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- 10/20/17--09:13: _A month after Hurri...
- 10/19/17--21:00: _Julia Roberts at 50...
- 10/20/17--09:11: _Mother takes tech g...
- 10/20/17--11:57: _U.S. says 2 more go...
- 10/20/17--08:33: _Police discover an ...
- 10/20/17--10:13: _Toronto councillor ...
- 10/20/17--11:07: _Trudeau says Quebec...
- 10/20/17--10:09: _Kathleen Wynne serv...
- 10/20/17--15:09: _Thousands of Canadi...
- 10/20/17--17:14: _Inside the governme...
- 10/20/17--19:57: _A Black protester h...
- 10/21/17--09:00: _Experts say Faceboo...
- 10/21/17--04:00: _#MeToo opens door t...
- 10/21/17--07:10: _Trump jabs back at ...
- 10/21/17--09:29: _Mississauga woman c...
- 10/21/17--06:59: _WHO chief now ‘reth...
- 10/20/17--14:00: _Toronto couple take...
- 10/20/17--10:35: _Who wants Amazon’s ...
- 10/21/17--11:30: _Woman stabbed in ‘r...
- 10/21/17--04:00: _How every investor ...
- 10/19/17--21:00: Julia Roberts at 50 makes us smile a little wider: Govani
- 10/20/17--10:13: Toronto councillor explains reason behind ‘poop smell’ in the city
- 10/20/17--10:09: Kathleen Wynne serves Patrick Brown with libel notice
- 10/20/17--17:14: Inside the government’s $200,000 budget artwork
- 10/21/17--09:00: Experts say Facebook’s ‘election integrity’ plan misses the mark
- 10/21/17--04:00: #MeToo opens door to voices of women of colour: Paradkar
- 10/21/17--09:29: Mississauga woman charged in immigration scam
- 10/20/17--14:00: Toronto couple takes up #vanlife as a way around skyrocketing rents
- 10/21/17--11:30: Woman stabbed in ‘random attack’ in Lawrence Park
- Brooklyn-based camera shop operator Eugene Mendlowits, 51, owned a 4-per-cent stake in the tower through a shell company called Barrel Tower Developments. In 2005, as the Toronto tower was in development, he and two partners purchased a New York sweater factory and converted it into lofts without the city’s permission. The building subsequently racked up more than 100 complaints from tenants, for issues relating to inadequate heat and faulty wiring, and dozens of bylaw violations. In 2009, the city ordered everyone evicted because conditions were “hazardous to illegal tenants occupying (the) building.” In 2014, one of Mendlowits’ partners in the factory — Menachem “Max” Stark — was kidnapped and bundled into a minivan, his body later found smouldering in a gas station dumpster. Mendlowits declined to answer written questions for this article.
- Former Chicago nursing home administrator David Meisels, 70, is listed as a director of a shell company called Harvester Developments, which owned 4 per cent of the Toronto tower. Since 2001, when he invested in the project, Meisels and his nursing home companies have been sued at least five times, including for allegedly failing to make staff welfare and pension contributions and for allegedly diverting money from public insurers — Medicare and Medicaid — to relatives and close associates. He has denied the claims and the cases were settled out of court. In 2010, federal authorities cut funding to one of his facilities, fearing that residents’ safety was at risk. Meisels and his son, Joseph, who Meisels said was also involved in the tower investment, have not responded to requests for comment.
- London-based auto body shop owner Jacob Gross, 43, is co-director of Harvester Developments and the former head of an almost identically named company in the U.K., Harvester Investments Ltd, which has been purchasing small-scale real estate in and around London since the mid-1990s. He has also held leading roles in more than a dozen other small U.K. companies, most in local real estate and automotive repair.
- Two more shell companies, Exeter Development Inc. and Haddar Development Corp., owned a collective 15-per-cent stake in the tower. The only name connected to them in public records is Joseph Teitelbaum, 43, a London, U.K., landlord, who was 27 years old at the time of the deal. Teitelbaum owns several million pounds’ worth of rental units through his interests in 42 companies registered in the U.K.. One of Teitelbaum’s companies defaulted on obligations to cover cost overruns for the Toronto tower and both were bought out in August 2011. Reached for comment, Teitelbaum denied personally investing any money in the Trump Tower and said he was a nominee signatory only. He would not name the investor he said he represented.
- Little-known Toronto billionaire Alex Shnaider, 49, would become the Toronto projects’ principal investor. Shnaider made his fortune in the former Soviet Union in the 1990s and 2000s. In less than a decade, he went from mopping floors at his parents’ deli near Bathurst and Steeles Sts. to making hundreds of millions through the purchase of a Ukrainian steel mill. He then diversified into other industries like malls, convenience stores and electricity across Eastern Europe.
- Toronto businessman Valery Levitan, 54, who worked with his father running a slot machine-repair service, owned a 12.5 per cent stake through a numbered Ontario corporation. Levitan, who convinced Shnaider to make his initial investment, also co-founded a company specializing in banknote validation technology for casinos. Levitan declined to comment.
BARCELONETA, PUERTO RICO—Electrical linemen descend from helicopters, balancing on steel girders 90 feet high on transmission towers in the mountains of central Puerto Rico, far from any road. At the same time, crews fan out across the battered island, erecting light poles and power lines in a block by block slog.
A month after Hurricane Maria rolled across the centre of Puerto Rico, the power is still out for the vast majority of people on the island as the work to restore hundreds of miles of transmission lines and thousands of miles of distribution lines grinds on for crews toiling under a blazing tropical sun.
And it won’t get done soon without more workers, more equipment and more money, according to everyone involved in the effort.
“It’s too much for us alone,” Nelson Velez, a regional director for the Puerto Rican power authority, said as he supervised crews working along a busy street in Isla Verde, just east of San Juan, on a recent afternoon. “We have just so many, so many areas affected.”
The office of Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Thursday that about 20 per cent of the island has service and he has pledged to get that to 95 per cent by Dec. 31. For now, though, most of the island’s 3.4 million people suffer without air conditioning or basic necessities. Many have resorted to using washboards, now frequently seen for sale along the side of the road, to clean clothes, and sleeping on their balconies and flocking to any open restaurants for relief from daytime temperatures above 90 degrees.
“I thought we would we have power in the metro area by now,” said Pablo Martinez, an air conditioning technician, shaking his head in frustration.
Hurricane Maria, which caused at least 49 deaths on the island, made landfall on the southeastern coast near Yabucoa as a Category 4 storm, with maximum sustained winds of about 248 km/h. It passed out of the territory about 12 hours later near Barceloneta in the north, still with sustained winds of about 185 km/h. The onslaught was sufficient to knock down hundreds of transmission towers and thousands of distribution poles and lines.
The storm’s path was ideal for taking down the entire grid. Most of Puerto Rico’s generating capacity is along the southern coast and most consumption is in the north around San Juan, with steel and aluminum transmission towers up to 27 metres tall running through the mountains in the middle. At least 10 towers fell along the most important transmission line that runs to the capital, entangling it with a secondary one that runs parallel and that lost about two dozen towers in a hard-to-reach area in the centre of the island.
“It reminds me of a fireball that just burned everything in its path,” said Brig. Gen. Diana Holland, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers unit working to clear debris and restore the grid, with nearly 400 troops on the ground.
The storm also struck at a terrible time. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority filed for bankruptcy in July. It has put off badly needed maintenance and had just finished dealing with outages from Hurricane Irma in early September.
“You stop doing your typical deferred maintenance, and so you become even that much more susceptible to a storm like Maria and Irma coming and blowing down your towers, water coming up in your substations and flooding them,” said Tom Lewis, president of the U.S. division of Louis Berger, which has been supplying generators in Puerto Rico to clients that include the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Everything becomes that much more sensitive to any kind of damage whether it be from wind or water.”
PREPA Director Ricardo Ramos said the authority is working with the Army Corps of Engineers and contractors to bring in more “bucket trucks” and other equipment. It already has about 400 three- to five-member repair crews and is trying to reach 1,000 within three weeks with workers brought in from the U.S. “With this number of brigades we will be able to advance much more rapidly,” Ramos assured reporters during a recent news conference.
PREPA brought in a Montana company, Whitefish Energy Holdings, to help its crews restore the transmission and distribution lines across the island. It has a rolling contract and can bill up to $300 million for its work, said Odalys de Jesus, a spokeswoman for the power authority.
It is a huge job for a young company, formed in 2015. Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski said previous work restoring transmission lines damaged by wildfires in the western U.S. has prepared them for the Puerto Rico contract. “We don’t like easy,” he said during a break at one of the company’s base camps near Barceloneta.
The camp buzzes with activity as helicopters come and go, taking linemen and equipment to the mountain towers, the pilots deftly navigating the lines and mountains to lower men and equipment to the steel-and-aluminum girds high above the trees. Whitefish had about 270 employees in Puerto Rico as of mid-week, working both on transmission and distribution. It expects the number to double in the coming weeks if it can find sufficient lodging and transport to the island.
Other contractors working in Puerto Rico include Fluor Corp., which was awarded a $336.2 million contract from the Army Corps of Engineers for debris removal and power restoration, and Weston Solutions, which is providing two generators to stabilize power in the capital for $35 million.
Their efforts are to restore the system that was in place before the storm, not to build a better one, at least not yet. Gov. Rossello says the island needs to overhaul its power grid, make it less vulnerable and look at alternative sources. He welcomed a proposal by Elon Musk, CEO of electric-car company Tesla, to expand solar energy and has raised the issue of longer-term improvements with Washington.
House Speaker Paul Ryan seemed to express at least a willingness to consider helping Puerto Rico build back better when he visited the island this month. “If you going to put up a power line let’s put up a power line that can withstand hurricane-force winds,” he said. “It makes no sense to put temporary patches on problems that have long term effects.”
Techmanski said Whitefish was making progress on the line that carries about 230,000 volts to San Juan from the Aguirre power plant in the south, which will vastly increase the amount of power reaching the capital.
“We’re getting it done,” he said. But, asked about the goal of getting 95 per cent of power back by the end of the year, he wasn’t sure: “It is very optimistic at this point.”
A month after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is still working to get the power back on
In this, the half-century of Julia Roberts, you can pretty much take your pick of her zeitgeist-prickling moments.
The Julia, say, who puts a Rodeo Drive store clerk on notice with the words “Big Mistake. Big. Huge!” when her character in Pretty Woman gets the snooty treatment. The Julia who later sublimates her own celebrity in Notting Hill when she so solemnly declares, “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” Or even the Julia who — in a moment out of her real-life sizzle reel — winds up leaving Kiefer Sutherland a few days before their wedding in what remains one of Hollywood’s most notorious arcs of disengagement.
For me, a career-defining moment came in the not-talked-about-enough Mike Nichols flick Charlie Wilson’s War. It’s the movie in which Roberts pulls out her Texas twang playing the role of real-life socialite and power-broker Joanne Herring (helping to persuade a congressman played by Tom Hanks to arm Afghanistan’s resistance against occupying Soviet forces). In what is one of her all-time best scenes, the actress — long saddled with the title of “America’s Sweetheart” — sits in front of a mirror, carefully combing the mascara from her eyelashes . . . with a harrowing-looking safety pin.
It’s quintessential Julia because she’s not only wholly insouciant about the de-clumping procedure (she makes it all look easy!), but also because she’s just so cavalier using the sharp end (the sharpness of Julia being the key to her spitfire persona, rather than the aforementioned glucose). And with the actress’s 50th birthday shuttling towards us fast — on Oct. 28 — it’s the one scene I’ve preferred to have looping in my head.
