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    WASHINGTON—A Republican stood on the Senate floor Tuesday and delivered a detailed indictment of just about everything about the Republican president.

    Declaring that he must answer to his children and grandchildren, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said he could not “stay silent” about Donald Trump’s “reckless, outrageous and undignified behaviour” — or about his party colleagues’ “complicity” in supporting a president who is a threat to America’s values and future.

    “None of this is normal,” Flake said.

    “We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country,” he said. “The personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions; the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve.”

    Trump’s “anger and resentment,” Flake said, “are not a governing philosophy.” Invoking Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan and cries of “fake news,” Flake said, “We were not made great as a country by indulging or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorying in the things which divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake.”

    “Mr. President, I rise today to say: enough,” Flake said.

    It was an extraordinary moment, seemingly written for the history books, that might, under other circumstances, have suggested that Trump was losing control of the party he took over.

    But the day as a whole might have actually demonstrated that Trump’s grip is strengthening, not weakening. Flake gave his speech minutes after he effectively conceded defeat to Trump by announcing he would not be seeking re-election in 2018 — and, afterward, he received little support from fellow senators.

    Read more:Key Republican senator calls Donald Trump an ‘utterly untruthful president,’ says he is ‘debasing’ the U.S.

    Flake, a seven-term House member in his first term in the Senate, is a traditional conservative who has boasted high scores from right-wing advocacy groups. But he had alienated many of his own voters by criticizing Trump in a book he published earlier in the year. And he acknowledged that his pro-trade, pro-immigration stances, once standard in the party, put him out of step in the Trump era.

    “There may not be a place for a Republican like me in the current Republican climate or the current Republican Party,” he told the Arizona Republic.

    Flake’s poll numbers in Arizona had plummeted, and pro-Trump Republican strategists like Steve Bannon had been plotting to defeat him. He acknowledged Tuesday that it would have been hard to win his party primary.

    “He had pissed off so many of the conservatives here,” said Laurence Schiff, a psychiatrist and self-described “Trump guy” who chairs the Republican committee in Arizona’s Mohave County. He said Flake was too supportive of illegal immigrants; voters there, he said, want a hard line, including Trump’s giant wall on the Mexican border.

    “I don’t think Jeff Flake is particularly conservative,” Schiff said. “I think that Flake had pissed off so many of the Republicans that an awful lot of people who weren’t going to vote for (Democratic candidate) Kyrsten Sinema were going to sit home.”

    Republican members of Congress who do plan to run again have been reluctant to criticize Trump, even as they have been privately scathing, out of fear of alienating such voters. Just as they remained largely silent in response to former president George W. Bush’s criticism of Trump last week, they did not did not appear moved by Flake’s call to vocal action.

    “As a Republican, I’m proud of our former presidential candidates and retiring senators. About our active politicians, I’m not so sure,” conservative writer Bill Kristol, a Trump critic, wrote on Twitter.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has avoided criticism of Trump, called Flake a “very fine man.” But neither McConnell nor other Republican leaders endorsed any of the substance of Flake’s remarks. Nor did they offer backup to the other retiring senator who castigated Trump hours earlier.

    In a lengthy attack of his own, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lambasted Trump as “utterly untruthful” after the president tweeted a false claim about the senator’s role in Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. Trump, Corker said, is “debasing” the country and “obviously not going to rise to the occasion as president.”

    House Speaker Paul Ryan brushed off Corker’s words as part of a mere Twitter feud. He urged people to focus on the Republicans’ legislative priority of the moment: tax reform.

    “That’s what matters. So all this stuff you see on a daily basis on Twitter this and Twitter that, forget about it. Let’s focus on helping people,” he said.

    Flake’s decision to abandon the Senate leaves Trump to contend, for a year, with three Republican senators who strongly dislike him and no longer need his support. (The other Arizona senator, John McCain, has terminal brain cancer; Corker has also announced he will not run.) With a 52-member caucus, Trump can only afford to lose two party members on any given vote to execute his agenda.

    In the long run, though, the departures of Flake and Corker will almost certainly move the party closer to Trump’s own views. While Democrats have a chance to win Flake’s seat, the top candidate for the Republican nomination is a staunchly pro-Trump former state senator, Kelli Ward.

    “It’s not like Corker was this liberal trapped inside the Republican Party. He was a moderately conservative internationalist. And that he can’t find a place in the Republican Party is bizarre by historical standards. That’s what the Republican Party stood for in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s,” said Terry Sullivan, a University of North Carolina political science professor who studies the presidency.

    Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders, dismissed Flake’s criticism as petty “grandstanding.” And she celebrated his decision to leave the Senate with a pointed jab, saying it was “probably a good move” in light of the “lack of support that he has from the people of Arizona.”

    Trump, meanwhile, attacked Corker again on Twitter — mocking his height once more.

    “People like liddle’ Bob Corker have set the U.S. way back,” the president wrote. “Now we move forward.”


    ‘None of this is normal’: Republican Sen. Jeff Flake delivers a blistering indictment of Donald Trump’s presidency‘None of this is normal’: Republican Sen. Jeff Flake delivers a blistering indictment of Donald Trump’s presidency

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    OTTAWA—The federal Liberal government is “doubling down” on spending to combat poverty rather than putting the books in the black any time soon.

    Unveiling a fall economic update that showed an economy going gangbusters at more than 3 per cent, and lower deficits as a result, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the government will use the bigger-than-expected boost to its bottom line to give families more breaks, not to chart a path to a balanced budget.

    “It rises all boats,” Morneau told reporters.

    In the Commons, he said: “We’re doubling down on that strategy because it’s working.”

    Morneau now projects a $19.9-billion deficit for 2017-18 that will clock in at $8.6 billion less than was projected just last March.

    “Not only is our plan working, it’s working better than expected,” he said.

    Kevin Page, a former parliamentary budget officer now at the University of Ottawa, said in an interview that Morneau is “in a sweet zone” as finance minister with the economy outpacing all G7 countries. But as a result he said “(Morneau) should have a fiscal plan” to return to balanced budgets.

    Page suggested that normal growth for the Canadian economy is more like 1.5 per cent a year, and the current pace “is not sustainable.” Even the government’s forecast for rising economic output in future years drops to 2.1 per cent next year, and hovers around 1.6 or 1.7 per cent in the years after that. Page said deficit spending now risks becoming structural — and a baked-in ongoing burden for future generations. “You have to deal with it at some point.”

    Adding new fiscal spending into the mix now puts pressure on the Bank of Canada to raise its interest rates “because people are piling on debt,” he said.

    Read more:

    Liberals need to get back on track to tax reform: Editorial

    Liberals accused of tax grab by clawing back disability credit for diabetics

    Why it’s wrong to villainize Morneau

    Political critics like Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer pounced on Morneau’s plan to continue to spend more than the government takes in annually, and to borrow money to finance that spending.

    “Only a Liberal would ask Canadians to thank him for running deficits that are double what he promised,” said Scheer, referring to the Liberals’ broken campaign promise to limit deficits to $10 billion a year, before returning to a balanced budget by 2019.

    The NDP’s parliamentary leader, Guy Caron, said the update amounts to little more than a Liberal attempt to “change the channel” from the controversies surrounding the finance minister and the potential conflicts of interest that arise from his personal wealth. He took credit for the announced indexation of the child benefit, claiming the Liberals made the move only because of opposition pressure. And while he welcomed the news that the government would beef up the working income tax break for low-income earners, he bemoaned how it isn’t slated to kick in until 2019.

    “It’s obviously a way for the Liberal government to try to deflect attention from the problems that the minister is actually experiencing right now,” Caron said. “To be called an economic update, you actually need to have something new to present.”

    Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, tweeted he was pleased the deficit numbers are down from the budget “but now is the time for a plan to balance, not for new spending.”

    Word of new spending had leaked out the night before Morneau tabled the legislation in the Commons Tuesday.

    In announcing it, Morneau said the government will move two years earlier than promised to increase Canada Child Benefit payments for lower- and middle-income Canadians in pace with the cost of living.

    It’s called indexation and it’s a big-ticket item. The increases to the monthly tax-free payments for families with kids under 18 will be pegged to inflation, starting in July 2018, and will cost the government $5.6 billion over five years.

    What it means to a single parent of two children who earns $35,000 a year, for example, is an extra $560 in 2019 on top of what would have been an $11,125 annual payment without indexation.

    Child poverty activists welcomed the government’s plan.

    “Indexation of the CCB has been a policy lever that Campaign 2000 has called for since Budget 2016,” said Anita Khanna, spokesperson for the coalition of more than 120 national, provincial and local partners dedicated to ending child poverty.

    “We are pleased the government has recognized the great benefit of putting money into the pockets of families to not only boost family well-being, but also boost the economy,” she said.

    Khanna called the move “a very strong down payment” for Ottawa’s promised national poverty reduction strategy.

    Morneau said Canadians have been using the child benefit payments, an overhauled scheme that the Liberals tied to income levels when they came to power, to increase their personal consumption, which has, in turn, helped Canada’s economy.

    “They paid off debts, sent the kids to summer camp, bought healthier food, and maybe a few more children’s books. Right away, we saw a spike in consumer confidence, and a rise in household spending that underpins our economic growth to this day,” he told the Commons in a prepared speech.

    There’s another sweetener for low-income Canadians.

    Morneau is boosting the Working Income Tax Benefit, a refundable tax credit that eases the tax burden on low-income Canadians and encourages those who don’t work to join the workforce.

    That measure will see Ottawa spend $500 million a year more to improve the financial security of low-income working Canadians . . . but not until 2019, an election year.

    Khanna of Campaign 2000 praised the Liberal government’s plan to increase the WITB, but said she hoped a federal minimum wage and more money for affordable housing, child care and employment insurance will also be part of the government’s anti-poverty strategy.

    Along with touting a reduction in the deficit forecasted, Morneau said Canada is leading the G7 in economic growth by a wide margin.

    Revised projections are that Canada’s economic output will grow by 3.1 per cent in 2017, significantly above expectations at the beginning of the year.

    And he clung to his decision to measure the success, not by balanced budgets, but by lower debt-to-GDP ratios, saying that that ratio is declining.

    It is projected to drop below 31 per cent in 2018-19, more than three years earlier than the budget in March predicted.

    “Government is always about balance, and, in our view, the balance that we’re seeking is the ability to be fiscally responsible while making investments in the middle class and middle-class families. That’s the balance we sought back in 2015.”

