces for informed public dialogue and information we consume.”

    Facebook’s initiative responds to a cyber-risk assessment from Canada’s electronic spy agency that was done at Gould’s behest. In June, the Communications Security Establishment warned hackers would “almost certainly” attempt to influence democratic process, identifying social media as a key target.


    Facebook’s Canadian ‘election integrity’ plan puts much of the responsibility on political playersFacebook’s Canadian ‘election integrity’ plan puts much of the responsibility on political players

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    A few toys and children’s books are scattered around the family room. A half-filled coffee pot sits on the kitchen counter. A little girl plays on a tricycle in the backyard as her mom watches.

    This could be any house on any street in the GTA, and that’s exactly the point.

    Every day, the small house in Mississauga opens its doors and its heart to women in need. And for up to three months a year, 14 women and children from across the GTA, make it their home.

    Nisa Homes is the GTA’s first transitional shelter specifically geared to serving Muslim women. The Mississauga location of Nisa — which means women in Arabic — opened its doors three years ago. There is also a location in Surrey, B.C., and plans are underway to launch one in Windsor by the end of the year.

    The home is open to any woman in need, but most of the clientele identify as Muslim. Many are recent immigrants, or refugees. Some are homeless, others are trying to leave behind abusive homes and start afresh.

    “For a lot of the women here, they are not looking for a shelter in a traditional sense,” said Yasmine Youssef, program manager for Nisa Homes. Many have recently left their partners, have been staying with friends or family members and are trying to figure out what to do.

    “They are now looking for a place where they can get their lives in order,” Youssef said.

    The project was started by an organization called the National Zakat Foundation, created to help Muslims in Canada distribute charity and alms — a requirement of the faith — to the needy across Canada.

    Zubair Qasim, executive director with NZF, said Nisa Homes was born out of conversations with community members about the fact Muslim women were underserved when it came to safe housing or shelter.

    Qasim said a quick needs assessment in 2012 found that while many mainstream shelters serve a diverse population, there were few centres that had the resources to address the specific cultural and religious needs of Muslim women, including the notion of stigma.

    “Data on current shelters in the Greater Toronto Area reveal a limited amount of resources geared towards assisting Muslim women. Of the total of 21 shelters analyzed, one Muslim shelter was identified in the East Toronto area to have suitable arrangements for religious accommodations,” researchers wrote in a feasibility report on the need for a Muslim shelter. “Other shelters lack adequate immigration resources, prayer facilities … and sometimes even language interpretation.”

    Among the shelters they looked at were Anduhyaun, which serves Indigenous women and children, Jewish Family and Child, and the Muslim Welfare Home for Needy Women and Children in Durham, which serves a broader population and is the only emergency women’s shelter in the municipality.

    Youssef says Nisa Homes is not an emergency shelter — but serves as a place for women to figure out how to transition to safety.

    According to a Statistics Canada snapshot from 2014, of the nearly 8,000 women and children who accessed shelter facilities across the country, half went to transition homes, with 78 per cent fleeing abuse.

    “Most of the women here don’t have the immediate needs,” said Youssef. “A lot of them are looking for more long-term options.”

    They are also looking for resources like mental health support, immigration advice, and legal and housing support, she said. “We try to help them put these pieces into place.” And they continue to follow-up for three months after the women move out.

    Many turn to Nisa Homes in hopes of finding cultural and religious sensitive supports.

    “A lot of women are not reaching out for assistance because they are worried about experiencing drugs, alcohol … to the point that some women stay in abusive situations for years because they would rather stay than access shelters,” said Youssef. She said she has heard stories of women who had gone to other shelters having difficulty getting food during Ramadan, facing Islamophobic comments, or in one case, a woman who talked about her hijab getting pulled off her head, and in another, a woman who was horrified when an abusive client urinated on her prayer mat.

    “Lots of situations where there is no understanding, it makes many women feel like, here I am leaving everything I know, and now I am being marginalized even further,” she said. “And studies show that using community and cultural supports are the best way to help women overcome trauma.”

    Maryam, who stayed at Nisa Homes in 2015 after fleeing an abusive marriage, says she experienced a familiarity at the shelter she did not expect.