The first woman to reach $1 billion at the box office. Heck, the first woman to reach $2 billion at the box office. The first actress to command a $20 million paycheque per film (the equivalent at the time of the highest paid actor). The first actress to sign a beauty contract worth $50 million (thank you, Lancome). One of a very few to be nominated for an Oscar in three consecutive decades.
What’s left to say about Ms. 1967 that hasn’t already been amply combed through with the eye of a safety pin?
For a solid half of her life, she’s been first-name-only famous, an all-American entity every bit as brand-able as Mount Rushmore and Big Mac and “Beat It.” From the vantage point of 2017, what’s perhaps even more remarkable? That the unmatched stretch she enjoyed between 1990 and the early aughts is one she mounted — unlike female toppers of the moment — without ever glomming onto a franchise tentpole (think: Jennifer Lawrence and the ensemble-hedging X-Men films) or relying on the obligatory two-step with a congruous male star (think: Emma Stone’s fame-frisson with Ryan Gosling in La La Land).
The only thing Julia was leveraging as she made her climb was her Julia-ness, with the men in her movies (think: a Campbell Scott or a Dermot Mulroney) merely ponds with which to reflect that Julia-ness.
Speaking of the latter, here’s some trivia: in 1997, after a gap that’s sometimes referred to as her “period” period (the actress then taking on mopey roles in films like Michael Collins and Mary Reilly), she doubled down on Brand Julia by breaking a record with My Best Friend’s Wedding, which earned $21.7 million in its opening weekend (toppling a prior record held by Sleepless in Seattle), and ultimately making worldwide bank of $300 million.
The movie not only “made” Cameron Diaz, but it cemented the cultural precept of the “Gay Best Friend” a la Rupert Everett and is further notable today for two reasons.
One, the movie hangs on the idea of a pact that Julia’s character has made with her straight male best friend that if they’re still single at all of 28, they’ll get hitched. TWENTY-EIGHT! I repeat: TWENTY-EIGHT. Using the spectrum of Julia Roberts movies as a lens into demographics, what’s even crazier, when you consider it in this post-Girls culture, is that a presumably “old maid” Julia was exactly 28, too, when she filmed the project. Age has clearly become so much more nebulous, even in the last 20 years.
Two, My Best Friend’s Wedding remains one of the more subversive rom-coms because it dared to make its female protagonist a crackbrained anti-heroine and even, at times, a rhymes-with-witch.
It’s an on-screen tension that’s often been at the heart of Julia’s best performances — a quality keyed in via a Daily Beast article around the time of one her meatier recent turns, August: Osage County opposite Meryl Streep. “Roberts,” the writer opined, “has always been at her acting best when she gets combative, flipping two birds to our perception of her. Much as in Erin Brockovich (the film that brought her an Oscar) or Closer, her turn in August: Osage County is a brilliant riff on her squeaky-clean image. . .”
Many have tried to un-pretzel the idea of Ms. Mystic Pizza, chiefly among them David Edelstein of New York magazine, who when writing about her debut some years back on Broadway, argued that the very reason she’s magnetic on film (“the close-up is her voodoo”) is why she underwhelmed, relatively, on-stage. Other critics, he said, sometimes “discuss Julia Roberts with a certain amount of condescension. No one claims she’s not a true movie star, but is she much of an actress? Her industry colleagues gave her an Oscar for Erin Brockovich, but Laura Linney snagged all the critics’ prizes that year for You Can Count On Me. To critics, Julia was just being, you know, Julia. . .”
Going on to call her a “thoroughbred,” he mused, “It’s not that she’s an icon of glamour. This is a woman who was once married in bare feet, and part of her charm is that she doesn’t move especially gracefully. It’s not that her features are refined, either. They’re outsize, even freaky: that friendly, un-patrician nose . . . that smile that’s wider than most people’s heads. It’s that somehow those clown-princess features coalesce into one of the best faces ever captured on the big screen. She’s plainly gorgeous in still photos, but it’s in motion that the real magic happens. She can entrance you with the tiniest shifts in expression. And does she know it!”
It’s that “magic” that’s been hooking us for years now — a crack algorithm of both dizzying expression and knowing self-possession. Two-plus decades of scene-cuts, on-screen and off. Remember her alliterative marriage to Lyle Lovett? Her equally alliterative Benjamin Bratt phase? Or how about the greatest straight-up embrace of herself as a icon when she nabbed that Academy Award in 2001 — dressed in Valentino vintage — during which she all but declared that the rules didn’t apply to her, telling the rising orchestra trying to shoo her off to shush. She even threatened the conductor.
Practiced in the hokum of being a celebrity, she once told Oprah that her status is “all a projection, and projection is very changeable. Projection comes not so much from what I’m doing but from the point of view of the person perceiving me. So it’s like a joining of two things, one of which I have no control over or understanding of.” (Smart — or what?) Julia came to fame pre-social media, of course. And it’s funny to imagine what the chute of internet outrage would have made of her during the years when she was loving and leaving.
“I’ve never seen Facebook,” she remarked a little while back with a smidgen of pride, “but I did see The Social Network. I’ve never had Twitter.”
Having drifted some from the blue-flame of her fame in recent years — partly because aging is circuitous for any woman in Hollywood, but mainly because the mother of three seems to be focused on Hazel, Phinnaeus and Henry — Mrs. Danny Moder has had her share of clunkers (Larry Crowne, anyone?), but also become a more interesting actress (how urgent was her performance in the HBO’s The Normal Heart?).
Of course, that ginormous, almost ridiculous, beam endures — rising from the collective skyline as surely as the Empire State Building. Happy 5-0, lady.
Julia Roberts at 50 makes us smile a little wider: GovaniJulia Roberts at 50 makes us smile a little wider: Govani
A mother’s desperate search for answers over what led to her 23-year-old son’s sudden death in Toronto has resulted in what experts are calling an unprecedented court order for Facebook, Apple and Google to hand over his passwords.
Maureen Henry wants to know what her son Dovi was doing, and who he was in contact with, in the weeks leading up to his death.
“I am at a loss because I love my son, absolutely adore him,” Henry, 55, said from her Ottawa home. “I have to find out what happened to him so I can put that part to rest and I can cherish him. The grief doesn’t go, but I will be able to carry it better.”
So little remained of Dovi’s body, when it washed up on rocks near the Ontario Place marina one late summer afternoon in 2014, that the coroner couldn’t determine how he died.
Henry, who was representing herself, secured the court order Oct. 11 for the three tech giants to release Dovi’s passwords for his accounts and iPhone as well as data including messages and emails. The companies have yet to comply.
Judge Martin James also ordered Bell Mobility to turn over phone and text records, which it has done.
Henry’s case is unprecedented in Canada, said Ann Cavoukian, executive director of Ryerson University’s Privacy and Big Data Institute and former Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner.
“It could set a precedent that theoretically, parents could access their kids’ data even in non-tragic events, not involving a death,” Cavoukian said. “I honestly don’t know which way this could go.”
Toronto estate lawyer Daniel Nelson, who focuses on digital legacy, said Henry’s case will demonstrate, for the first time in Canada, how social media and technology companies deal with individuals who are investigating a family member’s death.
“I’d be shocked if these companies didn’t appeal this court order,” Nelson said. “The nub here is the judge ordered disclosure of passwords and that’s going to be a big problem.”
Dovi’s passwords for his accounts are equivalent to his signature on a contract or cheque. From the perspective of Facebook, his death is not reason enough for his mother to have access to his “signature,” Nelson said.
Facebook, Apple Canada and Google Canada can move to vacate Henry’s order, arguing the court’s endorsement is overbroad, Nelson said. If they don’t respond at all, Henry could bring a motion for contempt. If they’re found in contempt, a judge could impose a jail sentence or fine, although the latter is more likely.
Henry said Apple Canada told her that it is processing her request, while Facebook and Google Canada have yet to respond. None of the three companies appeared at the hearing earlier this month in the Superior Court of Justice in Ottawa.
They also declined to comment to the Star.
“These entities (Apple Canada, Google Canada, Facebook and Bell Mobility) are rightly concerned that they have a responsibility to protect personal information even when the customer is dead,” James wrote in his endorsement. “In the circumstances here, however, I think the applicant has demonstrated a reasonable basis for requesting access to the records.”
* * *
Toronto police said the case is listed as a sudden death occurrence, not a homicide cold case. Henry said they told her Dovi’s death was by suicide, but she wants proof.
“I know he wouldn’t just jump in Lake Ontario. He’s not somebody who’d have the idea of suicide. He didn’t have any mental health issues growing up,” Henry said. “The only thing that could’ve happened is an accident or foul play.”
A couple years before his body was found, Dovi was studying linguistics at the University of Toronto. A budding poet, he was passionate about his writing.
“He loved life and was a curious person, intellectually gifted,” Henry said. “I used to tell him, ‘I love you as far as the sky and as deep as the ocean.’ ”
Dovi did not make friends easily at the University of Toronto and, as a Black man, felt like he did not belong, Henry said. By 2012, Dovi had dropped out of university and moved back and forth between Toronto and his hometown Ottawa, working as a tutor.
He stayed briefly with his aunt in Toronto, but abruptly left at the beginning of March 2014, leaving his iPhone plugged into the wall. His uncle saw and spoke to him in Ottawa mid-May. That was the last time anyone heard from him.
Dovi’s body was found July 24, 2014, but was not identified for two years. In that time, Henry frantically searched for her son — in jails, shelters and morgues. She gained access to his bank records, and followed up on leads as far away as Germany.
Finally, on April 27, 2016, Henry saw a posting on the Ontario Provincial Police website about an unidentified body in Toronto that matched her son’s description. Henry sent in Dovi’s dental records. Two days later, OPP officers knocked on her front door.
It was Dovi.
“I was in shock, it’s really hard to understand, even now,” Henry said. “A part of me is still in shock.”
In two instances reported by media, Apple reset iPads, belonging to deceased individuals, to their factory settings so their family members could set up new accounts. But it did not release passwords or account data.
When Apple was asked by the U.S.’s Justice Department to unlock the iPhone used by one of the shooters in the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack, Apple quickly resisted, the Washington Post reported. Apple argued unlocking the phone would violate the company’s constitutional rights and weaken privacy for users.
Cavoukian has a similar mind set. While she said she feels for Henry, she also views this case as “a slippery slope.” If Apple releases Dovi’s phone password, it would make room for parents to request similar access for less serious reasons — to find out more about a boyfriend or girlfriend they don’t like, for example — which in Kevorkian’s view would be “completely unacceptable.”
Facebook has also been reluctant to hand over data from accounts. In 2013, a family from Virginia implored Facebook to allow them to access their 15-year-old son’s account, after he died by suicide, the Washington Post reported. Facebook refused to give his family his password, but released some data.
Companies like Facebook, Apple and Google need to come up with processes for dealing with unique requests like Henry’s, said Nelson, the estate lawyer. Having a judge sign off on companies releasing private information of deceased clients might be the right way to go, to balance competing interests of protecting user privacy versus helping loved ones.
But ultimately, these companies are going to protect passwords, Nelson said.
“If I was advising Dovi’s mom, I would have sought an order that didn’t ask for his passwords,” Nelson said. “Why get into that fight?”
