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    It was one morning this week and a member of Masai Ujiri’s inner circle was spotted outside the practice facility and, of course, a conversation ensued.

    How, I wondered, was this team really going to be? What were the thoughts and expectations of someone of the higher-up strata?


    “Finish in the top four and let’s see what happens.”

    Sounds about right, doesn’t it?

    Now, I happen to think top two is more likely than top four but the sentiment is the same. Get through the season with a top seed and see who you have to play when in the playoffs, when things really matter.

    It’s been that way for about three seasons now and I presume it’ll be that way for two or three seasons to come.

    This is a good team with gusts to very good.

    A couple of questions you may have and a couple of points to ponder.

    Can this team win 50 games again?

    Of course it can and you gave me a three-game margin to suggest, I’d say anywhere from 49 to 52 is more than likely; better would require great health and perhaps some misfortune or slippage from some other teams and worse would require a string of bad luck here that no one wants to talk about. But they’ll absolutely be in that neighbourhood.

    How do they do it?

    Look, this starts and stops with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry and yeah, more ball movement and greater reliance on three-point shooting are a key but Dwane probably put it as well as anyone yesterday when he said:

    “It's more of a hybrid. I wanna make sure we understand that, that there are gonna be situations where we're asking DeMar to go get us a bucket, especially at the end of the shot clock. That's one thing, you have to have that option. They've done a good job of moving the basketball. I think it's evident in 30, 31 assists I think it was in the last two exhibition games. We wanna stay close to that. Keep moving the ball, keep attacking, finding teammates, and most of all, more than anything else, building confidence in the other guys on the court when they do take DeMar and Kyle out of the game or they double-team and blitz and try to get the ball out of their hands.”

    And how about the kids?

    I’m dubious playing four of them with one veteran for too long but there’s really no option given the construction of the roster, where Masai and Bobby have built for the future as well as the present.

    I don’t know about not fully staggering DeMar’s and Kyle’s minutes to keep one of them on the floor at all times but if they did, it might lead to a regression to last year’s style full time and I don’t about that, either.

    But they will go as far as the youngsters take them and the development of especially Wright and VanVleet is crucial. I think Anunboby’s got a chance but he’s got no experience whatsoever and that’s a tall order; I think Poeltl might surprise but, really, there’s no track record to speak of to take into consideration.

    They have to be okay, though, or it’s going to be a relatively long season.

    What do I expect?

    I presume there will be nights when they 8-for-36 from three-point and lose and the woods will be filled with people crying out for the heads of players, coaches, presidents and a return to the olden days.

    I presume there will be nights when they go 16-for-40 from three-point range and everyone will be over the moon happy.

    I suspect they will have more assists and more turnovers and whichever happens any particular night will become the definitive part of that evening’s narrative.

    I think some nights they will be delightful to watch and some nights you’ll have to avert your eyes lest you turn to stone.

    So, like any other regular season.

    If I had to guess, and that’s what it is right now, taking everything into consideration, I’m going with just over 50 wins, first in the division, second or third in the conference (Washington lurks) and we’ll see what that leaves them to do in April and May and June.

    But what about Cleveland?

    Yeah, what about them? They’re great and LeBron’s like no player we’ve ever seen and we may never see another one like him and if you’re a betting person, you might wanna put a quid down on them winning the East again, although the return would hardly be worth the risk.

    But it’s a long way between now and June and who knows what might transpire and if all you’re concerned about is what might happen in the post-season, I suggest you scroll down a few posts and get to my point on not obsessing about June until June gets here. It takes the fun out of the six intervening months.

    But, yeah. The Cavs are heavy favourites. And likely will be in June. But like the wise sage said that morning this week when we chatted.

    “Let’s see what happens.”


    There really aren’t any words to describe the loss of Gord Downie. You can try and others can try but there seemed to be such a personal connection between the late Tragically Hip frontman and the fans that no one can possibly explain sufficiently who and what he was.

    He was Canadian, maybe that’s it.

    Proud, helpful, his work with First Nations is probably more important than his music, which connected with generations of fans all over the world but which always struck me as touching on Canadian sensibilities and traits.

    He was magical and mystical and important. He told stories and taught lessons, entertained and informed and made us think. A great showman of impeccable timing and presence; his very public fight with cancer and the awareness is brought to the most vile and disgusting and wretched disease I can think of was important.

    Brave. Iconic. Significant.

    Impossible explain but our country, our world, is worse off now that he’s no longer of it.


    And you can’t pick one.

    So I, in consultation, came up with three


    Ahead By A Century

    And my favourite and if you heard it yesterday and didn’t tear up, I don’t know

    Wheat Kings


    Go back and watch that strikeout that wasn’t a strikeout in last night’s Dodgers-Cubs game and tell me again why the proliferation of replay in pro sports is a good thing.

    You can’t.


    Yeah, we need more mail. Lots of it, actually. And please don’t wait until after tonight’s game to send some query about some game minutia because there’s another game Saturday and 80 after that.

    So dig deep, I know you can do it and get to and do something.

    Much appreciated.


    Okay, so there’s apparently this thing called “Instagram” that’s all the rage with the younger set. I once had it on my phone and had no idea what it was until The First Lady Of The Beat made me turn it on and, lo and behold, I had followers.

    Anyway, The Great Tash and her talented associates Evy and Christine (who I remember hates teal soccer kits so she’s all right in my books) have cooked up this idea that She Who Supports Arsenal and I are “taking over” the Star’s Instagram account today for a behind the scenes look at Opening Day.

    I have no idea what that means but Laura tells me I don’t have to do too much which is right in my wheelhouse and you should all scurry over to @thetorontostar on the Instagram and follow us.

    I’ll put on my best Grumpy Old Man outfit, rage at the clouds and the kids on my lawn and it’ll be a hoot. Promise.


    Oh, heck, you can’t possibly talk about the Hip and not have this, right?

    Nautical Disaster.

    End o’ extended playlist for today.


    50 wins or so and we'll see where it lands the Raptors50 wins or so and we'll see where it lands the Raptors

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    A Brampton man is charged with six counts of fraud after he allegedly scammed a woman looking for an apartment online.

    Toronto police say a 27-year-old woman responded to an online advertisement to rent an apartment on Sept. 29. It is alleged that she met with a man, signed a lease and handed over a cash deposit.

    Police say the woman later realized that she had been scammed.

    On Tuesday, responding to another online advertisement, police arrested the man, 33.

    Police say he allegedly posted online advertisements using an alias. (The details are not being disclosed as the investigation is continuing.)

    Goran Drozdek is charged with two counts of fraud under $5,000, possession of property obtained by crime under $5,000 and three counts of failing to comply with probation.

    Drozdek was scheduled to appear in a Toronto court on Wednesday.

    Brampton man hit with six charges in alleged online rental scamBrampton man hit with six charges in alleged online rental scam

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    OTTAWA—Finance Minister Bill Morneau has committed to sell off all his shares in his former company and says he will place the assets in a blind trust to go “above and beyond” Parliament’s ethics rules to avoid any conflict of interest.

    The declaration comes after days of accusations from Conservatives and New Democrats that he stood to potentially profit from his government’s pension reform bill, which could create business for his family company, Morneau Shepell. He was also criticized for not placing his assets in a blind trust, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has done with his personal wealth, and his belated disclosure that he co-owns a French company with his wife.

