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    Hafiz Fiaz Ahmad left behind his family and fled repeated threats from religious extremists in Pakistan to seek asylum in Canada in March.

    The 37-year-old native of Lahore was quickly scheduled for a refugee hearing on June 21. However, a week before the proceedings, he received a letter from the Immigration and Refugee Board informing him that his hearing was cancelled because his security clearance by border officials was still pending.

    “I was prepared. My lawyer was prepared. I couldn’t wait to tell my story to a refugee judge,” said Ahmad, who said he was targeted by religious fanatics for his secular views.

    “My wife, two boys and daughter are still back home. I’m safe here but they are not. I just feel depressed not knowing even when I will have my day (of hearing).”

    Despite law that requires all refugee hearings to be heard within 60 days once a claim is initially deemed eligible by an immigration officer, more and more asylum hearings like Ahmad’s have been suspended indefinitely because of delays at the Canada Border Services Agency in issuing clearances of what is known as front-end security screening.

    According to the refugee board, only 46 per cent of asylum claims were heard within the statutory timeline in April, far below the 84 per cent mark two years ago.

    Failures to observe the scheduling timelines are caused by delays in security clearances, operational limitations or unavailability of interpreters or counsel.

    However, the proportion of hearing cancellations due to delays in obtaining a security clearance has ballooned from just 6 per cent two years ago to a peak of 55 per cent in December, meaning more than half of cancelled hearings were due to border officials’ inability to meet timelines for assessing if a claimant poses threats to Canada due to criminal or security concerns.

    Although cancellations due to a pending security clearance were down to just 13 per cent in April, cases cancelled due to so-called operational limitations such as unavailability of refugee judges was up to 32 per cent from 8 per cent in 2015 and 13 per cent in 2016.

    In the first four months of this year, 1,769 refugee hearings were cancelled because claimants’ security clearances were not ready. The border agency performed 12,997 security checks for refugees in 2015 and 19,449 last year.

    “The (former) Conservative government has put in place a system with strict timelines without the resources to meet the timelines,” said Ahmad’s lawyer, Max Berger.

    “Lots of claimants are devastated. They are psyched to tell their stories and have their date in (refugee) courts. The hidden cost is the delays in their family reunification.”

    The refugee board said the border agency is responsible for informing it that security screening has been completed. The board doesn’t receive the actual security screening report but only a confirmation if a hearing can go ahead.

    “Security screening is done to ensure that individuals who might pose a risk to Canada would not be granted protection and could not use the refugee determination process to gain admittance to Canada,” said Line-Alice Guibert-Wolff, a spokesperson for the board.

    “In those cases where confirmation of security screening has not been received in time for the initially scheduled hearing, the (refugee board) will remove the hearing from the schedule and set a new date and time for the hearing as soon as feasible upon confirmation of the security screening.”

    It is not known how long it takes to schedule a new hearing but claimants often are given a “target” date six months later.

    “Front-end securing screening for an individual refugee claimant may take time depending on complexity or requirements for additional research,” said border agency spokesperson Patrizia Giolti.

    “While there is no one specific factor that may impact the (security clearance) processing workload and timelines, 2016 has seen a significant increase over the previous year, in the number of asylum claims.”

    The agency has started to give the refugee board two weeks’ notice if a screening is expected to be completed in time for a hearing and has brought in additional staff to work over the summer to perform security screening to address the backlog, said Giolti.

    Calling the situation a “nightmare,” lawyer Raoul Boulakia said he has had a case where a refugee judge felt there was compelling reasons to grant asylum to a persecuted Afghan journalist and was ready to proceed with a hearing. However, the case was held up without a completed security clearance.

    Recently, the refugee board has introduced a “50/50” policy by postponing 50 per cent of all new asylum cases to deal what’s known as legacy cases, which were put on the back-burner after December 2012, when the then Tory government overhauled the system to impose the statutory timeline to expedite the processing of refugee claims.

    By delaying the hearings without injecting more resources, Boulakia said the problem is simply snowballing and gets worse down the road.

    Essey Berhane Debesay fled Eritrea’s oppressive regime in 2008 and arrived in Canada last August after travelling over nine years across Africa, the Middle East, Mexico and the United States seeking asylum.

    When he was released from a prison in Florida after a 15-month immigration detention, the refugee clandestinely crossed through Emerson, Manitoba, on foot full of hope that someone would finally hear his story and let him settle here.

    The former Eritrean high school teacher was excited and ready for his scheduled asylum hearing on October 13, only to be told by the refugee board that morning that the hearing was cancelled because the border agency had failed to complete his security screening in time.

    “I just collapsed,” said Debesay, 35. “I felt so beaten up. I just want to tell my story to a refugee judge. I have waited all these years to tell my story. We are human beings. It is a lot of pain.”

    In a letter about the cancellation of Debesay’s hearing, the refugee board said it aimed to hear his case in early February. Debesay and his lawyer said they have been calling and writing to the board for a hearing date, but were told to stop contacting them and wait.

    From January to May, Canada received asylum claims from 15,170 people, including 5,620 who came via the U.S.

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    Before Prakash John walked on stage with his band, The Lincolns, at the Westin Hotel in Edmonton nearly three decades ago, he knew this gig was going to be a little different from any he had played in his illustrious career.

    It was a wedding reception, in no way a typical show for this Toronto-based band that toured extensively, playing its brand of R&B classics and some originals in cabarets and taverns across Canada.

    On this night, John didn’t have to worry about drawing patrons; the guest list was set and it read like a who’s who of Canadian sports and entertainment celebrities.

    The Lincolns’ only concern was to make sure the party went full swing for the reception that followed Canada’s “Royal Wedding” between hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky and his bride, actress Janet Jones.

    “I think I’ve only played three weddings, two for my friends and this one,” John said. “I knew that this would be an unforgettable Canadian event, so you have to play it. I was thrilled to be invited.”

    John founded The Lincolns in 1979, the same year Gretzky played his first NHL game with the Edmonton Oilers. And like The Great One and his cohorts they would be performing for on the evening of July 16, 1988, he expected excellence on stage as they did on the ice.

    If John was feeling any pressure he didn’t let it show.

    “The list of 700 invited guests included one prime minister, several hockey immortals, assorted sports and entertainment celebrities and Vanna White.” wrote Howard Witt in the Chicago Tribune. “So momentous is the occasion that one Canadian television network sought to broadcast the wedding live from coast to coast, but Gretzky checked the idea because it threatened to spoil the intimacy of the ceremony. The whole affair has been billed as Canada’s ‘Royal Wedding.’ ”

    Among his peers in the ballroom was world renowned composer/producer David Foster, a man John knew from those heady days in Yorkville when they were both cutting their teeth in Toronto’s burgeoning music scene. Alan Frew, frontman for the chart-topping band Glass Tiger, was also in attendance.

    And the place cards on the tables ran down like a hockey card checklist of superstars, past and present. Recognizing familiar names like Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Mark Messier and Soviet standout Vladislav Tretiak, John flipped a few over, an ideal canvas to get autographs for his infant son, Jordan.

    With each passing speech, The Lincolns’ time for their first set was pushed further into the night. John, much like a professional athlete watching an extended pre-game ceremony from the bench, had his mind elsewhere — on making sure the group was firing on all cylinders once it came time to play.

    At some point soon they would be on, he thought, and they had better deliver their best — or better, given the circumstances.

    “You want to have the best lineup and the best personnel for a specific gig, and he certainly handled that gig like a sport because he inflated the personnel of the band and cherry-picked the best players. He was like a coach, for sure,” said Jack Semple, a guitarist and lead vocalist for The Lincolns. “He was in his element barking orders to everybody and moving people around. It was brilliant to see.”

    Now if only that organ pedal would arrive . . .

    Before John was ever a band leader, he was a humble bass player that would ascend to the top echelons of the music industry under unique circumstances — beginning with his family’s relocation to Canada from India as a 13-year-old in 1960.

    He had a classical music background from his time at the prestigious Cathedral and John Connon School in Bombay (now Mumbai), where he learned the violin and piano as well as sang in the choir. As he settled with his family in Scarborough, his influences would soon expand beyond Mozart and Beethoven thanks to WUFO 1080, an AM radio station broadcasting just south of the border in Buffalo, N.Y.

    “That’s when I heard rhythm and blues and that’s what turned me on to that great music,” the 69-year-old said. “At that time in Canada, R&B was king in Toronto. Yonge Street and Yorkville were the centres of music.”

    Inspired by the likes of Motown legend James Jamerson Jr., Larry Graham (Sly and the Family Stone) and Chuck Rainey, John picked up the bass guitar and was soon camping out downtown at venues like Le Coq d’Or and the Colonial Tavern on Saturdays or would skip church on Sunday to frequent the now-famous Riverboat and Purple Onion in Yorkville. There, he could soak in a scene which boasted an astounding talent pool.

    John made a name for himself as a disciplined and reliable player in Toronto in the mid-1960s and was recruited by a top local band named Mandala, which later morphed into Bush. When Bush moved to Los Angeles they were signed to a short-lived record deal in 1969.

    But it was during the 1970s that his star would rise.

    When Bush disbanded, George Clinton recruited John to play with Funkadelic after having previously filled in for Clinton’s other band, Parliament. From there he moved on to what was supposed to be a 10-day stint with Lou Reed in 1973 to record Rock ’n’ Roll Animal. Almost two years and three album credits later he transitioned to working with shock rocker Alice Cooper, closing out the decade as a contributor to three more albums, highlighted by the conceptual hit “Welcome to my Nightmare” (1975) and performing on the subsequent world tour.

    After residing in New York and L.A. for nearly 10 years, John had an itch to return to his roots by the turn of the 1980s.

    “After I finished my stint with Alice I came back to Toronto and I thought, ‘I’ve always wanted to have a really kickin’ ’60s R&B band’ because that’s my background,” he said. “I formed a great band, I was blessed with some tremendous players over the years, we were highly disciplined and I took that band on a mission to play some of the outposts of Canada where I knew there were R&B fans.”

    In The Lincolns, John would have a fluid group where he was the only true constant. Musicians came and went over the years but the one thing that was an absolute necessity was that in order to be a member of the band, you had to be able to play at the highest level.

    The Lincolns’ lineup over the years included the likes of respected horn players Tony Carlucci, Earl Seymour and Vern Dorge (the latter two from Blood, Sweat and Tears), guitarists Greg Lowe and Semple, Joe Ingrao gracing the keys and Greg Critchley on drums.