Mother takes tech giants to court to get passwords for her dead son’s social media accountsMother takes tech giants to court to get passwords for her dead son’s social media accounts
WASHINGTON—Two more U.S. government workers have been confirmed to be victims of invisible attacks in Cuba, the United States said Friday, raising the total to 24.
The tally has inched upward since the U.S. first disclosed in August that embassy workers and their families in Havana had been harmed by unexplained, mysterious incidents affecting their health. The Trump administration later said it had determined the incidents were “specific attacks” that are ongoing, but investigators have not yet identified a weapon or a culprit.
The disclosure that 24 people have been harmed suggests that nearly half the American government workers serving in Cuba have been attacked. The U.S. had roughly 50 personnel posted to the Embassy in Havana until earlier this month when, in response to the attacks, the State Department pulled out roughly 60 per cent of the staff. Yet some of the victims were spouses of U.S. workers, and several were temporary workers who rotated in to Cuba for short-term stints.
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the two additional victims “do not reflect new attacks.”
“The assessments are based on medical evaluations of personnel who were affected by incidents earlier this year,” Nauert said.
Nauert said the most recent attack is still believed to have been near the end of August. A U.S. official told The Associated Press previously that attack occurred Aug. 21. The official wasn’t authorized to disclose the exact date and requested anonymity.
“Our personnel are receiving comprehensive medical evaluations and care,” Nauert said. “We can’t rule out additional new cases as medical professionals continue to evaluate members of the embassy community.”
The United States “can’t rule out additional new cases as medical professionals continue to evaluate members of the embassy community,” Nauert added.
The attacks started last year and affected American diplomats, intelligence officials and their spouses in Havana. They began in staffers’ homes in Havana, but the AP disclosed in September that they later occurred in hotels as well. The attacks in hotels began after the U.S. complained to President Raul Castro’s government, and Cuban security officials dramatically increased patrols around the U.S. workers’ homes, officials said.
Cuba has vehemently denied any knowledge or involvement in the attacks, emphasizing its eagerness to co-operate with the investigation being led by the FBI. The United States hasn’t blamed Cuba or any other actor of perpetrating the attacks, but has faulted Castro’s government for failing to stop them, arguing it’s Cuba’s responsibility under international law to protect foreign diplomats on its soil.
“I do believe Cuba’s responsible. I do believe that,” U.S. President Donald Trump said last week. “And it’s a very unusual attack, as you know. But I do believe Cuba is responsible.”
A few Canadians were also affected by the attacks, which caused a variety of physical symptoms. The U.S. has said that vestibular, cognitive, vision and other problems have been reported by the victims, with some experiencing memory and balance issues, headaches and ringing in the ears. The union that represents American diplomats has said some have been diagnosed with permanent hearing loss and mild traumatic brain injury, known as concussions.
Some of the cases involved mysterious, blaring sounds that led to investigators to consider whether a sonic weapon was involved. The AP last week released a recording of what some American workers heard.
U.S. says 2 more government workers hurt in Cuba attacks, raising the total to 24
DUNEDIN, FLA.—Sheriff’s deputies conducting a child porn raid on a Florida home on Wednesday found an arsenal of guns and explosives and a homemade silencer, along with a note promising “bloody revenge.”
Investigators found the weapons — including an AK-47 assault rifle, a 50-calibre pistol, a baseball bat with nails jutting out and 2,300 rounds of ammunition — in a locked closet in the Dunedin, Florida, home where 24-year-old Randall Drake lived with his parents, said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
During a news conference on Thursday night, Gaultieri said that even more “troubling” is that investigators found aerial images of two schools and a water treatment plant in nearby Tampa. There was also the note written by Drake that promised he’ll have his “bloody revenge” and “the world will burn burn.”
“I don’t know what his plan was,” the sheriff said. “He had all kinds of books and all kinds of gun powder and if he had taken those devices put them in something else and put a bunch of nails and screws and other things, he could have caused some serious damage. Because it’s the shrapnel that hurts and kills everybody.”
The sheriff said he notified law enforcement and school officials in Hillsborough County, but so far investigators believe Drake was working alone.
His parents told authorities they didn’t know what he kept in his locked closet, the sheriff said. Drake had no criminal history. He was fired in 2015 from Florida Firearm Academy in New Port Richey after he came to work with guns strapped to his thighs, officials said. He also was an Explorer with the Tampa Police Department when he was younger.
Drake’s parents told deputies he was home-schooled.
Gualtieri compared Drake to Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock in the way he seemed to be acting alone.
“These are the people who are most concerning to us,” he said. “What we call the lone wolves, the sleepers who are out there, the people who are not on our radar, the people who have fallen under the radar or off of it. You don’t know about them until they engage in devastating acts and kill a whole bunch of people.”
The note deputies found in Drake’s bedroom read: “My fury at those who imprisoned me shall be vast and without mercy. I shall have my bloody revenge, and then the world will burn burn.”
The child porn investigation that led to the search warrant this week began in January, the sheriff said.
Drake faces felony charges of possessing destructive devices. He left jail on a $20,000 bond, but an attorney isn’t listed on jail records.
Police discover an arsenal of guns and a note promising ‘bloody revenge’ in a Florida home
The mystery of the overwhelming stench in Toronto has been solved, according to a city councillor, who says the smell is not an accident.
People have taken to Twitter in the past 24 hours asking why Toronto smells like poop. Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) tweeted that organic fertilizer is being applied to sports field across the city.
Layton, who jokingly identified himself as the “poop-councilor” explained that the city regularly fertilizes sports fields with manure, in anticipation for the upcoming spring season.
“I am no manure laying expert, but I know that ward 19 is doing this in Christie Pits Park, Hamilton Park, Trinity Woods Park, the sports field at George Ben and Stanley Park — so all the huge corridor parks in the west end have had fertilizer applied,” said Layton.
A Reddit user says that they left their office at Yonge St. and Bloor St. and it “stank.”
“Got off the subway at Davisville, and it still smelled like crap…so glad it wasn’t just me,” they wrote.
Complaints online regarding the smell came from users living in the downtown core, to Thornhill and Mississauga.
Layton said that his recent visit to Christie Pits Park on Friday morning was successful in that he could no longer smell the manure.
Toronto councillor explains reason behind ‘poop smell’ in the city
ALMA, QUE.—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau again waded into the debate on Quebec’s Bill 62 on Friday, saying governments should not be telling women what to wear and what not to wear.
“I will always stand up for Canadians’ rights,” he said in Alma, Que. “I will always stand up for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is what Canadians expect of me.
“As I’ve said a number of times as well, I don’t think it should be the government’s business to tell a woman what she should or shouldn’t be wearing.
Bill 62, which was adopted in the Quebec legislature Wednesday, bans people from providing or receiving public services in the province with their faces covered and is widely seen as an attack on Muslim women.
It also prohibits people from taking public transit if their face is covered.
“We know there is going to be many weeks and many months of discussions on this, on what the implications are,” Trudeau said as he campaigned ahead of a federal byelection Monday.
“And as a federal government, we are going to take our responsibilities seriously and look carefully at what the implications are.”
Asked if that means taking the law to court, Trudeau replied, “this means looking carefully at the implications of this law and how we continue to stand up for Canadians’ rights.”
On Thursday, Trudeau asserted it is not up to the federal government to challenge its constitutionality.
The law, meanwhile, has been unanimously condemned in the Ontario legislature, with Premier Kathleen Wynne calling religious freedom “part of our identity.”
“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,” she said Thursday.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has defended the law by saying it is necessary for reasons related to communication, identification and security.
Trudeau says Quebec shouldn’t tell women what to wear and what not to wear
Premier Kathleen Wynne has served Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown with a libel notice after he said she was on “trial” in the Sudbury byelection bribery case.
Having given Brown the requisite six weeks to apologize for his statement on Sept. 12, the premier’s lawyers served the Tory leader with the legal papers on Friday at his Orillia constituency office.
“You have refused to retract or apologize for those defamatory statements and have made further defamatory statements about Premier Wynne,” lawyers Jack Siegel and Sheldon Inkol of Blaney McMurtry LLP said in a four-page letter.
The notice is the next step toward a lawsuit being filed in court.
It stems from Brown’s claim in a Queen’s Park media scrum that Ontario had “a sitting premier sitting in trial” and that Wynne “stands trial” in Sudbury.
His comment was made the day before the premier testified as a Crown witness in a Sudbury courtroom where Patricia Sorbara, her former deputy chief of staff, and Liberal activist Gerry Lougheed are on trial for alleged Election Act violations.
“Your statements above are false and defamatory. The express meaning of these statements is that Premier Wynne was on trial for bribery, which was not the case,” wrote Siegel and Inkol, adding Brown had the “intention of further harming Premier Wynne’s reputation.”
“A further implied meaning of these statements is that Premier Wynne is unethical and was under investigation by the police for a criminal act.”
The lawyers said Wynne would seek an “award of aggravated and punitive damages” if the case gets to court.
Brown, a lawyer by training, was not immediately available to respond Friday.
But he has repeatedly refused to withdraw his comments and has dismissed her legal threats as “a sorry spectacle.”
“Her baseless lawsuit will be ignored,” Brown said on Sept. 14.
Two Star reporters and a columnist were in the press scrum along with journalists from CBC, Radio-Canada, The Canadian Press, the Globe and Mail, QP Briefing, Global, CP24, CTV, TFO, Queen’s Park Today, Fairchild, CHCH, and Newstalk 1010.
Prior to the 2014 election, Wynne launched a similar libel action against former Tory leader Tim Hudak and MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton). That matter was settled out of court in 2015.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has called on Brown to “absolutely” say sorry to Wynne.
“People are human beings. You make a mistake, you apologize. There’s not enough of that in politics,” Horwath said last month.
Kathleen Wynne serves Patrick Brown with libel notice
WASHINGTON—Kristen Dewar’s NAFTA nightmare goes like this.
She is representing one of her 100 clients at a criminal trial. Then Donald Trump terminates the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Suddenly, she cannot keep working in North Carolina without breaking the law herself.
Dewar, 34, is a defence lawyer from Mississauga who is allowed to practice in the U.S. under the “TN” immigration status reserved for Canadian and Mexican professionals.
TN stands for Trade NAFTA. And NAFTA might vanish, in which case the TN status might vanish as well.
“And I have to go home,” Dewar said. “I would be literally a person without status.”
The possible demise of the trade pact has alarmed Canadian professionals working in the U.S. under the TN, an immigration category unlike the others: it was created not through domestic U.S. law but through NAFTA itself.
They are engineers, scientists, architects, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and graphic designers, among more than 50 additional occupations. If Trump follows through on his threat to terminate NAFTA— and he is not thwarted by lawsuits or Congress — it is entirely unclear what will happen to them.
It is possible Trump and Congress would allow them to stay indefinitely. It is possible they would be allowed to stay until their current three-year permit expired. But it is also very possible, given Trump’s desire to reduce immigration of all kinds, that they would be forced to leave the country fast.
“It’s a little bit unnerving,” said Mike Doherty, 30, a software engineer from Cambridge working at a large technology company in Silicon Valley. “I think the really unfortunate thing is that if things totally fall apart, no one really knows what that means. Do people have to leave the country immediately? Is there a six-month grace period? Do you potentially get to stay for the remainder of your work permit? No one really knows.”
Immigration lawyers say they have experienced a flurry of concerned inquiries from TN holders. They have little reassurance to offer.