    The fall economic update also reveals, for the first time, the cost of Morneau’s decision to fulfil the Liberals’ election promise to lower small business tax rates from 10.5 to 9 per cent by 2019, a move announced in the middle of a political firestorm over the minister’s personal finances.

    It will cost the treasury $2.96 billion over five years.

    That is partly offset by an expected rise in what the taxman will collect through controversial changes to stop so-called “income-sprinkling” by incorporated business owners as a way to split income among family members to take advantage of lower tax rates that apply to them. That measure will bring in about $220 million to $245 million a year, when it is implemented fully.

    The overall impact, then, says the finance department, will be an annual $2.3-billion hit to the public treasury.

    Morneau told the Star he has not completed consultations on measures to limit so-called passive investments by business owners and understands the need for “full transparency.”

    He said he would aim to provide those numbers in Budget 2018 next spring.

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau left most of Tuesday’s spotlight to Morneau to bask in. But he, too, couldn’t resist crowing about the Liberals’ byelection steal of a Conservative seat in Lac-St-Jean the day before.

    “It’s a real pleasure to be able to see that in rural Quebec, but across the country Canadians are responding extremely positively to the economic message we put forward and the hard work we’ve done.” Trudeau said “the promise we made to Canadians . . . to grow the economy through investing in our communities, is actually delivering.”

    With files from Alex Ballingall and Laurie Monsebraaten


    Lower deficits, better growth mean breaks for families, federal government saysLower deficits, better growth mean breaks for families, federal government says

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    With the legalization of pot scheduled for next year, a cannabis delivery company is advertising its services by distributing hot pink flyers to city mailboxes amid complaints questioning its methods.

    Riverdale resident Pauline Stanley received an advertisement late last week from Weedora, offering seven free grams of marijuana with the purchase of one ounce of a “high end” strain. Interested parties would reach out via text message for service.

    Stanley, a mother of two children, aged 9 and 14, reached out to the company under an alias to gather more information. She said prices for an ounce — with names such as “Chemo Kush,” or “UK Cheese 2.0” — are $150 to $250.

    Stanley said there’s a school down the street from her home, adding she’s frustrated that a technically illegal recreational drug market can operate unchecked and indiscriminately appeal to youth.

    “My door is not a nightclub,” she said. “There are all kinds of school-age kids in the neighbourhood, so how many of these (flyers) were nabbed by teenagers? It’s pretty inviting.

    “When I got it, I thought this must be illegal and intrusive,” Stanley said.

    Stanley said the advertisement isn’t for medical purposes. The company’s website doesn’t specify. It does state that buyers must be 19 or older to order.

    “It is our mission to give cannabis lovers the best strains grown by local farmers for the most affordable prices, delivered right to your door in the GTA,” reads the company’s mission statement.

    The federal government is planning to follow through with plans to legalize recreational pot on July 1, 2018. Ontario has signalled that cannabis will be sold from LCBO outlets or through a government-operated server.

    Mark Pugash, director of communications at the Toronto Police Service, said the issue is on the force’s radar, but declined to comment.

    A request by the Star for an interview with the unnamed owner of Weedora was declined.

    By mid-afternoon Tuesday, the company’s website showed that about 750 people had visited.

    “It normalizes drug use, in the eyes of children,” Stanley said.

    Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth) said Stanley’s concerns are warranted, adding that the crackdown of dispensaries in Toronto has forced the marijuana market to shift its strategy and continue working in a protracted grey zone.

    “It is technically advertising an illegal product for somebody to bring it to your house,” she said. “The marijuana industry is a very smart, savvy, large industry that will find other ways to distribute until the regulation comes into play.”

    Fletcher said her ward has seen dispensaries pop up, tolerated by her constituents for a spell, and eventually shut down.

    “It’s the wild, wild west,” she said. “I believe there must be regulation. This gray area is unfair to everybody, at this point. I think the police need to act a little more swiftly.”


    Toronto parent angered by flyer promoting weed delivery serviceToronto parent angered by flyer promoting weed delivery service

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    When it comes to political scandals, Ontario’s Liberals have made legal history.

    Not just not guilty. Not even close.

    An extremely rare “directed verdict” from a judge throwing out the prosecution’s unfounded case before the defence needed to even defend itself. Because “no reasonable jury” could possibly fathom a conviction in this three-year-old case that the Ontario Provincial Police, the opposition parties and some pundits had described as a slam dunk from the first.

    And so for the first time in the 27-year history of Ontario’s Election Act, a judge has said, in so many words, that the law is an ass. Especially in the hands of the OPP and Crown prosecutors who surely should have known better.

    Read more:

    Judge dismisses charges in Sudbury byelection trial

    PC leader Patrick Brown fires back at Wynne’s libel threat

    Judge questions merits of charge against former top Wynne staffer in Sudbury byelection trial

    Two Liberal party warhorses — one working in the premier’s office, the other a Sudbury kingpin — faced bizarre allegations of bribery and influence-peddling merely for playing politics in a local byelection. Their supposed crimes?

    Persuading and dissuading.

    They tried to persuade Glenn Thibeault, a star candidate from the federal NDP caucus in Ottawa, to run for the Liberals in a provincial byelection. And they tried to dissuade a local aspirant with a far dimmer star — Andrew Olivier lost in the previous general election — from fracturing party unity, instead urging him to go off quietly (because the premier would never sign his nomination papers anyway).

    In a dramatic judgment delivered Tuesday, a judge tried to explain to OPP investigators and Crown prosecutors what they never learned in police college and law school:

    That there’s a difference between wooing and bribing a star candidate.

    And that pacifying a disappointed aspirant — urging him to remain active and involved — can’t be twisted into influence-peddling.

    That may be too nuanced for our opposition parties, who now understand their jobs to be forever opposing everything, even if always overreaching. Smelling blood, it was the New Democratic Party that first called in the cops as part of their continuing campaign, in league with the Progressive Conservatives, to criminalize the governing Liberals.

    When a judge called it all off this week, the NDP and Tories still wouldn’t give up. They claimed the Liberals had gotten off on a “technicality” — if that’s what you call the absurdity that the judge methodically laid out in his decision.

    This was never a complicated case, despite feverish attempts by the NDP, OPP, and Crown to raise it to a higher level. Like many perceived transgressions, this one first went viral on social media, when a disgruntled Olivier revealed in a Facebook posting that he’d recorded Premier Kathleen Wynne’s deputy chief of staff, Patricia Sorbara, and local Liberal activist Gerry Lougheed, offering him volunteer or paid positions if he would play ball.

    It is in the nature of most Ontarians to ignore provincial politics most of the time. Even when people pay attention, it’s usually from a distance.

    The big eye-catching headline was Sudbury bribery. But there less to the case than met the eye.

    Volunteer party jobs aren’t exactly bribery. Being invited to apply for a job as a constituency assistant — which typically pays $35,000 to $45,000 a year — hardly qualifies as big money.

    The tape recordings were certainly awkward, as most private conversations can be when aired in public — just ask the Tories, for example, if they’d be OK with transcripts of their own conversations being released. Out of context, anything can sound like everything, but police and prosecutors are meant to dig deeper than Facebook postings.

    Instead, they laid criminal charges against Lougheed — a prominent fundraiser in Sudbury for the Liberals, but also a famously generous donor to local medical facilities — before having second thoughts and downgrading the allegations to provincial offences under the loose language of the Election Act. They also roped in Sorbara, accusing her of inducing Thibeault to quit the NDP and join the Liberals for the price of a couple of short-term jobs for old staffers that amounted to a few thousand dollars.

    As I wrote last year, when the police were still in hot pursuit: “It’s easy to confuse democracy with criminality, and to conflate take-no-prisoners campaigning with bribery and skulduggery. But any informed reading of the Elections Act makes it clear that it was written to guard against influence peddlers trying to pervert the course of democracy by buying off corrupt politicians, not political operators trying to recruit winning talent to their team (while ridding themselves of losers).”

    By dragging it out for years, the police did undeniable damage to the reputations of Lougheed, Sorbara and Thibeault (who was never charged despite being sullied). And tarnished the Liberal party in the process.

    In so doing, the OPP did the work of the NDP and the PCs — not deliberately, but inadvertently. And the Crown did a disservice to us all by failing to exercise its prosecutorial discretion to crumple up the charge sheet before their case crumbled in court.

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


    Ontario’s Liberals make legal history in Sudbury bribery trial: CohnOntario’s Liberals make legal history in Sudbury bribery trial: Cohn

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    This week, Toronto city councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon announced in a press conference and an op-ed in the Star that she would not be seeking a third term representing the constituents of her east-end ward. When she first ran in 2010, she promised to only serve two terms. She is keeping that promise.

    Good for her. If, as she wrote, she thinks the upcoming election is a time for “new ideas and new leadership” to replace people like her, then stepping down to make way for fresh blood is an obvious move — a final service to constituents for whom she never thought she’d have more than eight years of energy and ideas to offer.

    What’s less obvious is why she thinks a similar injection of novelty ought to be forced onto voters across the city, no matter their preference. For that was another key part of the message she delivered this week: a call for term limits that would force every councillor to observe the same time limit she voluntarily put on her own service.

    I mean, it is obvious enough why the idea of throwing a bunch of city councillors out of office is appealing enough, not just to McMahon, but to a lot of people.

    Look at someone like Giorgio Mammoliti, who since 1995 has approached his responsibilities as a municipal elected official with all the solemnity, sincerity and dignity of a professional wrestling heel. He even adopted the costume of the WWE at one point by removing his shirt for the cameras in the council chamber. Earlier this month, he responded to a Toronto Star request for comment by tweeting a public statement saying, among other things, “bite me Mammo style.”

    Many of us may well nod our heads at the idea that 23 years of continuous service is more than enough from him.

    And many of us may well not miss many of the other councillors who are less visible, and risible, than Mammo. For there are more than a few long-serving mediocrities doing little more than occupying space on the council floor.

    Sure, we may think, if Frank Di Giorgio were replaced by a potted fern, would anyone really notice? And while such a plant would certainly not deliver such forceful and lengthy non-sequitur-filled speeches as frequently as Anthony Perruzza, would we be any less enlightened as a result?

    There’s a vantage point, I’m saying, from which forcing council’s dead weight to move on seems attractive.

    But then there is the whole concept of representative democracy to consider. Because the problem, such as we’re identifying the puzzling ongoing incumbency of some elected officials as a problem, is that people keep electing them. Voters are choosing their representatives. In some cases, choosing them again and again and again and again. Are they not entitled to do so?

    At a certain point, you have to deduce that they like those representatives. Or at least prefer them to the alternatives.