    Mark Armstrong remembers attending their concerts in Toronto while studying music at Humber College. He was always impressed at how they arranged classic R&B songs and the fact his mentor, Seymour, was a member added to his respect for The Lincolns.

    “It was a well-oiled machine, the way Prakash ran the band,” said Armstrong, now a professional saxophonist based in Indianapolis. “There would be an original recording that might have been two-and-a-half to three minutes long but by the time he was finished with the arrangement, along with input from other people as well, that two-and-a-half-minute song might be eight or nine minutes.”

    One night after a show he approached John about coming on board and was elated when he later got a phone call to fill in for a set. Shortly thereafter he was hired on a full-time basis, mere months ahead to Gretzky’s wedding.

    “At the time my girlfriend’s parents were very impressed that I would be playing the wedding, (but) otherwise they were not pleased about their daughter dating a musician,” he said. “As a working musician, playing with The Lincolns was, if not the best, . . . definitely one of the best gigs you could have. It was a gig that everybody wanted, so it was a big deal mainly because of the high standards that were set in the band and just to be part of it was definitely something to be proud of.”

    News of the proposal broke on Edmonton radio in early spring, and while media and fans were focused on the Oilers’ quest to win the Stanley Cup for a fourth time in five seasons, the anticipation of the nuptials grew.

    “It was never out of mind that Gretzky’s wedding would be an event,” recalled writer Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun, a Hockey Hall of Fame journalist invited to attend.

    The timeline leading up to his wedding and the weeks following turned out to be a seminal time not only in his career, but in the trajectory of the game itself.

    On May 26, 1988 the Oilers swept the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup final on home ice, Gretzky was awarded his second Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs, and without question he was the toast of the town.

    By Aug. 9, just 27 years old and in his prime, he was shipped to the Los Angeles Kings in the most unthinkable and monumental trade in NHL history.

    In between the joy of another Cup win and the tears that flowed during his shocking departure from the City of Champions was the wedding of the most famous Canadian athlete that has ever lived.

    “It was the most notable wedding in Canada’s recent history,” said journalist Al Strachan, who attended the wedding and, like Jones, is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. “Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau was married about 20 years earlier (in highly publicized nuptials with Margaret Sinclair) and I’m not even sure if the country paid as much attention to that as they did for Wayne’s.”

    Acclaimed composer George Blondheim, an Edmontonian and friend of Wayne and Janet, agreed to help take care of the music for their special occasion. He arranged for members of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra to play at the church ceremony and performed a jazz piano set prior to the dinner. When the discussion came to picking a band to cap off the celebration there was little doubt who should get the gig.

    “The Lincolns were just the best, classiest band you could have wanted to at your wedding,” Blondheim said. “If you place yourself in 1988, The Lincolns toured nationally and across the U.S. They were standing-room only because they were so professional and so good.”

    Alper agrees The Lincolns were a perfect fit and it was not surprising that someone with Blondheim’s knowledge would select them to be a part of the soundtrack for The Great One’s big day.

    “They could have gone for anyone, they could have had Elton John play and no one would have batted an eyelash,” he said. “For people who knew who they were, The Lincolns were a band to watch when they came into your town. Some didn’t have a clue who they were watching and that they were actually music royalty.”

    While many of the wedding guests may not have known of The Lincolns, the Oilers were very familiar with their music. Over the years they had seen them perform many times at venues in Edmonton like the Sidetrack Cafe, the type of place The Lincolns were hired to play for several nights at a time in those days.

    Blondheim had phoned John with the offer and they met at the Sidetrack one night several months before the wedding. John recalls Wayne and Janet coming in to see the band that weekend and they spoke briefly after a show. The details were soon ironed out.

    As summer officially started and the grand occasion drew closer, the media frenzy began to pick up in earnest. What designer wedding dress would Janet wear? How much did Wayne pay for her ring? Was the champagne really $3,000 a bottle?

    On the day of the wedding, thousands of people lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the happy couple and their celebrity friends — including emcee Alan Thicke — as they arrived and departed from St. Joseph’s Basilica.

    “Who in the world of sports has had a royal wedding, period? Because that’s what it was without a word of exaggeration,” said Jones, who covered Gretzky’s entire professional career, spanning from the late 1970s in the World Hockey Association until he retired in 1999 as a member of the New York Rangers. “There was a story on everything. Every part of the wedding was a sidebar. There was a buildup for days of all this stuff.”

    John and the band arrived in Edmonton the week of the ceremony to get prepared and the growing buzz became increasingly palpable as the big day drew closer.

    “Before the wedding, all these writers were guessing as to what band would be playing at the Gretzky wedding,” he said. “I’d be laughing to myself, nobody even thought of us, all these pundits naming all these other bands until the day before or something when they found out.”

    Suddenly he was getting bombarded from all angles for access to the reception, people phoning him at his hotel or contacting him through mutual acquaintances.

    Shaking off sleuthing journalists was one thing, but dealing with people within his own industry was another.

    John says the lead singer of arguably Canada’s hottest band at the time put in a last-minute request, through their manager, to sing with The Lincolns.

    “I said (to the manager), ‘OK, if he is going to do a song, I’ll give him a choice of a couple of R&B standards and then maybe we will consider one of his tunes, but he’s gotta be there at sound check and if he doesn’t rehearse with me, there is no way,’ ” John recalled. “He doesn’t show up for the sound check (the afternoon of the wedding). I don’t allow anybody to get on stage with The Lincolns unless we have run through the tunes and I’m satisfied it’s not going to be an embarrassment to the guest singer or to the band. Everybody thinks they are going to enhance my show with their presence. Well, if you’re Ray Charles, yeah. If you’re Aretha Franklin, yeah.”

    It was clear John didn’t hold him in the same esteem and he never relented on his stance. The show would go on as initially planned, except for one major detail.

    Not wanting to leave anything to chance, John made the hard decision of substituting his current drummer with someone more experienced, and so Jeff Stevens was scratched from the lineup, replaced by Critchley, a veteran who had played with the band and was well versed with their repertoire. Although he would still attend the reception, Stevens understandably did not receive the news well.

    Semple explains that the switch was not an indictment of Stevens’ ability as much as it was a testament to John’s musical disposition.

    “It hurt Jeff’s feelings but at the same time, Prakash comes from the old school R&B thing,” the Juno Award winner said from his home in Regina. “James Brown had two drummers with him all the time and when one drummer was going to work into the band, he brought his drums and sat beside the stage in the wings and waited for James Brown to give him the look for him to play, and he might go on the road for six months before he got the look, so in Prakash’s world that was totally acceptable to do something like that.”

    Two months earlier, Bob Schindle’s heart was racing as sat behind the Bruins bench at Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton, watching Gretzky raise the Stanley Cup high over his head and then gather with his teammates at centre ice for an impromptu team photo in what would be his final game with the Oilers.

    His pulse was now pounding for a completely different reason.

    The veteran soundman was sprinting up the escalator at the Westin carrying a cardboard box. As he reached the second floor he was stopped by the RCMP.

    Ensuring security for an event of this magnitude necessitated a stern inquiry as to what he was holding and why he was in such a hurry. Explaining as fast as he could, he told the officers that moments ago a call came in to pick up a package at the front desk under the name of Prakash John. A broken pedal rendered the Hammond organ useless just hours before show time and replacement pedal had been ordered.

    “This was like half an hour before they were supposed to play, fingernail-biting stuff,” recounts Schindle, the head of sound for the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto. “We were resigned to the fact that this pedal wasn’t going to make it and there wasn’t going to be an organ . . . we got it in and it worked fine.”

    With everything in place just in the nick of time, John and The Lincolns took the stage with one pressing matter at hand before they kicked off their seven-song set — the Gretzkys’ first dance.

    They would play the backing music while a female vocalist would sing “When a Man Loves a Woman.” What could possibly go wrong now?

    “We did the first dance thing and I am probably purposely forgetting the song and wiping it out of my memory,” he said shaking his head. “She was reading the music off of a stand in rehearsal but I didn’t think she would use it for the reception!”

    The Lincolns kicked the show off with “Back at the Chicken Shack,” before transitioning into Motown favourites “Soul Man” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

    Almost immediately the dance floor begin to swell, an encouraging sign.

    John was further buoyed by the presence of Gordie Howe, who was one of the first people on the dance floor and, as it would turn out, one of the last to leave. At the time, the man known as Mr. Hockey held the NHL’s all-time record for points (1,850). Gretzky would surpass him a year later as a member of the Kings in an emotional “road” game against his former team.

    “Gordie Howe and his wife, Colleen, were dancing right in front of the band, as soon as we started playing, he was there. It was amazing to see,” said John, beaming with childlike glee. “He is from Detroit and he said, ‘That’s my music!’ ”

    After they closed their set with “Under the Boardwalk” and “Knock on Wood,” Critchley, now a successful record producer and songwriter in Los Angeles, remembers Gretzky thanking each member of the band with “a really warm and connected handshake, like us being there really meant something to him.”

    But John couldn’t shake the thought that he left something on the table, even though the consensus amongst the celebrants was the opposite.

    “The Lincolns were a huge hit. It was fabulous,” Blondheim said. “They were killer and played their brains out.”

    These days, many of the musicians who made up The Lincolns over the years, including a significant number that performed at “The Royal Wedding,” are scattered throughout North America.

    From California to the mid-west and across the Canadian prairies, they have enjoyed success in their respective independent music endeavours, as has John, who is now settled in Oakville and actively involved in the career of his son, Jordan.

    In early 2016, at the behest of Prince, John was hired by Live Nation as a sound manager for select dates on the late singer’s stripped-down final “Piano & A Microphone Tour.”

    The two met a decade prior after Prince watched John perform with Jordan at Blues on Bellair in Yorkville one evening while he was still living in Toronto.

    In fact, performing with Jordan is where you are most likely to find John.

    Most Monday nights he is perched on a stool at the back of The Orbit Room on College Street, bass in hand, doing what he does best, anchoring the backing band for his talented heir.

    Occasionally, he gets asked about that midsummer night all those years ago and when it comes up, John still thinks the same thing.

    “It was a great event but I am haunted by it,” he said. “I would have done a free gig for the Gretzkys just to appease my own conscience.”

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    DETROIT—When the Blue Jays’ manager stated following one of the most disheartening losses of the year that “the way we’ve been playing, we’re where we should be,” that’s a clear indictment of the first 91 games of their season, as they sit at 42-49 with seven teams ahead of them for the second wild card.

    The struggling Jays seem to be moonwalking towards a precipice with a combination of poor starting pitching, shoddy defence and a lack of situational hitting, where they rely too much on their sudden-strike capability.