    “I need to do more,” Morneau told reporters in Ottawa on Thursday.

    “This is a way to ensure Canadians, with the highest level of confidence, that there are no conflicts of interest.”

    Morneau also repeated what he said during an earlier news conference Thursday: that he feels the controversy about his personal wealth has been a “distraction” when he is trying to roll out changes to controversial tax proposals.

    Morneau maintained that he hasn’t broken any rules by not having a blind trust, but outlined three steps he will take nonetheless. He said that he will place his assets in a blind trust. He will also sell off his and his family’s assets in the company founded by his father in 1966, Morneau Shepell.

    After his office declined repeatedly to say how many shares Morneau has in that company, the finance minister revealed that he has “about a million” shares that he will now sell. As of Thursday afternoon, Morneau Shepell shares were selling for roughly $21 each on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

    According to regulatory filings for corporate insider, Morneau had more than 2 million Morneau Shepell shares when he resigned from the company after the 2015 election.

    The third step he committed to taking was to maintain the conflict of interest “screen” recommended by the ethics commissioner when he was elected, so that he is not involved in how his existing shares are sold off.

    At the earlier news conference Thursday morning, Morneau insisted that he followed the advice of Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson “to the letter” and is not in a conflict of interest, as alleged by the opposition.

    However he refused to answer more questions about the handling of his personal wealth at a news conference in Erinsville, Ont. Thursday morning, suggesting he will make an announcement about the controversy later in the day.

    “I’m happy to say that we have a system that allows people to come into public life having already had careers outside public life. And it allows us to go through that system to make sure that we put ourselves in a position where we don’t have conflicts of interest. And I am going to have more to say about this later today, so stay tuned.”

    Read more: Trudeau defends Morneau over failure to put assets in blind trusts

    Morneau walks himself into a political crisis: Tim Harper

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

    Shortly after his announcement, Morneau entered the House of Commons for this first time this week, and was grilled repeatedly by Opposition MPs during Question Period.

    Conservatives Maxime Bernier and Candice Bergen asked why he didn’t recuse himself from cabinet discussions on Bill C-27, a pension bill that Morneau sponsored which will allow the sale of “target benefit pensions” in federal jurisdictions.

    Guy Caron, the NDP’s leader in the House, said Morneau Shepell’s share price jumped after that bill was introduced last year. Caron asked in French, “Does he not find, as an intelligent person, that there is here an appearance of conflict of interest, that he was in a position to benefit from his own actions?”

    Morneau responded that he has gone a “step further” that what the ethics commissioner asked him to do, by committing Thursday to sell his Morneau Shepell shares and place his assets in a blind trust.

    The Morneau Shepell share price has gone up by roughly $5 per share since the 2015 election. That means, with about 1 million shares, the value of Morneau’s current assets in the company has jumped by roughly $5 million since he was elected.

    Dawson and Morneau said this week she originally told the finance minister that because he does not directly hold shares — valued now at an estimated $20 million — he was not required to either sell them or put them in a blind trust.

    Dawson told reporters that only “controlled” assets must be sold or put in a blind trust under the Conflict of Interest Act, and recommendations she set out in 2013 to close that loophole — to cover both direct and indirect holdings — were never adopted.

    Morneau said Thursday, “I followed the rules, I followed her opinion and I can explain thus that I am not in a conflict. But I will be talking about this later today to ensure that everyone fully understands the situation.”

    “I set forth my assets, I followed the advice of the ethics commissioner to the letter, and I think what that does is it allows us to continue with the work we’re going to do free of conflicts.”

    Democracy Watch’s Duff Conacher said he believes Morneau will only be out of his ethical quagmire if he sells all his assets “in any company” and puts his money in a bank deposit or government bonds.

    Conacher also pointed out — as did several Opposition MPs this week — that Morneau appears to be violating Justin Trudeau’s directive to his ministers that states their conduct should void even “the appearance” of a conflict of interest.

    However, Conacher said he’s mostly concerned about Canada’s conflict of interest and ethics law, which he dismisses as the “Almost-Impossible-To-Be-In-A-Conflict-Of-Interest Act.” He said the has a “general application” loophole that means Morneau can propose a law like Bill C-27, which affects the pension industry in general, even while owning millions of dollars in shares in a particular pension company (in this case Morneau Shepell).

    “This is legal under the federal law. That’s how bad the federal law is,” Conacher said.

    He also criticized ethics commissioner Mary Dawson for her interpretation of the law, which allowed Morneau to keep his family company shares without setting up a blind trust. Donacher said he plans to pursue a court case to close this “loophole” in the rules.

    “The law is a joke and the ethics commissioner makes it more of a joke,” he said.

    ‘I need to do more’: Morneau says he’ll sell off shares in his former company to avoid conflict‘I need to do more’: Morneau says he’ll sell off shares in his former company to avoid conflict

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    In a rare show of unity, all three major Ontario political parties have denounced Quebec’s controversial new law, which targets Muslim women.

    One day after Quebec’s Liberal government passed a law prohibiting anyone from getting or performing a public service with their face covered, MPPs at Queen’s Park expressed their collective outrage.

    “We have a very close working relationship with Quebec. But on this issue, we fundamentally do not agree,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said Thursday.

    “Forcing people to show their faces when they ride the bus, banning women from wearing a niqab when they pick up a book from the library will only divide us,” Wynne told the hushed chamber.

    “Sometimes life in a diverse society is uncomfortable and that is exactly when it is even more important that we work to understand each other. Religious freedom is part of our identity,” she said.

    “Every one of us should be able to live our lives and go about our days and practice what we believe without discrimination and without fear. This is the kind of actions that drives wedges in communities.”

    Although Wynne is close to Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, she said his province’s Bill 62 “would disproportionately affect women, who are sometimes already at the margins, and push them into further isolation.”

    “They are our neighbours — the grandmother who, if she lived in Quebec, would no longer be able to drop off her granddaughter at a city-run daycare or a mother who would not be able to bring her children to a hospital to see the doctor. That is not the kind of society that we stand for in Ontario.”

    Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton) said her party stands shoulder to shoulder with Ontario’s governing Liberals on this issue.

    “The law brought in by the Liberal government in Quebec has no place in Ontario — indeed, it has no place in Canada,” MacLeod said.

    “All Canadians have a legal right to their religious beliefs, including in the province of Quebec,” she said.

    MacLeod emphasized that “there is no place for two-tiered citizenship in Canada.”

    “Whether you wear a cross, a turban, a hijab, a kippah or any other religious symbol, you should never be denied any public service in the province of Ontario or anywhere else in Canada.”

    NDP MPP Peggy Sattler (London West) called the Quebec law “an unprecedented action in Canada.”

    “Many academics and legal scholars across the country have raised concerns that Bill 62 is a fundamental violation of human rights that will be found to be unconstitutional under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” she said.

    Sattler said the law is misogynistic and undermines “women’s rights to autonomy over their own bodies.”

    “There is no circumstance in Ontario in which anyone should ever be able to tell a woman what she can or cannot wear, whether high heels at work or a veil on a bus,” she said.