    In fact, the idea of term limits comes up specifically because voters seem to like the representation they have. They seem likely to elect them again. This preference is seen as a problem to be solved — and the proposed solution is to forbid them the option we assume they will prefer.

    I may be a condescending jerk in assessing the wisdom of some of my fellow voters and the performance of their councillors, but even for a condescending jerk like me, trying to restrict people’s rights to elect their preferred candidate is a paternalistic step too far.

    On principle, I cannot see how arbitrarily limiting the choices available to voters enhances democracy.

    Besides, you could just as easily point to long-serving councillors who remain engaged and very effective — more so than a newbie could expect to be. Pam McConnell, who recently died in office after more than 20 years serving the same ward, was an accomplished anti-poverty advocate under John Tory specifically because of her long experience. Denzil Minnan-Wong, after 23 years in office, is one of the most effective conservatives on council — a fact that frustrates those of us who disagree with him no end.

    Lots of councillors seem to take a while to hit their stride. Paul Ainslie seemed to find his voice near the end of his second term, as Ana Bailão has now. Joe Cressy, a quick study, has emerged as a very strong councillor toward the end of his first term.

    That’s because the city government is a complicated thing, and it often takes city councillors almost a full term just to really figure out how things work. After two terms, the good ones know the city organization and routine, they know their files, they better know their constituents, they have enough experience to learn from their mistakes and frustrations — and to avoid being cowed by career civil servants who are subject-area experts and know the bureaucracy inside and out.

    That’s not an argument for their re-election if their constituents decide they’d like someone with different ideas, politics or manners. But that they have become good enough at the job to do it well is certainly not an argument that it’s time force them to go, either.

    There’s another, separate question here, that to her credit McMahon also raises, about whether voters really do want to send some of these clowns back into centre ring again and again. In the last two elections in a row, Mammoliti has been elected with less than half of the votes against a divided opposition. Di Giorgio won with less than 30 per cent of the vote in both 2010 and 2014. Ranked ballots would at least clarify voter preferences. City council could adopt them, and chose recently not to. To their shame.

    But ranked ballots, like more accessible voting hours and some other proposed electoral reforms, enhance democracy specifically because they make it easier for voters to indicate their preferences and express their will, and ensure they’re more able to get the option they prefer. Term limits set out to do the exact opposite, limiting the options available to voters, forbidding them from selecting the option they may prefer.

    In some cases, like McMahon’s, candidates who feel they’ve given all they have to give will take themselves off the ballot. It’s a genuine public service for them to do so. But in cases where they do not, if we voters want fresh ideas and new leadership, we can vote for those things. And if we don’t, then for better and for worse, we get the representation we deserve.

    Edward Keenan writes on city issues ekeenan@thestar.ca. Follow: @thekeenanwire


    Term limits are a solution only if you think voters’ preferences are the problem: KeenanTerm limits are a solution only if you think voters’ preferences are the problem: Keenan

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    Justin Trudeau’s Liberals added the Quebec seat of Lac-Saint-Jean to their ranks on Monday for the same reason Stephen Harper did in a byelection a decade ago. In both instances, a plurality of Lac-Saint-Jean voters wanted one of their own at the federal government table. And so they returned the riding to the Liberal fold after a 33-year absence.

    Lac-Saint-Jean used to be a Bloc Québécois stronghold. Lucien Bouchard held it for as long as he was in the federal arena and then ran provincially under the Parti Québécois banner in the same region. If the BQ were even going to come back to a position of pre-eminence in Quebec this is one of the first ridings it would normally win back.

    But on Monday, the party — despite the support of a strong Parti Québécois local organization and a viable candidate — received less than one in four votes, up only marginally from its last election finish of 18 per cent.

    Read more:

    Trudeau, Scheer and Singh do the math in Quebec and none champion an anti-racist stance: Tim Harper

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

    Lower deficits, better growth mean breaks for families, federal government says

    That would suggest that Quebecers — even in the province’s nationalist heartland — are mostly done with voting for a permanent federal opposition party.

    The Conservatives and the New Democrats could hardly have hoped for better byelection timing than Monday’s. The ruling Liberals literally spent the campaign tripping over their shoelaces on and off Parliament Hill.

    The small business tax reform brouhaha; the controversy over Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s less than arm’s-length disposal of his personal wealth; the spectacle of Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly falling flat on her face on the much-watched Tout le monde en parle talk show over her deal with Netflix, all provided fodder for the opposition parties to exploit on the hustings.

    Polls show widespread concern among Quebecers over the imminent legalization of marijuana. The Conservatives played hard on those fears. The New Democrats used a visit to the riding by their new leader, Jagmeet Singh, to highlight their continued willingness to play by made-in-Quebec referendum rules.

    Trudeau landed in the riding last week on the day after the national assembly adopted the controversial law that prescribes provincial and municipal services be dispensed and received with one’s face uncovered. During his visit, the prime minister was dogged by questions as to whether he would fight Quebec in court over Bill 62. He eventually left the door open for his government to do so.

    Based on Monday’s outcome, voters did not hold that against his party. So far, being consistently offside with what pollsters purport to be a Quebec consensus on religious wear has not hurt Trudeau in his home province. Back in 2015, his opposition to the proposed Conservative ban on niqabs at citizenship ceremonies had not stood in the way of the Liberals winning a majority of Quebec seats.

    The religious accommodation issue may have a lot of traction in the polls, but the ballot box payoff of state-enforced secularism remains elusive. (As an aside, on Tuesday Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée walked back much of her talk about forcing individuals — whether they wear sunglasses or face-covering Muslim-veils — to remove them to use a vast array of public services. In her latest take on her own bill, people would — at least in the case of public transit or local libraries — have to uncover their faces for identification purposes only.)

    It would be tempting to sum up the Lac-Saint-Jean results as a failed introductory test for the rookie leaders of the Bloc Québécois, the Conservative party and the NDP. But the opposition weaknesses the byelection exposed were already in place on the night of the last general election.

    In 2015, only a favourable division of the Quebec vote accounted for the seat gains of the BQ and the Harper-led Conservatives. The NDP has been in decline since its massive Quebec breakthrough in 2011. That decline has been accelerated by the decision to oust Thomas Mulcair from the leadership.

    By way of consolation for Singh, the party under one of his leadership rivals would not have fared much better than it did Monday.

    Andrew Scheer lost the Lac-Saint-Jean seat, but the Conservatives’ main concern should be the poor performance of the New Democrats. Their support dropped 16 points to 12 per cent on Monday.

    Shave a few percentage points off the NDP across the board in Quebec and 20 more seats are within the reach of the Trudeau Liberals in 2019 — leaving the other three parties to divvy up electoral crumbs in Canada’s second-largest province.

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


    Liberals byelection win in Quebec spells trouble for other federal parties: HébertLiberals byelection win in Quebec spells trouble for other federal parties: Hébert

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    A federal judge has slammed the Canadian government for not responding faster to a lawsuit launched by five intelligence officers and analysts who allege that they were bullied and harassed while working at Canada’s spy service because they are gay, Muslim or Black.

    “You can’t act as if the Court is not there,” Justice Simon Noël told Department of Justice lawyers during a September teleconference call regarding the case.

    The Star obtained a redacted transcript of the call, which was filed with the federal court this week.

    “(T)here is a course of action to be followed and you are no different from any other parties in Canada,” Noël said. “It is not because you are the Attorney General of Canada that you can act as if the Rules do no apply. This is not acceptable.”

    At issue is the government’s delay in filing a statement of defence regarding the $35-million lawsuit, which provided detailed accusations from inside one of the country’s most secretive organizations.

    The 54-page statement claim was filed in July and alleges that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service is run like an “old boys’ club,” creating a toxic work environment. One email cited in the claim, allegedly sent by a manager to a Toronto intelligence officer reads: “Careful your Muslim in-laws don’t behead you in your sleep for being homo.” The complainant, who goes by the pseudonym “Alex,” is gay and has a Muslim partner.

    Read more:Five CSIS employees are accusing the spy agency of Islamophobia, racism and homophobia in a $35-million lawsuit

    A statement of defence is usually filed after 30 days unless an extension is granted. Department of Justice lawyer Gillian Patterson told the judge that there was a misunderstanding about filing deadlines.

    Noël shot back, “give me a break,” later stating, “I think there is something unusual happening here, and I am polite in my language.”

    While the Department of Justice may be slow to respond, reaction from CSIS’s director to the allegations was swift.

    David Vigneault had only been on the job leading the spy service for a few weeks when news broke about the lawsuit. He quickly issued a statement saying CSIS does “not tolerate harassment.”

    Soon after, he invited the five complainants and their lawyer to his office.

    According to those who attended, he listened intently for nearly three hours, as boxes of Kleenex were shared around the table.

    “It was unprecedented quite frankly for us to be invited in to talk,” said “Alex,” one of the five complainants, who alleges he had tried unsuccessfully for nearly four years to have his concerns addressed. “He listened. It was very heartfelt.”

    Alex and “Bahira,” a Muslim intelligence officer with more than a decade of experience who is also part of the claim against CSIS, agreed to speak with the Star on the condition that their identities were not revealed. In both court documents, and during the interview last month, they used pseudonyms.

    Under Canada’s Security of Information Act, identifying a spy can be considered an offence.

    All five of the complainants are still CSIS employees, but are on medical leave due to mental and physical conditions.

    “Some of them are not being paid anymore; they were on disability, some are no longer being paid their disability amounts,” their lawyer John Phillips told Justice Noël on the conference call. “And I know things don’t move at a quick pace in litigation, but they need to have a resolution of this case.”

    None of the allegations against CSIS, which was recognized by Mediacorp Canada Inc. as one of Canada’s top 100 employers for 2017, have been proven in court.

    Justice Noël has given the government until Friday to submit a statement of defence. According to the transcript of the Sept. 13 call with Noël, the government is attempting to “resolve the claim.”

    Alex and Bahira said the stress of suing CSIS and the publicity it has generated has taken a toll. In the only interviews they have given, they said they felt they had no choice but to sue in order to get the attention of the government.

    Both said they were optimistic after their meeting this summer with the director. “That was our hope. He’s going to take care of this. He’s a new fresh face, hopefully not supportive of the managers who refuse to do anything about this,” Bahira said. “So we had hope and we waited week after week.”

    “I’ve worked hard in the last 15 years and I’ve done some incredible work for them,” Bahira said as she began to cry. “I wanted my legacy to be the first Muslim hijabi who fought for her country and contributed. They robbed me of that. My legacy is Bahira, the discriminated, the victim … I feel betrayed; I feel angry. Something is wrong when someone like me can’t walk into that building.”