    The Tigers won 6-5 on Sunday by doing every little thing better on offence.

    “That was there for the taking,” John Gibbons said. “We just didn’t play good enough ball. That’s the bottom line. We took the lead, gave it right back. Got the lead back again. It’s tough to ask your bullpen to go five clean innings there at the end.”

    The Jays scored three in the first on a pair of home runs. But with Marco Estrada on the mound the Tigers tied it up efficiently, using two walks, an infield hit, a double and back-to-back sacrifice flies.

    Then, in the 11th, the Tigers got leadoff man Alex Avila to first on a walk and sacrificed him to second. A two-out error by third baseman Josh Donaldson on a hot grounder over the bag was followed by a pair of walks and the walk-off celebration in Motown began.

    Meanwhile, the Jays were 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position, scoring all five of their runs on homers.

    But it’s the Jays’ defence that has taken the biggest step backwards from 2015-16, a deficiency that showed up on Sunday in non-support of an already struggling Estrada. He needed more.

    In the first inning, Donaldson slid to backhand a ball, then made an ill-advised throw from one knee on an infield hit that allowed Ian Kinsler to stroll over to third, later scoring.

    In the third, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki glided into the hole to his right, with the ball glancing off his glove for an error.

    In the fourth inning, centre fielder Kevin Pillar seemed to assume that a fly ball to right centre would be caught by Jose Bautista, but instead it dropped gently onto the Metallica-deadened grass for a double. James McCann then drove a ball deep to left that Ezequiel Carrera leaped for and misplayed into a double.

    Estrada retired the next two Tigers, then issued a walk to Nick Castellanos that spelled the end of his night. Estrada had a point that he wasn’t as bad as it seemed. But he was very careful in his choice of words regarding the defence.

    “I don’t know how many guys I walked after the first inning,” Estrada said. “I walked a few more, and when balls fall in those guys are going to score. I don’t really need to change much, to be honest. I like what I was doing. I think if it was a different day things would have gone differently. I’m taking a lot of positive things from this game. It’s unfortunate what happened.”

    There were so many things that went wrong, including from a managerial perspective. Gibbons was giving all-star Justin Smoak a day off his feet by allowing him to DH while Kendrys Morales handled first base. That did not work out well.

    With only three bench players, Gibbons was unable to pinch run for Morales in an attempt for an insurance run in the eighth, and was unable to get Smoak back at first base late in the game while nursing a lead, otherwise the pitcher would have had to bat. Morales botched a ground ball for an error leading off the seventh.

    Gibbons was also unable to get Russ Martin in to end the game behind the plate with the lead because he was also the last position player left on a short bench in extra innings.

    Meanwhile, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus made every move to put his team in a position to win: pinch-running for the two Martinezes: J.D. after he had just stolen second, and Victor as the potential go-ahead run in the eighth. He pinch-hit for catcher McCann late, and called for a bunt to put the winning run on second in the 11th.

    The Tigers stole three bases off Jays backup Miguel Montero, and would have had a fourth if the already-safe Justin Upton had not bounced up off the bag. It was Montero’s first runner thrown out in 2017, in 35 attempts.

    The Tigers also: advanced on a wild pitch, took second on fielder’s indifference and had a sacrifice bunt and two sac flies.

    As far as Estrada is concerned, he’s not off the hook for his head-scratching steps backward since June 1. In eight starts since the end of May, Estrada is 0-4 with four no-decisions and a 9.50 ERA. He has thrown 759 pitches to wend his way through 36 innings. That’s 181 pitches every nine innings, with a 2.00 WHIP.

    While the starting pitching has been injured and underwhelming, the team defence has been jaw-droppingly non-supportive. It’s not just one position and it’s not just errors. It’s also plays not made and poor execution.

    After the game, Gibbons was downcast and rightly so. His options in left field are below average defensively with Carrera and Steve Pearce. His options at second base are offensively challenged Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney.

    His backup catcher, Montero, threw down to second base on a bounce four times Sunday, and almost drilled pitcher Joe Biagini, who ducked out of the way on the mound. The once all-world defence on the left side of the infield with Donaldson and Tulowitzki has been less than spectacular, making eight errors apiece. One suspects that lower-body injuries may still be in play.

    So now it’s on to Boston, where the Jays can either make up ground in the AL East against the first-place Red Sox — or be buried.

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    On her first-ever visit to the High Park Zoo on Saturday, Chantrey Casey was greeted by a dead bison.

    It was a poor introduction to the 124-year-old attraction. It left Casey saying the place should be closed.

    “The bison’s legs were sticking straight out, very abnormally. Its body didn’t look limp, it looked stiff,” she said.

    The late bison, known as Alberta, was one of the zoo’s oldest animals. She was in good health but had been lethargic in the days leading up to her death, said Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation spokesperson Matthew Cutler.

    He said the public alerted staff to the dead animal and a post-mortem will be done to learn more.

    Although the zoo was closed late Saturday afternoon to remove the bison, 24 hours later, it was teeming with families waiting to glimpse its emus, yaks and reindeer.

    The bison’s death was the latest in a series of high-profile incidents — from financial uncertainty to animal escapes — that have put High Park Zoo in the headlines.

    In 2015, a peacock got loose causing a sensation on rooftops around nearby Roncesvalles Ave. In 2016, two capybaras bolted, leading to a $15,000 city-wide search.

    On Saturday, Casey posted a photo of the dead bison on Facebook, urging her friends to “get this place shut down.”

    She told the Star on Sunday that she was unimpressed with the park staff’s handling of Alberta’s death.

    She said she called Toronto’s 311 hotline at 3:15 p.m. but, according to Cutler, the zoo was not closed to deal with the bison until 4:30 p.m.

    Visitors continued to walk by the bison pen even after the zoo was supposedly closed, said Casey. And she said she was frustrated by the lack of staff around when she first noticed the bison was dead.

    In 2011, High Park Zoo almost lost its municipal funding in a cost-cutting bid by Mayor Rob Ford, but a public outcry prompted the city to maintain the attraction.

    Cutler said the zoo attracts about 600,000 visits a year.

    At midday Sunday, kids squealed with laughter as zookeepers invited them to feed llamas, pet rabbits and get close to the famed capybara babies.

    Paul Leventis and Danielle Wang had brought their kids to High Park for a play date. Leventis said any time his family visits the park, they spend at least 20 minutes looking at the animals.

    “It’s a pretty unique (attraction),” Leventis said.

    And it’s great to have it right in the city, since the Toronto Zoo is so far away, added Wang.

    Anieza Kacaj, 9, was snapping pictures of her family in front of deer and sheep.

    She and her brothers Alesio, 13, and Amadeo, 5, had walked through the entire zoo, but Anieza was still excited about the rabbits by the zoo’s entrance.

    “It’s so nice that they brought all these animals here,” Anieza said.

    “These animals are so spread out around the world. And it’s free and so many places you have to pay to see animals,” Anieza added.

    Ted Marras lives within walking distance of High Park. He said he used to come to the zoo more often when his son was younger, but he still stops by on weekend strolls.

    “It’s fantastic to see kids having a blast, looking at the animals and learning about the animals,” he said.

    With files from Alanna Rizza

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    Muslims in the Quebec City area are facing disappointment and uncertainty after voters in a small town close to the provincial capital voted Sunday night to stop the development of a cemetery catering to the Islamic faith.

    In a closely watched referendum Sunday night, just 36 residents of Saint-Apollinaire, a town of around 6,000 southwest of Quebec City, voted 19-16 to overturn zoning changes made earlier this year allowing the cemetery. One ballot was rejected.

    “It’s very disappointing,” Mohamed Labidi, president of the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, told the Star Sunday night. “We feel ignored ... the action in Saint-Apollinaire is against living together.”

    The centre was the driving force behind the purchase of a plot of land beside an existing cemetery in Saint-Apollinaire earlier this year that members hoped would become their own. Now Labidi says he will be meeting with his administration to come up with another plan.

    The result will have ramifications not just for Muslims in the Quebec City area, but across the province, given that there is only one Muslim-run cemetery in Quebec. Searches for other suitable land will likely be needed, Labidi says.

    The project’s genesis goes back to 2016 when Sylvain Roy, the director of the non-denominational Harmonia funeral home in Saint-Apollinaire, heard from a Muslim family who couldn’t find a local cemetery where they could bury a loved one in accordance with the Islamic faith.

    The lack of options for Muslims in the province became more widely known following a shooting rampage in January 2017 at a Quebec City mosque. The incident, which took place during evening prayers on Jan. 29, left six men dead and 19 others injured. One of the dead was buried in Laval, where the only Muslim-run cemetery in Quebec is located. The bodies of the other five were repatriated to their countries of origin.

    In February, Harmonia funeral home agreed to sell a parcel of land to the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec in Saint-Apollinaire, a deal that was unanimously approved by council when it voted for zoning changes that would allow for the Muslim-run cemetery.

    The deal was put on hold thanks to a rule that allows residents whose properties could be affected by the zoning change to vote on council’s decision. Forty-nine residents registered to vote in early July, but only 36 cast their ballots Sunday.

    Roy, of the Harmonia funeral home, told the Star the result is “not a good message to the Muslims of Quebec.”

    “It’s quite difficult to understand what’s happened there. What we want to present is a symbol of harmony — just two cemeteries side by side,” he said. “It’s a symbol of what our country wants to say to the world but now we’ve received a no. It’s quite a surprise.”

    Saint-Apollinaire Mayor Bernard Ouellet said he was disappointed by the result.

    “My community in general, I think that above all, what led their choice was really fear and disinformation,” he told reporters. “I’m convinced of it.”

    Opponents of the project said Muslims should be buried in Islamic sections of existing cemeteries. Sunny Létourneau, the leader of the Saint-Apollinaire group against the zoning change, told the Star last week that she believes cemeteries run by religious groups of any kind cause problems because of their exclusivity.

    With files from Allan Woods and Canadian Press

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    John Doe was the ghost who haunted Ontario’s legal system for 14 years.

    No one knows anything about his life before his first run-in with police at an Ontario library in 2003. No one knows his real name or birthday.

    Most of all, no one knows what led him to set up camp beside the Toronto rail corridor where police fatally shot him in June 2016 after an attempted arrest went horribly wrong. He continues to confound officials, even from the grave.

    “Mr. Doe is an enigma,” wrote Justice Gary Trotter in a 2011 judgment assessing the man’s fitness to stand trial. “Apart from his mounting criminal record, little else is known about Mr. Doe.”