    “Despite the guise of religious neutrality, Quebec’s legislation appears to be targeted primarily at Muslim women wearing the niqab or burka. This is a dangerous law that compromises rather than protects public safety.”

    Officially, Bill 62 is the Quebec Liberals’ bid to underscore that that province is a secular place that does not promote any religion.

    That ignores the fact that there is a massive Catholic cross hanging in the National Assembly chamber in Quebec City where the legislation was passed.

    Ontario MPPs denounce Quebec law targeting Muslim womenOntario MPPs denounce Quebec law targeting Muslim womenOntario MPPs denounce Quebec law targeting Muslim womenOntario MPPs denounce Quebec law targeting Muslim women

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    WASHINGTON — Former president George W. Bush on Thursday delivered a scathing warning about Donald Trump, saying his “America first” philosophy portends a dangerous inward turn that is eroding democracy at home and threatening stability around the world.

    “The health of the democratic spirit is at issue,” the 43rd president said during a speech in New York. “And the renewal of that spirit is the urgent task at hand.”

    “Since World War II, America has encouraged and benefited from the global advance of the free markets, from the strength of democratic alliance and from the advance of free societies,” Bush said. “Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children.”

    He also warned of the dangers of a worldwide pattern of countries — including some in Europe —“turning inward.” And though Bush did not name Trump by name during his remarks, his warning about the current U.S. chief executive was clear.

    “America is not immune from these trends,” Bush said. “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”

    Several hours before Bush spoke, Trump delivered a conspiracy theory via a remarkable tweet in which he suggested Russian officials, the FBI and the Democratic Party worked together to create a dossier of potentially incriminating information about him during the 2016 presidential election.

    One line of Bush’s speech appeared pointedly aimed at Trump: “And we know that when we lose sight of our ideals, it is not democracy that has failed, it is the failure of those charged with preserving and protecting democracy.”

    It contained two words “preserving” and “protecting” that appear in the Oath of Office both he (twice) and Trump have taken.

    Read more:

    Trump suggests FBI may have ‘paid for’ dossier alleging Russia ties

    Trump offered a grieving military father $25,000 in a call, but didn’t follow through

    ‘Somebody screwed up here’: Why did Trump take 12 days to address the deaths of four soldiers, and why did he attack Obama?

    (The opening of that pledge reads this way: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”)

    The former Texas governor and son of the 41st president, George H.W. Bush, also spoke of a “casual cruelty” that has seeped into American politics and culture. Trump’s critics have slammed him for what they view as cruel comments about individuals from Mexico, Central and South America, and African-Americans, as well as women and his political foes.

    “We’ve become the heirs of Martin Luther King, Jr., by recognizing one another not by the colour of their skin but by the content of the character,” he said. “This means that people of every race, religion and ethnicity can be fully and equally American. It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.”

    The audience, which remained silent during most of the remarks, cheered after that portion. Trump has given cover to white supremacist groups that organized a rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August that turned violent and left one counterprotester dead, saying both sides were at fault and that among the white supremacists some were good people.

    Bush, a pro-trade and pro-immigration Republican, also went right after Trump on those policy issues.

    “We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade — forgetting that conflict, instability and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism,” he said. “We’ve seen the return of isolationist sentiments, forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair in distant places.

    “(Past) presidents of both parties believed American security and prosperity depended on success of freedom around the world. They knew that the success depended, in large part, on U.S. leadership,” Bush said, later adding: “We need to recall and recover our own identity. We only need to remember our values.”

    Former U.S. president George W. Bush slams Trump’s ‘America first’ policy in scathing speechFormer U.S. president George W. Bush slams Trump’s ‘America first’ policy in scathing speech

    0 0

    Sears Canada began its liquidation sales at its remaining stores across the country Thursday, but many shoppers found the deals to be underwhelming.

    While signs suggested discounts of 20 to 50 per cent off — with a note that exceptions apply — relatively few items at a Toronto store appeared to be offered at half off. Some big ticket items such as snowblowers and treadmills were only 10 per cent off.

    “For a close-out deal, I would have thought the sale would be a bit higher. And maybe it will be, as closing time approaches. And maybe by that time everything will be gone!” said 86-year-old Madeline Cameron, who said she had been shopping at Sears for 60 or 70 years.

    Read more: What to expect in a liquidation sale

    After looking at the dozens of shoppers braving long, slow checkout lines she decided to leave without buying anything.

    “I can’t stand in lineups for a long time ... I might come early tomorrow morning. I’d say the lineups are maybe half an hour, an hour long.”

    A joint-venture group — which includes Hilco Global, Gordon Brothers Canada, Tiger Capital Group and Great American Group — is running the liquidation sales at 74 remaining department stores and eight Home stores, a step toward Sears Canada closing its doors for good after 65 years in business.

    “It’s rather sad. Sears could always be counted on to be a good competitor, and certainly I think the Kenmore brand is very reliable, and has been a staple in the Canadian market. It’s going to be a loss,” said shopper Karen Ottmann.

    Discounts are available on all Sears’s own brands, including Kenmore, as well as brand name men’s and women’s apparel, and a variety of other categories including home decor, toys, furniture, and major appliances.

    “Selected fixtures, furnishings and equipment in the closing stores will also be for sale,” said the joint-venture group.

    Sears Canada gift cards will be honoured throughout the sale as well, the group said. However, Sears Canada stopped honouring extended warranties as of Wednesday.

    “It’s nasty, what happened here ... I’m not happy about it. Neighbours of mine have extended warranties on appliances, so that’s going to hurt them,” said shopper Joan Challis.

    “The employees and the public, they’re all going to lose out. But head office, management, they’re not going to lose out, I don’t think. I think they’ll end out coming out fairly clean.”

    Liquidation sales at 49 Sears Hometown stores were expected to start Thursday, or sometime soon, but discounts there will vary, according to Sears Canada spokesman Joel Shaffer.

    Some items are also listed for clearance on the Sears Canada website, including a four-piece outdoor furniture set discounted from $499.99 to $299.95. However, not everything online has been marked down just yet.

    The sales are expected to last between 10 to 14 weeks. Sears Canada timed its liquidation sales to take advantage of the busy holiday shopping season to maximize the value it could attain for the inventory.

    The retailer has been in creditor protection since June, but was unable to find a buyer which would allow it to keep operating.

    Sears Canada received court approval to proceed with its liquidation sales last week. A group led by its executive chairman Brandon Stranzl had been in weeks-long discussions with Sears Canada to purchase the retailer and continue to operate it. However, no deal was reached.

    Stranzl resigned from Sears Canada’s board of directors on Monday.

    Deals scarce in Sears Canada liquidation saleDeals scarce in Sears Canada liquidation sale

    0 0

    In Parkdale’s red-hot rental market, four units in a seven-unit residential building at King Street West and Cowan Avenue sit empty.

    And they’ve been vacant for months — collateral in a dispute between tenants who don’t want to leave and a landlord who wants to renovate.

    The building is owned by Paval Kanagathurai, who according to property records, purchased it in August 2017 for $2.85 million. Three remaining tenants — occupying a two-bedroom and two bachelors — have received notice to end their tenancies, so the landlord can begin major renovations.

    The tenants told the Star they don’t intend to leave.