    Bahira said she was often praised during her performance evaluations for having “unique access” in the Muslim communities where she worked. “I understood the culture, I understood the background. I know a lot about religion and can talk about it with credibility,” she said about her work on the counterterrorism file concerning extremist groups recruiting Muslims. “I was able to build trust and credibility, to have a son report on a father, and a father report on his son, or a mother compel her son to sit down and talk to me.”

    But inside CSIS, she claims managers regarded her with suspicion once she began wearing a hijab in 2004. “I still remember going home and wanting to cry my eyes out at time, thinking, ‘Why is this so hard because it’s not me, I get along with people … colleagues seem to have respect for me,’ ” she told the Star. “It’s what I represented and I knew I couldn’t do anything about it … no senior manager is going to stand up for me.”

    Alex alleges that he had tried since 2013 to get his concerns addressed inside CSIS and never wanted to go public. In 2016, he launched a formal complaint that resulted in a “third-party” investigation. According to the statement of claim, the investigation noted that CSIS was “old school” and that employee complaints about managers were “dismissed and disregarded.”

    But Alex said no action was taken about the report’s findings and his situation got worse. “So who was punished? No one. Come back to work now, and by the way, you get to report back to your accused. Oh, and you’re not going to be in your plum position anymore,” he said. “My career was done by that point.”

    Read more:Read the explosive allegations of Islamophobia, racism and homophobia levelled against Canada’s spy agency


    Judge slams Ottawa for delays over $35-million CSIS lawsuit alleging workplace Islamophobia, racism and homophobiaJudge slams Ottawa for delays over $35-million CSIS lawsuit alleging workplace Islamophobia, racism and homophobia

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    “You don’t like me, do you?”

    It probably would not have required being under oath for Shawn Lerner to give an honest answer.

    “No.”

    Lawyers don’t give a fig whether witnesses under cross-examination like them or not. It’s an adversarial process.

    But Dellen Millard, who is representing himself in court, is one of the two defendants on trial for first-degree murder in the death of Laura Babcock, whose remains have never been found.

    Read more: Laura Babcock murder trial hears of her struggles with drugs, mental health

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

    Laura Babcock killed for being odd woman out in love triangle, court hears

    The prosecution says Millard and Mark Smich killed her five years ago, then disposed of the young woman’s body in an incinerator.

    “You find me sketchy.”

    More a declaration than a question but Lerner responded. Yes, he does.

    When Babcock went missing in early July, 2012, it was Lerner, her former boyfriend, who raised the alarm.

    Just as it had been Lerner, still fond of his ex in a close friend way, who put Babcock up in a west end Toronto motel for a couple of nights, just before her vanishing, because she had nowhere to stay, had been couch-surfing and quarrelling with her parents. And, as Lerner discovered when they met for dinner at a food court — the last time he saw the 23-year-old alive, their final texts exchanged on July 1 — had been working for an escort service.

    It was Lerner, too, who loaned Babcock an iPad that night — the same device on which investigators would later find rap lyrics which appear to allude to her murder. “The bitch started off all skin and bone, now the bitch lay on some ashy stone . . . ” In a brief video segment shown to the jury earlier this week, Smich is seen singing that repugnant ditty.

    Both Smich and Millard have pleaded not guilty.

    The last eight phone calls Babcock made on her phone were to Millard, Lerner told court. He learned this when examining the phone bill that Babcock’s mother had given them after family and friends became deeply worried about her unknown whereabouts. After those calls to Millard’s number, there was no further activity on her phone.

    In the early days of Babcock’s disappearance, Lerner testified, police seemed not to take the matter seriously. Just another missing adult — most of them show up eventually. When Lerner provided details of Babcock’s life — the escort connection, her drug use, the bizarre behaviour over recent months — police interest waned further.

    But Lerner, who’d dated Babcock for about 18 months — they’d broken up around Christmas, 2011 — would not let it rest. Indeed, he ended up making a formal complaint about the investigation to the Office of Independent Police Review Director.

    If there is an admirable individual in the whole sordid and grim mess that has been unfolding in court, it’s Lerner.

    He cared.

    A 27-year-old businessman by profession, he turned himself into an amateur sleuth.

    Lerner knew Babcock’s phone password so he accessed it for messages, a clue. He created a group page on her Facebook account to share information with friends — he’d retrieved their names — anything to assemble a trail. Nobody had heard from her. Babcock, who had been keenly active on social media, had gone silent.

    Crucially, Lerner called Millard. “I’m not looking to point a finger at anyone,” Lerner texted, “but we’re concerned about Laura and it looks like you were the last person to correspond with her.”

    After ignoring the first few texts, Millard answered that he’d “heard” about Babcock being missing. “Don’t know where she is.”

    Not accepting the brush-off, Lerner urged they meet to talk.

    They did so, at a Starbucks, on July 27.

    During that conversation, as Lerner recalled under direct examination earlier, Millard told him that Babcock had been using drugs, developed a cocaine addition and had been bugging him to get her drugs, which he’d “vehemently” refused. “He implied she’s gone,” said Lerner. “She got mixed up with the wrong people. And I should have no reasonable expectation of finding her.”

    It was not the first time Lerner and Millard had met. In February, 2011, Lerner had planned a surprise birthday party for Babcock. Millard — whom he did not personally know — was invited. Afterwards, a group of them went back to Millard’s condo.

    This was one of the areas Millard pursued in his cross-examination Tuesday; his assertion that Lerner found him “sketchy” dated back to that evening.

    “I don’t recall if I found you sketchy immediately upon leaving (the party). But by the time I left that evening I certainly did find you sketchy.”

    Lerner recounted that, in their conversation at his condo, Millard had given inconsistent details about what he did for a living. He also observed Millard giving drugs to Babcock that night — he thought it was ecstasy.

    “You’re against the use of hard drugs?” Millard asked.

    Lerner: “I was against her getting her getting pills from you, unsolicited by her. You made it clear that it was a birthday present.”

    Why should Lerner care, Millard continued.

    “Because she (was) my girlfriend and I cared about her and I loved her.”

    Millard asked whether, at their Starbucks meeting, he’d informed Lerner that Babcock had been working as a prostitute.

    “No. I had to that point understood that she was working as an escort.”

    He’d admittedly not been thrilled when Babcock told him about that, at their dinner. “She did say there was no sex involved. She seemed brand new to the business. The way she explained it to me, it was sort of . . . men looking to have a pretty girl on their arm. She may have believed it. I was obviously not convinced that might be all there was to it.”

    Had he, Millard, not expressly stated, at Starbucks, that he wasn’t providing drugs to Babcock? “I had witnessed you giving her drugs in the past,” said Lerner.

    Millard: “You asked if I was having sex with Laura at that time. I said no and that I have a girlfriend.”

    Babcock and Millard had dated briefly several years earlier, court has heard. It is unclear when or how their paths crossed again. The prosecution theory is that Babcock had boasted to Millard’s current girlfriend that she was still sleeping with him. The woman became upset. In the opening address on Monday, Crown attorney Jill Cameron quoted from texts Millard had sent his girlfriend in April: “First I am going to hurt her. Then I’ll make her leave.” And: “I will remove her from our lives.”

    It was at that point, the prosecution maintains, that Millard set about getting an incinerator. The Crown believes Babcock was killed July 3 or 4.

    Millard suggested to the witness that Babcock had “a number of strange men in her life” at the time she disappeared.

    Millard: “Are you trying to shift the case one way or another?

    Lerner: “No, absolutely not.”

    Millard: “Are you trying to shift suspicion on to me?”

    Lerner: “No, I’m trying to answer your questions.”

    And this exchange:

    Millard: “How do you feel about Laura today?”

    Lerner: “I miss her.”

    The trial continues.

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


    A good guy emerges at grim trial into Laura Babcock’s murder: DiMannoA good guy emerges at grim trial into Laura Babcock’s murder: DiManno

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    OTTAWA—Finance Minister Bill Morneau says he “of course” participated in government discussions around the decision to give Bombardier’s C Series and Global 7000 aircraft programs a $372.5-million repayable loan last winter.

    Morneau dismissed as absurd comments made to the Star by Opposition critics that he should have recused himself from those discussions since he continued to hold shares in Morneau Shepell, which has the contract to run some, but not all, of Bombardier’s pension regimes.

    Morneau Shepell, the company the finance minister used to run, is one of Canada’s largest administrators of pension and benefits plans, a point underlined by Morneau.

    Read More:

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    In brief comments to the Star in a lockup for reporters on his fall economic update, Morneau said that when he stepped down as executive chairman of the company after he was elected in November 2015, Morneau Shepell had some 20,000 clients across Canada.

    He suggested he didn’t know all of the corporate clients, and a communications adviser standing with him added that in any event the conflict of interest screen that Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson had urged upon him was in place.

    That screen, Morneau’s office said on Monday, “protects against conflicts arising from dealings specifically with or related to Morneau Shepell, and each instance is reported directly to the Ethics commissioner.”

    A source told the Star that Bombardier’s contract with Morneau Shepell to administer benefits for some of its workers has been in place for more than a decade and there has been no substantial change since the 2015 election.

    Neither Morneau Shepell nor Bombardier would discuss their contract.

    Morneau says he remembered “at least two times” being taken out of meetings, and was unaware of any requirement to report the recusals. Dawson’s office confirmed to the Star Tuesday that Morneau’s office has reported no recusals to it.

    Dawson only publishes “recusals” or instances when the screen fails to work in advance to prevent the minister’s participation in a discussion in which he could have a conflict of interest — and he has to step out of, or recuse, from the discussion.

    Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said in an interview Tuesday Morneau “exposed himself to a long list of real or perceived conflicts of interest” in hanging onto his $20 million in Morneau Shepell shares, and the Bombardier loan raises concerns in his view.

    “When a finance minister forks over $372 million to a corporation like Bombardier, Canadians deserve to know he’s doing it in their interests, not because of some other unknown reason.”

    “The Bombardier bailout has turned into an absolute disaster,” Poilievre said. “Since it was announced, the executives have given themselves pay increases and they’re laying off 14,000 people. Now, we learn that their most cherished plane is being sold off to European investors.” (Airbus is taking a controlling interest in Bombardier’s C Series program, with no money or debt exchanging hands.)

    “It’s very hard to see how all of this handout to Bombardier was in the public interest. So whose interests were involved in this terrible decision?”