“I’m advising them that I don’t know what Mr. Trump has in mind,” said Blair Hodgman, an immigration lawyer licensed in Nova Scotia, Ohio and Massachusetts. “Who knows what’s going to happen?”
The apprehension over the TN is another example of just how wide-ranging the impact of a NAFTA termination could be. While the deal is widely understood to govern the manufacturing and trade in hard goods, like cars, it also affects everything from immigration to intellectual property to entertainment.
Some Canadian firms could stand to benefit if the TN were eliminated, since some of Canada’s educated professionals would be forced to return home. But the Liberal government generally sees professional mobility as an asset. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has said Canada will push in the ongoing NAFTA negotiations for more professional occupations to be added to the outdated 63-occupation TN list.
The idea is a tough sell to the Trump administration. Trump has backed a bill to cut legal immigration in half. And he has repeatedly, as recently as this month, floated the idea of killing NAFTA altogether.
At the talks, a Canadian official said on condition of anonymity, the U.S. has largely stayed quiet during Canada-Mexico discussions of the professional-entry issue, participating “only to the degree to avoid being seen as non-co-operative.”
Hodgman and other lawyers said people who are able to renew their TNs now should do so to position themselves for the possibility the U.S. will let them stick out their current term.
It is not only individuals fretting. The demise of the TN would harm the American companies who employ them.
“We represent companies that transfer workers through the NAFTA agreement. And their HR departments are quite concerned about how it’s going to impact their ability to recruit foreign workers,” said Michael Niren, a lawyer and chief executive of Canadian-American immigration firm VisaPlace.
The U.S. government said it could not immediately provide statistics on how many Canadians currently hold TN status. But the number is at least in the tens of thousands.
Unlike most other U.S. work visas, TNs can be obtained immediately at the Canada-U.S. border. And there is no defined limit on how long they can be renewed.
If the TN disappeared, some Canadians would likely be able to obtain other visas through their employers. Others would almost certainly be out of luck.
“I have my life set up here. So the uncertainty is always on my mind every time I read these articles or see Trump’s tweets or anything like that. I definitely don’t want to be kicked back to Canada all of a sudden. I’d have to uproot my life,” said Rami Abou Ghanem, 27, a Calgary software engineer working in New York City. “For my field, I found there are a lot more opportunities in this country.”
Doherty was able to look on the bright side: Canadians face far less dire prospects than some of the other people Trump has tried to evict.
“We’re really lucky that if I do get sent home, it’s going to be to Canada and not somewhere tragic,” he said.
Thousands of Canadians live in the U.S. on NAFTA permits. What happens if Trump kills the treaty?
OTTAWA—Between Feb. 1 and March 13 of this year, functionaries in some of the most powerful corners of the federal government, including the finance department and Prime Minister’s Office, were seized with a series of pressing questions.
Should the teenage boy on the cover of the upcoming budget, for instance, be really happy with a big smile, or just sort of happy with a smaller smile?
Should the little girl in the next photo be holding a soccer ball, or playing the cello? Actually, what about an electric guitar? No, wait, let’s make it an acoustic guitar — but make sure you add some music notes floating in the air.
Such were the preoccupations of government officials that are detailed in a 607-page trove of documents released recently to the Ottawa-based investigative journalism website, Blacklocks. They pertain to the Liberal government’s meticulous planning for the design of the 2017 budget cover — the physical front and back of the book — as well as accompanying fact sheets, web advertisements and explanatory videos.
The whopper in the release, first reported last week, is that the finance department spent $212,234 on this exercise. That figure was compared with what the former Conservative government spent on budget covers, which, at a reported $600 in one instance, appears paltry — or frugal — in comparison.
But, of course, the $212,000 cost of the current regime’s budget cover also included ad spending and videos for the 2017 budget’s website. Still, the documents show that just the photo shoot for the four images on the budget cover — actors posed at a studio in Montreal — cost the public $24,990.
The stack of emails and design details also provides a look into how carefully this government can manage the images it releases.
In early February, Natalie Rieger, senior marketing advisor in the finance department, nailed down an agreement with the advertising giant, McCann. Their Montreal office would design the budget cover, draw up the factsheets and make promotional videos. The McCann team of copywriters and artists got to work and appeared to liaise regularly with Rieger as their work progressed.
The government’s priorities were outlined in a background document provided to the agency. Ottawa wanted the design and advertisements to be “friendly and positive” and targeted to “all Canadians, with a focus on families, seniors and businesses.”
The government wanted to highlight what it considered chief accomplishments and priorities for the Justin Trudeau regime. These included the tax cut for a middle-income bracket, their re-jigged payout scheme for families with kids, planned enhancements to the Canada Pension Plan, billions of dollars committed for infrastructure and their “innovation agenda.”
The finance department also instructed the agency to consult with Ottawa “regarding the depiction of minority groups.”
By Feb. 6, Rieger was in touch with officials from the Privy Council Office — what’s often called the “nerve centre” of the bureaucracy that supports the cabinet and prime minister.
Over the next five weeks, chains of emails show detailed discussions between Rieger, the higher-ups in government and the McCann agency. They zeroed in on the concept they liked — the cover would depict an arrangement of four photographs, each one representing a “pillar” of the budget vision. The government liked the agency’s idea to add “chalk” drawings on top of the photos. These would be “superimposed onto real-life contexts to illustrate visions of the future.”
For the “innovation and skills” category, they wanted a “female older millennial” in her mid 30s, or “perhaps early 40s Gen Xer,” one email suggested. An “elderly man” fit the bill for their vision of “Stronger Canada,” while a “young girl,” maybe 7 or 8, would fit well into the “Fair Government” category, which would reflect their commitments to building a country where any child can achieve their dreams.
Finally, for “Infrastructure,” the poster boy would be a “sharply dressed” teenager wearing “mid-tone colours” and glasses. This last piece of attire received particular attention, with the ad agency even offering a mockup of the shape and size of the glasses in one of their missives to Ottawa.
Dan Lauzon, the director of communications for Finance Minister Bill Morneau, appears to have settled the matter in an email Feb. 23. “I vote glasses,” he wrote. “Put me on team hipster.”
But there was also the matter of the actors themselves. Whose faces should be the faces of the 2017 budget? Sorry, it’s #Budget2017 (an official made a point of underlining the importance of that capital B).
Following their instructions to consult on the depictions of minorities, a McCann executive wrote: “We would like to know about ethnicities you would like us to cover. Asian? Native? Indian? Latino? There are four models, so we will have to choose.”
The agency provided a host of options, prompting Rieger to ask if “No. 2” for one of the categories is Indigenous. The response came that Indigenous people “are identified by the yellow squares.”
They went with No. 2 — the future engineer with the “hipster” glasses.
1. Light bulb
After ditching plans for a graduation hat, the government settled on a light bulb to represent the flash of brilliance for the woman on the boat (which is supposed to be an icebreaker, by the way). Emails show they took pains to make sure the bulb was an LED, rather than one of the old-fashioned, kilojoule-gobbling variety.
2. Heart monitor
Initially, this was to show the man’s blood pressure reading. Presumably to remain “positive,” as their mandate dictated, it read a perfect 120/80. But for reasons that documents fail to explain, the decision was made to go with the basic heart and pulse reading. From this, the viewer can conclude that the smiling man in the chair is, indeed, alive.
3. The hand
The man is reaching out to grasp the faceless outline of a hand that enters the frame from nowhere. Several emails pertained to the existence of this hand. It’s meant to be the warm and affecting touch of a caregiver. Judging by the man’s expression, he’s more than happy to accept the touch of a disembodied cartoon figure.
The teenage boy, who is supposed to portray a future engineer, is wearing glasses. But this wasn’t an automatic choice. Like pretty much everything else, it was considered with care. In the end, this discussion reaped one of the most memorable quotes from the email trove: “I vote glasses,” said the official from the finance department. “Put me on team hipster.”
5. The iPad
Yes, that’s an iPad. Originally it was an amp, because the girl was rocking out at high voltage on an imaginary electric guitar. That changed when they switched to the smoother vibe of an acoustic. But they still wanted some technology, so after some debate about where it should be placed and whether it should have a cord plugged into something — well, you can see the result.
Inside the government’s $200,000 budget artwork
Wearing a white T-shirt emblazoned with swastikas, Randy Furniss, hands in his pockets, walked slowly through a crowd Thursday that had largely gathered to protest white nationalist Richard Spencer, who was delivering a speech at the University of Florida.
Days before Florida Gov. Rick Scott had warned in an executive order that a “threat of a potential emergency is imminent” in Alachua County, where the University of Florida is located, noting that prior speaking engagements involving Spencer have sparked protest and violence.
The event was Spencer’s first public speech on a college campus since he led hundreds of torch-bearing white supremacists, white nationalists and others through the University of Virginia in a far-right rally in August that preceded a weekend of violent protests in Charlottesville. More than 500 law enforcement officers were deployed, with snipers positioned on the rooftops of nearby buildings.
“Go home, Nazi scum!” the crowd chanted, jeering at Furniss, of Idaho.
Suddenly, an individual in a green hoodie punched Furniss in the face, before quickly disappearing into the crowd. Furniss recoiled, but carried on walking. Blood trickled from his lip down his chin.
Then something unexpected happened.
A man went up to Furniss and gave him a hug, wrapping an arm around the Nazi’s shoulders, and another arm around his shaved head.
“Why don’t you like me, dog?” the man asked Furniss.
The man, identified by the New York Daily News as Aaron Courtney, is a 31-year-old high school football coach in Gainesville, Florida. He said he wanted to show Furniss some love.
“I could have hit him, I could have hurt him ... but something in me said, ‘You know what? He just needs love,’” Courtney told the Daily News.
The hug may have been a small act, but Courtney thinks it can speak volumes.
“It’s a step in the right direction. One hug can really change the world. It’s really that simple,” he said.
Courtney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Furniss, a self-described white nationalist, explained his views to News4Jax.
“They want what we have. And we just want them to shut up and get on with life,” Furniss said. “They’re being raised up and it’s getting to the point where they want to push us down. That’s not right.”
Furniss could not be immediately reached for comment.
Courtney hadn’t originally planned on attending the protest. But he was surprised when he received a state of emergency notification on Monday, ahead of Spencer’s planned appearance, the Daily News reported.
Courtney didn’t recognize Spencer’s name, and decided to do some research.
“I found out about what kind of person he was and that encouraged me, as an African-American, to come out and protest,” Courtney said. “Because this is what we’re trying to avoid. It’s people like him who are increasing the distance ... between people.”
Courtney was about to leave the protest, having already spent almost four hours at the scene, when he saw Furniss causing a scene in the crowd, the Daily News reported.
“I had the opportunity to talk to someone who hates my guts and I wanted to know why. During our conversation, I asked him, ‘Why do you hate me? What is it about me? Is it my skin colour? My history? My dreadlocks?’ “ he said.
Courtney repeatedly asked Furniss for an answer, only to be met with silence and a blank look.
Exasperated, Courtney asked Furniss for a hug. He was initially reluctant, but as Courtney reached over the third time, Furniss reciprocated, wrapping his arms around Courtney.
“And I heard God whisper in my ear, ‘You changed his life,’ “ Courtney said.
“Why do you hate me?” Courtney asked Furniss one last time.
“I don’t know,” Furniss finally answered, Courtney said.
For Courtney, that was a good enough answer.
“I believe that was his sincere answer. He really doesn’t know,” Courtney said.