    Kanagathurai showed the Star the ground level and basement of the building, pointing out things he called unsafe — rotting pipes, cables to nowhere, wet walls. Repairmen and pest control were present when the Star visited, and construction and repairs are underway.

    He declined to speak further, while his tenants have been adamant about their determination to stay.

    “I don’t want to leave,” said Brandon Kennedy, who’s lived in the building for three years. “Right now we are organizing together and we’ve already held one demonstration against the landlord.”

    On Oct. 13, the tenants delivered a letter to their landlord’s store, stating that they don’t plan to vacate by the requested date of Dec. 31.

    Kennedy occupies a two-bedroom unit, but signed a lease for only one of the rooms. He pays $575 a month in rent. The occupants of two bachelor apartments, Phil Mac Innis and Kelly Goldfeder, pay $700 and $750 each a month, respectively. All utilities, except internet and cable, are included.

    Goldfeder said her unit’s heat didn’t turn on until March, and she’s encountered mice and roaches.

    The tenants live on the upper two stories of the building. The ground floor is commercial, and tenants say a restaurant is being constructed there.

    Toronto realtor April Williams called monthly rent payments at those rates very low, since a bachelor goes for $1,100 on average.

    A nearby residential building’s ‘for lease’ sign on the front lawn advertised a bachelor from $900 and a one bedroom from $1,300.

    Innis said he’s fighting the eviction because the apartment on King St. W. is his home.

    “If I lose this place, I’m homeless,” he said. Innis is an Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) recipient, and estimates that if he’s forced to move, 85 to 90 per cent of his monthly income will go directly to rent.

    Cole Webber, a legal worker at Parkdale Community Legal Services, is assisting the tenants.

    “What we’ve been seeing a lot of in Parkdale is small investors coming in and buying up the smaller buildings and houses, and then pushing out the longtime tenants in order to renovate and raise the rents on units,” he said.

    The N-13 eviction notice issued to the tenants and provided to the Star by Webber, outlines the planned renovations: replace electric panels and cables, replace smoke and fire alarms, replace the roof and windows, separate the hydro meters, construct a laundry facility accessible to tenants and completely renovate all the units, including the bathroom and kitchen.

    Major repairs or renovations — if they require a building permit and can’t be done unless the unit is empty — are a no-fault reason for ending a tenancy under the Residential Tenancies Act.

    Tenants that are evicted for renovations have the right to move back in once renovations are complete.

    Steven Love, a volunteer with neighbourhood advocacy group Parkdale Organize, said Parkdale is being “rebranded.”

    “We’re so close to Liberty Village that they’re trying to rebrand it as a Liberty Village West,” Love said.

    “There are a lot of landlords that are starting these renovations, they’re starting to jack the rent, they’re trying to get a new clientele — a different demographic,” Love said. “Not the demographic that’s here, that exists in Parkdale and has historically existed in Parkdale. It’s always been a working class neighbourhood.”

    Love said he’s paying $649 for a bachelor in a Parkdale apartment building he’s lived in for five years. Today, a renovated bachelor unit in his building is $1,049 a month.

    “Parkdale is just the last stand,” he said. “Once you take over Parkdale, there’s really not another affordable neighbourhood in Toronto.”

    ‘I don’t want to leave’: Parkdale tenants protest eviction as landlord says renovation is needed‘I don’t want to leave’: Parkdale tenants protest eviction as landlord says renovation is needed

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    RAQQA, SYRIA—Drone footage from the northern Syrian city of Raqqa shows the extent of devastation caused by weeks of fighting between Kurdish-led forces and Daesh, also known as ISIS, and thousands of bombs dropped by the U.S.-led coalition.

    Footage from Thursday shows the bombed-out shells of buildings and heaps of concrete slabs lay piled on streets littered with destroyed cars. Entire neighbourhoods are seen turned to rubble, with little sign of civilian life.

    The video showed entire blocks in the city as uninhabitable with knocked-out walls and blown-out windows and doors, while some buildings had several stories turned to piles of debris. The stadium that was used as an arms depot and prison by the extremists appears to have suffered less damage compared with surrounding buildings.

    Read more:‘Come out and surrender’: Fighters inside Syria’s Raqqa relive facing Daesh

    Syrian militants allowed to evacuate as Raqqa battle nears end

    At least 42 civilians killed in airstrikes on Syrian city of Raqqa

    Long before the ground offensive by the Syrian Democratic Forces began in Raqqa in early June, warplanes pounded the city for months.

    The U.S.-backed Kurdish-led SDF announced Tuesday they have driven Daesh militants out of the city after weeks of fighting.

    The SDF is scheduled to hold a news conference in Raqqa on Friday during which the city will be declared free of extremists for the first time in nearly four years. The SDF will likely hand over authority in the city to the Raqqa Civil Council, which is made up of local officials and tribal leaders and will be in charge of returning life to normal in the city.

    Omar Alloush, a senior member of the Raqqa Civil Council, said the body has a quick-response plan that will begin with removing mines left behind by Daesh then move to removing debris and opening roads before fixing water and power stations.

    An SDF commander, Brig. Gen. Talal Sillo, said residents will be allowed to start returning to the city once the mines and explosives are removed. In other cities that the extremists lost earlier, experts worked for weeks to remove booby traps and explosives that kept maiming and killing people long after Daesh left.

    The UN and aid organizations estimate about 80 per cent of the city is destroyed or uninhabitable.

    The top U.S. envoy for the anti-Daesh coalition, Brett McGurk, tweeted this week that Daesh fighters placed 150 explosive devices in and around a water treatment plant near Raqqa, but said it has been cleared and is being restored.

    The fall of Raqqa marks a major defeat for Daesh, which has seen its territory steadily shrink since last year. The group took over Raqqa, located on the Euphrates River, in January 2014 and transformed it into the epicentre of its brutal rule.

    The spokesman for the coalition, Col. Ryan Dillon, tweeted Thursday that the SDF has cleared 98 per cent of the city, adding that some militants remain holed up in a small pocket east of the stadium.

    Drone video shows devastation in Raqqa, Syria after weeks of clashes with DaeshDrone video shows devastation in Raqqa, Syria after weeks of clashes with Daesh

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    VANCOUVER—A British Columbia woman plagued by bedbugs on a nine-hour flight to London is a victim of the explosive growth in the critters globally, but travellers shouldn’t worry they’ll become a common feature on planes, says an entomologist.

    Heather Szilagyi was on a British Airways flight with her seven-year-old daughter and fiancé Eric Neilson on Oct. 10 when she said they noticed what appeared to be bedbugs crawling out of the seat in front of them.

    She said the flight attendants couldn’t move them because there were no other available seats on the plane. After landing, Szilagyi discovered they were covered in bites.

    “To actually see them pouring out of the back of the T.V. on the seat, that was actually really gross,” she said. “Once we arrived at our Airbnb . . . we put everything through the washing machine on the hottest heat we could, put everything in plastic bags, sanitized everything that we could.”

    Murray Isman, a University of British Columbia professor of entomology and toxicology, said with the increase in personal travel and the spread of the insect globally, it’s not surprising bedbugs are finding their way onto commercial aircraft.

    “One of the ways bedbugs travel is in hand luggage and personal luggage,” said Isman, who also works with a company that develops bedbug repellents. “Where there is a lot of movement of people in and out, sooner or later someone is going to transfer these things in something they’re carrying, and this is how they get spread from hotel to hotel to hotel and this is how people bring them home.”