    NDP ethics critic Nathan Cullen echoed similar concerns.

    “I’m not sure what’s worse: the transgression or refusing to admit there was a problem in the first place.”

    “When it appears to be a conflict to everybody else except the person involved, you know you have a problem with the person involved and with the so-called ethical screen you could drive a truck through. He receives benefit from the decisions he’s making. He’s involved in conversations that he should not be involved in,” said Cullen, adding Morneau refuses to answer whether he was recused on C27 (a pension reform bill).

    Last week, Morneau announced he would place his all his assets in a blind trust and move to sell some one million Morneau-Shepell shares — worth about $20.6 million and held by an Alberta numbered corporation — in an arm’s length transaction under the guidance of Dawson.

    He meets with her Wednesday to discuss his next steps in that process, he told CBC.


    Bill Morneau dismisses objections to his participation in Bombardier loan discussionsBill Morneau dismisses objections to his participation in Bombardier loan discussions

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    WASHINGTON—U.S. President Donald Trump talks about terminating NAFTA as if that would be as easy for him to do as firing off a tweet or ordering a second scoop of ice cream.

    Some experts agree with him. But a bunch don’t.

    These experts say it is only Congress, not the president, that has the authority to kill the North American trade pact. If Trump tried, in other words, they believe he could be blocked by pro-NAFTA legislators.

    The vigorous debate is taking place in corporate boardrooms, legal offices and think tanks across the continent. Once a matter of mere academic interest, it may now have huge stakes for Canada. And everybody involved agrees on just one thing: it will probably be decided by judges.

    “I think the only certainty is that if Trump were to go ahead and withdraw, or purport to withdraw, there would be lawsuits immediately. And probably injunctions. And this thing will be tied up in courts for a while,” said Matthew Kronby, a Toronto trade lawyer with Bennett Jones and former director general of Canada’s Trade Law Bureau.

    “I have spoken as recently as yesterday with a lawyer at a prominent U.S. law firm where one lawyer has looked at it and had a particular view — he thought the president did have the authority to do so unilaterally — but he acknowledged that there were several other people in his firm that came to the opposite conclusion,” Kronby said.

    The question is especially important because of the vast gulf between the views of Trump and many of his Republican colleagues on the subject. As Trump has derided NAFTA as the worst trade deal in world history, several senior Republicans have been outspokenly supportive of the agreement.

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers have courted American legislators, but they say they aren’t counting on Congress to save the day. The government’s read of the situation, an official said on condition of anonymity, is that Trump could probably dump the deal with a stroke of his pen.

    “That is obviously just completely uncharted legal territory. So it’s difficult to know what would exactly happen … But for our purposes, we do kind of believe there’s a pretty good chance that he could just do this,” the Canadian official said.

    Read more:Thousands of Canadians live in the U.S. on NAFTA permits. So what happens if Trump kills the treaty?

    There is yet more disagreement on a related subject: what would happen next if the agreement were indeed terminated in one way or another.

    The official said the Canadian government has concluded that the old Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which contained many of the same provisions as NAFTA, would snap back into force if NAFTA went away. They point out that the Canada-U.S. agreement was merely suspended with an exchange of diplomatic notes, rather than deleted, when NAFTA was created.

    Jon Johnson, a C.D. Howe Institute senior fellow who worked for Canada on both agreements, agreed that the old deal would snap back automatically if NAFTA vanished — but he said “it would be a mess” requiring further action, since some important provisions, such as those on auto manufacturing, are different. Kronby, meanwhile, said he was not convinced the snap-back would be automatic; Trump, he said, might have to issue some sort of executive order to make it happen.

    And then there’s a third possibility.

    “Obviously, I guess (Trump) could theoretically withdraw from both at the same time,” the Canadian official said.

    The unresolved questions have taken on increasing urgency as NAFTA talks have faltered on account of Trump demands the Canadian and Mexican governments consider unreasonable. Canada and the U.S. traded public criticism at the end of the fourth round in Washington last week.

    Trump has consistently promised to terminate the agreement if he cannot secure a new deal. In a television interview on Sunday, he sounded slightly less enthused than usual about the possibility of termination, saying: “It will probably be renegotiated. But if it’s not successfully renegotiated so it’s fair for the United States, it will be terminated.”

    Trump regularly makes dramatic threats he does not plan to carry out. But he has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to make sharp breaks with existing international agreements. In his first nine months, he has abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate accord while taking steps to weaken the Iran nuclear deal.

    The confusion over his threat to kill NAFTA is a product of the uniqueness of the situation. No court has ruled on the powers involved in terminating trade deals because the first and only time the U.S. terminated a deal was in 1866, the year before Canada came into existence.

    The issue is so complicated because it involves the U.S. Constitution and multiple ambiguous laws.

    NAFTA itself says “a party” can withdraw from the agreement after giving the other countries six months of notice. But it does not say whether the president himself counts as the U.S. “party” or whether he needs the endorsement of Congress.

    The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations.” (Point: Congress.) It also gives the president various powers over foreign affairs more generally. (Point: Trump.) Section 125 of the 1974 Trade Act, in which Congress grants various trade powers to the president, says “every trade agreement … shall be subject to termination” — but that sentence, unlike others, does not specifically identify the president as the person who can do the terminating. (Point: who knows.)

    The only thing that seems certain in the event Trump begins the six-month notice period is the kind of uncertainty businesses hate.

    “Companies are going to become much more conservative in their business planning. And we’ll see those impacts all the way down the supply chains,” said Dan Ujczo, an Ohio trade lawyer with Dickinson Wright. “Uncertainty equals conservative business planning.”


    Can Donald Trump actually kill NAFTA? You’re not the only one who’s unsure: AnalysisCan Donald Trump actually kill NAFTA? You’re not the only one who’s unsure: Analysis

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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.”


    'Decades of neglect': Watchdog slams province for inaction in Sarnia and Grassy Narrows'Decades of neglect': Watchdog slams province for inaction in Sarnia and Grassy Narrows

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    Toronto police issued a handful of warnings about the risks of social media for teens at a town hall event Tuesday that drew more than 50 concerned parents and residents to Rosedale United Church.

    The event, organized by the North Rosedale and neighbouring residents associations, was an opportunity for the community to discuss safety and social media use among midtown teenagers following a series of park parties in the neighbourhood that turned violent.

    Staff Sgt. James Hogan of Toronto Police’s 53 Division said slower response time to complaints about noisy parties is largely a result of stretched resources. The police spend thousands of hours responding to mental health calls, which is important he noted, but can tie them up for hours at hospital because they can’t hand over custody. Those types of things can delay response to events like noisy parties, which he described as a mid-priority call.

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    However, police responded to a call about a robbery that took place at one park party this fall in five minutes, he said.

    Providing as much information about a call can help police determine its priority listing. A call about drug use or intoxicated or unconscious teenagers will be given a higher priority than one about a noisy party, Hogan said.

    “We can’t be effective if we don’t know what we need to know,” he said.

    While teen parties themselves are nothing new, both Hogan and his colleague, Const. Alex Li, who works in crime prevention and community relations at 53 Division, said news of parties can spread much further through social media.

    “The internet and social media have no boundaries,” Li said, adding that people with even a little tech savvy can find out where they are and people from outside the local area are making their way there.

    “I am concerned about it,” said Victoria Elliott, who brought her 13-year old son, Kalen Gibbons, to the event with her so he could hear what the police and others had to say.

    “When you hear of a child being stabbed who’s only 15 in your neighbourhood, yeah that’s a little bit worrisome I would say,” Elliott said, noting she has two older stepdaughters who used to attend parties in Rosedale and the ravine.

    “They said there were a lot of kids who would be really messed up,” she said.

    “As a parent, especially now with social media you don’t always know where they are, they can tell one friend about something and then the next thing you know a hundred of those people’s friends and other friends end up showing up,” she said, adding she wished more teens had come to event Tuesday evening.

    A handout provided at the town hall shows the number of robberies in the Rosedale-Moore neighbourhood in the last year has increased. By this time last year 12 robberies had taken place, versus 19 this year, a 58 per cent increase. The number of break-and-enters and assaults have also increased by 18 and 5 per cent respectively. The year-over-year rate of reported sexual assault, meanwhile, decreased by 50 per cent and auto theft went down 60 per cent.

    Jessica Green, who runs a public relations company, offered tips for how to use social media safely and positively.

    Always think before you post, she said. Ask yourself is it true? Is it helpful? Is it inspiring? Is it necessary? And finally, is it kind?

    Nothing on social media can ever be truly deleted, she said, adding they’re either stored on a server somewhere or may have been screen-capped.

    “We can see how deleting tweets has worked for Donald Trump,” she said. “Not so well.”

    The town-hall followed a series of parties in the area that resulted in robberies and other criminal activity, including one that local teen gossip site Miss Informed dubbed the “Rosedale Jam” on Sept. 16.

    Several emergency calls were made that night from the Rosedale Park area reporting stabbings, assaults, robberies and unconscious teens. The party had been advertised across social media.

    The suspects include eight to 10 teens wearing hoodies and bandanas across their faces and police believe they’ve attended several parties to conduct similar robberies.

    Fifteen-year-old Isaiah Witt was stabbed and killed at another party on Oct. 7 at Stan Wadlow Park, which police confirmed Tuesday is being investigated as part of their larger investigation into park parties in the area. Four men were arrested and two men aged 18 and 19 are facing second-degree murder charges.

    A statement posted to Miss Informed on Friday said though the site doesn’t take responsibility for the parties, it wouldn’t be posting about the events anymore.

    With files from Victoria Gibson, Samantha Beattie, and Tamar Harris


    Toronto police warn of social media risks for teens after string of parties turn violentToronto police warn of social media risks for teens after string of parties turn violent

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    Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman wanted to pay tribute to late Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie after learning of his death.

    And so the directors of Choir! Choir! Choir!, a Toronto-based singalong collective, invited fans to Nathan Phillips Square on Tuesday night to honour Downie the best way they could — through his music.

    “When we lose some of the great ones, if we can provide a space where people can come together and share the music and feel connected in a difficult time, then we’ll do it,” Adilman said. “It just felt like the right thing to do and I feel like these tributes are happening all over the country and big or small, they all matter.”

    Downie died last Tuesday at age 53. Nearly two years ago, he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an invasive brain tumour with one of the poorest survival rates of any cancer.

    More than a thousand people gathered to sing about a dozen songs from the Hip as their tribute to the legendary Canadian band.

