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    What if an accused, charged with beating a dog to death, told the court: I didn’t know that was against the law.

    Preposterous, obviously.

    Who would be unaware that such cruelty towards a defenceless animal is a crime?

    Who would be afforded judicial latitude for ignorance?

    The crime is the crime.

    Now imagine instead that a man is charged with raping his wife. Actually you don’t have to imagine it because such a man went on trial for the alleged crime in Ottawa some four months ago. And was acquitted last week.

    Neither husband nor wife understood that sexual assault — “rape” no longer exists in Canada as a specific charge — was an offence under the Criminal Code.

    It was an arranged marriage, to which the woman consented reluctantly but dutifully, as was the practice in her culture. Raised in Kuwait by Palestinian parents, arriving in Canada in 1989 as a teenager, age 22 at wedlock, after she withdrew from university.

    She believed she had no choice. That is how some females still lead their lives of quiet desperation in this country, in our midst, in a kind of shrouded existence, denied basic human rights and treated as property.

    Like a dog.

    Couldn’t say no to her parents. Couldn’t say no to her husband when he forced her to have sex against her will.

    In court documents, the woman is identified only as “Z.”

    “I . . . accept Z.’s evidence that the accused believed that as her husband he had the right to have sexual relations with her when he wished,” Justice Robert Smith writes in his reasons for judgment.

    “Z. testified that there were many instances during her marriage where she did not consent to having sex with the accused but that he went ahead anyway in the circumstances where they both believed he had the right to do so. She was unaware that she could stop her husband from having sex with her without her consent. Their sexual relationship continued in this manner from 1992 until Jan. 1, 2013.”

    The marriage had been performed in Gaza. Children were born to them here.

    In time it became an unhappy union and the couple separated in 2013.

    A change had come over her husband, the woman testified, after he returned from a 20-month visit to settle family estate matters in Gaza. He became aggressive, had no patience and “was no longer kind to her.”

    Speaks volumes, that phrase, doesn’t it?

    It wasn’t until later in 2013, when police attended at the couple’s home — they were arguing over access issues — that Z. discovered she could have indeed refused her husband’s sexual demands over all those years.

    That has been the law in Canada since 1983. Prior to then, rape was considered an offence only outside of marriage, meaning a husband could not be charged with raping his wife and a wife could only have her spouse charged with indecent assault, common assault or assault causing bodily harm.

    A year previous to the revised legislation, NDP MP Margaret Mitchell was mocked about the issue — laughed at by other MPs — when she rose in the House of Commons and demanded the government take action to stop domestic violence.

    Bill C-127, which came into effect Jan. 4, 1983, made sexual assault against a spouse an offence under the Criminal Code. A spouse could also be charged with aggravated sexual assault if the crime included a beating.

    That was scarcely 35 years ago. In some patriarchal countries, it’s still not a crime.

    Z. recalled one incident in particular which became the basis of the sex assault charge against her husband and it dated to an episode from 2002, when he grabbed her by the wrist, pulled her on the couch, tugged down her pants and had sex despite Z. asking him three times to stop. “She closed her eyes and prayed for it to end and then took a shower,” Smith writes.

    Now, anyone with experience of sex assault trials would instantly recognize the frailty of the case — so long ago, no witnesses, no independent corroboration, he-said she-said accounts.

    Except the judge believed Z., found her entirely credible. “She answered questions in a straightforward manner. Her evidence that the accused believed he had a right to have sex with his wife was not contradicted. The accused acknowledged that he exercised control over his wife’s body by refusing to allow her to have an abortion when she became pregnant …

    “I find that the accused probably had sex with his wife on many occasions without her specific consent, as both he and she believe that he had the right to do so.”

    Z. told the court she fulfilled her connubial role because she believed it was her obligation as his wife.

    By comparison, the accused “was argumentative and evasive when cross-examined and often did not answer the question posed. I find that his evidence was not believable and did not raise a reasonable doubt.”

    Smith was especially skeptical about the husband’s claim that he clearly remembered not having sex at all with his wife during the period of the alleged assault — because he’d had a hair transplant and, he said, the doctor had told him to avoid sexual activity for two weeks. No medical evidence for that advice was presented; it’s nonsensical.

    And yet. And yet.


    Because the Crown had not proven mens rea— a guilty mind, the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime — beyond reasonable doubt.

    Because he believed he had the right.

    It is to weep. It is to rage against the madness of the courts.

    Little wonder women don’t report. The standard of proof is too high. While it should not be lower for sexual assault, it sure as hell shouldn’t be higher.

    This was not a woman caught in a web of lies. She didn’t collude to support her claim. She submitted because we clearly have done a wretched job of informing women about their rights. And then a judge found her credible narrative wanting, falling as it did within this crevice of perverse woman-hating culture.

    The judge also acquitted the defendant on charges of assaulting his daughter — seizing her by the neck — and threatening the girl, though both she and her sister testified about how their father had returned from Gaza more fervidly religious, setting limits on what his daughters could wear, which resulted in family disputes.

    “I will end you,” the girl testified her father had said to her in Arabic during the argument, after even the accused admitted he’d gone upstairs to “straighten her out.”

    Girls and women: Who were they to challenge his authority?

    The judge had prefaced his decision with this observation: “Marriage is not a shield for sexual assault; however, the issue in this trial is whether considering the whole of the evidence the Crown has proven the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    Here, the doubt was profoundly unreasonable.

    Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

    How a man was acquitted of sexually assaulting his wife because neither knew he needed consent: DiMannoHow a man was acquitted of sexually assaulting his wife because neither knew he needed consent: DiManno

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    Officials with the Toronto District School Board are scrambling to ease the concerns of parents and students worried that an initiative meant to “enhance equity” will lead to the end of specialized programs.

    The board says that “is not their intent.”

    Earlier this month, the TDSB Equity Task Force released a draft report as a result of a year-long community engagement process, to “explore what equity strategies have worked and identify where challenges remain.”

    One of the recommendations put forward, to “eliminate disparities between schools” is to work to realign resources “so that all schools, at least every cluster of local schools, can offer a variety of specialty programs.”

    And once that is achieved, the report suggests that “optional attendance and specialized schools should be phased out.”

    Phi Than, parent’s council co-chair at Earl Haig, in North York said parents were shocked to see the “phasing out of schools” even considered.

    “When we read the report, we thought, wow these are really sweeping changes,” said Than, who has daughter who attends Claude Watson Secondary Arts Program at Earl Haig, one that both she and husband also attended for high school.

    “We truly believe in specialized programs, and we wish that every child would have access to it and the same benefits that we have had,” she said. “But the board is struggling financially, how do they train the teachers, how can they implement this quality of education across the city? There are so many unanswered questions.”

    But TDSB director John Malloy says shutting down specialty schools, like the Claude Watson Arts Program offered at Earl Haig, is not the intent of the proposal.

    “I believe there is no intention of closing art schools, and there is no intention of ending great programs,” he said. “As director, I would certainly not be bringing that recommendation to the board.”

    “However, we do wish to explore how to provide greater access so all of our students can participate in the programs they deserve,” he said.

    He said the recommendation would have no impact on other specialty programs that are run within schools either such as gifted programs, STEM, International Baccalaureate, or TOPS.

    The report says, “The task force recognizes that specialized schools and programs, along with optional attendance, while benefitting certain populations, have inadvertently resulted in greater competition and disparities between schools.

    “In many cases, these schools and programs have served to limit enriched learning opportunities for students, especially those from the most marginalized communities, who experience barriers to accessing optional attendance,” it states.