    Changes in local insecticide use and climate change are other factors contributing to the spread of bedbugs, he said.

    But travellers shouldn’t be too worried there will be more incidents of bedbugs biting passengers on planes, Isman added.

    “If you think about the normal situation, which is someone sleeping in a hotel bed or a bed at home, the bedbugs don’t like a lot of disturbance or movement. They like it quiet, dark,” he said, adding the critters would first have to get out of luggage and onto a plane’s chairs and upholstery to even reach people.

    Szilagyi took to Twitter to share photos of her daughter’s bites after she said her calls to British Airways failed to guarantee they would not be on the same plane.

    “What we both would have been satisfied with was if it was possible to just have us on a partner line, not to fly back with British Airways,” she said, having been left unsettled by the experience.

    In a statement, British Airways spokeswoman Caroline Niven said the airline has been in touch with the customer to apologize and will investigate the incident further.

    “British Airways operates more than 280,000 flights every year, and reports of bedbugs onboard are extremely rare. Nevertheless, we are vigilant and continually monitor our aircraft. The presence of bedbugs is an issue faced occasionally by hotels and airlines all over the world,” the statement said.

    Niven added that any reports like Szilagyi’s are taken seriously, and the aircraft would be subject to any checks and treatment necessary.

    A statement from the Vancouver Airport Authority said it took immediate steps when learning about the incident to work with its cleaning and pest control partners to ensure YVR remains clean and sterile.

    Isman said exterminating the bugs is the best option for airlines since treating people and luggage before they get on an aircraft isn’t feasible.

    With travellers increasingly aware of the problem, he said more people are at least taking preventive measures by carrying insecticides or repellents to hotels to reduce the spread.

    British Airways apologizes after Canadian family bitten by bedbugs on planeBritish Airways apologizes after Canadian family bitten by bedbugs on plane

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    OTTAWA—Canadian consumer prices picked up their pace last month as the annual inflation rate moved up from very low levels and closer to the Bank of Canada’s ideal target of two per cent, Statistics Canada said Friday.

    Higher gasoline prices helped push the annual inflation rate in September to 1.6 per cent, up from 1.4 per cent a month earlier and away from its two-year low of just one per cent in June, the agency said. Excluding gas prices, inflation was 1.1 per cent.

    The inflation-targeting central bank scrutinizes inflation ahead of its rate decisions. Its next benchmark rate announcement is scheduled for next Wednesday.

    However, only one of the bank’s three preferred measures of core inflation, which seek to look through the noise of more-volatile items, increased last month while the others stayed put.

    Statistics Canada also released numbers Friday that showed retail sales contracted 0.3 per cent in August, after increasing 0.4 per cent in July. Retail sales volumes in August recoiled 0.7 per cent.

    Excluding sales at gas stations and auto dealers, the report said retail trade was down 1.3 per cent in August. Sales were also down 2.5 per cent at food and beverage stores and 2.4 per cent at furniture and home furnishings stores.

    The retail sales data suggests the economy is starting to show signs of slowing down, as widely expected, following its red-hot performance in the first half of the year.

    On inflation, the report highlighted gasoline, travel tours and air transportation as the biggest upward contributors to consumer prices. The downward pressure was led by cheaper electricity, women’s clothing furniture.

    The report also found that consumer prices rose in seven of the 10 provinces in September.

    Canada’s inflation rate up 1.6 per cent in September led by higher gasoline pricesCanada’s inflation rate up 1.6 per cent in September led by higher gasoline prices

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    Highway 401 eastbound is closed at Guelph Line following a vehicle fire.

    All eastbound lanes into the city are blocked because of cleanup efforts. The OPP are estimating that the area will be closed for approximately two hours while emergency crews work to have the highway reopened.

    Traffic is only able to pass the scene on the left shoulder of the highway.

    Motorists are being advised to find alternative routes.

    Highway 401 eastbound closed at Guelph Line after car fireHighway 401 eastbound closed at Guelph Line after car fire

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    Sitting around a boardroom table in a partly constructed Fairbank apartment, 51-year-old Keith Belleau, who’s been in and out of prison his whole life, explained in a low voice why he believes the unit will help people with stories like his get back on track.

    It’s one of two five-bedroom apartments under construction within the existing John Howard Society office building, where federal inmates approved for day parole and accepted into the not-for-profit’s community residential program will live while they receive services to help them adjust to life after incarceration.

    “We got guys on the inside who don’t really have support or don’t have families,” Belleau said. “You can’t just leave prison and everything’s hunky-dory. That’s not how life is. When you come out of prison you’ve got to build your own support.”

    Belleau credits the John Howard Society, which runs the halfway house in Toronto’s east end where he lived for over five years after being released from prison, with helping him turn his life around.

    “Having the new beds . . . to me it’s a plus because we need more of these,” he said.

    The addition of the apartments, scheduled to be ready by the end of November, is not universally welcome though. Some parents whose kids attend one of the two elementary schools within 500 metres of the building near Eglinton Ave. W. and Dufferin St., are worried.

    John Howard Society of Toronto executive director Sonya Spencer and Councillor Josh Colle (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence) have both received complaints.

    “These individuals are genuinely scared. We get that,” Spencer said of the parents she’s spoken to over the phone.

    “I’ve been in (this industry) for 25 years because I believe that without us — that’s what makes my daughter and my son unsafe,” Spencer said.

    Spencer said plainly that while she understands why people are afraid: “These clients will pose no further risk to our community.”

    “What we are trying to do is support folks through their transition in the best way that I believe will keep communities safe,” she said, which includes providing constructive programming like anger management, and addictions support.

    Research supports that approach. A literature review commissioned by Correctional Services in 2015 showed “gradual and supervised community reintegration” seemed to reduce the rate of re-offending, and of substance abuse, especially when paired with programming.

    Of 135 men supervised at John Howard Society’s east-end halfway house in the last five years, 120 successfully completed the program.

    No staff, neighbour or client has been reported harmed during the more than 30 years that location has operated.

    Spencer described the extensive process John Howard uses to select offenders for their residential program, which includes input from police, Correctional Services Canada, and community members. They accept 60 to 70 per cent of applications they receive.

    The standard would be higher for the new apartments. “This will be for individuals who have worked hard in the institution, who have earned their release,” Spencer said, gesturing around the bright, partly constructed space.

    John Yan, a spokesperson with the Toronto Catholic District School Board, pointed out that “there’s a greater risk in harm coming from a person they know than from a total stranger.”

    “What (John Howard Society) does in terms of transitioning people back into the community we applaud that and we support that,” Yan said on behalf of the school board.

    Belleau knows what it’s like to try to adjust after being on the “inside.” He said he went to prison for the first time at 16 and has been convicted of assault, aggravated assault, assault with a weapon and assault of police officers. He struggled with addiction throughout that time.

    “Just doing stupid things; drinking, violence and going back to prison. In and out and in out. My lifestyle was the prison lifestyle. All my life,” he said.

    Since he was a long-term offender, Belleau went to a government-run community correctional centre for the first part of his day parole period.

    That involved a lot of hard work on personal improvement, Belleau said. He attended programs for addictions, alcoholism and programs geared for Indigenous offenders.