    People braved the brisk, windy, 10 C weather to belt out songs such as “Wheat Kings,” “Bobcaygeon” and “Courage.” Downie’s “The Stranger,” off his solo album “Secret Path,” was also played.

    Stylish suit jackets and hats similar to the ones Downie wore on the Hip’s “Man Machine Poem” tour in 2016 were worn. There were also people sporting hockey jerseys bearing the Hip’s name.

    Children were placed on their parents shoulders to get a better view, while others lit candles in honour of the late musician.

    Downie’s older brother, Mike, made an appearance on stage near the end of the set to thank those in attendance, which was met with a rousing applause from the crowd.

    “I have to say that over the last week, the outpouring of emotion, grief and love has been overwhelming,” Mike said. “And my family and I have felt it and its made things easier and its made things harder.

    “Made it easier because you showed how much you loved our brother and harder because we realized how many people were hurting and how many people were really affected by this.”

    Mike also took the opportunity to talk about the Secret Path project, which he and his brother worked on. Choir! Choir! Choir! had asked that those in attendance to make a minimum donation of $5 to the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund.

    Mike said that “it’s up to all of us” to help the reconciliation efforts.

    “I don’t think the government can fix it, I don’t think there’s a program big enough to fix it, I think it’s going to take everybody doing their part,” he said.

    “We think we’re a young country, but we’re not. We think we’re 150 years old, but we’re not. If we tried a little harder, if we brought in the Indigenous people that have been here for 12,000 years, we could be something so much different. And we would be better for it and I think we would be the envy of the world.”

    Choir! Choir! Choir! capped off the show with some audience members onstage to sing “Ahead by a Century.”

    “Gord Downie has meant so much to this country, he’s given so much and we just wanted to celebrate him and his music,” Adilman said.


    Mike Downie says fan support has 'made things easier' at choir tribute to late Tragically Hip frontmanMike Downie says fan support has 'made things easier' at choir tribute to late Tragically Hip frontmanMike Downie says fan support has 'made things easier' at choir tribute to late Tragically Hip frontmanMike Downie says fan support has 'made things easier' at choir tribute to late Tragically Hip frontmanMike Downie says fan support has 'made things easier' at choir tribute to late Tragically Hip frontmanMike Downie says fan support has 'made things easier' at choir tribute to late Tragically Hip frontmanMike Downie says fan support has 'made things easier' at choir tribute to late Tragically Hip frontmanMike Downie says fan support has 'made things easier' at choir tribute to late Tragically Hip frontman

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    Civility in question period has reached a point where no one is listening, a new survey of MPs suggests.

    “We’ve lost something in terms of what debate should look like, what good accountability can mean in question period,” said Jane Hilderman, executive director at Samara Canada, a non-profit think tank devoted to citizen engagement.

    Released Wednesday, Samara’s report found a majority of MPs — 53 per cent — think heckling is a problem, but 65 per cent confessed to making unscheduled outbursts in the House. It’s not a rare occurrence either — of those who admitted to heckling, nearly 60 per cent said they do it at least once a week. Roughly one-quarter of sitting MPs responded to the survey.

    Heckling — when a politician speaks out in Parliament without permission from the Speaker, the non-partisan referee — is typically looked down upon by the public because it’s perceived to be rancorous in nature and diminishes meaningful debate.

    “It’s like a theatre of artifice,” Hilderman said. “In the past there’s always been theatre (in question period). But a genuine dramatic moment or spontaneity? Now, it’s predictable.”

    However it is one of the tools MPs, particularly those on the opposition bench, can use to hold the government to account — the most common reasons MPs reported for heckling was to “respond to perceived untruths,” because “they are overcome by passion” and to support the home team. That said, 15 per cent think heckling actually increases accountability.

    While current Speaker Geoff Regan has cracked down on unruly behaviour and the party leaders have committed to being more civil, not all MPs think decorum in the House of Commons is improving.

    “It depends on who you ask,” Hilderman said.

    For instance, there is “a big gap” between what men and women hear, she said.

    Men tend to heckle more — 69 per cent of male MPs admitted to cheering and jeering out of turn compared to 52 per cent of women. Eighty-five per cent of men reported being on the receiving end of heckles, as did 89 per cent of women.

    But it’s the content that’s key — calling out about policy is considered fair game, but when heckling turns personal or discriminatory it diminishes meaningful discussion, Hilderman said.

    Last year, Tory MP Michelle Rempel wrote an op-ed about the “everyday sexism” she experienced in the House. That was shortly after former immigration minister John McCallum came under fire for telling Rempel, his critic, to be more “cheerful.”

    Women were more likely to pick up on those taunts — 67 per cent of female MPs said they hear heckles based on gender, compared to 20 per cent of men. That trend carried over from Samara’s last report in 2015.

    Hilderman also pointed to a research project from U of T’s Tanya Whyte that parses Hansard — the official record of Parliament — over the last century and shows women were interrupted more often than men.

    “We don’t know the intensity of that, but they are more likely to be interrupted — so it’s not just in women’s heads that they are being heckled differently. What’s interesting is men don’t even recognize it,” she said.

    Rookie MPs were the most opposed to heckling — a relatively fresh experience for the group of 199 who were first elected in 2015. Sixty per cent of rookies said cheering and jeering out of turn is a problem, and half would abolish it, versus 19 per cent of veteran MPs that would.

    One newbie politician, unnamed in the report, described the experience to Samara as “soul-destroying.”

    Samara makes a handful of recommendations for increasing civility, including fully capturing heckling on camera. Cameras and microphones don’t always pick up heckling over the din in the chamber, which means viewers at home hear muffled noise but can’t see who caused the kerfuffle. Removing that anonymity could discourage MPs from making offensive or disruptive remarks, the report said.

    Hilderman also wants to hear fewer talking points by taking away politicians’ prepared notes and clearing the way for genuine debate.

    “We’ve come to a point now where . . . scripted talking points have become de rigueur,” Hilderman said. “One inane answer gets a bunch of inane heckles back. There is no listening.”

    Reducing the reliance on “party lists,” a roster of MPs scheduled to speak that day given to the Speaker and house leaders in advance, is another way to raise the level of debate. Spontaneously recognizing backbenchers to speak and providing opportunity to weigh in on a whim could reduce the urge to heckle and boost engagement.

    The report also recommends extending the 35 seconds allotted for each a question and answer and shaking up the seating arrangement in the chamber.

    When broken down along party lines, the Tories were most prone to impromptu outbursts — of those who responded to the survey, 84 per cent admitted to heckling. That compares to 47 per cent of Liberals and 83 per cent of New Democrats.

    It seems the NDP can dish it as much as they can take it — 94 per cent of New Democrats said they had been heckled, followed by 85 per cent of Liberals and 79 per cent of Conservatives.

    About one-quarter, or 84 out of 338 MPs responded to Samara’s survey — the third of its kind — in spring. Fifty-one per cent of respondents were Grits, 25 per cent were Tories and 21 per cent were New Democrats.

    Brouhahas in the House

    • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, then in opposition, called environment minister Peter Kent a “piece of s---” during a December 2011 question period debate over Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol.

    • Like father, like son? Trudeau senior, Pierre, insisted to reporters in 1971 he mouthed “fuddle duddle” in the House, and not a profanity beginning with the letter F, as other MPs contended.

    • In 1997, after he heard a heckler call him “racist,” Reform MP Darrel Stinson replied, “Do you have the fortitude or the gonads to stand up and come across here and say that to me, you son of a bitch? Come on.”

    • According to historian Arthur Milnes, Canada’s first prime minister John A. Macdonald got into fisticuffs with Oliver Mowat, former Ontario premier, in the legislature. Said Macdonald: “Come back here you damn pup, I’ll smack your chops!”

    • The late Jim Fulton, former NDP MP, once dropped a dead B.C. salmon on former prime minister Brian Mulroney’s desk after raising environmental concerns in question period.

    • New Democrat Nathan Cullen and Conservative Peter Van Loan nearly got into fisticuffs in 2012 over the Tory government’s omnibus budget. Their microphones weren’t on but cameras reportedly caught Van Loan cross the floor and wag his finger at Cullen before he was led away by a caucus mate.

    • Last May Prime Minister Trudeau was accused of manhandling NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau ahead of a vote on the government’s assisted-dying legislation. While not heckling per se, the incident that became known as “elbow gate” raised questions about decorum.

    Survey finds most MPs think heckling in the House is a problem — and most MPs are guilty of itSurvey finds most MPs think heckling in the House is a problem — and most MPs are guilty of it

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    An Uber driver is facing a sexual assault charge after a customer said she was touched inappropriately in Courtice.

    Durham Region police said they were called to a home near Prestonvale Rd. and Bloor St. at around 4 a.m. for a report of a sexual assault.

    A 24-year-old woman called an Uber to pick her up from a Whitby restaurant, police said. Once they reached her home, the driver allegedly touched the woman inappropriately.

    Rahmanuddin Safi, 30, of Whitby, has been charged with sexual assault.

    Anyone with information is asked to contact Durham police investigators or Crime Stoppers.


    Uber driver in Durham Region charged with sexual assaultUber driver in Durham Region charged with sexual assault

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    The family of a man in crisis who was shot dead by police is calling on Ontario’s Attorney General to ensure that all police officers receive thorough training on crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques to reduce the risk of fatalities to those who are vulnerable due to mental health issues.

    “No one should die at the hands of police simply because they are not adequately trained,” said Joanne MacIsaac, the sister of Michael MacIsaac, a 47-year-old man who was shot dead in Ajax by a Durham police officer in December 2013.

    The Innocence Project and MacIsaac made its request in a letter delivered Wednesday to Attorney General Yasir Naqvi and Community Safety Minister Marie-France Lalonde.

    The letter asks for an immediate amendment to Section 44 of the Police Services Act. Presently Section 44 demands that a police officer complete an initial period of training within six months of his or her appointment.

    MacIsaac, who was working in conjunction with the Innocence Project, is demanding that the required training “include training with respect to crisis intervention and de-escalation of conflicts with individuals who are or may be mentally ill and individuals in crisis.”

    “I believe that if the officer who killed my brother had the type of training that we’re proposing today, Michael would still be alive,” said MacIsaac.

    Lalonde said that the government is committed to reviewing the police training program and enhancing it.

    “We’re looking at the possibilities of giving other tools to officers who have to interact everyday with our most vulnerable population,” said Lalonde.

    At present, all police officers in Ontario receive comprehensive use of force training and part of that training includes de-escalation. As a requirement, all police officers have to go through this training every year.