    The Federation of Canadian Secondary Students | Fédération des élèves du secondaire au Canada (FCSS-FESC), also sent out of a press release over the weekend protesting the proposal and said the board should “investigate alternative solutions to educational inequity (that) support the improvement of underprivileged students and schools without limiting opportunities for others to learn and perform to the best of their abilities.”

    Malloy added that the recommendations are a draft, and that community members are welcome to weigh in. “Nothing is set in stone,” he said.

    He said once feedback is received, a report will come to trustees in December. If approved, staff will work on the report and offer next steps early next year.

    In the meantime, he said he will speak to the facilitator of the task force this week about clarifying the he language around the recommendation.

    “We understand everyone’s perspectives, but don’t want to get distracted by this really important work of equitable access,” he said.

    TDSB says it has ‘no intention’ to close specialty schools in push for equity in access to programsTDSB says it has ‘no intention’ to close specialty schools in push for equity in access to programs

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    Opening arguments are set to get underway today in the murder trial for a Toronto woman who vanished five years ago.

    Dellen Millard, 32, of Toronto and Mark Smich, 30, of Oakville, Ont., have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of 23-year-old Laura Babcock.

    Justice Michael Code, who is presiding over the case, has told potential jurors that the Crown alleges Millard and Smich murdered Babcock at Millard’s Toronto home on July 3 or 4, 2012.

    Code has said to potential jurors that the pair allegedly burned her body in a large incinerator that was later found on Millard’s farm near Waterloo, Ont.

    The judge told the jurors the incinerator was purchased shortly before Babcock disappeared and that her body has never been found.

    Police laid charges against Millard and Smich in 2014.

    Read more:

    Murder of Laura Babcock leaves lingering questions for police

    Tim Bosma’s family suing his killers

    Millard trial for murder of Laura Babcock postponed

    Five years after she vanished, opening arguments set to begin in Laura Babcock murder trialFive years after she vanished, opening arguments set to begin in Laura Babcock murder trial

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    When Kyle Bye is trying to score the prescription narcotic Percocet, he looks for three letters: TEC.

    The letters are engraved in bold capitals across the dime-sized white pill, a mix of oxycodone and Tylenol. The TEC name is among the most desired brands of prescription drugs in Canada’s opioid epidemic.

    The letters are also the marking of a drug company that has not existed in nearly 20 years.

    Harm reduction advocates are concerned the outdated TEC branding is being used by the drug’s current manufacturer only because of the prescription pill’s popularity on the streets, a charge the company says it not true. Some are calling on the government to investigate why the pills still have the old marking.

    A recent Star investigation obtained an email chain showing that the company that now makes these oxycodone pills has offered to pay an Ontario pharmacy group to stock its prescription medications, including TECs. The health minister said he takes the allegations of “illegal” rebate payments seriously and ordered the government to investigate. In a statement, the company said it follows Ontario’s laws and will co-operate with the province’s probe.

    Read more:

    Health ministers looking at electronic database to fight opioid crisis

    Inmates in Canada accused of running massive opioid ring from prison

    Fentanyl mostly responsible for new height in B.C. illicit drug deaths

    This story is about the controversial, outdated branding on these pills — and why they are so attractive to illicit users.

    “I know what I’m getting when I ask for TECs,” said Bye, who lives in Toronto. “That’s the only thing I would buy. If it didn’t say TEC on it, I probably wouldn’t buy it.”

    The pills are officially known as Oxycocetand are a generic version of Percocet. They make their way from pharmacies to the streets in different ways, from fake prescriptions to robberies to patients selling their medication.

    Once there, a single TEC pill can fetch anywhere from $5 to $20 — and probably sells a lot easier than the same drug with different markings.

    “It’s brand recognition,” said Matt Johnson, the harm reduction outreach co-ordinator at the Queen West Central Toronto Community Health Centre.

    “The people looking for that TEC brand are the ones buying them in ones and twos on the street.”

    The drugs are popular among young people and casual users because its lower dosage means a more manageable high.

    Many TEC users believe it gives a better high than other generic versions of Percocet, and that the product is less likely to be adulterated with a more potent narcotic such as fentanyl.

    These pills are the first taste of opioids for many people.

    TECs, which used to be made by a drug firm called TechniLab Pharma, are now distributed by Teva Canada. In a statement to the Star, Teva Canada said it markets its generic pharmaceuticals to licensed pharmacies and hospitals — not illicit users.

    “Teva denies that the retention of the TEC marking on this product is motivated by any preference illicit users may have for the product (and in fact, had no knowledge of any such preference prior to your inquiry),” a spokesperson said.

    “Teva Canada prides itself on being a responsible distributor of controlled products.”

    In Ontario, TECs are the most commonly dispensed generic form of oxycodone covered by the public drug plan, according to Ontario Drug Benefit Program data. Since 2012, the province has paid more than $50 million covering the cost of pills with that marking. The Star was unable to obtain similar data for those prescriptions covered under private health plans.

    Some of the prescription opioids, with costs footed by the government, are making their way into the hands of drug dealers.

    Toronto police recently arrested more than 20 people in an ongoing investigation into people selling Oxycocets (TECs), fentanyl and other prescription opioids that were “provided and paid for by” the Ontario Disability Support Program, said Det. Sgt. Michael Richmond of 51 Division.

    “The taxpayers are ultimately paying for some of these illegal drugs on the street,” Richmond said.

    Teva said it works with Canadian law enforcement “to identify and prevent diversion of pharmaceutical products for the illicit market.” The company said it also helps with investigations and prosecutions of counterfeit opioid products.

    The fact that the black market is producing counterfeit pills with the TEC marking is proof the brand is desired by people who use drugs, said Amy Graves, founder of the non-profit Get Prescription Drugs off the Street.

    In May, the RCMP in Newfoundland issued a public alert after finding fake pills with the TEC branding that actually contained fentanyl, which police warn can be up to 100 times more potent than morphine.

    “This is a popular brand that people seek out on the streets for illicit use. Organized crime is tailoring their products to meet the demand of the prescription drug market,” said Graves, whose brother died in 2011 after taking a different prescription opioid — hydromorphone — at a house party.

    Graves said there should also be a government probe into the TEC markings.

    “I think it should be further investigated why the company has continued to use the imprint,” Graves said.

    Each TEC pill contains five milligrams of oxycodone. By comparison, an Oxy 80, known to some as “Green Monsters” because of their emerald hue and potency, has 16 times more.

    For heavy opioid users, a TEC pill isn’t strong enough, said harm reduction worker Johnson.

    But they are popular among young people and those who prefer to mix different pills — sometimes with alcohol — to get stoned.

    “With TECs, there are a lot of suburban, middle-class people who are binge users,” Johnson said. Many others, he said, simply use it to self-medicate chronic pain because the medication they can legally access just isn’t strong enough.

    Bye, a Toronto man who uses drugs, said he takes TECs to ease the aches and pains that come from withdrawal from binge drinking or other narcotics.

    Bye works in a paid position with the Queen West Health Centre’s outreach team to help people learn safer ways to use drugs to avoid overdoses or infectious diseases. “If you’re going to use (drugs), use safely,” he said.

    Oxycocet first came on the market in 1984, according to Health Canada product records. Montreal-based TechniLab Pharma had launched 10 years earlier and was quickly becoming one of the country’s prominent generic drug companies.

    By 2000, a crowded drug marketplace had devoured its profits. The company accepted an $80-million takeover bid from a German drug company and became part of the generic brand Ratiopharm.

    Shortly after that, Ratiopharm launched an internal initiative in Canada to get newly acquired products under its own brand, said a source who worked with the company at the time.

    Over the next few years, the markings on most of the former Technilab drugs were changed to “rph” for Ratiopharm, said the source, who asked not to be named because the person still works in the industry and fears reprisal.