Inside the school, Spencer’s speech was repeatedly disrupted and drowned out by people shouting at him.
After the speech, three men were arrested and charged with attempted homicide after arguing with protesters and firing a shot at them, police said.
A Black protester hugged a white supremacist at a Florida rally and asked: ‘Why do you hate me?’
Facebook Canada’s election integrity plan fails to get at the heart of the problem — and government should step in, say experts in digital politics.
The social media network released a cybersecurity guidebook last week for politicians and launched an exclusive email helpline in case their accounts are hacked by malicious players. It’s also partnering with non-profit MediaSmarts to run a news literacy campaign that will help citizens spot political misinformation ahead of the 2019 federal election.
The plan follows a report from Canada’s electronic spy agency in June that said the election could be vulnerable to cyber hacks and adversaries that sow fake news online.
Taylor Owen, assistant professor of digital media and global affairs at the University of British Columbia, said Facebook’s response misses the mark and it’s up to Ottawa to fill gaps in policy.
“The economics and the functioning of the platform bump right up against our ability to govern our elections — and we’re not going to solve that through news literacy. We can only solve that by much more dramatic policy measures from governments, not from Facebook,” he said.
Because Facebook uses algorithms and profile data to tailor users’ news feeds, advertisers are able to strategically and directly target audiences based on their interests and political leanings — making it an effective campaign tool. That can also potentially incentivize the dissemination of propaganda and misinformation in elections.
Facebook’s plan is “relying on this omni-competent citizen to be able to know that there’s something being run against them . . . It’s not actually addressing some of the root systemic causes — which is producing the possibility of fake news being lucrative, or the accountability issues in their ad targeting system,” said Fenwick McKelvey, an assistant professor of information and technology policy at Concordia.
South of the border the company has faced mounting pressure to shed more light on micro-targeted advertising since revealing Russian-linked groups placed approximately 3,000 ads to disrupt the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook agreed to hand over the posts to congressional investigators, and the company’s lawyer is slated to testify about possible Russian interference in November. Google and Twitter, also facing flak for enabling foreign influence in the election, will testify too.
Facebook previously vowed to make so-called dark advertising on its platform less opaque with a new tool — expected to be operational in time for Canada’s 2019 election — that would show users who ran a particular ad and all the other ads that organization is running. Dark advertising allows organizations to promote their message only to an intended recipient, meaning a politically-charged group can direct messages with deceptive content on hot-button issues, or false election promises, and that user is the only one to see it.
That culminated this week in U.S. senators introducing a bipartisan bill that calls for more transparency in online advertising.
Canadian policymakers must follow suit, said Elizabeth Dubois, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa who focuses on digital democratic accountability and engagement.
“The laws are there for a reason. Right now we don’t have the data or the ability to enforce them properly, and we need the platforms to be on board,” Dubois said. Owen and McKelvey echoed the sentiment.
“They need to demand access to these ads . . . The first step to accountability has to be at least having access to the data,” Owen said.
All three want Elections Canada’s mandate expanded to fully cover digital political campaigns — including forcing platforms to disclose all information on targeted ads posted during the campaign, such as where they are placed, who sees them, who purchased them and for how much.
Owen suggested empowering Elections Canada to impose fines on platforms that don’t promptly remove politically-motivated hate speech.
The voter contact registry could also be expanded for social media bots — a network of computer accounts run by one user to amplify a message — which would lower the potential for vote-suppression tactics or a robocall-esque debacle, said Dubois. Political entities that make automated phone calls to voters have to register. That was established after thousands of people received robocalls with false instructions on where to vote in the 2011 election.
“Does (the initiative) go to what the biggest threats are in our democracy? I would say no, I don’t think it is solving the major problems,” she said.
Elections Canada requires political and third parties to disclose who paid for an ad, but if there’s not enough space to do that directly in the post, it’s acceptable for the disclosure to be made on the page the ad links to. However there’s no guarantee someone scrolling through their feed would click through. Political ad campaigns are also subject to spending caps, but filing requirements don’t ask for specifics on digital promotions.
Kevin Chan, Facebook Canada’s head of public policy, acknowledged the measures in the company’s plan are not a “silver bullet” and said there are many actors involved in strengthening digital democracy.
“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,” Chan said in an interview. “We are very lucky and fortunate, in a way, that we have the luxury of thinking about this two years in advance.”
He stressed the initiative is a direct response to the spy agency’s report, the first of its kind, and the potential for further action closer to the federal vote. That includes cracking down on fake accounts that wreak mischief in elections, which Facebook has done elsewhere — in the recent French election, it said it targeted 30,000 inauthentic accounts.
The platform also introduced technical safeguards to make it more difficult to post clickbait, with an eye to quashing the financial incentive to mislead.
“We have to be very careful of this challenge of removing inauthentic content, but not removing things that may be legitimate free speech,” said Chan.
Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, who was front and centre for Facebook’s announcement, said cybersecurity is a “responsibility we all share.” She lauded the initiative but said it is only a first step.
“Social media platforms have become the new arbiters of information, and have an important responsibility to facilitate respectful and informed public discourse,” Gould said. “It is important that we have conversations with social media platforms to ensure the continued protection of Canada’s democratic process.”
Experts say Facebook’s ‘election integrity’ plan misses the markExperts say Facebook’s ‘election integrity’ plan misses the mark
It’s been two weeks since movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was outed and ousted for alleged sexual assault and rape. One week since a hashtag sparked a movement that exposed the global scale of the sexual misconduct epidemic.
In social media terms, you could say the #WeinsteinScandal relit the spark for a decade-old #MeToo movement, which opened the #Floodgates releasing harrowing stories of sexual experiences in various forums, prompting the confessional and rather ghastly #ItWasMe, but also leading a few men to step up and say #IWill and #IWillChange.
It’s stupendous, really, this mass level gaslighting: about half of humanity has been silently heaving under misogynistic pressure to receive unwanted sexual advances as a compliment, or consider them the price to pay for ambition, or as part of the parcel of living with the other half.
This violence draws its power from the secrecy vested in it; it depends on concealment.
As long as those who are sexually assaulted keep it secret, it allows the creation of a parallel world where men — especially those who present to the world as powerful, talented and therefore respectable — can inflict violence on them. They can be secure in the knowledge that the shame of their actions will be borne by the violated, and serve to silence them.
As long as there is silence, these men have the power to wound.
It hardly needs saying that this misogynistic duplicity is also supported by women who are conditioned to see as normal a system that privileges men. These are the women who will rush to dismiss others’ experiences or minimize them as a rite of passage: “This is just normal.” “That guy is an idiot.” “This happens to everyone. You’re not that special.” “Be the better person.” “Don’t be weak.”
That wall of silence is crashing down.
We’ve seen it before, high-profile cases of sexual misconduct leading to the sharing of stories. This time around though, the sharing has penetrated more layers, opening the door wider to hear the experiences of women of colour.
Tarana Burke is the Black woman who founded the Me Too movement 10 years ago, long before the actress Alyssa Milano tweeted about it last Sunday.
“Sexual violence knows no race or class or gender,” Burke told The Root, “but the response to sexual violence does.”
For women of colour, there are additional layers that constrict speaking out: patriarchy within their own cultures, instances of racial contempt and misogyny from white men (or men of another race in positions of power) and lack of support from white women.
Then there is the fear of contributing to racial stereotyping, something white women don’t have to bear. Women of colour face pressure from within their communities to not speak out against perpetrators of their own background, to not air dirty laundry in public, for fear that the entire community would be further marginalized.
The sexual assault of a white woman by a white man is about toxic gender power dynamics — nothing to do with whiteness. But narratives around sexual assault of, say, a Muslim woman by a Muslim man are framed as a problem with Islam; that of a Black woman by a Black man as a problem of Black criminality, that of an Indigenous woman by an Indigenous man as a problem of backwardness and substance abuse.
If minority women speak up, not only are they disbelieved, they are criticized by their own people and left alone by people from other communities who see it as an internal problem. The isolation is acute.
“Me Too is about the response to sexual violence,” said Burke. “And it’s also about the journey towards healing.”
In the past week, the actions of six Indigenous female authors shone a spotlight on that healing process. Their work was scheduled to appear in an anthology by the University of Regina Press until they learned that the anthology would also include the work of Neal McLeod, the award-winning poet from James Smith First Nation, Sask. In 2014, McLeod, who is Cree and Swedish, had pled guilty to domestic assault.
The writers asked the publisher to remove McLeod’s work from Kisiskâciwan: Indigenous Voices from Where the River Flows Swiftly. “We cannot consent to publish our work alongside Neal McLeod, whom to the best of our knowledge has not made amends to those that he has harmed,” they said in an open letter.
McLeod had already resigned from his job at University of Trent where he was an associate professor in Indigenous Studies. He had already pled guilty. Was that adequate?
“I believe there can be redemption for violent men, just as there can be for anyone,” said U of R Press publisher Bruce Walsh, who refused the women’s request to pull McLeod’s work.
From the First Nations authors’ perspective, though, McLeod may have been penalized by a colonial code of justice, but their understanding was he had not made amends with the communities he hurt.
“Every Indigenous person is accountable to their community, and . . . if you’re not making amends to the community you are accountable to then . . . prepare to have your wrongdoings named,” one of the people involved said, on condition of anonymity because they needed time to reflect on developments that took place after they first spoke to me.
What happened after was the author himself withdrew his contribution to the anthology, “I do not want others to leave so I can stay,” he said in a public statement where he offered his regrets to his communities. “I attended ceremonies, went through intensive counselling, and also used my poetry as a way to process my feelings,” he said. “I sought the advice and teachings of elders about how to be a better man going forward.”
The episode triggered anguished but respectful debate and disagreement among community members, but there is no right way to call out abuse, no guide books to show marginalized women how to deal with the dual challenge of patriarchy within and bigotry without.
The anthology will still be published next year, now without the words of either the poet or the six authors. At first blush, it appears as if the women lost a platform for their stories, but in naming the abuse and seeking accountability, they gained a voice.
In the long run, that is progress.
Shree Paradkar writes about discrimination and identity. You can follow her @shreeparadkar
#MeToo opens door to voices of women of colour: Paradkar
WASHINGTON—Unwilling to put the tussling behind, U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday jabbed back at the Democratic lawmaker who has slammed him for his words of condolence to a military widow, calling Rep. Frederica Wilson “wacky” and contending her antics are “killing” her party.
Trump’s broadside came a day after the White House defended chief of staff John Kelly after he mischaracterized Wilson’s remarks and called her an “empty barrel” making noise. A Trump spokeswoman said it was “inappropriate” to question Kelly in light of his stature as a retired four-star general.
The fight between Trump and the Miami-area Democrat began Tuesday when Trump told the pregnant widow of a service member killed in the African nation of Niger that her 25-year-old husband “knew what he signed up for.” Wilson was riding with the family of family of Sgt. La David Johnson to meet the body and heard the call on speakerphone.
The administration has attempted to insist that it’s long past time to end the political squabbling over Trump’s compassion for America’s war dead.
But Trump added to the volley of insults with his tweet on Saturday morning: “I hope the Fake News Media keeps talking about Wacky Congresswoman Wilson in that she, as a representative, is killing the Democrat Party!” That came after she had added a new element by suggesting a racial context.
Kelly asserted that the congresswoman had delivered a 2015 speech at an FBI field office dedication in which she “talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building,” rather than keeping the focus on the fallen agents for which it was named. Video of the speech contradicted his recollection.