    “It was time for me to take action because I just felt prison and addictions and my own difficulties in life in general were very dysfunctional and I didn’t want that life anymore,” he said, his voice trailing off as he spoke on his troubled past.

    With the help of halfway house staff, Belleau completed the program, and got a job in construction.

    Bruce Hawkins, a City of Toronto spokesperson, said the process for approving any project or development in the city is the same. Public consultation is not a requirement to have a new use of space approved.

    Colle, who has served the ward where the new John Howard apartments will be located since 2010, said this is the first time he’s dealt with issues relating to supervised housing for offenders.

    “What it made me realize was there has to be a broader conversation about what these facilities are . . . there’s a lack of information or understanding out there.”

    The Catholic school board last week sent a notice about the apartments to parents, and Spencer has completed, or scheduled, public meetings with parents at both schools.

    She said her hope is that the community will react with “compassion and understanding,” and recognize that the success of people like Belleau makes communities safer.

    “It takes a lot to ask for help,” Belleau said. “When you want to change your life, you need to go and ask for help and the staff there really helped me out a lot.”

    ‘We need more of these:’ former resident defends halfway houses‘We need more of these:’ former resident defends halfway houses

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    The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says a variety of fish products from two grocery stores in the Toronto area are being recalled due to a risk of botulism.

    The agency says the affected products were sold at Yummy Market stores in northern Toronto and Maple, Ont., and include the store’s brand of smoked herring, lesch, mackerel, rainbow trout, salmon and sturgeon.

    The CFIA says the recall was issued last week after a consumer complaint and was recently expanded after a food safety investigation.

    It says there have been no other illnesses reported that have been linked to the recalled fish products.

    The CFIA advises people to throw out the recalled products or return them to the store where they were purchased.

    Food contaminated with Clostridium botulinum toxin may not look or smell spoiled, but can still make you sick.

    Symptoms in adults can include facial paralysis or loss of facial expression, unreactive or fixed pupils, difficulty swallowing, drooping eyelids, blurred or double vision and difficulty speaking.

    Symptoms in children can include difficulty swallowing, slurred speech, generalized weakness and paralysis.

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    As you’ve likely noticed, Canada effectively lost its aerospace industry this week.

    At the very least, we’ve surrendered a good deal of it now that Bombardier has given effective control of its $6-billion bet-the-company C Series commuter jet program to erstwhile rival Airbus SE of France.

    That is the price we pay in backing an uncertain “flagship” that embodies most of our dreams of innovation, engineering and global-market prowess.

    Sadly, we’ve seen this movie before, more than once, and recently. Nortel Networks is gone, and a faltering BlackBerry is a shadow of its former glorious self.

    We need a total rethink of how to spur sustainable Canadian economic dynamism.

    There are two basic models, one traditional and one nascent, by which we’ve sought to secure Canadian economic leadership.

    Governments and the private sector have invested heavily in “champion” industries like forest products, mining, steel, vehicle manufacturing, telecommunications equipment and aerospace.

    Today, each of those sectors is foreign owned and of diminished stature, aerospace being only the latest casualty.

    We have been wrong to expect great things of a succession of firms labelled “Canadian industrial flagships.” That is a concept from which we should have disenthralled ourselves after the 1980s demise of a Massey-Ferguson that long dominated the British Commonwealth in farm equipment.

    There is a second model, fortunately, which doesn’t treat these bids for sustainable Canadian progress like megaprojects, backed with massive amounts of taxpayer grants, subsidies and tax breaks.

    The new model, now playing out perhaps more noticeably in Toronto than elsewhere, is a gradual, not forced, creation of conditions in which vibrant economic growth occurs more or less naturally.

    But first, a few words about the latest Bombardier debacle.

    Any user of Bombardier’s public transit equipment, chronically late in its delivery and faulty besides, might suspect the Montreal firm has taken on more than it can handle.

    Bombardiers’s preoccupation with the more glamourous C Series has cost its enormous but struggling rail division orders worldwide.

    I have long argued that Bombardier would be best suited splitting into separate aerospace and rail companies, which this week’s deal begins to do.

    True, Airbus gets a half-interest in the C Series program at no cost, an asset worth about $3.1 billion based on the $1.25 billion that Quebec last year paid for its 19 per cent stake in the C Series. (Cut back from an initial 49.5 per cent by the Airbus deal.)

    But Airbus has the marketing heft to make the C Series a workhorse in the fleets of the scores of airlines with which it does business. On its own, Bombardier has accumulated just 350 aircraft orders from a mere three airlines, a tiny fraction of the sales required for the C Series to recoup its development costs.

    Concern has been expressed this week that Airbus might increase C Series jobs at its Alabama plant at the expense of job creation in Montreal. But local manufacturing of goods to be sold locally is common practice. It accounts for the southern Ontario presence of factories operated by Toyota and Honda, and the factory Bombardier itself opened in Vermont after securing a New York rail contract.

    Still, it’s hardly an ideal outcome for the world’s most advanced commuter aircraft to become yet another piece of economic sovereignty slipping from our grasp.

    And that makes the newer model of economic development all the more compelling.

    With scarcely a word of government encouragement, the southern Ontario auto-parts industry has blossomed. Magna International, now the world’s second-largest auto-parts maker, has a market cap of $25 billion to Bombardier’s $5 billion. And Guelph-based Linamar boasts a market cap equal to Bombardier’s with less than half the latter’s sales.

    Those large firms anchor a network of innovators and manufacturers of vehicle parts sold to all of the world’s two-dozen major automakers. They evolved, and were not force-fed, into their current status.

    In the 1970s, Ottawa infamously threw money at feature-film makers who agreed to shoot their shoddy productions in Canada. The initiative was a costly flop.

    Yet, over the following decades, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, with their world’s-best and most affordable film crews, became so proficient at luring Hollywood productions north that Tinseltown began complaining about the “runaway productions.”

    With three massive soundstages, Toronto now accounts for a large share of U.S network series television, a more reliable source of income than one-off feature film work.

    That same phenomenon of natural progression accounts for Toronto’s ranking among the world’s top 10 financial centres; and one of the world’s greatest concentrations of medical expertise in the University Health Network.

    MaRS (Medical and Related Sciences) was set up 17 years ago as a modest experiment in nurturing start-ups in the medical field. By 2014, the start-ups spawned by that non-profit coalition of large and small businesses had raised more than $750 million in capital and created more than 4,000 jobs.

    Over time, MaRS has inspired the launch of more incubators which, like MaRS, have branched out into commercialization of breakthroughs in information and industrial technology, as well as healthcare.

    Ottawa and Quebec have pumped taxpayer funds into Bombardier to protect roughly 2,000 jobs in Montreal. With practically no state investment, Toronto last year created about 22,500 tech jobs, twice as many as New York City.

    The Google subsidiary Sidewalk Labs this week chose Toronto as its first trial in creating, at the undeveloped lands known as Quayside, a futuristic city of self-driving shuttles, leading-edge construction methods to reduce housing costs, and environmentally advanced designs of everything from water systems to recreation centres.

    The ambition of Google, which will re-locate its Canadian head office at Quayside, is to help “make Toronto the global hub of a new industry focused on urban innovation.”