    The Oxycocet pills stayed the same, however.

    In 2010, TECs changed hands again when generic drug giant Teva bought Ratiopharm for nearly $5 billion (U.S.). But Canada’s Competition Bureau quickly intervened.

    Both Teva and Ratiopharm each had their own versions of oxycodone-acetaminophen and morphine sulphate. A merger of the two companies would “likely lead to a substantial lessening of competition in the supply” of these tablets, the Competition Bureau said.

    Teva ultimately sold off its version of the oxycodone drug, the Competition Bureau said, and kept the one under Ratiopharm’s branding.

    Today, the pills arrive at pharmacies in a canister labelled ratio-Oxycocet, with Teva’s logo along the bottom. Inside, each pill is still stamped with the letters TEC.

    A Teva spokesperson said the company has a practice of not modifying products’ markings “in order to avoid unnecessary changes to products with an established stability profile, unless a change is triggered by a regulatory requirement.”

    Many Teva-distributed drugs, including Oxycocet, are still branded under the names of their former companies such as “rph” for Ratiopharm or “Novo” for Novopharm, the company said.

    According to Health Canada, a company can change the markings on a drug at any time without permission. It just has to notify Health Canada annually if it has made any changes.

    “Changes in markings on tablets and capsules should not affect the stability of the product,” said a Health Canada spokesperson, adding that as a precautionary measure, the drug regulator requires a company to monitor that the new marking hasn’t affected the medication’s expiry date.

    Toronto addiction specialists Dr. Alexander Caudarella said some of his patients have a perception that TEC pills “produce a more significant high than other ones,” especially when crushed up.

    The perception that one brand is safer or more effective can be dangerous, he said, as most of the illegal drug supply has been adulterated by illicit labs that are increasingly good at mimicking the appearance of prescription opioids.

    A pill that looks like a TEC could actually be something much more potent. Because TECs are fairly low-dose, many of its users haven’t developed high tolerance.

    “If they come across one that’s been manipulated and contains fentanyl, it makes it that much more likely that they’re going to die,” he said.

    Jesse McLean can be reached at

    Why are these popular prescription opioids branded for a company that no longer exists?Why are these popular prescription opioids branded for a company that no longer exists?Why are these popular prescription opioids branded for a company that no longer exists?Why are these popular prescription opioids branded for a company that no longer exists?

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    When Bill Harrison, a healthy 65-year-old Mississauga man, was found dead in his family home eight years ago, a pathologist listed the cause of death as “acute cardiac arrhythmia.”

    Years later, after two more suspicious deaths in the same family, Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist reviewed his colleague’s 2009 autopsy and gave a markedly different opinion.

    While there is not enough information to come to a conclusion about how Harrison met his end, the findings suggest he took “heavy blows” to his head and the front of his chest around the time of his death, Dr. Michael Pollanen testified Friday in a triple murder trial in Brampton.

    The best explanation, according to Pollanen: “They were caused by another party through an assault or an inflicted injury.”

    Melissa Merritt, 37, and her common-law spouse, Christopher Fattore, 40, are on trial for the first-degree murder of Merritt’s estranged husband, Caleb Harrison, in 2013, and his mother, Bridget Harrison, three years earlier.

    Fattore alone is charged with second-degree murder in the 2009 death of Bill Harrison, Caleb’s father. All three Harrisons died years apart in the family home on Pitch Pine Cres.

    Merritt has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Fattore pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder charges, but attempted to plead guilty to manslaughter in the death of Caleb Harrison. The Crown rejected the manslaughter plea.

    The prosecution alleges the crimes were committed in relation to a years-long custody battle between Merritt and the Harrisons. A taped police interview will show that after Fattore was arrested in 2014 he confessed to killing Caleb and Bridget, Crown prosecutor Eric Taylor said in his opening address in September.

    Pollanen said in court Friday that he did not have enough information to reach a conclusion about how Bill Harrison died. In his April 2015 report examining all three deaths, Pollanen wrote the cause of Bill’s death as “undetermined.”

    Pointing to pictures taken at the scene — Bill’s body was found in the locked powder room on the main floor of the family home — the chief forensic pathologist highlighted horizontal markings on Bill’s neck. Pollanen said the markings should have led to a more detailed autopsy to determine if pressure had been applied to the neck.

    In his report, Pollanen concluded that both Bridget and Caleb died of neck compression.

    The prosecution alleges that an assailant — Fattore — choked them.

    Pollanen said he could not diagnose neck compression in Bill’s death.

    “There’s a hole, a gap, in the knowledge that we need,” he said under cross-examination by Jennifer Myers, Fattore’s defence lawyer.

    Dr. Timothy Feltis, who performed the original post-mortem examination on Bill at Credit Valley Hospital in 2009, considered his exam a “forensic autopsy,” the jury heard. But Pollanen said it was not.

    Several “hallmarks” of forensic autopsy were missing from Feltis’s exam, Pollanen testified, including: a collection of trace evidence such as Bill’s fingernail clippings; photo documentation of the autopsy that would have made it possible for an independent party to review the evidence; and a layered neck dissection that Pollanen said is standard practice when markings are found on a dead person’s neck.

    Further, Pollanen noted, the cause of death Feltis gave — “acute cardiac arrhythmia” — is not a real cause of death. It’s a “mechanism” of death. “Basically what (it’s) saying is the heart stopped, which does not actually tell you why the heart stopped,” Pollanen said.

    “In all fairness, I think what he was trying to communicate … is that there’s something wrong with the heart and that’s what caused the death,” Pollanen said.

    But Pollanen said he found no significant evidence that there was anything wrong with Bill’s heart.

    Pollanen said Feltis is a “well-experienced pathologist,” and allowed that it is easy in hindsight to point out what should have been done. He also noted that Feltis “was not provided with the proper information about the case,” but did not elaborate.

    Under questioning by prosecutor Brian McGuire, Pollanen said he first raised concerns about Bill’s death in an April 2010 case meeting with police about the second death in the family home — that of Bridget Harrison.

    “I felt we should exhume him and do a forensic autopsy,” Pollanen testified.

    But it could not be done. Bill Harrison had been cremated.

    The trial continues before Justice Fletcher Dawson.

    Chief pathologist questions autopsy in family triple killingChief pathologist questions autopsy in family triple killing

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    The online retail giant received proposals from nearly all U.S. states, most of southern Canada, parts of Mexico and Puerto Rico.

    Amazon says it received 238 bids for its second headquartersAmazon says it received 238 bids for its second headquarters

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  • 10/23/17--22:25: Article 0

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    A 60-year-old Toronto man has been charged with manslaughter in the death of an 82-year-old woman in the Christie Pits area last week.

    Toronto police said, in a press release, that officers were called to the Shaw St. and Dupont St. area on Oct. 17 after a man reportedly assaulted the 82-year-old, as well as a 68-year-old woman.

    The 82-year-old woman was taken to hospital, police said. She died of her injuries on Friday.

    Police later identified her as Elsa Paolitto of Toronto.

    William Macciacchera is facing a single count of manslaughter.

    He appeared at the Old City Hall courthouse on Monday.

    Man, 60, charged after Christie Pits attackMan, 60, charged after Christie Pits attack

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    Condo investors have backed away from the Toronto area in the wake of Ontario’s new foreign buyers tax, but that hasn’t halted construction of new homes in the region.

    Investor inquiries on the BuzzBuzzHome site dropped 52 per cent year over year in September and 42 per cent in the latest quarter compared to the same period in 2016, said a third-quarter report from the online development hub.

    But those inquiries had surged prior to the government’s housing announcement in April, said BuzzBuzzHome.