Wilson, in an interview Friday with The New York Times, brought race into the dispute.
“The White House itself is full of white supremacists,” said Wilson, who is black, as is the Florida family Trump had called in a condolence effort this week that led to the back-and-forth name calling.
Trump, in an interview with Fox Business Network, then called Wilson’s criticism of Kelly “sickening.” He also said he had had a “very nice call,” with the late sergeant’s family.
The spat started when Wilson told reporters that Trump had insulted the family of Johnson, who was killed two weeks ago in Niger. She was fabricating that, Trump said. The soldier’s widow and aunt said no, it was the president who was fibbing.
Then Kelly strode out in the White House briefing room on Thursday, backing up the president and suggesting Wilson was just grandstanding — as he said she had at the FBI dedication in 2015.
After news accounts took issue with part of that last accusation, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders chastised reporters for questioning the account of a decorated general.
“If you want to go after General Kelly, that’s up to you,” she said. “But I think that if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.”
Video of the FBI office dedication in Miami, from the archives of South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel, shows that Wilson never mentioned the building’s funding, though she did recount at length her efforts to help name the building in honour of the special agents.
That did nothing to deter Sanders, who said “If you’re able to make a sacred act like honouring American heroes about yourself, you’re an empty barrel.”
Sanders also used a dismissive Southwest rancher’s term, calling Wilson, who often wears elaborate hats, “all hat and no cattle.”
Wilson was in the car with the family of Johnson, who died in an Oct. 4 ambush that killed four American soldiers in Niger, when Trump called to express his condolences on Tuesday. She said in an interview that Trump had told Johnson’s widow that “you know that this could happen when you signed up for it . . . but it still hurts.” Johnson’s aunt, who raised the soldier from a young age, said the family took that remark to be disrespectful.
The Defence Department is investigating the details of the Niger ambush, in which Islamic militants on motorcycles brought rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine-guns, killing the four and wounding others. The FBI said it is assisting, as it has in the past when American citizens are killed overseas.
Sanders said Friday that if the “spirit” in which Trump’s comments “were intended were misunderstood, that’s very unfortunate.”
Trump jabs back at ‘wacky’ congresswoman as spat over condolence call continues
Peel police have charged a Mississauga woman with fraud for an alleged immigration scam targeting victims from the Middle East wishing to bring loved ones to Canada.
The 61-year-old was charged in late August after several victims reported paying large amounts of money to Afghan Refugee Relief, an organization started and led by the accused.
Investigators allege the woman didn’t process the promised paperwork with the Canada Border Services Agency and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and didn’t return the money. Police said the woman isn’t authorized to file such paperwork.
The victims have lost about $40,000 altogether, police said.
Sakia Mojadiddi faces three counts of fraud over $5,000 and three counts of possession of proceeds obtained by crime.
Investigators said they’re concerned there may be other victims, and are asking anyone with information to contact police.
Mississauga woman charged in immigration scam
GENEVA—After widespread shock and condemnation, the head of the World Health Organization said Saturday he is “rethinking” his appointment of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe as a “goodwill ambassador.”
In a new tweet, WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus said that “I’m listening. I hear your concerns. Rethinking the approach in light of WHO values. I will issue a statement as soon as possible.”
The 93-year-old Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, has long been criticized at home for going overseas for medical treatment as Zimbabwe’s once-prosperous economy falls apart. Mugabe also faces U.S. sanctions over his government’s human rights abuses.
The United States called the appointment of Mugabe by WHO’s first African leader “disappointing.”
“This appointment clearly contradicts the United Nations ideals of respect for human rights and human dignity,” the State Department said.
Health and human rights leaders chimed in. “The decision to appoint Robert Mugabe as a WHO goodwill ambassador is deeply disappointing and wrong,” said Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, a major British charitable foundation. “Robert Mugabe fails in every way to represent the values WHO should stand for.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Edmonton on Saturday when he first heard of the appointment he thought it was a “bad April Fool’s joke.”
Trudeau says the appointment is unacceptable and Canadian officials are making Canada’s dismay known to the international community.
Ireland’s health minister, Simon Harris, called the appointment “offensive, bizarre.” “Mugabe corruption decimates Zimbabwe health care,” tweeted the head of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth.
With Mugabe on hand, Tedros announced the appointment at a conference in Uruguay this week on non-communicable diseases.
Tedros, a former Ethiopian official who became WHO’s first African director-general this year, said Mugabe could use the role “to influence his peers in his region” on the issue. He described Zimbabwe as “a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies.” A WHO spokeswoman confirmed the comments to The Associated Press.
Two dozen organizations — including the World Heart Federation and Cancer Research U.K. — released a statement slamming the appointment, saying health officials were “shocked and deeply concerned” and citing his “long track record of human rights violations.”
The groups said they had raised their concerns with Tedros on the sidelines of the conference, to no avail.
The heads of UN agencies and the U.S. secretary-general typically choose celebrities and other prominent people as ambassadors to draw attention to global issues of concern, such as refugees (Angelina Jolie) and education (Malala Yousafzai). The choices are not subject to approval.
The ambassadors hold little actual power. They also can be fired. The comic book heroine Wonder Woman was removed from her honorary UN ambassador job in December following protests that a white, skimpily dressed American prone to violence wasn’t the best role model for girls.
Zimbabwe’s government has not commented on Mugabe’s appointment, but a state-run Zimbabwe Herald newspaper headline called it a “new feather in president’s cap.”
The southern African nation once was known as the region’s prosperous breadbasket. But in 2008, the charity Physicians for Human Rights released a report documenting failures in Zimbabwe’s health system, saying Mugabe’s policies had led to a man-made crisis.
“The government of Robert Mugabe presided over the dramatic reversal of its population’s access to food, clean water, basic sanitation and health care,” the group concluded. Mugabe’s policies led directly to “the shuttering of hospitals and clinics, the closing of its medical school and the beatings of health workers.”
The 93-year-old Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, has come under criticism at home for his frequent overseas travels that have cost impoverished Zimbabwe millions of dollars. His repeated visits to Singapore have heightened concerns over his health, even as he pursues re-election next year.
The U.S. in 2003 imposed targeted sanctions, a travel ban and an asset freeze against Mugabe and close associates, citing his government’s rights abuses and evidence of electoral fraud.
WHO chief now ‘rethinking’ Mugabe ‘goodwill ambassador’ appointment after outcry
Eamon Fitzgerald and Rebecca Moroney start their day like many couples: ruffling out of entangled sheets, groaning at the alarm, boiling water in a tea kettle and clicking on a laptop.
But when they pause to look out their bedroom window, their view is a little different — partly due to the windshield wipers.
The Toronto couple has been living in a converted cargo van since spring — travelling thousands of kilometres across Canada. Their view changes often, from the snow-topped mountains of Squamish, B.C., to the beaches of Prince Edward County.
“It’s like we have a $5 million cottage on the water,” says Moroney, of spending summer days parked along a County side street. “The best part of van life is you have your home with you everywhere you go.”
Moroney, 27, and Fitzgerald, 25 are among thousands who have taken up “van life.” With more than 2.1 million posts under the hashtag #vanlife on the photo-sharing app Instagram, it’s one of the most coveted lifestyles on social media.
Today’s van lifers aren’t the off-the-grid driveway squatters or Woodstock hippies of the ’60s. These millennial-aged wanderers, also known as digital nomads, are extremely plugged in; mostly freelance writers and entrepreneurs, they’re an Apple-era hybrid of HGTV renovation shows, Coachella festival style blogs, and Dragons’ Den success stories.
Some adopt the lifestyle as an alternative to paying high rents while others see it as the next step in the minimalist “tiny homes” movement. But even those who can afford spacious bricks-and-mortar housing have taken to #vanlife, such as former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Daniel Norris, who made headlines in 2015 for moving into a van during the off-season, telling the Star at the time he did it for the “solitude.”
In March, they were preparing to sign a lease on a basement apartment near Trinity Bellwoods Park for $2,200 a month, when Fitzgerald, who had been following the #vanlife hashtag for months, saw a post about a 2008 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van for sale for $13,500. Their business was locking in more clients around Ontario, and they thought a van would let them expand beyond the province.
“We dropped the lease, I kid you not, and drove out to the lot where the van was and we bought the van,” recalls Moroney.
They spent a month and $11,000 renovating the interior with mostly discounted items, such as recycled wood and subway tile from Italy found on Kijiji. They insulated and panelled the walls and ceiling, and installed a foldaway table, futon-style bed, couch, a mini fridge, cabinets and a counter with a stovetop and sink connected to three 19-litre fresh water tanks. The most expensive items were solar panels installed on the roof.
For the next five months, they zigzagged from New Brunswick to B.C., cooking vegan meals and showering at yoga studios that granted trial passes. They made use of washrooms at cafés, restaurants, gyms and various public facilities — “Call us lucky but we’re not your pee-in-the-middle-of-the-night kind of people,” jokes Moroney — and parked wherever they could find a quiet space: a few paid campsites, but mostly for free near beaches, behind clients’ cafés, on side streets in small towns and in Walmart parking lots.
Though some van lifers are nervous about unauthorized parking — known as “stealth camping” — Moroney and Fitzgerald haven’t run into any problems. “Most nights, if we haven’t found somewhere epic to park, like a great spot on the water, we’ll look for a Walmart,” says Moroney.
Since the van doubles as a home and office, come tax time the couple are able to write off most of their regular expenses, which aren’t that much to begin with — their monthly bills include $60 for internet, $100 for van insurance, and between $200 and $500 for gas.
Like many van lifers, the couple also makes money off social media content. In September, they made $500 on their YouTube channel, which has some 21,000 subscribers, and may soon enter the sponsored Instagram post market.
They met writers and fellow van lifers Lisa Felepchuk, 33, and Coleman Molnar, 31, “the way all great friendships begin in 2017” — on Instagram, jokes Felepchuk.
Known as Li et Co online, the Toronto couple spoke with the Star by phone from a public library parking lot in Kenora, Ont., where they’d stopped to take advantage of free Wi-Fi on their way to Banff, Alta.
Since March 2016, they’ve made a home in their 1983 Volkswagen Westfalia, which they share with their cat named Mewan McGregor (they keep a litter box on the floor and have only stepped in it on a couple of occasions).
The couple adopted van life, which is more common on the West Coast and in sunny California than Ontario, for the freedom and to escape Toronto’s rent — and nasty winters.
“Toronto is not a hippie hot spot in Canada,” says Molnar. They spent most of last winter in Arizona. “We were paying close to $2,000 to live in this city that’s frigid cold for six months a year and all we did was dream about going on vacation somewhere else.”
But for Moroney and Fitzgerald, their business keeps them from being able to chase the sun. And when the weather changes with the area codes — like last month, when they went from a Toronto heat wave to frigid temperatures in Winnipeg in a matter of days — van life isn’t as charming as the Instagram shots.
But the couple, who’ve since installed a heater, are determined to continue van life over the winter.
“It is our home,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s the most comfortable bed we know.”
“Sometimes we’ll go and sleep somewhere else,” says Moroney, “and every night we do, we’re like ‘Why did we do that? We miss our van.’ ”
Toronto couple takes up #vanlife as a way around skyrocketing rents
You can almost hear the TV announcer’s voice booming through the speakers: “There’s $5 billion on the line and 50,000 new jobs. Do you have what it takes to be Amazon’s next HQ2?”