    Doe had a long history of pedophilia, violence against police and disobeying every legal order he was ever given, according to Trotter’s judgment. The same document notes Doe was selectively mute, refusing to reveal anything about himself to anyone.

    Was he Roy Norman, who was caught stealing from a Goodwill donation box in 2007? Though he told officers he was 16, they suspected he was closer to 30, court documents said.

    Or was he Chung Nu or Jonathan Grant, two other aliases police say he used?

    Toronto police identified Doe by his fingerprints through various arrests and incarcerations, according to Trotter’s judgment.

    Doe’s former lawyer, Brian Irvine, confirmed to the Star that the man who was the subject of Trotter’s decision was the same as the one killed beside the train tracks last year.

    Toronto police Const. Jenifferjit Sidhu said it would generally be remarkable for anyone to remain anonymous to the law for so long.

    “I can’t think of any instance where we haven’t been able to eventually get the information, and I’ve been on for 19 years,” she said.

    Over the years, Toronto police became quite familiar with Doe. He had numerous interactions with officers.

    In 2003, Doe repeatedly tried to approach a 15-year-old girl working at a library and grabbed her hand, according to court documents.

    “You cannot talk to me this way. You’re a woman. You cannot talk until I’m finished,” Doe reportedly told the girl.

    A “violent struggle ensued” when police tried to arrest him, the 2011 judgment noted.

    A month later, Doe was convicted of sexual assault after trying to kiss a 13-year-old boy on the lips.

    Then, in 2009, Doe approached a 5-year-old at a bus stop, kissed his arm, assaulted the boy’s father and “armed himself with a stick and pitchfork” against police, the documents say.

    In 2009 and again in 2015, he swung a baseball bat at officers trying to apprehend him along the same stretch of train tracks where he died.

    In 2012, Doe survived a police shooting that injured his hand, thigh, chest and abdomen after advancing on an officer with a kitchen knife. The province’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), didn’t charge the officer involved.

    As little as police were able to find about Doe’s background, psychiatrists were even less successful in diagnosing him.

    Several doctors at multiple institutions assessed Doe in 2006. Two gave him antipsychotic medication, which didn’t appear to change his behaviour.

    One doctor said he was “unable to say with any certainty whether Mr. Doe does have an active major mental illness, although this appears probable,” Trotter’s court judgment said.

    On June 17, 2016, the day Doe died, officers planned to serve him with notice that he’d failed to put his name on Ontario’s sex offender registry as required. Concerned about his mental state, they consulted a psychiatrist before trying to approach him.

    Doe had lived on that stretch of Canadian Pacific Railway tracks near Weston Rd. and Sheppard Ave. W., to the northeast of St. Basil-the-Great College, on and off for some time, the 2011 court documents indicate.

    An SIU map of the scene shows a makeshift shelter and a woodpile in a clearing west of the tracks. The 2011 court documents say Doe had once kept a collection of foodstuffs and cooking equipment there, according to one railway police officer.

    “Interestingly, the officer reported that Mr. Doe appeared be healthy and in relatively good hygiene for a transient person,” Trotter wrote.

    The grasses near Doe’s former camp are taller than the average person. The leaves of the bushes and trees there are so dense that someone could easily disappear into them, remaining nearly invisible from the townhomes backing onto the west side of the tracks.

    That’s exactly what Doe did that day, according to the SIU’s report. As police moved north through the brush, one officer slipped on the loose gravel surface next to the rails. Doe then leapt out of a bush a few metres away and charged towards the group, butcher knife in hand.

    When Doe raised the knife above his head, another officer shot him four times.

    SIU director Tony Loparco opted not to charge the officer involved, saying he was justified in fearing for his own safety.

    Last summer, Doe became the 831st homeless person to die in Toronto since 1985.

    Not one of the two dozen people who came to a memorial in his honour had ever met him.

    “Every John Doe has a family,” mourner Michael Mallard told the Star at the time.

    With the SIU case having wrapped up last week, over a decade’s worth of efforts have ended with nothing to show.

    “Someone must know who he is,” Irvine, Doe’s former lawyer, mused Thursday. “It’s been a mystery.”

    Emma McIntosh can be reached at .

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    Joanne MacIsaac says she’s been haunted in her nightmares by the final moments she spent in hospital with her brother Michael, who was shot twice by a Durham police officer in 2013.

    “There were so many machines, they couldn’t close his abdomen, there was so much bleeding, and I put my hand on his shoulder, and I just said ‘Michael,’” MacIsaac said.

    “And he opened his eyes so wide and stared at me, I could tell he was in so much pain. I started to scream ‘My God he’s in pain, he’s in pain,’ and the doctor said his blood pressure was too low, we can’t give him any pain medication.”

    MacIsaac, becoming emotional in her Mississauga kitchen, was recounting for the first time in detail the day she and her sister Eileen went into Michael’s room at St. Michael’s Hospital after he emerged from five hours of surgery on Dec. 2, 2013.

    He would ultimately succumb to his injuries after being shot by Const. Brian Taylor on a residential street in Ajax.

    The 47-year-old man had been walking naked with a table leg, although his family disputes the account of Ontario’s police watchdog that he was still carrying it when he was shot. His family believes he had an epileptic seizure prior to the shooting.

    The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) did not lay charges against Taylor, finding the use of force to be justified.

    “I’ll never forget the look in (Michael’s) eyes. Never. How cruel. Nobody deserves that . . . He didn’t break the law, what did he do? What did he do to deserve that? He didn’t even commit a crime. What did he do?” MacIsaac repeated.

    More than three years after his death, Michael’s family is now preparing for the coroner’s inquest that will probe the circumstances around the shooting. MacIsaac will be the first witness called to the stand Monday.

    She’s nervous, but ready. The close-knit MacIsaac family has invested tens of thousands of dollars over the last few years in trying to unravel what happened to Michael that day in Ajax, and MacIsaac said she’s anxious to get the results of their own investigation out to the public.

    The fruits of their labour are contained in large binders piled on MacIsaac’s kitchen counter. She has a life-sized mannequin in her basement, used to determine the trajectory of the two bullets that struck Michael.

    The family has spoken with witnesses, requested EMS reports, had an independent autopsy conducted, consulted with ballistic experts, asked the Ministry of Health to investigate Michael’s transportation to hospital, complained to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, wrote to politicians, and met with SIU and Ministry of the Attorney General staff.

    The family disputes much of what the SIU has said of the incident.

    One of MacIsaac’s major doubts is whether Taylor tried to de-escalate the situation with Michael before he was shot. Her belief is bolstered by a 911 call from the scene of the shooting that the family obtained last year and had reviewed by a forensic scientist.

    The family believes the call contradicts the officers’ notes and shows Taylor did not shout commands at Michael before shooting him. In his notes, which the family obtained through a freedom of information request, Taylor wrote:

    “A male was in front of me waiving (sic) a metal pole. The male held the pole as if he was preparing the walk to the pole in a baseball game. The male was screaming ‘Come on? Come on’ I feared for my safety and drew my service issued Glock. I pointed it at the male and issued the Police Challenge ‘Police don’t move.’ Subsequent demands were issued to drop the weapon and for the male to get on the ground.”

    Taylor gave an interview to SIU investigators, but did not provide a copy of his notes, as is his legal right. He wrote that he shot MacIsaac as he was advancing on him.

    One of the witness officers, Const. Mark Brown, also said in his notes that Taylor was “yelling commands and identifying us as police officers.”

    None of this can be heard on the 911 call, nor is it noted by the forensic scientist who listened to it for the MacIsaacs. A voice believed to be that of the police officer can be heard saying, “Get back, get back,” and within seconds, the 911 caller can be heard on the phone saying “Oh s---” as a bang erupts in the background, and then “Oh God.”

    The forensic scientist said two noises that overlap with those words could have been gunshots, and the family is adamant that they were.

    “I’m quite confident that we’re going to prove to people that the SIU’s conclusion and version of events are not accurate,” MacIsaac said last week.

    It’s unclear if the SIU listened to the call as part of its investigation into Michael’s death. Both the agency and Durham police declined to comment for this article because of the pending inquest.

    Since Michael’s shooting, and especially after the SIU announced in 2014 that no criminal charges would be laid, MacIsaac has become close with a number of other families who have lost relatives to a police shooting. She said she’s done her best to help them navigate the various police oversight bodies and to get answers.

    “It’s always sad when there’s another family that reaches out, it means the system has failed again, but it makes me feel a little happy to at least be able to perhaps guide them, because there is no manual to be guided through this process,” she said.

    “We’re a unique group in the way that these deaths are very public, and under a lot of scrutiny. And you have people who, no matter what happens, will always back the police, and you have people on the other side too. You’re handcuffed to the system for many years (after the death).”

    Recommendations from an inquest jury are not binding on authorities, but MacIsaac said her family will be doing everything they can to make sure what is recommended actually gets implemented.

    One recommendation that she is hoping does not emerge from Michael’s inquest is that all front-line officers should be equipped with Tasers, a recommendation by the jury at the recent inquest into the Toronto police shooting death of Andrew Loku.

    “In order to encourage de-escalation, we’re going to give these men and women another instrument to use against the public? I don’t think so,” she said.

    The inquest will also be the first time MacIsaac has come face to face with the man who killed her brother.

    “Do I hold him accountable? Yes, he pulled the trigger, but I think there are so many other variables, so many other things that went wrong that day, that other people did that led to this outcome. Things that need to be prevented so that this never happens again.”

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    Canada’s most high-profile organization supporting people with vision loss is turning to technology in a bid to create what it calls the country’s most accessible neighbourhood.

    The CNIB — formerly known as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind — says it’s hoping to transform a small midtown stretch of Yonge St. into an area that blind or low-vision people can navigate easily, and also fully engage with independently.

    The organization has partnered with the Rick Hansen Foundation to acquire beacons that will help blind people locate businesses on the street, then find their way around inside with confidence.

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    The foundation has funded the purchase of 205 of the roughly 14-centimetre beacons that stores and restaurants in the test area can acquire free and program to convey detailed information about the layout of their physical space to a blind person’s mobile phone.

    Blind users hail the project as a major innovation, while the CNIB says it’s hoping the initiative convinces businesses that increasing accessibility makes good fiscal sense.

    Inclusive design experts also praise the project, but note that true accessibility involves designing for a range of abilities and that more needs to be done if the area is to truly live up to the goal of being the “most accessible” neighbourhood.

    The project’s rollout is gradual, with the CNIB persuading businesses in the quarter-kilometre testing range to get on board.