    Read more:

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    Toronto house prices likely already near bottom, RBC economist says

    It reported there were about 168,000 new construction homes being planned or sold in the Toronto region in the third quarter — most in the condo sector — with only 36,295 single-family homes (detached, semi-detached and townhouses) available or in the pipeline.

    But, the report says, “rumours of the Great Toronto Housing Crash have been greatly exaggerated.”

    “The GTA new construction market may need to undergo a slight price correction to accommodate the jitters caused by the (Ontario) Fair Housing plan,” said the report.

    But research analyst Suleman Dawood said the company doesn’t “see the calamitous crash happening that a lot of people foresaw.”

    Despite a slowdown in sales and de-acceleration of prices following the government measures, the underlying housing market fundamentals remain strong with re-sale prices up 6 per cent in September, said Dawood.

    That was supported by 2 per cent population growth in the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) that month and low Toronto (CMA) unemployment at 6.5 per cent in August.

    Dawood said he expects a brisk fall market in single-family homes as buyers try to avoid the new mortgage stress tests that take effect in January that will make it harder to qualify for a loan.

    The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions announced last week that even applicants with a down payment of 20 per cent will have to qualify at a rate 2 per cent higher than the central bank’s posted interest rate.

    But Dawood says single-family home buyers will likely back away from the market again in the New Year thanks to those tougher lending rules.

    “People will no longer be able to afford the bulk of the single-family inventory on the market,” he said.

    He expects the high-rise market to be less affected.

    “Other than the luxury condominium market, most high-rise properties are still generally within reasonable affordability realm,” said Dawood.

    BuzzBuzzHome shows that Peel Region had the most new construction single family homes on the market in the third quarter — 1,736 — compared to only 175 in the City of Toronto.

    The city continues, however, to dominate the condo market with 7,459 for sale in the third quarter and another 100,937 in the proposal stage.

    “Builder activity in Toronto is always going to be strong,” he said. “(There is) lots of tech investment. There is always going to be lots of people interested in investing.”

    New home sales in GTA slower but no crash in sight: ReportNew home sales in GTA slower but no crash in sight: Report

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    MONTREAL—Quebec’s controversial religious neutrality law would require Muslim women to show their veiled faces briefly and only when interacting directly with employees to access public services, the province’s justice minister said Tuesday.

    Stéphanie Vallée took the unusual step of explaining how the law would be applied in response to the confusion and widespread condemnation that has reigned since the government bill was adopted last week in the Quebec legislature.

    She said veiled individuals would have to remove their niqab — a religious face covering with only two eye holes — when verification of photo identification by a government agent is required to access public transport, to check out library books, or to register at a medical clinic or hospital.

    Read more: Quebec women who wear niqab worry about how Bill 62 will affect daily life

    Quebec’s face veil ban may face a Supreme Court challenge

    But those people will be free to cover their faces once they have taken their seat on the bus, while browsing the bookshelves or while sitting in the waiting room for their doctor’s appointment, Vallée said.

    “It’s the interaction that’s important,” she said.

    The provincial law came about a decade after Quebecers began debating the place of religion in society. Several pieces of legislation have proposed solutions over the years, including setting limits on demands for religious-based exemptions from normal rules or procedures and a proposed ban on public servants wearing religious symbols at work.

    Later Tuesday, the Quebec legislature was to face a motion from the left-wing party Québec Solidaire, that urges the removal of a crucifix that is hung on the chamber where members of the National Assembly pass the religious neutrality law last week.

    “It becomes a bit contradictory for members of the National Assembly to reiterate their support for secularism, to reiterate their support for the religious neutrality of the state . . . all the while continuing to debate beneath a giant crucifix,” said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-leader of the party.

    Legal experts and advocacy groups have already predicted that religious neutrality law will be challenged in the courts and ultimately overturned, but Vallée said the province has its own legal opinions that show they are acting within the bounds of the Quebec and Canadian charters of rights.

    She did apologize for the climate of fear that resulted in a public protest this weekend but said the religious neutrality law is in fact “a big step” for Quebec.

    “There is no existing declaration as clear as the one we’ve made that public services and interactions between agents of the state and the citizen must be done with an uncovered face.”

    The law also means that students in provincially-run schools, colleges and universities would be required to remove their face coverings in class to ease communication with the teacher; parents would be required to show their face when picking up their children from daycare in order to confirm their identity; and people seeking access to court services or testifying before a judge would be obliged to unveil for identification and communication purposes.

    If a person is using an electronic pass without any photo identification requirements to swipe their way onto a public bus or the Montreal subway, however, there would be no obligation to unveil.

    An individual can request an exemption from the law on religious grounds from the agency or institution providing the service, but the law says that request must be refused if it violates principles of safety, gender equality or if the burden of accommodating the request becomes too great for the public body.

    There are no fines or penalties for those who do not adhere to the law. Vallée said the province no plans to create a special force to ensure the rules are followed, nor any fear of conservative Muslim women being chased off of public transportation. They will simply be refused the service.

    “A person who refuses to meet the requirements to get onto a bus simply won’t be allowed on,” she said.

    Quebec justice minister explains how ‘niqab ban’ would be applied after widespread criticismQuebec justice minister explains how ‘niqab ban’ would be applied after widespread criticism

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    A man accused of murdering a young Toronto woman who vanished five years ago got into a testy exchange in court today with the woman’s former boyfriend.

    Dellen Millard, who is representing himself in the first-degree murder trial, cross-examined Shawn Lerner, frequently questioning his recollection of events that followed Laura Babcock’s disappearance.

    The Crown alleges Millard, 32, of Toronto, and Mark Smich, 30, of Oakville, Ont., murdered the 23-year-old woman in the summer of 2012 and burned her remains in an incinerator.

    Read more: Dreadful details come fast and furious on Day 1 of trial into Laura Babcock’s murder: DiManno

    Both have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.

    Lerner has testified that he confronted Millard after Babcock went missing to ask about the woman’s final phone calls — all to Millard, according to phone records.

    Lerner has repeatedly said that although it’s been five years since he met Millard at a coffee shop in Mississauga, Ont., his memory of what he called “probably the most important meeting” of his life is clear.

    “Shawn, you don’t like me very much, do you?” Millard asked during his cross-examination.

    “No,” Lerner responded.

    “Do you find me sketchy?” Millard asked.

    “Yes,” Lerner said.

    Court has heard that Lerner spearheaded the search for the missing woman in the summer of 2012. He said he also filed a complaint about Toronto police “fumbling” the missing person’s case early on.

    He said he last heard from Babcock in a text on July 1, 2012, and says he filed a missing persons report with police two weeks after that text. The two broke up about six months before, but maintained a friendship.

    The Crown contends Babcock was killed at Millard’s home for being the odd woman out in a love triangle and her remains were burned a few weeks later in an incinerator at his farm near Waterloo, Ont.

    Millard spent much of his time testing Lerner’s memory, which focused on that meeting at a Starbucks in Mississauga, Ont.

    “I’m trying to get at your memory, your recollection, sir, you told us you have an average memory,” Millard said.

    “I’ve been very explicit about my memory, this was a long time ago, but this was probably the most important meeting of my life and there are things I can remember clearly — and I remember that clearly,” Lerner said.

    At that meeting, Millard denied having anything to do with Babcock’s disappearance and also denied he had a sexual relationship with Babcock.

    “I mentioned that she got into harder drugs, correct?” Millard asked.

    “You mentioned cocaine specifically,” Lerner said.

    “Did I tell you she was looking for a place to stay?” Millard asked.

    “Yes,” Lerner said.