The contestants cheer. They’re all big city mayors — John Tory and Naheed Nenshi among them — vying for the grand prize: a red rose from Jeff Bezos.
But this is not a reality TV show; this is Amazon’s offer to the city that hosts its new HQ2 development — a replica of their home base in Seattle.
The winning proposal has to be located near an urban centre, an airport, and must be close to the highway. The development is slated to start at 500,000 sq. ft., but is expected to reach up to 8,000,000 sq. ft. as the project continues.
More than 100 cities have put forward bids to woo Bezos and Amazon.
To win over the heart and mind of the tech giant, however, applicants are going to have to be memorable.
With the final HQ2 bids submitted Thursday, the Star takes a look at the craziest gimmicks cities have come up with in order to score top prize, and a place in Bezos heart.
Sun Corridor Inc., an economic development group based out of Arizona, packed a 6.5-metre cactus into a truck and delivered it direct to Bezos in Seattle.
Amazon had to turn down the spiky specimen, however, telling the city in a tweet that they could not accept gifts — “even really cool ones.”
Amazon donated the cactus to a desert museum.
New York City
Light me up, baby.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday that the city would go “Amazon Orange” in an attempt to appeal to Bezos sensibilities.
Several of the city’s landmarks, including the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center, were outfitted in bright orange for the duration of Wednesday evening.
Working the Canadian Way, Ottawa finalized their pledge with a chorus of hockey fans.
Attendees of a hockey game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Ottawa Senators were asked to cheer for Amazon at the game’s intermission— in both French and English.
Taking a flirty approach to winning Bezos heart, Birmingham set up giant imitation Dash Buttons throughout the city. The buttons were programmed to tweet one of 600 pickup lines at Amazon when pressed.
One such tweet professed Birmingham’s hunger for Amazon’s affection, reading: “We are Chipotle and these other cities are Taco Bell, Amazon.”
Some lovers might catch a grenade for you, but Nenshi would fight a bear.
Calgary infiltrated Seattle with persuasive graffiti, and hung a 60-metre long banner across from Amazon’s current HQ proclaiming its willingness to take down a bear in Bezos honour.
Capitalizing on the dreary weather in Amazon’s Seattle home base, Denver offered a reprieve from the cold and damp, telling the company they had “300 days of sunshine” and “bluer and prettier” skies than the Seattle HQ, according to the Associated Press.
(Albuquerque, New Mexico, on the other hand, has counter offered 310 cloudless days.)
In addition to their appeal to nature, Denver also touted the opportunity for Amazonians to eat, drink, and be merry. The city referred to the large number of breweries in Colorado — six per every 100,000 residents — as a reason for Amazon to set up shop in Denver.
In perhaps the most outrageous stunt to take home the grand prize, Stonecrest is offering to change its name to Amazon.
The new city, incorporated in 2016,has offered to dedicate 139 hectares of the city for use by the company, and has offered to install Bezos as the de-facto mayor of Amazon.
Who wants Amazon’s HQ2 the most? Take a look at bids from other cities
Police are searching for a suspect after a woman was stabbed in a “random attack” in the Lawrence Park area Saturday.
Const. David Hopkinson said the woman made her own way to hospital and police later found a crime scene at Weybourne Cres. and Dinnick Cres., southeast of Lawrence Ave. E. and Yonge St.
Hopkinson said the woman’s injuries weren’t life-threatening.
Police said the suspect is a white male in his 20s with a thin moustache and skinny, scruffy hair. He wore a black hoodie and is between five feet seven inches and five feet eight inches tall, police said.
Woman stabbed in ‘random attack’ in Lawrence Park
Let’s say you’re Donald Trump.
It’s 2002 and you’ve agreed to have your name emblazoned across the top of the tallest residential tower in Canada, a $500-million, five-star condo-hotel in downtown Toronto.
Here’s the thing: Only months into the project, your lead developer is publicly exposed in the pages of the Toronto Star as a fugitive fraudster on the run from U.S. justice. Your major institutional partner — the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company — bails shortly after.
Your remaining partners in the deal — a group of investors assembled by the criminal who was just outed — include a New York camera store owner, a former Chicago nursing-home administrator, two small-time landlords in Britain and a little-known Toronto billionaire who earned a fortune in the former Soviet Union.
The one thing they all have in common — no experience in condo tower development.
Do you pull out? For Trump, the answer was no. The billionaire dug in, repeatedly told the world he was investing his own money in the project — claims that would prove false — and gushed about its spectacular promise, knowing his profits were guaranteed.
“Nothing like this has ever been built in Toronto,” Trump said in 2004 as he relaunched the stalled project. “It is going to be the ultimate destination for business, pleasure and entertainment.”
Fast forward to 2016 and Trump’s Toronto tower is built but bankrupt — a rare failure in Toronto’s booming downtown condo market.
In the last decade, more than 400 condominium towers of 14 storeys or more have been successfully built in Toronto, according to records at City Hall. Among those, the half-dozen industry insiders and analysts interviewed for this story could identify only one that went bankrupt after completion: the Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto.
An investigation by the Toronto Star and Columbia Journalism Investigations in New York reveals the tower that until recently bore the U.S. president’s name was so hamstrung by inexperienced partners and an unorthodox foreign financing deal that it couldn’t be saved by Trump’s public assurances of excellence.
“It’s pretty hard to make a mess of a real-estate investment (in Toronto),” said Toronto lawyer Marc Senderowitz, who represented four of the project’s minority investors. “In retrospect, I could have taken their money, bought a small commercial building and sat on it for 15 years ... Things just went off the rails.”
A review of bankruptcy documents and public records in three countries, as well as interviews with the rotating cast of players involved in the deal over more than a decade provides new insights about Trump’s business approach, the unconventional partners he works with and the risks for those who bet on the Trump brand.
In the end, every investor lost money on Toronto’s Trump Tower. Everyone except Trump, who walked away with millions.
“Trump never put money in; he just took money out,” said John Latimer, a former Toronto developer who worked briefly for the project.
Now that Trump is U.S. president, his conduct during the Toronto project gives an indication of how he might manage challenges with far higher stakes than a mere real estate deal.
“As I understand it, in Toronto, Trump made inaccurate statements” that may have influenced people who invested in the project, said Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who specializes in legal and government ethics. “He has shown a willingness to speak inaccurately and encourages people to rely on his inaccuracies, even when that ends up causing harm to them.”
“In the case of the Toronto deal, the harm was financial. In the case of the presidency,” she said, it could be “apocalyptic.”
Trump projects around the world — from the former Soviet republics ofGeorgia and Azerbaijan to New York City— have attracted media scrutiny for their partners with Russian links and the Trump organization’s questionable due diligence.
The parallels between Trump’s tower in New York’s SoHo neighbourhood — which also entered bankruptcy — and the Toronto development, are striking: Both towers used the same hybrid hotel-condo model; both ran into trouble when the global financial crisis hit in 2007 and some unit purchasers walked away, while others sued. In both projects, Trump claimed to have a financial stake, only later to admit that it was a licensing deal. In both projects Trump family members presented inflated sales figures when the towers, in reality, stood nearly empty.
In the New York case, Trump’s children Donald Jr. and Ivanka were investigated for potential felony fraud charges for their role in misrepresenting sales figures.
Today, more than five years after the Toronto tower opened, the skyscraper on Adelaide St. remains three-quarters empty, current property records show.
Last fall, the tower’s development company, Talon International Inc., went bankrupt, unable to repay more than $300 million owing on the construction loan. While the tower’s new owners have removed Trump’s name, the full story of who partnered with Trump to build in Toronto has never been told.
The first try
Initially, the name at the top of the tower on Bay and Adelaide Sts. was to read “Ritz-Carlton.”
The project was the dream of Trump’s original partner, Leib Waldman, a Toronto condo developer with a track record of several successful towers and apartment blocks across the GTA. Waldman hired the prestigious architect Eberhard Zeidler and raised seed money in the Orthodox Jewish community in Toronto, New York and London, U.K.
Waldman’s minority investors, some of whom have never been publicly identified, have varied and often colourful backgrounds, but no experience in condo tower development.
The four foreign partners — Mendlowits, Meisels, Gross and Teitelbaum — made their investments through shell companies registered in New Brunswick.
“They had to have corporate entities to make the investments, but those corporations never carried on active businesses,” said Senderowitz, who helped set up the shell companies. “They were only incorporated for the purpose of owning ownership shares in this project.”
The only investor who agreed to speak on the record was Gross.
“I don’t know why this failed and so many other projects were successful,” Gross said. “It is mind boggling to us.”
At the Trump Organization, concerns over Waldman emerged almost immediately, said a source familiar with the deal.
“We quickly learned that Waldman was an empty suit. I recall one or two of his cheques bouncing,” said the source, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the development. “He was difficult and disreputable to deal with.”
The Ritz-Carlton project collapsed in 2001 after the Star revealed Waldman was a wanted fugitive who had fled to Toronto from the U.S. after pleading guilty to bankruptcy fraud and embezzlement in 1995.
Waldman was detained for extradition, leaving everyone pointing fingers at each other.
“Neither the Ritz-Carlton nor the Trump Organization would have entered into this partnership if they had knowledge of this,” a senior Trump executive said in the aftermath of the Waldman revelations. “To some extent we were looking for the Ritz-Carlton to do due diligence.”
The Ritz-Carlton pulled out, leaving the minority investors, the architect, lawyers and engineers with unpaid invoices and little hope of seeing the plan come to fruition.
Trump remained convinced his brand would save the project.
“Having his name on a project brought great credibility to the project, particularly if the developer did not have a great track record,” said the source familiar with the project.
For a short while, Waldman continued to run the tower project from a jail cell in Etobicoke.
“I had to go to the Mimico detention centre to have him sign documents. I drew the short straw. I’d never been in a prison before,” said Senderowitz.
Contacted for comment in Israel, where he moved after serving his prison sentence in U.S., Waldman said: “There was the Toronto Star article and the project was getting some bad publicity. I removed myself.”
John Latimer, a former Toronto developer, was brought in to rescue the project. He called a meeting and told everyone: either you keep working for free in order to get this project off the ground or you’ll never get paid anything.
“They wanted to keep this thing alive so they could get their money back,” Latimer said in an interview.
Zeidler, the tower’s architect, recalled being relieved.
“We are $270,000 in the hole, but at least the project is moving,” Zeidler wrote in his autobiography.
Shnaider steps up
Alex Shnaider, who had originally agreed to a smaller investment alongside the others, was persuaded to become the project’s main backer.
Shnaider initially agreed to a sit-down interview for this article but cancelled more than a month later. Instead, a Washington, D.C., public relations firm acted as a go-between, relaying written questions and answers.
On paper, Shnaider was a promising lead investor. He was wealthy, and despite his lack of condo and hotel experience, he was a business phenom.
Under the banner of the Midland Group, Shnaider built his sprawling business portfolio in the countries that had just emerged from behind the Iron Curtain. He started out in the early 1990s, working for Seabeco, a controversial investment firm run by his father-in-law, Boris Birshtein, who had links to powerful political figures in the former Soviet Union.
From there he expanded rapidly. By his early 30s, Shnaider — with his partner Eduard Shifrin, a Ukrainian businessman — was already co-owner of one of the largest steel mills in Ukraine. By 2001, they were able to acquire 93 per cent of the factory for the bargain-basement price of $70 million (U.S.), according to multiple media reports. Shnaider’s spokesperson challenges that figure, saying in a written statement that they paid “significantly” more.