    As beacons slowly begin to proliferate on Yonge between St. Clair Ave. and Heath St., at least one blind user said the difference is already apparent.

    Mark DeMontis said the information available to him through the beacons gives him a sense of independence he hasn’t experienced since losing his vision 13 years ago.

    By opening a GPS app called BlindSquare on his iPhone and listening to the information relayed by the beacons, DeMontis said he’s able to easily identify business entrances on the sidewalk, then find his way to various features once he gets inside.

    The beacons can be customized to the space they’re occupying, he explained. For instance, a restaurant may choose to communicate the location of tables, washrooms and staircases, while stores may be more interested in making sure visually impaired customers can quickly locate cash registers, retail displays or change rooms.

    Walking into a business making proper use of the beacons, he said, is a liberating experience.

    “I went so many years with a sense of frustration because I tried to do things that I used to do really independently on my own,” DeMontis said in a telephone interview. “Because now I have the tools, and I have the knowledge and the information (on) how to do this successfully … it’s a great sense that I’m regaining independence.”

    The CNIB estimates that 10,000 community members will visit the organization’s new hub near Yonge and St. Clair in the next year.

    “We’ve been open for a month and have already had 1,000 visitors, so we’re on track so far. It was also an estimation based on the number of clients we have in the GTA and the fact that we will be open evenings, weekends, etc., and not just conventional 9-to-5 business hours,” wrote CNIB spokesperson Kat Clarke in an email Monday.

    Clarke said the CNIB has 15,000 registered clients in Toronto and upwards of 20,000 in the GTA.

    The project is meant not only to increase accessibility for visually impaired people, but also to send a broader message to corporations and governments.

    Angela Bonfanti, the CNIB’s executive director for the Greater Toronto Area, said many businesses are under the erroneous impression that making their premises more accessible is an expensive and arduous undertaking.

    She challenged that notion, saying the rewards for embracing an underserved market would more than make up for the relatively low expense of making a space more accessible.

    Having more businesses take the lead, she argued, could push governments to follow suit.

    “If we can show that an entire neighbourhood can get together and work together to show what accessibility looks like, then you really have some great research,” she said. “And we’ll go to our local governments and say, ‘The legislatures, the chambers, the museums, you name it, you need to do this. You need a beacon in every publicly funded building, because we’re taxpayers, too.’”

    Praise for the project came from at least one industry expert, who nonetheless urged companies not to forget that true accessibility involves catering to a wide spectrum of needs beyond vision loss.

    Thea Kurdi, universal design specialist with accessibility consultants DesignAble, called the CNIB’s project exciting and innovative, adding that most conversations about building design tend to focus on wheelchair users rather than people with other disabilities.

    But Kurdi said true inclusivity involves designing for users ranging in age from 5 to 95 whose needs and abilities will vary greatly over their lifetimes.

    She said technology can be a valuable tool in an inclusive design project, but it should not be viewed as the entire solution.

    “The hope has been that technology is going to fill the gap. And I warn people about that,” she said. “If you said to a person with vision loss, ‘Your phone is going to take care of it. You’re going to bring the solution with you,’ that does allow the user to pick the right solution for themselves, but it’s also kind of akin to telling a person who uses a mobility assistive device, ‘You bring your own ramp.’”

    Kurdi said even simple tweaks to interior spaces can improve accessibility for all. Laying carpeting or making other acoustic tweaks can simplify life for the hard-of-hearing; using higher-contrast paints or railings to delineate spaces can help people with low vision; and switching door hardware from knobs to levers can make a difference for people with physical disabilities.

    With files from Alina Bykova

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    Ontario doctors grappling with how to treat women who as young girls were subjected to female genital mutilation are sometimes asked to reverse part of the procedure done a world away, provincial records show.

    The process — surgically reopening the vagina — is called “repair of infibulations,” according to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Infibulation is the clinical term for the surgical narrowing of the vagina that is one of several types of female genital mutilation (FGM) performed in 29 countries around the world, and sometimes seen as a rite of passage into womanhood or a condition of marriage.

    Billing records submitted by Ontario doctors show the reversal surgery has been performed 308 times in the past seven years in Ontario, though it may be done more often and billed under a different code.


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    Whether it’s a nick or full circumcision, female genital mutilation is about control: Paradkar

    While repair of infibulation opens the vagina, there is no current procedure that replaces removed tissue.

    Female genital mutilation refers to four different procedures done in countries including Somalia, Sudan, Egypt and parts of Southeast Asia, usually by a non-medical practitioner.

    This practice “damages the woman physically and emotionally,” says Dr. Joseph Daly, a gynecologist at St. Joseph’s Health Centre.

    “Women suffer needlessly from this procedure and there’s no clinical value in the procedure,” said Daly, who has performed the reversal procedure numerous times.

    Type 1 FGM is removal of the clitoris; type 2 is excision of the clitoris and labia minora with or without the labia majora; and type 3, also called infibulation, is when the labia are cut and repositioned to seal shut the vagina, leaving only a small opening for urination and menstrual flow.

    Under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, doctors are paid $115 per reversal operation, called “deinfibulation.”

    A Toronto woman in her mid-30s was subjected to female genital mutilation in Somalia when she was 4 years old, several years before she came to Canada with her family. She told her story to the Star on the condition that she not be identified.

    She doesn’t recall having the procedure, but knows that it was done with anesthetic by a female “practitioner,” a friend of the family who was not a medical doctor but had experience doing this to girls.

    Her mother told her she had to be sewn up twice. Girls who are infibulated have to stay in bed for weeks with their legs bound to allow the wounds to heal and prevent them from running around and ripping the stitches, she said. They’re taken to urinate and held over potties because they can’t squat at the African-style toilets.

    But she was active and refused to sit still, so her stitches came loose.

    “The memories aren’t clear, but I know the second time was more traumatic,” she said. “I couldn’t use the bathroom myself. Peeing hurt. I remember being frustrated because I wasn’t able to be mobile anymore.”

    Growing up in Toronto, thousands of miles away from her native home, she never thought about the fact that she had been subjected to the procedure, she said. Since most of her female peers also had it done before immigrating to Canada, it wasn’t shameful or taboo in her social circle.

    Only Canadian physicians expressed alarm. “When they examined me they would say, ‘What’s wrong with this child?’” she said. “A lot of doctors weren’t aware of it. They kept questioning my family.”

    Still, she said it wasn’t an issue as she became a young adult and began to date. She was a devout Muslim, and sexual activity was off-limits.

    But since she was a teenager, she knew she would have the surgery to open her up before consummating her marriage.

    Without a deinfibulation — or defibulation, as it is also sometimes called — to create a larger vaginal opening, intercourse could be impossible, or at least very painful.

    “I didn’t want to feel the pain,” she said. “So why not take the easiest and least painful route?

    After she got engaged to her husband, she thought more seriously about how she wanted to handle sex, she said. Her fiancé, raised in the western world, was on board with whatever she decided.

    Some of her friends, also newly engaged or married, decided against having the procedure before they had sex for the first time.

    “It depends on the girl,” she said. “It depends on her point of view. And it depends on how the husband views it and feels about it.”

    She approached her family doctor, a female physician who worked with many Somali women. Her doctor didn’t react with alarm, but gave her a referral to a specialist, a local obstetrician-gynecologist.

    He walked her through the surgery and alleviated her fears.

    Cut and sewn up so young, she didn’t know what anatomic structures she was missing and what body parts needed to be — or even could be — reconstructed, she said.

    “Would this surgery take my virginity? What can’t I have back and how much difference will that make in my sexual relationship?”

    Doctors who perform the reversal surgery walk a tightrope fraught with cultural issues.

    Daly says it helps that he has connections in the Somali community, and in others whose cultures may practise female genital cutting. Daly said the colour of his skin — he is Black — has been an advantage in making women from certain ethnicities feel comfortable to talk about the issue.

    “There are not many of us around,” he said of Black gynecologists in the GTA. “Patients see me because of this.”

    Recently, though, he said he hasn’t performed the surgery as often as he would predict for a population, especially in the GTA, that is home to many women emigrating from countries where female genital cutting is still the norm, or at least a common practice.

    The Health Ministry data shows that, on average in Ontario, only about 40 repairs of infibulations are performed each year.

    Rachel Spitzer, an OB/GYN at Mount Sinai Hospital and associate professor at the University of Toronto, said that the numbers seem “surprisingly low.”

    She’s not aware of any information available that explains the motivations for women who seek — or do not seek — this type of surgery or identify those at risk.

    “We lack information on the prevalence of women who arrive who have that done,” she said. “There’s no data to clarify.”

    Spitzer performs a handful of repairs each year, she said, sometimes during childbirth in order to avoid an episiotomy or extensive tearing.

    Other physicians refer these women to Spitzer, she said, because they aren’t familiar with the various types of female genital cutting or don’t know how to offer treatment. Fifty per cent of those referrals, Spitzer said, are women who have been infibulated and are candidates for surgery.

    The other half is a mix of women with different types of genital cutting, or scarring on the vagina that doesn’t fit the classifications, she said.

    Referring physicians may be unable to do a Pap smear, a routine screening test for cervical cancer, Spitzer said. Or they may have complications, complaining of urine dribbling, difficulty managing their periods, pain during intercourse or trouble experiencing pleasure during sex.

    With every patient, Spitzer said she explains the limitations of surgery. She can make an opening large enough for a baby to get out, and make sex more comfortable, she said. She’ll sew tiny stitches to repair the damaged sides of the labia that were sewn shut. But there are currently no procedures Spitzer is aware of in Canada that can replace lost tissue, she said.

    For all the women she treats, Spitzer said she tries to teach them about their bodies. “We talk about anatomy,” she said. “Sometimes we use a mirror to do that.”

    Crista Johnson-Agbakwu, an obstetrician-gynecologist and director of the Refugee Women’s Health Clinic in Phoenix, Ariz., and a recognized expert on female genital cutting, said that a small number of patients don’t want to be opened to give birth because they are “staunchly proud” and believe it makes them beautiful.

    Others, after a deinfibulation during childbirth, are “distressed” by the new appearance of their anatomy — they might think their labia are too long, for instance — and ask to be closed up.

    Johnson-Agbakwu will not sew them back up, she said. But in those cases, she will do what she can to make the clitoral area look acceptable to them.

    It is a Criminal Code offence to perform female circumcision in Canada, including to reinfibulate a woman — meaning to sew her back up.

    A 38-year-old woman, who lives just outside Toronto, did not have the surgery when she got married.