    “Did I tell you that I refused arranging a place to stay for her,” Millard asked.

    “Yes,” Lerner responded.

    Lerner also told court that Babcock had been trying hard to find out what was wrong with her mental health, settling on a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder.

    He also said she told him she had begun working as an escort in the last month before her disappearance, which he said he didn’t approve.

    He also told court he paid for a hotel for two nights in late June 2012 as she had become transient and living with friends for short intervals.

    Babcock’s body has never been found.

    Dellen Millard got into a testy exchange in court with Laura Babcock’s ex-boyfriendDellen Millard got into a testy exchange in court with Laura Babcock’s ex-boyfriend

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    Ontario’s Early Years Centres are getting a rebranding — and 100 new locations.

    The province on Tuesday announced that it will be opening the new “EarlyON” sites over the next three years, and renaming existing sites, spending $140 million a year.

    Like the current Ontario Early Years parenting and literacy centres — which can be located in local schools — families will be able to access programs for young children and parenting supports.

    “Our new EarlyON centres will be innovative hubs for early years programs and services for families,” said Indira Naidoo-Harris, the minister responsible for early years and child care, in a written statement.

    “These family centres are part of our transformative plan to give all children the best possible start in life. They will be a vital resource for thousands of families and children in our communities.”

    Education Minister Mitzie Hunter called the centres a “one-stop shop, for parents and families, offering helpful information, programs and services — while supporting our vision for child care in Ontario and preparing our youngest learners for future success.”

    EarlyON Child and Family Centres will be the new name for early years centres, parenting and family literacy centres, child-care resource centres and “Better Beginnings, Better Futures,” all provincially funded initiatives.

    The early years centres, which target families with children from birth to age 6, were first opened 15 years ago. Programming is free of charge.

    Ontario’s Early Years Centres opening 100 new locations, will be rebranded Ontario’s Early Years Centres opening 100 new locations, will be rebrandedOntario’s Early Years Centres opening 100 new locations, will be rebranded Ontario’s Early Years Centres opening 100 new locations, will be rebranded

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    WASHINGTON—The Republican chairpersons of two House committees announced Tuesday they’re opening an investigation into actions the Obama administration Justice Department took during last year’s presidential election.

    The chairpersons said in a statement Tuesday they have several questions, including why then-FBI director James Comey decided to publicly announce the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information but not to publicly announce the investigation into Donald Trump’s campaign associates.

    Trump fired Comey in May. At first, the White House cited a harsh memo about Comey’s performance from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as the justification — though Trump later said he would have fired Comey regardless of what the Justice Department recommended.

    Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, chairperson of the Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, chairperson of the Oversight Committee, announced the probe. They described it as necessary to “better understand the reasoning behind how certain conclusions were drawn.”

    Other questions the Republican lawmakers said they want addressed revolve around the decision not to file criminal charges against Clinton. The lack of charges remains a lingering grievance for Trump, who for months has held it up as an example of a “rigged” criminal justice system that shielded his Democratic opponent from punishment for her use of a private server for government business.

    Comey said in July of last year that Clinton’s handling of classified information was “extremely careless” but the FBI would not recommend charges against her.

    The two chairpersons said they want to know more about the FBI’s timeline for charging decisions.

    “Congress has a constitutional duty to preserve the integrity of our justice system by ensuring transparency and accountability of actions taken,” Goodlatte and Gowdy said in a press release.

    Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia dismissed the move.

    “This is nothing more than a charade and distraction from the ongoing crisis in the White House. What about Russia? What about rampant conflicts of interest? This gives hypocrisy a bad name,” he said.

    House GOP leaders to probe the actions Obama’s Justice Department took in last year’s electionHouse GOP leaders to probe the actions Obama’s Justice Department took in last year’s election

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    Air Canada and American aviation officials are investigating a flight from Montreal that landed at the San Francisco airport Sunday night despite being repeatedly told to abort the landing because air traffic control wasn’t sure if another plane had cleared the runway.

    It’s the second incident involving the airline at that same airport in the last three months.

    Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor told the Star in an email that the inbound Flight AC781 was initially cleared for landing — this instruction was acknowledged by the crew when they were approximately 10 kilometres away from the airport.

    But Gregor said air traffic control later instructed the Air Canada crew multiple times to abort the landing because the controller wasn’t sure whether a previous flight would have completely cleared the runway before the Air Canada jet reached it.

    He said the Air Canada crew did not acknowledge any of the controller’s instructions over the radio. A supervisor then used a red light gun to alert the crew not to land, and go around again.

    According to Gregor, flashing a light gun is standard protocol when an air crew is not responding to radio instructions.

    Despite this, Gregor said the flight landed at 9:26 p.m. local time.

    After landing, the Air Canada crew told the control tower that they had a radio problem, Gregor said.

    Gregor said that a radar replay showed the previous arrival was clear of the runway when the Air Canada flight landed.

    According to Peter Fitzpatrick, an Air Canada spokesperson, the flight proceeded to land normally after receiving proper clearance to do so.

    “Upon landing the crew was informed the tower had attempted unsuccessfully to contact the aircraft,” Fitzpatrick said in an email to the Star. “However the message was not received by the crew.”

    In July, at the same San Francisco International Airport, an Air Canada jet nearly landed on a taxiway where other planes were waiting to deport.

    With files from The Canadian Press

    American officials investigating runway mix-up involving another Air Canada planeAmerican officials investigating runway mix-up involving another Air Canada plane

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    Hamilton firefighters are trying to rescue a person trapped under debris after a house collapsed in the east end.

    “We’ve had a house collapse,” fire department spokesperson Claudio Mostacci said around 2:35 p.m. Tuesday from the Gibson Ave. scene.

    “There’s one person trapped inside that we’re trying to get to.”

    Mostacci said firefighters had made “verbal contact” with the person.

    He said it’s too early to know how the house at 134 Gibson Ave., near Barton St. E. and Birch Ave., collapsed.

    There was no fire, he noted.

    More to come.

    Hamilton firefighters trying to rescue trapped person after house collapseHamilton firefighters trying to rescue trapped person after house collapse

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    Retail space in select Hudson’s Bay stores in Canada will be converted into office space as part of a series of deals that includes the sale of its Lord & Taylor flagship in Manhattan for more than $1 billion, it was announced Tuesday.

    The Fifth Avenue store was purchased by WeWork Property Advisors, a joint venture between WeWork and Rhône Capital, a private equity firm, which also agreed to make a $500 million (U.S.) convertible shares equity investment in HBC.

    WeWork Cos. is a New York-based startup offering office space and services, with 170 physical locations in 56 cities and 18 countries.

    As part of the deal, the sixth and seventh floors of the Hudson’s Bay store on Queen St. – where lingerie, kidswear and home items are currently sold – will be converted into office space for WeWork Cos., as will the upper floors of the Hudson’s Bay on Granville St. in Vancouver and a Galeria Kaufhof in Frankfurt.

    “The department store is not going away – that is critical, but to the extent that we can better use top floor or upper floor levels, we’ll do that,” said Ian Putnam, chief corporate development officer, Hudson’s Bay Company.

    “In retail, obviously, the main floor is very valuable and as you go up in the building, the productivity of those floors decreases, so in our minds, we’re converting relatively less productive space from a retail perspective into office for WeWorks,” said Putnam.

    Putnam said the move will bring millennial officeworkers into department stores.

    “We think that the interaction between the WeWork office and the retail space, and the food and beverage offering in the stores will be exciting and dynamic,” he said.

    He called WeWorks voracious consumers of real estate and while there is no commitment as to the number of stores that will be included in the program, there is opportunity for growth.

    “They’re very keen on our 61 million square feet of real estate around the world,” said Putnam.