In 2005, their stake had reportedly grown to be worth $1.2 billion.
Shnaider then diversified into industries as varied as Russian Formula One racing, Moscow shopping malls, Ukrainian convenience stores, an Israeli soccer team and the Armenian electricity grid. He was rewarded with hundreds of millions in profits. Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold.
Back home, Shnaider was living a life few Canadians can imagine.
In 2006, he bought a $4.3-million (Canadian) mansion in Toronto’s exclusive Bridle Path neighbourhood, which sold last year for $22 million. He travelled on a private jet and vacationed on his yacht, the 52-metre Midlandia.
Two years later, Shnaider’s former wife rented a hangar at Pearson International Airport to celebrate his 40th birthday, allowing their jet-setting guests to fly in and out for the party.
He would one up her for their daughter’s 16th birthday in 2013, hiring Justin Bieber to perform in a private concert at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
For all his wealth, Shnaider was virtually unknown in Toronto until he stepped into the limelight alongside Donald Trump in 2004 to launch pre-construction sales for their tower.
Three years later, wielding golden shovels, they broke ground side by side at a ceremony to mark the start of construction.
Financial documents, made public when Shnaider’s development company, Talon, went bankrupt, show his European bank financed the tower in a way no Canadian institution would; he hired his friend Levitan, the slot machine-repair businessman, to manage the construction and sales, and Levitan’s wife, Inna, to do the interior design; he allowed his sales director, Adina Zak, to sell units to herself and flip them to buyers at a profit.
Shnaider’s spokesperson denied he had a decision-making role in the tower.
“Mr. Shnaider did not have an executive role in this project and was not a developer — he was not involved in the sale of units,” she said.
Waldman had been the only one with any experience in tower development, and his departure left a team of condo rookies, as well as his son, Joseph, to whom he transferred his 11-per-cent stake in the tower. Levitan was put in charge of managing the construction and sales for the $500 million tower.
By all accounts hard-working, Levitan was in over his head.
“The trouble is, as nice and smart a guy as Val was, he didn’t really know the process,” said Latimer, the developer who briefly worked on the project.
But the lure of Trump’s wealth and success convinced the tower’s backers that they would succeed, said Senderowitz, the Toronto lawyer.
“They just wanted Trump’s star power to pull this off,” he said.
Teitelbaum, in particular, was convinced of its success, Latimer recalled.
“All he could see was the dollar signs ringing up. This was gonna be a big payday for him,” said Latimer. “Two years later he called me to ask if I’d buy a suite in the hotel. That made it seem like things were in trouble.”
Teitelbaum rejects this account, claiming he was never an investor.
Until now, the real ownership of the tower has been shrouded in secrecy.
Without ever providing details, Trump started telling reporters in 2001 that he had made a “substantial” investment in the Toronto tower. As late as 2007, Trump was publicly bragging about his supposedly savvy investment, which would have benefitted from the appreciating Canadian dollar.
“People are saying, ‘great play,’ but I actually didn’t mean to invest because of the dollar. I just ended up being a genius for all the wrong reasons,” Trump told the Star in 2007.
It wasn’t until 2011 that Talon disclosed Trump only had a contract to license out his name and manage the hotel.
“He showed up when they broke ground, did a press conference … and walked away,” said Senderowitz.
Levitan and Shnaider became the tower’s real salesmen, but their project was a tough sell on Bay St.
Levitan met with Canadian construction financiers in a series of meetings in 2006, according to sources.
“Everyone passed on it,” said one Toronto financier, who met with Levitan and turned him down.
Even though Shnaider was based in Toronto, the fact that virtually all his assets were overseas didn’t sit well with local lenders.
“We didn’t like the fact that it was an inexperienced developer coming from abroad,” said the financier, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not permitted by his employer to discuss confidential financial matters. “If a loan goes into default, we have to go after the debtors. When they’re foreign, we can’t get their assets.”
In the end, the financing for the tower’s construction came from an Austrian bank, Raiffeisen Zentralbank Osterreich, which had little experience in the North American market.
One of its only other projects on this side of the Atlantic was the Red Leaves resort in Muskoka, a project that also went bankrupt.
Raiffeisen, which invests heavily in the former Soviet republics and had financed several of Shnaider’s previous ventures, faced scrutiny about a decade ago when a deputy central banker in Moscow accused it of acting as a conduit for wealthy Russians to launder money abroad. Raiffeisen denied wrongdoing, according to news reports.
The bank declined to comment for this article.
Adam Powadiuk, director of commercial finance at First National Financial, a real-estate lender in Toronto, reviewed the tower’s financing agreement and said it contained many “wacky” elements that “amplify the risk in a significant way.”
Typically in Toronto, banks require developers to sell enough pre-construction units to cover the entire cost of a loan before any funds are released. Not so in this case.
Raiffeisen asked Talon to pre-sell $250 million in condos and hotel rooms — only about 80 per cent of the $310.5-million loan.
Talon didn’t even reach that lower bar.
While Shnaider publicly stated the tower had sold more than $250 million in units, the bankruptcy documents tell a different story. Based on purchasers’ deposits, it appears Talon only ever sold $218-million worth of units.
One investor, auto body shop owner Gross, said that the tower’s backers were aware construction started before enough units were sold.
“We knew,” Gross said in an interview. “We were hoping that time would be on our side.”
In public, the sales figure was constantly shifting.
Seventy five per cent of the units were sold, Shnaider said in 2007, shortly before groundbreaking. A few months later, Trump said the number was 70 per cent. By 2012, Talon was reporting 60 per cent were sold. The next year, the company admitted less than half the units had been bought.
In 2007, Shnaider announced he would buy for himself the tower’s $20-million, 12,000-square-foot “super penthouse” — Canada’s most expensive condo at the time. Public records show he never closed the deal. And Shnaider wasn’t the only buyer to back out.
According to Talon’s bankruptcy, the company only ever collected $108.3 million in unit sales — less than half of what it had said was sold and more than $200 million shy of what was needed to pay off the principal of the loan.
While revenue wasn’t coming in, construction costs were spiralling due to the exceptionally small building lot, design changes on the fly that would cut 13 storeys off the top of the planned 70-storey tower and eight months of delays caused by extreme weather.
When Talon maxed out the bank loan, the investors had to come up with another $106 million to cover the tower’s completion, bankruptcy records show.
The minority investors contributed at first but eventually, Shnaider was paying for everything out of his own pocket.
At the same time, records from the Panama Papers leak show Shnaider and his partner sold their stake in the Ukrainian steel mill to a VEB, a bank controlled by the Kremlin. They received $850 million (U.S.). Shnaider’s lawyer initially told the Wall Street Journal that $15 million of that money went to cover cost overruns at the Trump Tower. He later told the New York Times that none of the sales proceeds were used to cover costs in Toronto.
Even once the tower was complete, few people wanted to buy in.
Typically, banks intervene quickly when sales stall in an effort to protect their investments, real estate experts say. They bring in their own sales and marketing teams; they might even bring in contractors to finish construction.
But between 2008 and 2013 — the depth of the global financial crisis — the Austrian bank pushed back the repayment deadlines 12 times, according to bankruptcy records, waiting for sales to materialize. The tower was built, but it sat three-quarters empty, hemorrhaging money just to keep the lights on.
When Talon finally declared bankruptcy last year — nine years after taking out the construction loan — it still owed Raiffeisen $301 million on the $310 million it borrowed, bankruptcy records show.
Powadiuk called that level of outstanding debt “enormous” and “very strange” in the Canadian context.
“I can’t picture a scenario, the way that most lenders in Canada do these things, where you end up with that kind of chain of events,” Powadiuk said.
An empty grand opening
The tower’s lavish ribbon cutting — originally planned for September 2010 — didn’t take place until April 2012.
The pomp and ceremony included Trump and his children, each with a pair of golden scissors, surrounded by models, alongside then mayor Rob Ford bearing a wide smile.
As dignitaries and Toronto’s most powerful businesspeople gathered to fete the project’s success, the tower’s failure was likely already sealed.
Another five-star hotel, a new Ritz-Carleton, had just opened in Toronto and a second, the Shangri-La, was about to do so. Trump’s decade-old project looked stale by comparison.
“This one was dragging on and suddenly it has a bad smell,” said Latimer.
After the hotel opened its doors, too many rooms sat empty. Hotel room purchasers were hit with thousands of dollars of additional fees and commercial property tax. One disappointed buyer tried to auction off his condo, but no one met the minimum bid. Several unit ownerssued Shnaider’s company for misrepresenting their projected profits and a judge ordered one buyer’s deposit returned. A class-action lawsuit on behalf of other buyers is pending in Superior Court.
When business didn’t pick up, Talon publicly clashed with Trump, blaming the future president’s people for mismanaging the hotel. The president’s organization filed a legal motion to prevent the termination of its licensing agreement, alleging Talon was plotting to sell the remaining units and walk away. The motion was shelved.
One thing was now clear: Trump’s brand offered no guarantee of success.
“(Trump) wasn’t hands on,” said Senderowitz. “He just delegated everything. His own management style was literally chaotic.”
Everyone was losing money, including Shnaider.
“Mr. Shnaider lost more money on the Trump Tower Project than anyone else,” a spokesperson said in a written statement. “Mr. Shnaider had high hopes for the project and wanted it to succeed. These hopes were not realized.
“The project was unsuccessful, in Mr. Shnaider’s opinion, because of the global financial crisis and its effect on buyers’ and potential buyers’ ability to close or obtain funding to close, and because of inexperienced management.”
In the end, the tower and every investor’s stake in it went to JCF Capital, which had bought the tower’s debt and paid the Trump Organization to exit its licensing agreement in June. Two days later, JCF sold the hotel to InnVest, a major Canadian hotel operator. The 74 unsold condos are now back on the market, being offered under the St. Regis brand.
The total amount of money Trump received from the failed Toronto project is unclear.
Public financial disclosure documents filed by Trump in the U.S. show he collected $1.7 million (U.S.) in management fees from the Toronto project between 2014 and 2016. Walking away from the deal brought Trump’s organization a further payout of at least $6 million (Canadian), according to a 2017 Bloomberg report citing an inside source.
Requests for comment from The Trump Organization went unanswered.
“I don’t know why it failed. It’s a mystery to me,” said the source familiar with the project. “The only thing I can really conclude is the Trump brand didn’t have popularity in Toronto.”
The five letters at the top of the tower came down this summer, amid global headlines and downtown rubbernecking. The hotel has been temporarily renamed the Adelaide in anticipation of a full rebranding next year.
All that remains of Trump’s name now are a few plaques adorning the building’s street-level facade. They’ve been covered with a silver film that doesn’t quite hide the infamous moniker.
Shnaider and the minority investors have dispersed. No one wants to have anything to do with Trump anymore. Even Shnaider, who heavily promoted the tower, now wants to distance himself from its namesake.
“Mr. Shnaider and Mr. Trump met a total of four times in person,” reads a written statement from Shnaider’s spokesperson. “The two did not discuss substantive business issues. They do not have any ongoing relationship.”
With files from Asaf Shalev
Columbia Journalism Investigations. CJI is a team of leading investigative journalists, Columbia University faculty, graduate students, postgraduate fellows, coders and others who conduct deep investigations into urgent issues of public interest, without respect to beat. Funding is provided by the Graduate School of Journalism.
How every investor lost money on Trump Tower Toronto (but Donald Trump made millions anyway)