    She was subjected to FGM at the age of 7 in Sudan before immigrating to Canada in 2006, and she said she was only partially sewn up, leaving her a larger opening.

    Nonetheless, she said, sex was painful at the beginning.

    Back home in Sudan, she said, “closed-minded men” would brag about how many days it took to penetrate their wives, who were often stitched mostly shut. “They think if they open themselves they do an honour job,” she said. “They think: really good for them!”

    For the mid-30s Toronto woman who had the surgery, she said she had pain in the days following the repair, a roughly 45-minute procedure. But she didn’t experience the “drastic, body-changing” event she expected.

    For a time, she avoided public bathrooms because she thought her urine flow sounded different and strange, but she is happy with her new appearance. She knows she will never look like the average woman — and that suits her just fine.

    “What’s done is done,” she said. “And I am happy with what I have. I am able to have a normal sexual life.”

    After she recently had her first child, her own mother apologized for having subjected her to FGM. It came up during a conversation about how other Somalis send their children back to Africa to have the procedure.

    She said nowadays, parents aren’t doing the extreme version, like what was done to her. They’re doing more of a “nick or pinprick”. She doesn’t object to the ritual being done on girls for religious reasons if it’s only to draw a bit of blood.

    But she would never subject her daughters to FGM.

    0 0

    A woman brutalized by Ottawa police during her wrongful trespassing arrest and left naked for hours in a holding cell nine years ago has been awarded $254,000 in damages.

    The Superior Court award in favour of Roxanne Carr, one of the highest of its kind in Canada, comes after a nine-day trial that ended more than a year ago.

    “The police actions broke my heart,” Carr said in a statement through her lawyer Lawrence Greenspon. “Patience is a virtue — sometimes it’s worth the wait because it helps others.”

    Given the possibility of an appeal, Carr would not otherwise be speaking publicly, Greenspon said Monday from Ottawa.

    In making the award, Justice Sylvia Corthorn faulted several officers for the disturbing series of events, but aimed much of her judgment at Const. Michael Adlard, the officer who set off a chain of events in August 2008.

    Adlard had no grounds to arrest Carr without a warrant for what was, at most, a landlord and tenant dispute, Corthorn found. The officer then used excessive force to detain her, leaving her with injuries that included a bone fracture in her wrist, the judge said.

    Court records show Carr, then in her late 20s, was renting part of a home in Ottawa from her boyfriend but he had called police to say he wanted her gone. Carr was sitting and chatting with a friend on the front steps of the house when, to her surprise, Adlard showed up.

    Within eight minutes, Adlard had thrown Carr to the ground and arrested her. Corthorn rejected his shifting account that he feared Carr, whose rent was paid up and was entitled to be there, was about to lunge at him.

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    “Adlard’s failure to take a measured approach and his decision to take a forceful, if not confrontational approach are such that his conduct fell below the standard of care,” Corthorn said.

    The situation turned uglier when Carr kicked out the back window of the cruiser and she was taken to the police station.

    Video shows officers casually search Carr, who was lying face down on the floor. Despite the fact she was now completely compliant, Const. Richard Marcil opted to use a restraining device to take her to her cell, apparently breaking her wrist in the process.

    “It looks like an animal on a leash. It’s really, really disturbing,” Greenspon said from Ottawa on Monday. “You wouldn’t treat an animal the way she was treated at the station.”

    Once in a cell, Marcil and other officers stripped her of her clothing on the pretext that Carr, who by now had two broken bones in her wrist, was suicidal and had tried to tie her shirt around her neck, the judge found. Carr was left for more than two hours naked in the cell.

    Officers finally gave her back her clothes and allowed her to leave. The judge accepted that Carr had two fractures in her wrist, and scrapes and bruises on her head, shoulders legs and foot as a result of the force used against her and that the incident had inflicted traumatic stress on her.

    Four charges against Carr, including that she had resisted arrest and assaulted an officer, were withdrawn three years later. Corthorn rejected Carr’s negligence claims against the officer who had laid the charges for lack of evidence.

    Ultimately, Corthorn awarded her $90,000 in general damages, $120,000 in lost income and $37,000 for counselling. Corthorn also ordered the police services board and the four officers involved in stripping Carr and leaving her naked in the cell to pay her another $7,500 for breaching her rights.

    Interest and legal costs have yet to be determined.

    Ottawa police said Monday they were reviewing the judgment and would not discuss the case or the status of the eight officers involved, who never faced prosecution or misconduct charges.

    “It certainly puts the propriety of their investigations up for grabs,” Greenspon said.

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    Toronto Public Health has closed a food market on Queen St. W., after video posted Saturday on social media showed two mice going through treats at a candy store in the building.

    Meli Baklava and Chocolate Bar came under fire after several passersby recorded the mice crawling on baklava while the store was closed.

    The entire Queen Live Fresh Food Market near John St., was shut down Monday morning after Toronto Public Health inspectors identified a rodent infestation in the building.

    Health officials said that they became aware of the issue Monday and immediately went to investigate. The food market has never had a complaint, warning or closure before, they said.

    There are five food vendors in the building, and health officials said all are affected.

    Julie Kyriakaki, one of four partners of Meli Baklava, said the mice were a problem for every vendor in the building because it was “an old building.”

    She said the baklava the mice were seen nibbling on was “strictly for display,” and that they “never serve anything that’s open like that. Everything we offer to our customers is covered and protected.”

    The affected baklava was disposed of immediately, she said.

    Meli Baklava has been open for more than two and a half years. Kyriakaki said the store had a problem with mice two years ago, but the building management hired an exterminator and solved the problem.

    It was only at the beginning of this month that Kyriakaki noticed that the mice had reappeared. She said she immediately contacted the management about it, and got new traps laid.

    She doesn’t know why the problem has returned now.

    “In the basement of that building, they also keep food storage from the other tenants,” she said, noting that her shop’s food is not stored in the basement.

    “I know that it is an issue in many stores in downtown . . . and this is an open access building.”

    All the production, distribution and wholesale for Meli Baklava is done in an inspected building in Scarborough, Kyriakaki said, and is sealed before being shipped to the Queen St. location, their only retail store.

    They have a high score on Yelp, have always passed their health inspections and have never had complaints from customers about mice, she said.

    Kyriakaki is frustrated that the people who took the video posted on social media first, because if she saw mice in another store, she “would go to the people who own the store and warn them.”

    “We’re (a) small, hardworking family business that . . . counts every penny and it’s not easy,” Kyriakaki said. “I’m appreciative now that it came to the knowledge of the management and the health department, because it is a city building that they need to take care of. On the other hand . . . the problem is not just the store, it’s the name of our business. We’re being slandered. It wasn’t really in our control to do something about it.”

    After this, she says they will no longer be leaving display food uncovered when the store is closed.

    Her biggest concern is reassuring customers.

    “Our product that we serve is all protected within drawers or cabinets, and everything else that we serve is always covered in the evenings. We eat it ourselves, we give it to our kids,” she said.

    Toronto Public Health says the “premises is required to remain closed until the health hazard is abated,” and that further investigation “will be conducted to ensure that the business is safe to open to the public.”

    With files from Alina Bykova

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    Premiers rarely get much attention or traction when they meet every year to save the country from itself.

    This week may be different, because the premiers have seen the enemy — and it is no longer just ourselves. Now there’s Donald Trump.

    The U.S. president has given the premiers new purpose. The release of his updated NAFTA negotiating agenda Monday is focussing provincial minds on a bigger target south of the border.

    Meeting in Edmonton on Tuesday and Wednesday, the premiers will have better things to do than bash Ottawa as they customarily do. Reborn and rebranded as the portentous Council of the Federation in 2003, the annual premiers’ conference has long served as a counterweight to Ottawa.

    But a counterweight can also be deadweight, not heft. These days, the premiers have no real role as a countervailing force against a forceful federal government, for it is the threat of countervailing duties on Canadian softwood lumber, and the spectre of Buy America programs, that weighs heavier on the country.

    No longer rebels without a cause, the premiers are making common cause in forging and reinforcing links with American governors. Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne showed up at a meeting of U.S. governors in Rhode Island last week, making the case that Ontario is the best or second-best customer for two-thirds of American states.

    Wynne has been courting her counterparts since becoming premier — among them Indiana’s then-governor, Mike Pence, on his 2014 trip to Toronto. Now Trump’s vice-president, Pence spoke to his erstwhile gubernatorial colleagues at their summit last week with Wynne in attendance, doubtless mindful of the trade links he championed when he led that Indiana trade delegation to Ontario.

    This week in Edmonton, Wynne will brief her fellow premiers on all those bilateral talks with American governors. Yet the premiers are acutely aware that in the high stakes NAFTA negotiations ahead, they remain bit players limited to lobbying from the sidelines and telephone lines as American decision makers take their seats at the bargaining table.

    That’s why the provinces cannot allow fears over free trade to crowd out other agenda items where they have a central role to play. For while they are constrained from making the final decisions on trade, they are the frontline decision makers in other areas that matter just as much to Canadians.

    At last year’s meeting in Yukon, they were able to celebrate the signal achievement of an expanded Canada Pension Plan. Wynne forced retirement security onto the agenda with her proposed Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, which set a mid-2016 deadline for a decision before the province went its own way. The Trudeau Liberals leveraged that timeline to win a historic compromise from the other provinces, obviating the need for an Ontario-only pension.

    Now, Wynne has the opportunity to push the envelope further yet again, this time with her proposed pharmacare plan set to take effect next January for people up to age 25. Ontario has been pushing for a national pharmacare plan for years, arguing not only for social equity and decency, but fiscal efficiency and raw purchasing power.

    All the benefits that accrue to the provincial treasury from a single-payer drug plan can generate even greater economies of scale with full national implementation. Beyond the humanity of ensuring that patients can fill their doctors’ prescriptions without worrying about where the money will come from — especially in an era of precarious employment and the uncertainty of workplace benefit plans — a national program covering all age groups would generate huge savings from bulk buying of pharmaceuticals for which we now overpay.

    Just as they updated the CPP last year, 60 years after its inception, our leaders must modernize universal medicare by adding free medicine to the universal coverage first conceived six decades ago. The onus is on Ottawa to support free prescription drugs for all, but there is an opportunity for provincial premiers to lead the way today, just as they once did on pensions and medicare.

    Protectionist barriers to trade at home and abroad are worth tackling, to the extent that our politicians can win friends and influence governors. But persistent barriers to medicare and medicine closer to home cannot be forsaken in Edmonton, or the premiers’ work will soon be forgotten.