    Adam Neumann, chief executive officer and co-founder of WeWork, said that retail is changing and the role that real estate has to play in the way people shop has to change with it.

    “The opportunity to develop this partnership with HBC to explore this trend was too good to pass up,” he said in a statement.

    The Lord & Taylor building in New York that is part of the deal is approximately 670,000 square feet and the purchase price includes air rights, which are buildable, according to Putnam.

    It will operate as is through the end of the 2018 holiday season, after which the store will be relaunched in a 150,000 square-foot space with the rest of building to be occupied by WeWork’s New York headquarters and WeWork office space.

    The sale is in line with recent actions taken by other department stores to reduce or reorient square footage, said Fitch Ratings associate director JJ Boparai.

    “Many department stores are selling square footage to add experiential components to the stores or allocating some of the existing square footage to growth concepts. We expect department stores will continue to reevaluate their physical footprints in the near-term,” she said.

    Boparai said that while Hudson’s Bay’s announcement that it will be able to pay down debt and increase liquidity with the proceeds of the deal is a positive, concerns remain around the company’s ability to manage expenses and successfully navigate the challenging department store sector.

    HBC has been under pressure to monetize the value of its real estate. On Monday, activist investor Land & Buildings threatened to call a shareholder’s meeting to possibly remove directors if the company didn’t take action soon.

    “The activist is just suggesting to us that we do what we’ve always done,” Hudson’s Bay executive chairman Richard Baker told Bloomberg on Tuesday, adding the transaction started before Land & Buildings bought a stake.

    A spokesperson for Land & Buildings declined to comment Tuesday on the HBC deal.

    Read more:HBC under fire after CEO quits

    Hudson’s Bay under fire from investment firm after $201M loss in ‘very disappointing’ quarter

    According to a release from HBC, the transaction is expected to result in debt reduction of $1.6 billion (Cdn.) or cash on the balance sheet and an increase in total liquidity of $1.1 billion (Cdn.).

    HBC to cut retail space in Toronto, sell Manhattan storeHBC to cut retail space in Toronto, sell Manhattan store

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    OTTAWA—Blind dates are by definition risky, with so many looming questions, but a new TV show promises to raise the stakes even higher by hooking up opposing politicians who already disagree on a big public issue.

    Political Blind Date debuts Nov. 7 at 9 p.m. on TVO and . The six-episode first season features politicians from all levels of government who take each other on outings in an effort to bolster their perspective on a given issue.

    The first episode matches Conservative MP Garnett Genuis and Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who travel to a weed dispensary and an industrial marijuana factory as they continuously bicker about the Trudeau government’s plan to legalize the drug.

    Other episodes include the likes of Toronto mayoral candidate Doug Ford, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo and Toronto city councillor Giorgio Mammoliti.

    Aside from weed legalization, the show tackles meaty subjects like safe injection sites, transit, public housing and the prison system.

    The show is a co-production between Open Door Co. and Nomad Films. Executive producer and creator Tom Powers, of Open Door, said the inspiration for the show came from a series in British newspaper the Guardian, during that country’s 2015 election.

    Powers joined Mark Johnston and Amanda Handy from Nomad Films, and then signed on with the Toronto Star and TVO as partners for the series.

    “The challenge was to take that kernel of an idea and to build a television show around it,” Powers said.

    He added that the goal of the show is to knock politicians off their prepared scripts and to get them to grapple with issues in more honest ways. The producers also wanted to see if the “dates” could uncover common ground, and chip away at the impression, possibly gleaned from heated debates on Parliament Hill, that politicians of different partisan stripes don’t get along.

    “God forbid that they actually like each other,” Powers said with a laugh.

    “I don’t know whether it’s a naïve goal of ours, but it’s something that I think, when the show works at its best, that’s what happens.”

    Johnston, who directed the show, said he was particularly struck by how Singh and Ford connected. Their episode focuses on public transit, and includes a scene where Singh, an avid cyclist, attempts to get Ford, known for driving a super-sized SUV, to go on a bike ride through downtown streets.

    “I guess I would call it a wonderful surprise; the surprise I was hoping for,” Johnston said.

    Call it Tinder for policymakers: a new TV show sends Canadian politicians on blind ‘dates’ and sparks fly…over issuesCall it Tinder for policymakers: a new TV show sends Canadian politicians on blind ‘dates’ and sparks fly…over issues

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    OTTAWA—Caitlan Coleman, the 31-year-old American woman who gave birth to her three children while held hostage by the Haqqani network, says she is breaking her silence to dispute statements made about her family’s captivity and the day they were rescued.

    “Right now everybody’s shunting blame and making claims. Pakistan says, no they were never in Pakistan, until the end. The U.S. says, no they were always in Pakistan; it was Pakistan’s responsibility. But neither of those are true,” she told the Star.

    During her first interview Monday since being rescued 12 days ago, Coleman added crucial details about the kidnapping case that has captured international attention and led to widespread speculation.

    While she said she is not ready to speak publicly about all aspects of her captivity, she is certain they were held in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and claims made by Islamabad and Washington, that they were rescued Oct. 11 after crossing the border are false. “We were not crossing into Pakistan that day. We had been in Pakistan for more than a year at that point.”

    Read more:

    After a lifetime in captivity, the children of Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman begin to heal

    ‘We’re looking forward to a new lease on life,’ Joshua Boyle tells the Star after five-year kidnapping nightmare

    What we know about the rescue of Canadian Joshua Boyle, his wife and their three children in Pakistan

    Coleman was kidnapped with her husband, Joshua Boyle, a Canadian, in October 2012 in Afghanistan. They were held for five years by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network before their dramatic rescue by Pakistani forces. She was pregnant when she was taken captive.

    Until reaching out to the Star, Coleman has shunned publicity, with the exception of Saturday night emails to her hometown paper about her memories of growing up in Pennsylvania. “Good friends and great times are not forgotten, even now,” she wrote to the York Daily Record.

    Her 34-year-old husband, however, began speaking just hours after landing in Toronto, telling journalists at the airport that his wife had been raped and one of his daughters murdered.

    His statement confirmed what the couple had darkly alluded to in letters and “proof-of-life” videos the captors released. Coleman said she had been “defiled” in front of her children and Boyle wrote vaguely of a terminated pregnancy.

    Coleman said Monday that the forced abortion was in retaliation for Boyle’s refusal of Haqqani network efforts to recruit him. “They were very angry because Joshua had been asked to join them, to work for them, and he said no,” she said. “They killed her by dosing the food. They put massive doses of estrogen in the food.”

    High levels of estrogen in a pregnancy can force a miscarriage and Coleman says once she lost her baby, whom the couple named “Martyr,” the kidnappers boasted about what they had done.

    The Taliban last week issued a statement refuting the claim, saying she miscarried naturally.

    Coleman said they kept her other two pregnancies secret, and Boyle delivered both her youngest son and daughter by flashlight as she quietly laboured in pain.

    Coleman spoke to the Star Monday alone on the grounds of Ottawa’s Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, as her husband cared for their sons, who are 4 and 2.

    All three of her children, including her months-old daughter, who slept in her lap for part of the interview, have been undergoing tests at the hospital and still adapting to a life free from captivity, which includes trips to a playground on the property. Coleman was also receiving medical attention but said she had been recovering.

    She said she’s aware of criticism on social media and elsewhere calling both her and Boyle reckless for travelling in Afghanistan while she was pregnant and then getting pregnant three more times while captive.