    “We need to make sure the training component at (police) colleges moving forward is adequate in terms of the 2017 reality,” she said.

    Naqvi said the province is already working to update the Police Services Act but did not say whether that would include the change requested by the group.

    “Part of the work is looking at training, looking at how police interact with people with mental health issues and techniques and strategies around de-escalation,” he said.

    On the day MacIsaac’s brother, Michael, was shot, he was experiencing the delirious aftermath effects of a seizure. While naked, he ran to a neighbour’s house and broke off the leg of a patio table. An officer, responding to the disturbance, asked him to drop his weapon. He shot at him after he refused to drop the table leg, in an interaction that lasted 12 seconds.

    Training might not have changed the outcome, said Karolina Visic, a caseworker with the Innocence Project at Osgoode Hall. “But what training does is gives you a mindset: ‘okay this man, he’s naked, it’s December, there’s snow, its cold. There’s probably something not right here’,” she said.

    “[The police officer] could’ve taken a step back, he could’ve gone around his car, he could’ve created space, created time,” said Visic. “Training would provide that mindset.”

    The Police Services Act has not been reformed in 27 years. To date, police recruits in Ontario are required to complete a 12-week basic training program; there is no standardized training after this. The Innocence Project found that much of this training focuses on “use of force” training.

    The Project also found that since 1978, 65 individuals who were mentally ill have died in an interaction with police Ontario. In 1999, the jury in the coroner’s inquest into the death of Edmond Wai-Kong Yu recommended that the Police Services Act should be amended to “require annual Crisis Resolution Training.” In the 43 coroner’s inquests that subsequently took place over 18 years, similar recommendations were also made, that included additional calls for creating crisis teams, non-lethal use of force tactics and employing mental health specialists.

    The inquest into Michael MacIsaac’s death earlier this year also recommended that “specific training should be provided…around effective (calming) communication and de-escalation…that such training focus on individuals with mental health issues.”

    Members of the government have also spoken about police reform on multiple occasions; earlier this year, the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, announced that new legislation would be launched in the Fall of this year.

    Alan Young, Director of the Innocence Project, said that they are asking the government to commit to something it has already promised. “The time has come for the government to take real measures to end the violence and devastation that often occurs in interactions with the mentally ill,” said Young. “Its time for the government to act with some courage and some will.”

    MacIsaac doesn’t understand the lack of action and instruction. “It causes you to question everything about your surroundings,” she said, who says she now gets nervous if she sees a police car in her rearview mirror.

    “We’re here four years later, and we’re still trying to prevent this happening to another family.”

    With files from The Canadian Press


    Family of man shot dead by police asks province for more police trainingFamily of man shot dead by police asks province for more police trainingFamily of man shot dead by police asks province for more police trainingFamily of man shot dead by police asks province for more police training

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    About three years ago, a married Portuguese woman began seeing another man. The affair was brief — and after two months, the woman wanted to end it.

    In response, the woman’s former lover turned to her husband, telling him his wife had been unfaithful, according to Portuguese media outlets. The couple divorced. But the two men, both enraged, worked together to plan an attack on the woman.

    In June 2015, the former paramour kidnapped the woman and held her down while the ex-husband beat her viciously with a nail-spiked club, leaving bruises and lashes all over her body.

    After charges were filed in the assault, the ex-husband was given a 15-month suspended sentence and a fine of about $2,000, according to The Associated Press. A prosecutor thought he deserved a harsher sentence, and asked an appeals court in Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, for prison time of three years and six months.

    But the appeals judges decided against it.

    Why? Because the judges felt it was somewhat understandable that a husband in a “depressive state” would act out against a wife who had betrayed him.

    In a written ruling that harked back to the 19th century, Judges Neto de Moura and Maria Luisa Abrantes justified the lighter sentence with biblical references that condemn adultery.

    “Now, adultery by a woman is a very serious attack on a man’s honour and dignity,” the judges wrote. “Societies exist where the adulterous woman is stoned to death. In the Bible, we can read that the adulterous woman should be punished with death.”

    They argued that the “disloyalty and sexual immorality” of the woman caused her husband to fall into a “deep depression.” It was in this clouded mental state that the husband committed the act of aggression, the judges wrote.

    The judges cited a criminal law from 1886 that called for merely a symbolic penalty against a husband who, finding his wife committing adultery, killed her.

    “These references are merely intended to emphasize that society has always strongly condemned adultery by a woman and therefore sees the violence by a betrayed, vexed and humiliated man with some understanding,” the judges wrote.

    The written ruling was filed Oct. 11 but was not made public until Portuguese news outlet Jornal de Notícias reported the news earlier this week.

    The sentence has stunned women’s rights activists, legal experts and even religious authorities who saw it as an attempt to justify domestic violence with references to the Bible. Across social media, Portuguese commentators and feminist groups called out the ruling for perpetuating victim-blaming and “legitimizing” violence against women.

    Amnesty International Portugal said in a statement that citing the Old Testament in a court ruling presents a “manifest violation” of the separation of church and state, which is part of the Portugal’s constitution.

    UMAR, the Women’s Union for Alternative and Response, has called for a protest rally on Friday in downtown Lisbon in response to the ruling. In a statement, the group said the verdict was “perplexing,” “revolting” and violated the rights, freedoms and “dignity” of the individual.

    “Evoking the Bible does not combine with the rule of law in our country and discredits the judicial norms,” UMAR said in the statement. The group said the decision could lead to “serious consequences” for Portuguese society, particularly for women.

    “It also conveys a message, especially to younger generations, of total impunity,” it added.

    Even some religious authorities condemned the ruling. The Rev. Manuel Barbosa, secretary of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, told the religious news agency Ecclesia that the judges incorrectly referred to scriptures in their ruling. He said no one should “justify any kind of violence, in this case domestic violence, even in the case of adultery.”

    While Barbosa said adultery should not be accepted in his faith, he urged the importance of preserving the dignity of women. He cited teachings from Pope Francis on forgiveness and mercy.

    The woman could appeal the decision to Portugal’s higher courts, the Associated Press reported.

    “It is evident that no human being can be satisfied with this,” Erica Duraes, a lawyer representing the woman, told Portuguese news outlet Diario de Noticias. She said the victim is “very worn out and tired from all of this” but declined to say if she would be taking further legal action.

    Portugal’s Superior Magistrates Council, which oversees judges, acknowledged the public criticism but said it could not intervene in judicial matters, even in light of “archaic, inappropriate or unfortunate” remarks from judges, according to Diario de Notícias

    It does not appear to be the first time Judge Neto de Moura has turned to biblical teachings when preparing sentences for domestic violence cases, the BBC reported.

    In one example, last year, the judge overturned a previous sentence of two years in prison in an assault case, questioning the “reliability” of the female victim’s testimony.

    “A woman who commits adultery is a false, hypocritical, dishonest, disloyal, futile, immoral person,” he said at the time. “In short, a person who lacks moral credibility.”

    According to Reuters, “ultra-orthodox patriarchy,” still exists in parts of the country. Before Portugal’s 1974 revolution, it was one of the “cornerstones” of the regime of dictator Antonio Salazar.

    The deputy director of the Portuguese news outlet that first reported the news, Inês Cardoso, wrote commentary on Monday criticizing the court decision. Cardoso titled it: “She was asking for it.”

    “Is this an isolated case in the Portuguese courts?” she asked. “Perhaps not, because sentences with discriminatory and abusive references arise sporadically.”

    In a discussion that echoed recent commentary in the U.S. over sexual harassment and assault, Cardoso equated the judge’s ruling to victim-blaming.

    “Even when she is a victim of aggression, harassment or sexual abuse, she is often considered the cause of the crime,” Cardoso wrote. “Either because she dresses provocatively, or because she fails in her role as a dedicated wife, or because she acts with ‘sexual disloyalty and immorality.’”

    “We know that there is much to be done to combat marital violence and gender inequality,” she said. “But the courts, like the other organs of sovereignty, exist to promote justice and equality. Not to validate prejudice and discrimination.”


    Portuguese man who kidnapped, beat ex-wife dodges jail time because her affair insulted his ‘honour’Portuguese man who kidnapped, beat ex-wife dodges jail time because her affair insulted his ‘honour’

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    Police have charged a 76-year-old man with arson after he was pulled out of the rubble of his collapsed central Hamilton home following a natural gas explosion Tuesday.

    Murdoch Campbell was charged after Hamilton police and the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office executed a search warrant at his 134 Gibson Ave. home as part of an investigation into the blast.

    “There was some deliberate act to cause the explosion,” Staff Sgt. Emidio Evangelista said Wednesday. “There’s extenuating circumstances, and it’s kind of a delicate matter.”

    Neighbouring homes were damaged, and the occupants of the street had to leave their residences, which factored into police’s decision to lay charges, Evangelista said.

    It took emergency responders about an hour to rescue Campbell — better known as “Murdie” — from the basement of his levelled two-storey home before taking him to Hamilton General Hospital, where he remained Wednesday.

    Neighbours and family described Campbell as blind and hard of hearing.

    Christiaan ter Stege, investigator with the fire marshal’s office, said he was told Campbell was recovering well.

    His service dog, a black Lab named “Flannel,” was staying with family after being rescued from the house Tuesday evening, said his sister-in-law, Helen Evans.

    “Flannel is a nervous wreck, and they’ve got to test his hearing,” she said Wednesday, noting concern it was affected by the blast because he was not responding when first brought out.

    Investigator ter Stege said he coaxed Flannel out using an animal control pole after spotting him wedged between two walls.

    “Eventually, he started trusting me and coming forward.”

    It was the first time ter Stege — a self-proclaimed “dog lover” — had to rescue a pup on the job.

    “It felt good to get the dog out,” he said. “It meant a lot to a lot of people — not just the owner, but his family and the residents on the street.”

    Evans said Flannel and Campbell had not yet been reunited as of early Wednesday afternoon.

    On Tuesday, neighbours described hearing a “bang” and smelling gas after the explosion.

    On Wednesday afternoon, heavy equipment tore the roof off the collapsed structure and sifted through the rubble, exposing a bed and dresser drawers, among other household items.

    Debris still lay strewn across the street, which remained blocked off around a handful of homes closest to the explosion.

    An inspector with the city’s building department requested an engineer examine the house next door at 136 Gibson Ave. for structural integrity before its four residents can return home. The wall of the destroyed home could be seen leaning up against the side of 136 Gibson.

    Evans said Tuesday Campbell had lived in the house for around 40 years, with his wife, Grace, who died in August after a long battle with a liver disorder.