    “I was reluctant to go to a shelter, and scared to be homeless,” said Maryam, who asked that her real name not be used. “But I was in distress. I didn’t have family here, or much of a social circle. But when I arrived at the house, I felt immediately at ease.”

    She said staff at the home checked in with her to make sure she was sleeping and eating, and gave her spiritual guidance when she needed it. Over the three months she was there, she wrote her final university exams, and completed her master’s degree.

    Two years later, she’s now living in Montreal, managed to secure an internship with the UN, and has a successful career. She says she can’t imagine where she would have ended up without Nisa Homes.

    “I can’t even express what Nisa Homes did for me. They helped me look forward, instead of looking back,” she said.

    Since 2014, the organization has helped more than 150 women across the country, said Youssef. But for every woman they help, there are “400 calls that we have gotten so far that we can’t help … mainly because we are full on any given day.” And on any given day, there is a waitlist of at least five families trying to get in.

    The current home in Mississauga is a rental with six rooms. Some women have roommates. Others come with their families and take up half of the house. There are other limitations: The homes aren’t accessibility friendly. The organization doesn’t yet have resources to support those with severe mental illness, or those who are fleeing dangerous situations.

    Youssef says telling women there is no space for them is as hard as hearing their stories. She recalls one recent phone call from an elderly woman, who said she was kicked out of her home by her adult children because she had severe depression and anxiety and had nowhere to go.

    But for every disappointment, there are happy stories too.

    During the recent influx of refugees from the U.S., the Surrey location was called upon by local agencies to take in families coming across the border. One day, the centre got a call to take in a family of nine — including eight kids.

    “They were the sweetest kids, they wouldn’t even have lunch unless I sat with them,” said Youssef.

    Months later when she checked in with the family, she was happy to hear they are thriving. “The kids are all in school,” she said. “The eldest son has a job now. That family is doing so well now.”


    Nisa Homes provides a safe haven for Muslim women in needNisa Homes provides a safe haven for Muslim women in need

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    WASHINGTON—It’s known as some of the saddest ground in America, a six-hectare plot of Arlington National Cemetery called Section 60 where many U.S. personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are interred. On Memorial Day this year, U.S. President Donald Trump and the man who would be his chief of staff visited Grave 9480, the final resting place of Robert Kelly, a Marine killed Nov. 9, 2010, in Afghanistan.

    “We grieve with you. We honour you. And we pledge to you that we will always remember Robert and what he did for all of us,” Trump said, singling out the Kelly family during his remarks to the nation that day. Turning to Robert’s father, then the secretary of homeland security, Trump added, “Thank you, John.”

    The quiet tribute contrasts with Trump’s messy brawl this week with critics of his handling of condolences to Gold Star families who, like Kelly, have lost people to recent warfare. Trump brought up the loss of Kelly’s son as part of an attack on former president Barack Obama, dragging the family’s searing loss into a political fight over who has consoled grieving families better. Kelly has not commented on the controversy, but it was exactly the sort of public attention to a personal tragedy that the reserved, retired Marine general would abhor.

    White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledged Kelly was “disgusted” that the condolence calls had been politicized, but said she was not certain if the chief of staff knew Trump was going to talk about his son publicly.

    Trump sparked the controversy during an interview Tuesday with Fox News Radio. Asked whether he’d called the families of Americans killed in Niger nearly two weeks before, Trump replied, “You could ask Gen. Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?”

    On Wednesday, a CNN report citing multiple unnamed White House officials said Kelly was caught off guard by Trump’s comment. Kelly had told Trump that Obama did not call, but had never thought the president would raise that information publicly, the report said.

    Trump’s remark set many in the military community seething. Kelly is the most senior U.S. military officer to lose a child in Iraq or Afghanistan.

    “I would be surprised if he comes in and starts allowing people to use his family as a tool,” said Charles C. Krulak, a former Marine Corps commandant who has known John Kelly since the mid-1990s.

    There was a sense among some that Trump’s words were not an appropriate part of the national political dialogue.

    “If there is one sacred ground in politics it should be the ultimate sacrifices made by our military,” wrote Chuck Hagel, a defence secretary under Obama and before that, a Republican U.S. senator. In an email to The Associated Press, Hagel added: “To use General Kelly and his family in this disgusting political way is sickening and beneath every shred of decency of presidential leadership.”