    “It was a decision we made. We did think about it and talk about it and it’s difficult to explain all the reasons, but, for me, a large part was the fact that it has always been important to me to have a large family,” she said. “This took our life away from us — this captivity with no end in sight. And so I felt that it was our best choice at that time. We didn’t know if we would have that opportunity when we came back. We didn’t know how long it would be. It was already unprecedented, so we couldn’t say, ‘Oh we’ll only be here a year or six months.’ ”

    During the interview, she at times laughed at the ridiculousness of a memory — at other times she grew quiet or simply said, “No comment.” She has continued to wear a hijab since returning to Canada but declined Monday to speak about whether she has converted to Islam.

    The couple’s willingness to talk so early after their harrowing ordeal is part of what makes this story unique, along with the fact that Boyle was once married to Zaynab Khadr, the sister of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr. Canadian Colin Rutherford, who was released in January 2016 after five years in captivity, has still not spoken publicly about his captivity. Amanda Lindhout, who spent 460 days held hostage in Somalia before her release in 2009, would eventually write a bestselling book and give talks about her survival. But she was hospitalized and underwent intense therapy — which she continues today — for many years before speaking openly.

    But Coleman said she hoped by speaking out she could help temper the politicking that is shaping the narrative of their kidnapping and rescue.

    Pakistan’s army issued a statement hours after the young family was freed and safe in Islamabad that claimed they were alerted by U.S. agencies that the kidnappers were crossing from Afghanistan, at the Kurram Agency border, into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in northwestern Pakistan.

    The next day, U.S. President Donald Trump hailed the rescue as “a positive moment for our country’s relationship with Pakistan.”

    “The Pakistani government’s co-operation is a sign that it is honouring America’s wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region,” he said in a statement.

    For some, the rescue was hailed as deft diplomacy and a direct line drawn from Trump’s hardline stance with Pakistan this summer, when he threatened that Islamabad had “much to lose” if it failed to co-operate on security issues in neighbouring Afghanistan.

    Coleman said they were moved quickly from Afghanistan to Pakistan after being kidnapped and the first six or seven months were among the most difficult.

    “They first took us out of Afghanistan; it was several days’ drive. They took us to Miran Shah, in Pakistan, where we were kept for more than a year,” she said, adding that Boyle understood some Farsi, which helped them understand at times where they were. “It was very bad. My husband and I were separated at that time. He wasn’t allowed to see Najaeshi or spend any time with us.”

    They named their oldest son Najaeshi Jonah.

    “Then we were moved to the north of Miran Shah, to the house of a man who said he was called Mahmoud. He was very nice to Najaeshi and would provide us with amenities we wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said. “He would take Najaeshi out to get him sunlight and nobody else did that at any other point.”

    In 2014 and 2015, the family was moved often. It was during this time, Coleman says, she had the forced abortion and was raped. “We had a pen they didn’t know about and we were taking little scraps of paper and trying to hand out notes to anyone and everyone that wasn’t one of the guards or commanders involved in killing Martyr,” she said. “But then they took us, separated us, and beat us and that was when the assault on me happened because they wanted us to stop.”

    From there, she says, they were moved to Spin Ghar, just over the border in Afghanistan, southeast of Kabul. They were often drugged for the transport and put in the trunk of a vehicle.

    “They were always saying you’ll go free in one week or two weeks and this was one of the times they said, ‘We’re going to this new place and one day, two day, maybe a week, you go free, you’re released.’ ”

    They gave the houses nicknames, so the Spin Ghar home became “House of One Day.” They were there for months.

    “Then they built a custom-built house for us. It was still close, in Spin Ghar. It was not good, not bad. It had problems, but no big problems … After that, we just stayed in a house for a short time, a day or two, because they were clearly running from something. One of them we called Dar el Fake Osama because one of their small commanders came but he was yelling that he was Osama bin Laden and we had to do everything he said,” Coleman said, shaking her head. “It was so bizarre.”

    In a place they called the Cat Hotel, as they believed it was a hotel, they could see the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was there that Coleman says the kidnappers acquired a “jingle truck,” one of the brightly painted trucks adorned with bells that are ubiquitous on Pakistan’s roads. They were taken back into Pakistan in an area between Kohat and Bannu, she said.

    They spent their final months there in what they called “Dar el Musa” (House of Musa). “Outside every day they were doing some training, or something was going on, and some guy was shouting and we laughed because whoever Musa was, he was not doing a good job,” she said. “He was always yelling, ‘No, no, no, Musa Musa.’ ”

    She said they were held mainly in that house from about November 2016 until just two days before the rescue, when they were transferred to “the Mud House,” where the windows were covered with wet, packed dirt.

    On Oct. 11, Coleman said, she was put in the trunk of the kidnappers’ car, after which some sort of car chase and gun battle broke out before they were freed.

    “Our first fear — why we were not poking our heads up and yelling for help — was our fear that it was another gang trying to kidnap us. Possibly just part of the Haqqani network fighting with another part. They’re all just bandits,” she said.

    “You’re a prisoner for so long, you’re so suspicious, I was still thinking we don’t know these people, we don’t know where they’re taking us.”

    When she finally realized they were Pakistani forces and she was free, she doesn’t remember breaking down, or exactly how she reacted.

    “I think I was mostly just in shock.”

    In first sit-down interview, Caitlan Coleman tells of forced abortion, disputes official account of her rescue in PakistanIn first sit-down interview, Caitlan Coleman tells of forced abortion, disputes official account of her rescue in Pakistan

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    The Ontario government has, for decades, turned a blind eye to “outrageous” pollution causing serious health effects in Indigenous communities, the province’s environment watchdog said Tuesday.

    In the annual report delivered to Queen’s Park, Ontario environmental commissioner Dianne Saxe recognized recent progress, but condemned years of inaction by the provincial government in the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley, and in mercury-contaminated Grassy Narrows in northwestern Ontario. Both have been subjects of investigations by journalists, including those of the Star.

    “The conditions faced by these Indigenous communities would not be tolerated elsewhere in Ontario, yet have long been deemed unworthy of priority, effort or expense,’ said Saxe. “After decades of neglect, the province is finally taking some steps, but the pollution that these communities still face is outrageous.”

    A joint investigation by the Star, Global News, National Observer, the Michener Awards Foundation and journalism schools at Ryerson and Concordia universities revealed a troubling pattern of secrecy and potentially toxic leaks in the area known as Chemical Valley. There are 57 polluters within 25 kilometres of Sarnia registered with the Canadian and U.S. governments.

    The investigation raised questions about whether companies and the provincial government are properly warning residents of Sarnia and Aamjiwnaang when potentially toxic substances, including benzene, known to cause cancer in high levels of long-term exposure, are leaked. Aamjiwnaang is surrounded on three sides by petrochemical plants.

    In the report, Saxe said there is “strong evidence” to suggest pollution is causing “profound” health problems in Aamjiwnaang, which neither the federal nor provincial governments have properly investigated.

    Following the joint investigation, provincial Environment Minister Chris Ballard committed to funding a study examining the health effects of pollution in the Chemical Valley, something residents had sought for nearly a decade.

    But Saxe said the government still needs to take the cumulative effects of pollution into account, do more air-monitoring, update regulations and properly enforce those on the books. It currently ignores some forms of common emissions, such as those from flares, used to burn off materials dangerous to plants.

    Last week, Aamjiwnaang resident Vanessa Gray filed a request for the province to investigate a flaring incident caught on video at Sarnia’s Imperial Oil plant from February 2017, where clouds of fire and steam billowed from its smokestacks for hours. Gray said the episode caused a burning sensation in her nose.

    “It is wonderful that the government’s going to do a health study, but what they really need to do is clean up the air,” Saxe told reporters.