    Martin Regg Cohn's political column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. , Twitter: @reggcohn

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    Toronto Police are expected to respond next week to growing concerns about the number of men reported missing from the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood and surrounding areas in recent months and years.

    Police told City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam Monday that, while there may be some similarities, they have found no evidence linking the cases, following a conference that brought together investigators looking into various missing persons, said Wong-Tam, who represents Ward 27 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale).

    “They don’t want people to be alarmed. They do understand why individuals are perhaps feeling anxious,” she said.

    “The police will come forward to provide some statement to confirm what they already know and to give as much information, so that the community has the most up-to-date information in the most transparent manner next week.”

    Toronto Police did not respond to requests for comment.

    Concerns about missing men have grown since Andrew Kinsman disappeared last month. Kinsman, 49, was last seen on June 26 in the area of Parliament and Winchester Sts. and police are treating his disappearance as suspicious.

    Three men, linked to the Church and Wellesley community, were previously reported missing between 2010 and 2012. Some people concerned about the missing men have also highlighted reports of missing men since April this year, some of whom were last seen in the area surrounding Church and Wellesley.

    “I do understand why the community, especially the online community that’s watching the social media activity at the moment, is feeling more anxious than usual; it does look alarming,” said Wong-Tam.

    “There are all sorts of reasons for us to be vigilant, because, we, as a community, have been targeted in the past,” she said, adding that homophobic and transphobic violence happens everyday.

    Suzanne Paddock, the interim executive director of the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation, where Kinsman worked as a volunteer, said a lack of information is contributing to a fair amount of anxiety in the community.

    That concern is heightened by a lack of confidence that “mainstream institutions” such as the police will take care of members of the LGBTQ community the same way they would others.

    “Historically speaking, the LGBTQ2 community has had to take care of themselves in many respects,” she said.

    Robin LeBlanc, Kinsman’s neighbour, said a statement from the police could help ease people’s concern.

    “There are a lot of people that are afraid and they’re letting this speculation, maybe, get the best of them,” LeBlanc said.

    “It’s good to quell those fears.”

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    OTTAWA—A group of Hong Kong asylum seekers who sheltered the American surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 is calling on the Canadian government to speed up their refugee applications in the face of concern they will be imminently detained, deported and separated from their children.

    The group’s legal team, which consists of lawyers in Hong Kong and Montreal, accused Canadian officials of reversing a decision in April to expedite the refugee applications of the so-called “Snowden’s Guardian Angels.” They told reporters on Parliament Hill the asylum seekers would face possible arrest, torture or death if they are deported to their home countries of Sri Lanka and the Philippines, and are demanding an explanation from Ottawa about why the cases aren’t being fast-tracked.

    The lawyers plan to submit a motion in Federal Court on Tuesday to force the government to hear their cases as soon as possible.

    “It’s unacceptable, and it’s immoral,” said Marc-André Séguin, one of the lawyers representing the four adults and three young children hoping to come to Canada. He suggested the Justin Trudeau government, which has branded the country as a haven for refugees, is at risk of contradicting its own welcoming rhetoric.

    Human Rights Watch has also called on the government to fast-track the applications.

    “We invite (Trudeau) to review his messages, to look at the photos of these three children,” Séguin said, “and to ask himself the question: do these people deserve a future?”

    Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Ahmed Hussen, whose department handles such applications, was not available for an interview Monday, according to his office.

    In an emailed statement, Hussen’s spokesperson Hursh Jaswal said the minister has not made any promise to expedite the Hong Kong claimants’ applications. He said the government is committed to making sure every case is “evaluated based on its merits and in a fair manner,” but declined to comment further because of “privacy laws.”

    The asylum seekers have been in Hong Kong for several years and live on meager government stipends, said Michael Simkin, another lawyer working on the case. He said that, like all asylum seekers in Hong Kong, they are barred from legally working or even begging on the street.

    Robert Tibbo, a Canadian lawyer who represents dozens of asylum claimants in Hong Kong, connected Snowden with the group in 2013. The intelligence leaker hid with them in their homes for two weeks before flying to Moscow, where he remains today.

    The worry now is that, in the glint of worldwide attention for their involvement with Snowden, the asylum seekers will be deported from Hong Kong before Canada reviews their refugee claims. But they may also be in danger in Hong Kong — their lawyers said they’ve relocated their clients several times out of fear members of Sri Lankan security forces are trying to find them.

    The claimants are: Ajith Kankanamalage, a former soldier who was allegedly tortured in Sri Lanka; Nadeeka Kuttige and Supun Kellapatha, who are also from Sri Lanka and have two children under age 6 who were born in Hong Kong; and Vanessa Rodel, a single mother of a 5-year-old daughter who told the Star she fled the Philippines in 2003 after being kidnapped and sexually assaulted.

    The group lived in obscurity until last year, when a blockbuster film about Snowden hit theatres and included a scene about how they hosted the American intelligence leaker in the Hong Kong underworld.

    Tibbo said Monday that, since then, they’ve been “singled out time and time again” by the Hong Kong government. The immigration department there is also pushing to get him removed from their case, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.

    But what’s giving the situation more urgency now is an order by Hong Kong officials to have the asylum seekers check in at a detention centre for immigrants — in Rodel’s case by August 1.

    In an interview with the Star on Monday, she said she fears she will be separated from her daughter, who was born in Hong Kong, and deported back to the Philippines where she fears her life will be in danger.

    Rodel said she wasn’t given an explanation about the sudden order to report to Castle Peak Bay immigration detention centre.

    “They said they don’t know. I am very, very scared — very, very upset,” she said.

    The three other adult asylum seekers received similar notices to report to the detention centre in early August, according to a letter of demand detailing the situation that was sent to Minister Hussen last week and provided to the Star.

    “Once they’re removed, any screening or any decision by the Canadian government will be moot,” Tibbo said. “We fully expect Canada to intervene for these extremely vulnerable clients.”

    Simkin and Séguin said their promised legal action represents the “last hope” for the asylum seekers. In January of this year, they set up a not-for-profit agency called For the Refugees to sponsor the claimants and bring them to Canada. According to their letter to Hussen, Canadian consular officials told them in April that the refugee applications would be expedited.

    The lawyers said they repeatedly reached out to Canada’s immigration minister and other officials over the ensuing weeks, but learned on July 7 that the applications are actually being processed at the routine speed — a process that could take years, Séguin said.

    The lawyers say that timeline is out of the question, given the orders to report to the detention centre.

    Simkin told reporters in Ottawa that it’s unclear why Canadian officials appear to have changed course on the claimants’ applications, but said any politically motivated decision based on their links to Snowden would be unfair.

    “We cannot use these families as a proxy for punishing Edward Snowden,” he said.

    Rodel said she wants to come to Canada because it has a reputation for respecting human rights.

    “I am hopeful we get in Canada,” she said, “especially for our kids.”

    Simkin and Séguin said it is possible the case will be heard in Montreal later this week.

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    Of the 240 Royal Canadian Navy sailors who celebrated returning to Halifax after a six-month deployment Monday morning, Sub-Lt. Tristan Lapointe counts himself the lucky one.

    It’s not just that he was chosen by lottery from the HMCS St. John’s crew to disembark first — and therefore give the traditional “first kiss” to his girlfriend, Gabrielle Lambert.

    It’s that, after the kiss, Lambert agreed to marry him.

    “It should have only been me coming off on the jetty and kissing Gabrielle, and that would have been the end of it,” Lapointe said in an interview Monday evening.

    “But the thing is I pre-planned at least three months in advance that I would propose to her on the jetty.”

    Lapointe said he’d been thinking about proposing to Lambert for a long time, but delayed it until he found the perfect opportunity.

    “Then I figured out, after a six-month deployment, coming back home, being all in the white uniform … what better occasion to make it a big deal?

    “Because I love her a big deal.”

    The marriage proposal came amidst a flurry of celebration, as hundreds of friends and family members celebrated reunions with the sailors who had been taking part in Operation Reassurance, in the Mediterranean Sea. The proposal augmented the mood of an already cheerful crowd, who applauded the couple in their happy moment.

    Even as they were the centre of attention, Lapointe and Lambert only had eyes for each other.

    “I became really tunnel vision on her and I think she felt the same way, because, as I presented the ring to her, she didn’t even pay attention to the ring. She was just looking at me and saying, ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’” Lapointe said.

    “But, as we sort of got up and realized everybody was around, it was nice to see that people were happy, cheerful — and not just happy for us, but happy to see everybody … coming off the ship.”

    Lambert was told earlier in the day that Lapointe had won the “first kiss” lottery.

    “I was really excited about that,” she said. “And after that, when Tristan proposed, it was very surprising for me and a really good surprise!”

    The couple has experience with long periods of separation. They lived in different cities throughout their studies, seeing each other about once every two weeks. Now that Lambert has finished her social work degree from the Université du Québec, and Lapointe is back from his deployment, the couple are living together for the first time since they started dating seven years ago.

    Lambert said their connection is a sign that love can prevail despite the challenges of living apart.

    “To be a military wife is not easy,” she said. “So I think it’s a good image to demonstrate that love can be possible. And we love each other.”

    HMCS St John’s returned after having travelled 37,000 nautical miles on deployment, including stops in 16 ports in 10 countries.

    Operation Reassurance is a NATO effort aimed at deterrence and de-escalation in central and eastern Europe that began in April 2014. The Canadian Armed Forces continue to contribute to the effort, with HMCS Charlottetown scheduled to replace St. John’s in August.

    With files from The Canadian Press

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    OTTAWA—Home sales in June posted their largest monthly drop in seven years, driven by a plunge in the Greater Toronto market, the Canadian Real Estate Association said Monday, the latest evidence that a cool-down in the housing sector is taking hold.

    Transactions last month were down 6.7 per cent compared with May on a national basis, the third consecutive monthly decline, with the Greater Toronto Area registering a 15.1-per-cent drop.

    Home sales are down 14.1 per cent from the record level set in March.

    Read more:

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    “Changes to Ontario housing policy made in late April have clearly prompted many homebuyers in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region to take a step back and assess how the housing market absorbs the changes,” CREA chief economist Gregory Klump said in a statement.

    “The recent increase in interest rates could reinforce a lack of urgency to purchase or, alternatively, move some buyers off the sidelines before their pre-approved mortgage rate expires. In the meantime, some move-up buyers who previously purchased a home before selling may become more motivated to reduce their asking price rather than carry two mortgages.”

    Sales were down from the previous month in 70 per cent of all local markets measured by CREA, including B.C’s Lower Mainland, Montreal and Quebec City.