    Trump has had a fraught relationship with grieving Gold Star families since the 2016 campaign, when he feuded with the parents of slain Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004.

    Now the commander in chief, Trump ranked himself above his predecessors on such matters, insisting this week that he’s “called every family of someone who’s died,” while past presidents didn’t place such calls. But The Associated Press found relatives of soldiers who died overseas during Trump’s presidency who said they never received calls from him, and more who said they did not receive letters.

    As for whether Obama called Kelly, White House officials said later that Obama did not call Kelly, but White House visitor logs show that Kelly and his wife attended the Obamas’ lunch with Gold Star families.

    The public controversy has to have been painful for Kelly, whose son had been awarded the Purple Heart. The White House chief of staff is a military veteran of more than four decades who has rarely discussed his son’s death and refused to politicize it.

    Robert Kelly, 29, was killed when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan’s remote Helmand province. His father, aware that Robert Kelly accompanied almost every patrol with his men through mine-filled battlefields, had just days before warned the family of the potential danger, according to a report in The Washington Post. When Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. rang the elder Kelly’s doorbell at 6:10 a.m. on November 9, 2010, John Kelly knew Robert was dead, according to the report.

    Four days later, the grieving father with the four-decade military career asked a Marine Corps officer not to mention Robert’s death during an event in St. Louis. There, without mentioning Robert, John Kelly delivered an impassioned speech about the disconnect between military personnel and members of American society who do not support their mission.

    “Their struggle is your struggle,” Kelly said.

    “We are only one of 5,500 American families who have suffered the loss of a child in this war,” Kelly wrote to The Post in an email. “The death of my boy simply cannot be made to seem any more tragic than the others.”

    In March 2011, Kelly accompanied his boss, Defence Secretary Bob Gates, on a visit to the Sangin district, in Helmand province — the scene of some of the most intense fighting of the war and where Robert Kelly had been killed.

    As Gates’ senior military assistant, Kelly stood silently among young Marines gathering under a harsh sun as Gates applauded what they had accomplished.

    “Your success, obviously, has come at an extraordinary price,” Gates said without mentioning names.

    Ahead of Trump and Kelly’s visit to Robert’s grave on Memorial Day, Kelly’s voice caught when he was asked on Fox & Friends to describe his son.

    “He’s the finest man I ever knew,” Kelly said. Asked to elaborate, Kelly struggled at first. “Just is. Finest guy. Wonderful guy. Wonderful husband, wonderful son, wonderful brother. Brave beyond all get out. His men still correspond with us. They still mourn him as we do.”


    John Kelly kept his own tragedy out of politics. Then Donald Trump brought it upJohn Kelly kept his own tragedy out of politics. Then Donald Trump brought it up

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    Some had just celebrated marriages of half a century or longer. They spent their time volunteering and playing with grandchildren. A few had lived through both world wars.

    The vast majority of the 42 people found dead so far in the wildfires that have ravaged Northern California were senior citizens, most older than 70. Several were couples who died together, including childhood sweethearts who had grown old together.

    A 95-year-old man and his 75-year-old wife spent their final moments huddled in the wine cellar of their home where they had lived for 45 years.

    Read more:

    California residents return home to altered lives, communities after wildfires

    Homes spared by California wildfires bring joy and sense of loss

    Firefighters battle to save historic Sonoma from California wildfire

    The oldest victim — 100-year-old Second World War veteran Charles Rippey, who used a walker — is believed to have been trying to make it to his 98-year-old wife, Sara, who had limited mobility after a stroke. Their caretaker barely escaped alive before the roof collapsed and the blaze engulfed the house.

    An 80-year-old man never made it past his driveway after getting his 80-year-old wife into the car to escape. The two were born four days apart and died together.

    Some simply clung to each other until the end.

    Armando Berriz, 76, held his wife of 55 years, Carmen Caldentey Berriz, afloat in a swimming pool as walls of fire burned around them. He let go only after Carmen stopped breathing and the flames had burned out, laying her on the steps of the pool with her arms crossed over her chest. He then walked 2 miles to find help.