    Ron Plain, who has spent the past 25 years living in Sarnia and Aamjiwnaang, said he hopes Saxe’s report will open the eyes of those who thought the issue isn’t that bad. Plain has cancer; the 55-year-old’s doctors have told him he’ll likely be dead in a year.

    “It’s about time,” Plain said of Saxe’s report. “I live it . . . . Everybody here is living it.”

    Speaking to media at Queen’s Park Tuesday, Aamjiwnaang Chief Joanne Rogers said nothing in Saxe’s report was new; the community has long asked for action, and Saxe isn’t the first commissioner to identify the issues.

    But Rogers said she’s confident change can happen this time if the First Nation is included in discussions going forward.

    “We breathe that air, so why is there delay after delay?” she said.

    In her report, Saxe recommended the provincial environment ministry post real-time air monitoring data for the people of Aamjiwnaang — a plan to do so is already in the works — and update air standards for sulfur dioxide, a component of acid rain that can cause a range of health issues, even below the threshold where humans are able to smell it.

    In response, Ontario Environment Minister Chris Ballard said his ministry will soon release new sulfur dioxide regulations, updating laws set in 1974 that haven’t been revised since. In her report, Saxe said the current standard doesn’t protect human health, and this is something the government has been aware of for years.

    “I don’t think our government has been slow to respond to these issues,” Ballard said when asked if institutional racism was a factor in the government’s delayed responses in Aamjiwnaang and Grassy Narrows.

    “A lot has been done. A lot more has to be done.”

    On Friday, a statement released by Rogers and the First Nation’s council suggested the issues in Chemical Valley may be a violation of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The declaration says Indigenous communities have the right to the “conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources.”

    Saxe’s report, delivered Tuesday, also condemned government inaction on mercury poisoning in the Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations near Dryden, Ont. Contamination of the Wabigoon River there has sickened residents for generations; the most recent study found 58 per cent of community members are either diagnosed with or suspected of having Minamata disease, a severe neurological illness caused by mercury poisoning.

    “[T]he Ontario government declined to take action for decades, largely ignoring the suffering of the Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong peoples. Over and over, the Ontario government chose to do nothing. It chose not to remove the sediment, not to investigate in more detail, not to monitor whether mercury levels were indeed declining. In other words, it chose to allow the ongoing poisoning of the communities,” the commissioner wrote in the report.

    After a nearly year-long Star investigation that found, among other things, mercury tainted soil upstream from Grassy Narrows, the province committed earlier this year to paying $85 million to clean up the contamination.

    Mercury survivor and Grassy Narrows environmental health coordinator Judy Da Silva said those already poisoned are still facing “hopelessness” and a lack of support.

    “We’ve been so ignored for decades that our people are in disbelief of anything ever changing,” she said.

    Saxe’s report also called attention to the 36 First Nations communities in Ontario under water advisories, including 17, which have been without a safe water source for more than a decade. Although the problem is the federal government’s responsibility, the provincial government can and should help by protecting water sources and by providing more technical training, Saxe said.

    “The Ontario government must make environmental justice part of its pursuit of reconciliation with Indigenous people.”

    Enviro watchdog blasts province for inaction on ‘outrageous’ pollution in Indigenous communitiesEnviro watchdog blasts province for inaction on ‘outrageous’ pollution in Indigenous communities

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    SUDBURY—‎The byelection bribery trial of two Liberals came to an abrupt end Tuesday as a judge took the rare step of dismissing Election Act charges against them for lack of evidence.

    The acquittal lifts a cloud of suspicion hanging over Patricia Sorbara — former deputy chief of staff to Premier Kathleen Wynne — and local Liberal organizer Gerry Lougheed for more than two years.

    “One who seeks to be a party's nominee is not running in a general election,” Judge Howard Borenstein ruled in a 40-minute decision read to the court.

    Sorbara and Lougheed were accused of offering prospective candidate Andrew Olivier jobs or posts to quit his push for the Liberal nomination in a 2015 byelection, making way for Wynne’s choice, defecting New Democrat MP Glenn Thibeault, now her energy minister.

    Sorbara faced an additional charge of offering paid campaign jobs to two of Thibeault’s NDP office staff as an inducement for Thibeault to leave federal politics and join Wynne’s team.

    She was acquitted on that because Borenstein said he “cannot see how employing two entrusted staff” violates the act when bribery is commonly described as “an element of dishonesty.”

    Sorbara cried and hugged her legal team after the verdict, and Lougheed was visibly relieved at the decision.

    The dramatic ruling followed an application from defence lawyers Michael Lacy, Brian Greenspan and Erin Dann for a directed verdict after the Crown finished presenting its case. No defence witnesses had been called pending the judge’s decision.

    The defence argued evidence from witnesses in court last month showed Thibeault had agreed to become the candidate before Sorbara and Lougheed approached Olivier with opportunities to stay involved in the party after he was passed over, meaning there was no official nomination race.

    They also maintained the Election Act does not apply to “private” nomination races governed by the constitutions of political parties.

    Sorbara and Lougheed faced fines of up to $25,000 and maximum jail time of two years less a day under the charges, which were not criminal.

    It’s the second time Lougheed has been cleared following an Ontario Provincial Police investigation.

    Criminal charges against the wealthy local funeral home owner and philanthropist were stayed in 2016, several months before the lesser Election Act charges were laid against him and Sorbara. She had not been charged previously.

    Moments after the verdict, Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown, whose party has been airing attack ads on the Sudbury trial, said “this whole episode is but one part of a consistent pattern of political corruption.”

    “We’re worried about what they’ve been able to keep hidden and are fearful of what scandal will come next,” said Brown, who was recently served with a notice of libel from Wynne for claiming she was on “trial”in Sudbury.

    NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson, who attended parts of the trial, complained that the Liberals “got off on a technicality.”

    “I don’t see this as a great news story for the government,” Bisson told reporters at the Legislature.

    “They can wrap this as a victory if they want,” he said, adding the Liberals lost “in the court of public opinion.”

    The probes by the OPP and Elections Ontario began after Bisson and his Progressive Conservative counterpart Steve Clark called on authorities to investigate allegations from Olivier.

    Olivier released tapes of recorded conversations with Lougheed and Sorbara, accusing them of trying to reward him for not contesting the February 2015 byelection called after New Democrat MPP Joe Cimino unexpectedly quit five months into his term.

    Olivier ran for the Liberals in the June 2014 provincial election but placed second to Cimino, who gained the seat held for 19 years by retired Liberal MPP and cabinet minister Rick Bartolucci.

    “I will not be bullied, I will not be bought,” a spurned Olivier told a Sudbury news conference after revealing he had talked with Wynne, Sorbara and Lougheed and told he would not be the candidate.

    Wynne testified at the trial that Olivier had not been a “strong” flag-bearer for the Liberals in 2014 after losing the party stronghold to the NDP.

    In one recording, Lougheed said: “The premier wants to talk. They would like to present you options in terms of appointments, jobs, whatever, that you and her and Pat Sorbara could talk about.”

    Another is of Sorbara telling Olivier: “We should have the broader discussion about what is it that you’d be most interested in doing . . . whether it’s a full-time or part-time job in a (constituency) office, whether it is appointments, supports or commissions . . . .”

    Olivier, a successful mortgage broker, who was injured playing hockey years ago and became a quadriplegic, records conversations because he cannot take notes.

    According to the Election Act, “no person shall, directly or indirectly, give, procure or promise or agree to procure an office or employment to induce a person to become a candidate, refrain from becoming a candidate or withdraw his or her candidacy.”

    With files from Robert Benzie

    Judge dismisses charges against Liberals in Sudbury byelection trialJudge dismisses charges against Liberals in Sudbury byelection trial

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