    We have similar opportunities by simply ramping up cross-Canada innovation already underway in medical technology and treatment, agribusiness, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI), financial technology (“FinTech”), aerial mapping, and scores of energy and environmental niches. These all have export potential while providing job security at home.

    This Model 2.0 of economic development is a grassroots, collaborative, networking affair. Start-up entrepreneurs cheek-by-jowl with tech giants like Amazon's Toronto operation, exchange ideas to their mutual benefit.

    In short, we can do without shoot-the-moon projects and force-fed enterprises that so often fall flat. The task now is to imagine selected fields which, with only modest encouragement, can find their own way to flourish.

    Bombardier shows the folly of backing grand projects: OliveBombardier shows the folly of backing grand projects: Olive

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    KABUL—An Afghan official at the Interior Ministry says suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque in western Kabul has killed at least 30 people and wounded 45.

    Maj. Gen. Alimast Momand says the attacker was on foot and walked into to the Imam Zaman Mosque on Friday in the city’s Dashti Barch area where he detonated his explosives.

    The head of the area’s Isteqlal Hospital, Mohammad Sabir Nassib, says it has received the bodies of two people slain in the attack as well as two wounded

    No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

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    Almost 70 per cent of refugees who illegally cross the U.S. border into Canada are granted asylum here, despite the widespread public view that these border-crossers are not real refugees in need of protection.

    The data were released this week by the Immigration and Refugee Board.

    Since January, The RCMP have intercepted more than 15,100 people entering through unguarded border entry points from the United States, after President Donald Trump came into power and issued a series of executive orders to expedite deportation of foreign nationals and ban immigration from certain countries.

    Of the 10,790 asylum claims received from March to September of this year, the refugee board has processed 592, or 5.4 per cent. Of those claims 69 per cent, or 408 cases, were granted asylum, while 141 were rejected. Forty-three other claims were either abandoned or withdrawn.

    The acceptance rate for the border-crossers is even higher than the 63-per-cent overall rate for asylum-seekers in 2016.

    One expert said the group’s high acceptance rate could be skewed if the refugee board is prioritizing cases from countries that tend to have stronger claims.

    However, academics and refugee advocates also emphasize the data show the border-crossers have a legitimate need for protection.

    “The numbers show that the majority of the so-called border-crossers have genuine asylum claims. The message I take is that the Canadian refugee system is working. It is doing its job,” said Queen’s University immigration and refugee law professor Sharry Aiken.

    Aiken and others are concerned that only a small fraction of the claims have been processed so far.

    “The refugee board is under-resourced despite the spike in the number of claims. With the U.S. temporary protection of the Haitians in the country ending in January, Canada will see another spike of border-crossers and we need to be ready for it,” she said.

    The experts also question the validity of the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which is based on the assumption the two countries have comparable asylum systems and bans refugees from seeking asylum in both.

    The agreement doesn’t apply to those who cross into Canada at unmarked points along the border, which critics say encourages asylum-seekers to make dangerous treks through no man’s land, most commonly in Quebec, B.C. and in Manitoba.

    A recent Ipsos poll found many Canadians doubted if border-crossers are legitimate refugees, with 67 per cent saying these migrants were trying to bypass the legal immigration process.

    A separate poll by Angus Reid found that 57 per cent of respondents disapproved of Ottawa’s handling of the border-crossers, with 53 per cent of the participants in the survey saying Canada was being “too generous” to the asylum-seekers.

    In recent months the majority of the border-crossers have been Haitians, who have been staying in the U.S. under a special immigration designation by the Department of Homeland Security. However, their special status is due to expire by the end of the year and the 58,000 Haitians there must leave the U.S.

    The refugee board has been pushing for additional resources to deal with surge in claimants, a request that so far has been ignored by Ottawa. On Wednesday the board took the unusual step of publicizing the processing data of the “irregular” border claims.

    “Whether a refugee is admitted at a border crossing or makes a refugee claim after having entered Canada is irrelevant to whether she is in danger in her country,” said Raoul Boulakia of the Refugee Lawyers Association of Ontario.

    “It is troubling that public discourse has fallen into discussing these refugee claimants as if they are different. They are refugee claimants. That means the refugee claimant’s case must be adjudicated fairly and impartially, and the question for the refugee board to answer is whether she is at risk in her country.”

    According to the refugee board, 160 of the 10,790 border-crossers have been detained because they are deemed a danger to the public, are unlikely to appear for examination or are “inadmissible” on grounds of security and criminality, or simply for failing to provide proper identification.

    Among the 61 people who were deemed inadmissible, 34 have been ordered to be removed from Canada; one was prohibited from seeking asylum; three were allowed to stay in the country; and six withdrew their claims. One person failed to show up for the admissibility hearing. The rest are awaiting a final decision.

    Janet Dench, of the Canadian Council for Refugees, believes the relatively high acceptance rate is likely the result of the refugee board’s policy to expedite claims from certain priority countries, including Afghanistan, Burundi, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

    However, so far, the data do seem to the vindicate border-crossers, who are viewed as illegal economic migrants by some Canadians. “The statistics highlight the fact that the majority of those crossing the border for asylum need our protection,” Dench said.

    Critics have been calling on Ottawa to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement, which was introduced in 2004 to limit refugees to making an asylum claim in the first of the two countries they arrive in, in order to avoid duplicate claims that would clog both systems.

    “The agreement is not functional. Guarding irregular border-crossing is straining our resources,” said Queen’s University’s Aiken. “If the government wants to have a grip of the (refugee) flow, they should suspend the agreement and have people come through the regular port of entry.”

    Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    The refugee board declined to comment about the Safe Third Country Agreement, but said it currently has 40,800 claims in the backlog, including 5,300 pending cases filed under the old rules before December 2012. Claimants are expected to wait 17 months for an asylum hearing.

    69% of refugees who illegally cross the U.S. border are being granted asylum here, data show69% of refugees who illegally cross the U.S. border are being granted asylum here, data show

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    A firefighter was whisked to the hospital in critical condition after crews brought down a five-alarm blaze at a Humber Bay condo unit Thursday night, paramedics said.

    Flames started spreading through the three-storey building at 2067 Waterfront Dr., near Lake Shore Blvd. W. and Park Lawn Rd. in Etobicoke, about 6:20 p.m. Although crews brought the fire under control, paramedics at the scene did CPR on the firefighter, a district chief.

    Speaking outside St. Joseph’s Health Centre, Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said the situation was “about the worst-case scenario for any fire chief” but he was proud of how his team responded.

    “This is what we train for,” Pegg said.

    “The crews did a magnificent job fighting this fire.”

    No one else was injured. At about 10 p.m., Pegg said the hospitalized firefighter’s condition had been upgraded to stable.

    Toronto paramedics said they weren’t sure if the firefighter’s collapse was related to the fire. Pegg said the man suffered a “medical event” but wouldn’t speculate on the cause.

    Meanwhile, fire crews remained at the scene.

    “We’re slowly doing our due diligence and making sure the fire’s out,” said Toronto Fire Services Capt. David Eckerman, adding that crews would remain overnight.

    The Office of the Fire Marshal and the Ontario Ministry of Labour will be notified, Eckerman said. The fire marshal will also be at the scene late Thursday or Friday morning to investigate.