    “This situation has been so tragic on so many levels,” said Caroline Cicero, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. “Couples who have been living together for 30, 40, 50 years, especially in their 80s and 90s, definitely might have just realized this is the end. ‘There is nothing we can do, so we’ll go out together,’ which is a beautiful thing. But it’s tragic for those left behind.”

    If a spouse survived, it will be an extremely painful road to recovery, especially for older people who may never heal, said Cicero, who has worked as a geriatric social worker.

    Authorities identified more victims Thursday.

    Jane Gardiner, 83, was with her caregiver, 64-year-old Elizabeth Charlene Foster, when she called her stepson early Oct. 9 to tell him her home in Mendocino County was surrounded by fire and they were waiting to be evacuated by the fire department. Both were found in the charred remains of the residence, authorities said.

    Another 86-year-old woman, Margaret Stephenson, appeared to be trying to get out through her garage but was overtaken by the flames.

    The heavy toll on older people has raised questions about whether more could have been done to alert the most vulnerable in time to escape.

    Among the victims were those who had survived strokes, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. They could not move fast enough to escape the speeding flames. Others likely never heard the frantic calls of friends or honking of neighbours’ cars — possibly the only warning that they were in danger.

    It’s only been since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that cities began drawing up emergency preparedness plans that specifically take the elderly into account, Cicero said.

    Some cities, such as Culver City in suburban Los Angeles, now allow people to put their names on a list that notifies officials they need priority because they are hearing impaired or have other issues that may limit their ability to evacuate quickly.

    But Cicero said she is not sure what could have been done in places like Santa Rosa, where a wildfire sprung up quickly and overtook homes in suburban neighbourhoods and remote woods at night, giving people only minutes or, in some cases, seconds to escape.

    George Powell, 74, said he does not know what woke him early Monday. He looked out the window to flames and immediately woke his 72-year-old wife, Lynne Anderson Powell. She grabbed a laptop, her border collie and was driving down their mountain road within minutes.

    He went for his three border collies and fled 15 minutes behind her in his own vehicle.

    There was a huge wall of fire along the road. Powell said he realized later that he had driven past his wife’s Prius, which had gone off the road and plunged into a ravine in the thick smoke. Lynne’s burned body was found steps from her car; the dog was found burned to death inside.

    The couple had been married 33 years and lived in the woods in the Santa Rosa area. She had recently overcome cancer.

    “If I had known, I would have gone down there with her, even if it meant I would have died with her,” Powell said. “I don’t know how I’m going to cope. She was my life.

    “She was my life,” he repeated.


    Elderly couples die in each other’s arms during California wildfiresElderly couples die in each other’s arms during California wildfires

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    An Ontario Superior Court has issued an interim injunction allowing the city of Toronto to close down Canna Clinic pot dispensaries for contravening zoning bylaws.

    “Not only did it grant the order effectively directing that the operations close at those locations, but it also prohibits Canna Clinic and its directors from continuing to operate or sell marijuana in the city of Toronto,” said Mark Sraga, director of investigation services for the city’s municipal licensing and standards division.

    The injunction also orders that the property owners are prohibited from allowing the use of their property for any person to sell, store or distribute marijuana.

    The city and Toronto police have tried to shut down illegal pot shops, including the B.C.-based Canna Clinic chain, in a series of raids across the city over the last 18 months. Shop owners and clerks have faced criminal and bylaw charges.

    Canna Clinic has had as many as seven storefronts operating in Toronto. Its two remaining sites operating in Toronto have now closed, Sraga said.

    “Our legal department is still reviewing the decision then we’ll determine what next steps need to be taken should they not comply with the order.

    Canna Clinic opposed Toronto’s application to shut them down so their dispensaries could continue providing reasonable access for patients needing cannabis for medical purposes.

    A hearing for a permanent injunction is scheduled for December 2018 – almost six months after recreational marijuana is set to be legalized in Canada.

    Toronto pot lawyer Paul Lewin, representing Canna Clinic, said Thursday he had “no instructions to provide comment” about the court ruling released Monday.


    Toronto given the go-ahead to shut down Canna Clinic pot dispensariesToronto given the go-ahead to shut down Canna Clinic pot dispensaries

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