    The Spectator reported earlier this month that the city named a public lane off Gibson Ave. after Grace, a well-known neighbourhood volunteer who spent more than 40 years helping keep the alley clean.

    The story said Murdoch bowls, curls and walks five miles a day.

    Freda Braker, manager at the Dundas Granite Curling Club where Campbell curls once week, said everyone at the club was waiting for an update on his condition.

    “My God, everyone is so upset, it’s so horrible,” she said. “We’re just keeping our thoughts and prayers with him and Flannel and his family.”

    Braker described him as “a lovely man” who has had a “tough year.” She said she last saw him at the club on Friday.

    Preliminary testing showed no safety concerns for residents in the area, said ter Stege.

    Investigators hoped to determine where in the house the explosion took place by Wednesday night, he said.

    “Once we do identify that area of origin, we’re going to try to identify a cause,” he said, adding they expected to remain on scene Thursday.

    Hamilton police continue to investigate and expect to be on scene until at least Thursday.


    Hamilton man, 76, charged with arson after house explosionHamilton man, 76, charged with arson after house explosion

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    The director of Canada’s spy service publicly acknowledged Wednesday that his agency suffers from a workplace climate of “retribution, favouritism, bullying and other problems,” which he said is “categorically unacceptable in a high-functioning, professional organization.”

    David Vigneault’s statement was accompanied by an executive summary of a “workplace climate assessment” conducted at the Toronto office of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which uncovered low morale and a possible exodus of employees who said they felt “disillusioned and disheartened.”

    One employee described the Toronto office as “the region progress forgot.”

    The report’s findings were specific to Toronto, but Vigneault said in his statement that information gathered in the assessment would benefit the entire service of more than 3,000 employees, with its headquarters in Ottawa.

    “Only by putting these kinds of issues on the table, and dealing with them directly, will the Service be able to continue to evolve as a strong, mission focused, and unified organization,” Vigneault wrote.

    The five intelligence officers and analysts who launched a $35-million lawsuit against CSIS this summer said they felt “vindicated” by the report’s findings and the director’s statement.

    “It took our group to come forward, at great personal cost, to finally get CSIS to admit that the organization is rife with harassment, discrimination and bullying. The place was toxic, and they have finally admitted it after years of denial,” wrote “Alex,” one of the complainants in the lawsuit, in an email to the Star.

    Alex alleged that he had faced years of homophobic harassment as an intelligence officer, including offensive emails sent by managers. One allegedly read: “Careful your Muslim in-laws don’t behead you in your sleep for being homo.”

    “Bahira,” a Muslim intelligence officer who had worked in Canada and abroad, thanked her Toronto colleagues for their candour and risking “the wrath of their senior management” in participating in the assessment. She also praised Vigneault for his transparency at what has traditionally been one of Canada’s most secretive organizations.

    “For 15 years as I was working to advance national security investigations, I was also fighting racism and bigotry. Today, I feel somewhat vindicated. I believe CSIS needs a workforce that is strong, engaged, and diverse at all levels. Canadians deserve that,” she wrote Wednesday in an email to the Star.

    “We have been harassed and bullied and beaten down for so long while CSIS managers denied that was a problem, that it is hard to believe that CSIS is finally admitting the truth. I hope it means that real change is possible, but I’m cynical now. I know too much about the organization to trust that anything will be done.”

    In an interview last month with the Star, both Alex and Bahira said they had suffered by the stress of publicly confronting their employer, but felt they had no other choice.

    In both court documents and during the interview last month, they used pseudonyms, since under Canada’s Security of Information Act, identifying a spy can be considered an offence. All five of the complainants are still CSIS employees, but are on medical leave.

    Alex had launched an internal complaint last year before taking a leave, which resulted in a third-party investigation and report. According to their statement of claim, that report found CSIS had an “old boys’ culture” and noted a general fear of managers’ “reprisals, retribution and punishment.”

    But Alex said the findings went nowhere and he alleges his career suffered, forcing him to take a stress leave and seek legal action.

    Although the lawsuit, first reported by the Star, wasn’t filed until July, lawyer John Phillips said the government had been aware of the allegations of his five clients for months.

    This latest workplace assessment at the Toronto office was conducted in April and June and about 30 per cent of the staff participated. It includes testimony from intelligence officers, non-intelligence officers, and managers.

    Other findings in the workplace assessment include:

    • “Frequent rotation of positions does not allow people to get a good handle on the files and managers have no time to make their mark or recover from their mistakes.”

    • “The culture of the organization is described as one where you are harshly blamed for mistakes and penalized; you do what you are told.”

    • “(S)ome pockets where jokes and discriminatory comments are still being made with regards to ethnicity and communities being monitored. There is still some bias against women and a general lack of thoughtfulness toward cultural differences and sensitivities.”

    • Weekly drinking sessions of “the in-group,” either at the office or a nearby pub where “decisions — often staffing decisions — were made.”

    • “Decisions regarding advancement are solely based on relationships and not competencies or experience. Reputations and relationships are therefore everything, but at the same time very fragile.”

    In describing a history of an “old boys’ club” climate, those interviewed spoke of behaviours that “included yelling, swearing, disrespectful, demeaning, misogynistic, offensive and inappropriate comments and jokes about employees from other employees but also managers.”

    The report did not address any of the specific allegations of the five employees suing CSIS. Those have not been proven in court.

    As the Star reported Tuesday, a federal judge slammed the Department of Justice for not responding faster to the claim.

    “(T)here is a course of action to be followed and you are no different from any other parties in Canada,” Justice Simon Noël said told government lawyers, according to a transcript of a September teleconference call. “It is not because you are the Attorney General of Canada that you can act as if the Rules do no apply. This is not acceptable.”

    Noël said the government had until Friday to file a statement of defence.

    According to the transcript of the Sept. 13 call with Noël, the government is attempting to “resolve the claim.”


    Head of spy agency CSIS admits ‘retribution, favouritism, bullying’ in workplaceHead of spy agency CSIS admits ‘retribution, favouritism, bullying’ in workplace

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    Taking the stand in his own defence earlier this year, Toronto police sergeant Christopher Heard had adamantly denied the allegations of two young women with strikingly similar accounts of being groped by him, an officer they’d trusted, inside his police car.

    “Absolutely not,” Heard said during his June trial, when asked if he inappropriately touched the inner thigh of a 27-year-old woman he’d picked up in the Entertainment District in September, 2015.

    “Not once” he’d said when questioned on whether he’d similarly sexually assaulted a 25-year-old woman inside his police vehicle less than six weeks later.

    The vehement denials didn’t pass muster with Ontario Court Justice Russell Otter, presiding over Heard’s judge-alone trial on two counts of sexual assault.

    The “blunt and terse denials of inappropriate touching” lacked in reliability and credibility, the judge ruled, finding much of Heard’s evidence to be “not credible.”

    But Otter had significant doubts, too, about the reliability of the two complainants’ accounts — concerns sufficient enough to dismiss the charges against the longtime Toronto police officer at a Scarborough court Wednesday.

    Heard, a 46-year-old married father of three, hugged his wife and supporters when Otter announced the not-guilty finding after reading out his lengthy judgment to a full courtroom. The officer later left the courthouse without comment.

    Heard has been suspended with pay since the second sexual assault charge was laid in May 2016. It was not immediately clear Wednesday whether Heard will return to active duty; the officer is still facing professional misconduct charges stemming from the case.

    While clearing Heard of criminal charges, Otter levied harsh criticism at the officer for his conduct, chastising him for “egregious” and “brazen” behaviour that included failing to turn on his in-car camera both times he picked up the women to drive them home.

    Otter noted in particular that Heard knew he was under criminal investigation by Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), in connection to the first alleged sexual assault — “yet he conducted himself in a highly similar fashion with (the second complainant) . . . He offered a lone intoxicated female a safe ride home in his police vehicle with all police recording equipment shut off.

    “Such blatant conduct defies common sense and risks his professional career.”

    Gary Clewley, Heard’s lawyer, acknowledged the judge’s criticisms about Heard’s professionalism but said, overall, his client is happy and relieved. He called Otter’s judgment “lengthy and thorough.”

    Asked whether Heard would be picking up lone women and offering them rides home, Clewley said no — “those days are over,” he said.

    Neither of the complainants, whose identities are covered by a publication ban, were in court Wednesday.

    The two complainants, strangers to one another, had come forward with “strikingly similar” accounts, Otter said, adding there was no evidence of collusion.

    Both women testified that they had trusted Heard when they accepted his offer of a ride home, believing they were safe with a police officer.

    “I expected to trust an officer of the law,” said one of the alleged victims.

    Otter nonetheless found the testimony of the first complainant was inconsistent with her friend’s account of the night, including how much she had to drink. The judge also ruled that the 27-year-old complainant had “antipathy” toward the police and “this strongly felt sentiment significantly, in my view, affected her overall credibility and reliability.”

    The young woman’s evidence was insufficient to find Heard guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge ruled.

    Otter came to the same conclusion concerning the second complainant, who alleged she was assaulted on November 1, 2015. Citing among his reasons phone records that directly contradict her evidence, the judge found the 25-year-old woman’s testimony inconsistent.

    “I find that I have reasonable doubt as to whether the sexual assault occurred,” he wrote.

    At the time of the incidents, Heard was supervising a group of constables in downtown Toronto’s 52 Division, but had been working alone on the shifts in question.

    In both cases, Heard did not inform Toronto police dispatch that he was transporting a young woman home. “I should have. It just didn’t seem like a big thing . . . I wasn’t going to be gone for long,” he testified.

    Heard is still facing misconduct charges under the Ontario Police Services Act in connection to the September incident, including not activating his in-car camera, a failure that means there is no audio or video evidence of his contact with the first complainant.

    Heard also faces a misconduct charge related to his failure to record all of his interaction with the 27-year-old woman in his police notes.

    Indeed, as criticized by Otter, Heard only made notes about his interaction with that woman after he was advised that the SIU had opened an investigation into his conduct that September night.

    “His failure to abide by police policies and protocols in the use of police equipment defies logic and common sense. I agree with the Crown that such a failure created the opportunity to engage in wrongful conduct that would go undetected,” Otter wrote in his decision.

    A Toronto police spokesperson confirmed Heard is also facing further professional misconduct allegations in connection to the November 1 incident, but the details were not available by press time Wednesday.

    Wendy Gillis can be reached at wgillis@thestar.ca


    Toronto police sergeant found not guilty on two counts of sexual assaultToronto police sergeant found not guilty on two counts of sexual assault

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