    Paramedics said no other injuries were reported at the fire. Roads were blocked off in the area, and TTC buses were called to shelter residents who had to leave the building.

    Firefighter in critical but stable condition after five-alarm condo fire in Etobicoke Firefighter in critical but stable condition after five-alarm condo fire in EtobicokeFirefighter in critical but stable condition after five-alarm condo fire in Etobicoke Firefighter in critical but stable condition after five-alarm condo fire in Etobicoke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    The Ontario government is investigating allegations that a drug company offered pharmacies “illegal” payments to stock its opioid medications fentanyl and oxycodone.

    Reacting to the findings of a Star investigation, Health Minister Eric Hoskins said he has ordered a probe into drug giant Teva.

    The Star has obtained emails showing a Teva corporate accounts manager offering to pay an Ontario-based pharmacy group a rate of 15 per cent of the drug price if it stocked the company’s prescription opioids.

    In seeking comment from the government as part of its investigation, the Star provided a summary of the Teva manager’s emails, but to protect the source of the information the Star did not share the actual documents.

    Payments to induce a pharmacy to stock a company’s drugs are known in the industry as rebates and can come as financial payments, gift cards and free trips. They are illegal in Ontario.

    Teva’s conduct is already under scrutiny after professional misconduct charges were laid last year against two Costco pharmacy directors who are accused of accepting unlawful rebates from Teva, which makes generic drugs, and four other pharmaceutical companies.

    “Rebates provided by drug manufacturers to pharmacies are illegal. I take any allegations of non-compliance with these rules very seriously and have asked the Ministry to look into these allegations,” Hoskins said in a statement, responding to the Star’s questions about the Teva emails.

    A Teva spokesperson would not comment on specific allegations, but said the company follows all laws and regulations in places it does business.

    “We prohibit the offering of product-related rebates to Ontario-based customers and provide ongoing training to all employees to ensure we continue to operate our business in a legal and ethical manner,” the spokesperson said.

    “Teva Canada Ltd. will co-operate fully with any investigation by the Ontario Ministry of Health and remains confident the company is operating in compliance with regulations.”

    The company prides itself as a responsible distributor of controlled substances such as prescription opioids, the spokesperson said.

    Ontario has struggled to combat its growing opioid epidemic, which has been fuelled in part by addictive prescription narcotics.

    Drugs such as oxycodone and fentanyl — the latter is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and given as a patch that slowly releases the painkiller — make their way from pharmacies to the streets in a variety of ways, including robberies, fake prescriptions and patients selling their legally obtained medication on the street.

    Ontario pharmacies overwhelmingly stock and dispense Teva’s versions of oxycodone over its competitors, according to data from Ontario’s Drug Benefit program. The program covers drug costs for Ontarians on disability, financial assistance and seniors. The Star was unable to obtain similar data for those with private insurance.

    Since 2012, Ontario has paid more than $50 million to cover the cost of Teva’s oxycodone medication, six times more than all other generic versions of the drug combined.

    Ontario’s drug plan covers two oxycodone products made by Teva: oxycocet, a mix of 5 milligrams of oxycodone with a regular dose of Tylenol; and oxycodan, a blend of oxycodone and Aspirin.

    The Ontario Pharmacists Association, in a statement made through the crisis-management firm Navigator, said it believes oxycocet’s popularity “is related to the frequency at which it is prescribed.”

    “Pharmacists are the patient’s last line of defence when it comes to prescription oversight, and this is particularly true with opioids. We’re ready, willing and able to do more to help tackle the opioid crisis that has claimed far too many lives,” said the association, which represents more than 9,500 pharmacists, pharmacy students and pharmacy technicians.

    Pharmacies often stock just one generic version of a medication. If a patient brings a prescription that says “Percocet” (the drug’s original brand name) or “oxycodone and acetaminophen” without specifying a preferred product, a pharmacist will probably supply the version that’s on hand.

    The emails obtained by the Star are from the past two years and show a conversation chain between representatives of an Ontario pharmacy group and Alex Mishos, a corporate accounts manager at Teva.

    In the emails, Mishos said Teva can offer a rate of 15 per cent on the price of its oxycodone and fentanyl prescription products, and more than 60 per cent on high-revenue drugs such as atorvastatin, the generic form of Lipitor, a cholesterol medication.

    In the emails, Mishos also said it is Teva policy not to pay for supplying medications sold over the counter.

    When the Star reached him by phone, Mishos said, “You’re talking to the wrong guy, buddy. I’m not in that business,” before politely hanging up. He did not respond to a follow-up email from the Star.

    The emails were provided to the Star by a former employee of the pharmacy group on the condition the retailer remain unnamed.

    In announcing that he was asking the government to look into the matter, Hoskins said he remains “committed to increasing transparency across our health care system so that patients can have as much trust as possible in the quality of care they receive.”

    The province banned direct rebates in 2006 because the payments artificially inflated the cost of generic medications. Under the old system, a rebate worked like this: If the pharmacy bought a pill from a pharmaceutical company for $1, the drugmaker could rebate the pharmacy 80 cents to stock its product. This would make the actual cost to the pharmacy 20 cents, about a fifth of what would ultimately be charged to a consumer or their insurance company.

    Four years later, in 2010, the province cracked down on indirect “professional allowances,” payments the then health minister called part of a “scheme to enrich pharmacies.”

    Rebates from drug companies to pharmacies are still legal in most other provinces.

    This is not the first time Teva’s alleged payments to pharmacies have been probed by the government.

    In 2011, a Teva-owned generic brand, Novopharm, paid the Ontario government just over $10,000 in a “rebate penalty” to cover improper payments the province found the company had given out to pharmacies years earlier. The payments were not deliberate attempts to undermine Ontario’s rebate laws, according to a copy of the provincial rebate order obtained through Access to Information. Rather, the company blamed an administrative error that caused it to pay more than the acceptable limit at the time.

    The province is also looking into an alleged kickback scheme involving the wholesale chain, Costco, and five generic drug makers, including Teva.

    In November 2016, Ontario’s College of Pharmacists charged two Costco pharmacy directors with misconduct, alleging that they accepted illegal rebates from drug companies.

    Costco has maintained that the contentious payments were not rebates but rather “advertising fees” and were not connected to its decision to buy specific medications from the drug company.

    At a July hearing before the College of Pharmacists, Costco’s lawyer argued that these kinds of payments are common.

    “This is not a Costco-specific issue. This is an industry-wide issue in terms of these payments,” said lawyer Randy Sutton.

    He asked the College to put its ongoing disciplinary process on hold until the government made a decision on the whether the payments were improper, rather than rush ahead on something “which will impact industry and pharmacists as a whole.”

    The disciplinary hearings are scheduled for January.

    The Ministry of Health has known about the allegations against Costco since the fall of 2015. Two years later, the ministry recently wrapped up its preliminary inspection into the matter and is reviewing its findings to determine its next steps.

    Teva refused to comment on either the Costco allegations or the rebate penalty its Novopharm branch paid in 2011.

    The Star could not confirm if either involved opioid products.

    Contact the reporter at or 647-215-4370

    Drug giant to be investigated over payments to pharmaciesDrug giant to be investigated over payments to pharmacies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Rachel Mendleson can be reached at

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

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