    The Ontario government moved earlier this year to cool the Toronto real estate market, bringing in more than a dozen measures including a 15-per-cent tax on foreign buyers. Since then, sales in Canada’s largest city have slowed.

    Separately, mortgage interest rates have started to rise in recent days. That came after the Bank of Canada raised its key interest rate last week by 25 basis points to 0.75 per cent, a move that prompted the big banks to increase their prime rates. Rates for new fixed-rate mortgages also ticked up in anticipation of the central bank rate hike.

    Compared with a year ago, national home sales in June were down 11.4 per cent.

    TD Bank economist Diana Petramala said that after growing this year, home prices are expected to fall next year.

    “Much of that weakness will be concentrated in markets in Ontario and B.C., where households are particularly sensitive to higher mortgage rates given the stretched affordability,” Petramala wrote in a note to clients.

    “Elsewhere in the country, the improving economic conditions should help offset some of the impact of gradual interest rate hikes, with home prices and sales expected to trend higher.”

    The national average price for a home sold in June was $504,458, up 0.4 per cent from a year ago. Excluding Greater Vancouver and Greater Toronto, the national average price was $394,660.

    The aggregate composite Multiple Listing Service home price index for June was up 15.8 per cent compared with a year ago.

    0 0

    MINNEAPOLIS — Justine Damond called police after hearing a sound in an alley near the home she shared with her fiancé late Saturday night. But shortly after two officers arrived in her upscale Minneapolis neighborhood to investigate, the call turned deadly when one of the officers shot Damond.

    It is unclear why the officer opened fire on Damond, a 40-year-old yoga and meditation teacher from Australia who was supposed to wed next month, and her death immediately drew renewed scrutiny of police officers in the Twin Cities area for their use of deadly force.

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    Minneapolis is still reeling from two controversial police-involved shootings that set off waves of heated protests and prompted nationwide calls for officers to wear body cameras. One of the cases in recent weeks again led to rallies and condemnation when an officer who shot a black man during a traffic stop was acquitted.

    Damond’s death, one of more than 500 fatal shootings by police in the United States this year, also has raised serious concerns in her home country. News of Damond’s death was splashed across the websites of major news outlets in Australia, where friends, according to media reports, are demanding a federal investigation.

    Investigators remained tight-lipped Monday about what happened at 11:30 p.m. Saturday, when police received a 911 call about a possible assault in the alley behind Damond’s home. Neither of the responding officers had turned on their body cameras, and police have not yet said why one of the officers shot her. The squad car camera did not capture the incident, either.

    The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), the state agency investigating the shooting, has said only that “at one point,” one of the officers fired a weapon and struck Damond. No weapons were found at the scene.

    Investigators are looking into whether other video of the shooting exists, the BCA statement said. When the state investigation is completed, the results will be given to the office of Hennepin County Attorney Michael O. Freeman for review. A spokesman for Freeman declined to comment about the shooting Monday.

    All Minneapolis police officers have worn body cameras since the end of 2016, according to the city, a policy decision that was announced last July, after a black motorist named Philando Castile, a local school worker who was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in the Twin Cities area. A dash-cam video showed an officer shooting numerous times into Castile’s car but did not show what was happening inside the vehicle; the officer in that case said he believed Castile had been going for a weapon, an account Castile’s girlfriend, who was in the passenger seat, has long disputed.

    Authorities said the officers involved in Damond’s shooting have been placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure. A spokesman for the Minneapolis Police Department said a formal review is always conducted in cases of officer-involved shootings.

    Three people “with knowledge of the incident” told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the responding officers pulled into the alley behind Damond’s home. The woman, wearing pajamas, approached the driver’s side door and was talking to the driver, the newspaper reported. The officer in the passenger seat then shot Damond through the driver’s side door, the three people told the newspaper.

    When asked about the Star Tribune report, Jill Oliveira, spokeswoman for the BCA, said only that the investigation is in its early stages and that the state agency will provide information as it becomes available. The audio of the 911 call also is not available publicly.

    State investigators say they will provide more information on the shooting after agents interview the officers involved—something that had not happened as of Monday afternoon, according to the BCA. Agents have requested interviews with the officers, who are working with their attorneys to schedule them, the state agency said.

    Janeé Harteau, the Minneapolis police chief, called the shooting “clearly a tragic death” and said she echoed the uncertainty reverberating through the community.

    “I also want to assure you that I understand why so many people have so many questions at this point,” Harteau said in a statement Monday. “I have many of the same questions and that is why we immediately asked for an external and independent investigation into the officer-involved shooting death.”

    The scant details have left city officials, and Damond’s family, friends and neighbors in Minneapolis shocked and confused about the circumstances that led to her death.

    “It doesn’t make any sense,” Damond’s stepson-to-be, Zach, said softly and through tears. “I just want to have a conversation with that man.”

    Asked what he would say to the police officer: “Why? Why did you do it? He has no idea the impact he had on thousands of people. I hope he thinks about that every day.”

    As Zach Damond was out watering plants Monday, neighbors came by to hug him and offer help.

    The end of the alley where Justine Damond was shot is covered in chalk messages. Flowers, candles, cards and photographs line a ledge along a backyard fence. A steady trickle of people have walked by, paying their respects, writing messages and leaving pamphlets for the community center where she worked.

    The shooting over the weekend again has fueled distrust of law enforcement among Minneapolis residents. Lois and John Rafferty said they’d be reluctant to call the police for help and wouldn’t go outside to talk to them if they did call, noting that the shooting made no sense to them.

    “How many people have to get shot?” John Rafferty said. “You can walk your dog at midnight around here. Minneapolis is not Syria.”

    Bethany Bradley, of Women’s March Minnesota, said officials have not been transparent about the shooting and questioned why an audio recording of the 911 call has not been released.

    “A woman should not call the police for help and end up dead. This should not have happened,” Bradley said. “This cannot happen in South Minneapolis. This cannot happen in North Minneapolis. This cannot happen in St. Paul. This cannot happen in the whole country. I’m angry.”

    In a Facebook post Sunday night, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, who represented the neighborhood as a city council member, said she is “deeply disturbed” by Damond’s death and called on investigators to release more information.

    “This is a tragedy—for the family, for a neighborhood I know well, and for our whole city. . . . There is a long road of healing ahead, and a lot of work remains to be done. I hope to help us along that path in any way I can,” Hodges said.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in Minneapolis on Monday giving a speech to an association of district attorneys, and Sessions emphasized the importance of law enforcement officers while saying that his department would prosecute any who break the law.

    “We will aggressively prosecute federal or state officers who violate the civil rights of our citizens,” Sessions said, according to his prepared remarks. “But we will take care to never demean or offer unwarranted criticism of the honorable, brave, and professional law enforcement officers who protect us every day.”

    Damond (nee Justine Ruszczyk) studied to be a veterinarian at the University of Sydney before moving to Minneapolis to be with her fiance, Don Damond. The couple planned to marry next month, but Justine Damond had already taken her fiance’s last name.

    In a video posted to the Women’s March Minnesota Facebook page, Zach Damond railed against police-involved shootings in the United States.

    “Basically, my mom’s dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don’t know,” Zach Damond, Justine Damond’s stepson-to-be, said in a video posted to the Women’s March Minnesota Facebook page. “I demand answers. If anybody can help, just call the police and demand answers. I’m so done with all this violence.”

    He added: “America sucks. These cops need to get trained differently. I need to move out of here.”

    Don Damond was away on a business trip when the shooting occurred. His son, Zach, said his future stepmother heard a sound in the alley so she called police “and the cops showed up.”

    “She was a very passionate woman, and she probably—she thought something bad is happening,” the 22-year-old said. “Next thing I know, they take my best friend’s life.”

    Nancy Coune, office administrator for the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community Center, where Damond has worked as a Sunday speaker and meditation teacher for the past 2 ½ years, described her as a “nonviolent” person.

    “She’s not the type to provoke somebody. She would’ve maybe stepped in and helped somebody,” Coune told The Washington Post. “It’s quite unbelievable. . . . She was sweet. She was beautiful. She was kind. She had a bright light about her. Everybody wanted to be her friend, and this happened to her? In a very low-crime-rate neighborhood? Nobody understands.”

    Coune said Damond and her fiance have both devoted their time to making people’s lives better and had talked about helping to improve race relations in Minneapolis. Don Damond is a volunteer at a local prison, where he teaches meditation, Coune said.

    Despite Damond’s sudden death, Coune said she and others at the community center are not angry.

    “Because that’s so opposite of what Justine was and what we actually teach and practice here,” she said.

    In Australia, Damond’s friends and family are calling for a federal investigation into her death, reported. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment Monday.

    “How someone teaching meditation and spreading love can be shot dead by police while in her pajamas is beyond comprehension,” Matt Omo, Damond’s friend, told the Australia Broadcasting Corporation.

    Alisa Monaghan, another friend, said Damond moved to the United States to “follow her heart” and to find “new life,” the ABC reported.

    Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it is providing consular assistance to Damond’s family.

    In a statement released by the agency, Damond’s family in Australia said: “This is a very difficult time for our family. We are trying to come to terms with this tragedy and to understand why this has happened. We will not make any further comment or statement and ask that you respect our privacy. Thank you.”

    Damond’s personal and business website says she was a qualified yoga instructor, meditation teacher and a personal health and life coach.

    Three mayoral candidates, Minneapolis NAACP officials and about 250 other friends, family and community members attended a vigil Sunday night where Damond was shot.

    “Many of us who have been on the front lines have been warning the public, saying if they would do this to our fathers and our sons and our brothers and our sisters and our mothers, they will do it to you next,” said Nekima Levy-Pounds, one of the candidates and a civil rights attorney. “I really hope that this is a wake-up call for this community to stop allowing things to be divided on the lines of race and on the lines of socio-economic status.”

    Damond is one of at least 524 people fatally shot by police in the United States this year, and the fifth such person in Minnesota, according to a Washington Post database tracking such deaths. Among people shot by police, she represents an outlier: Men make up the overwhelming majority of people fatally shot by officers. Damond is at least the 23rd woman fatally shot by an officer this year, accounting for just over 4 percent of all fatal police shootings.

    Protests flared up last month when a jury acquitted Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who fatally shot Castile. The July 2016 shooting set off heated demonstrations that continued for weeks.

    Just weeks before Castile’s death, federal authorities said they would not bring criminal charges in a November 2015 shooting involving Minneapolis police officers. Two officers fatally shot 24-year-old Jamar Clark, whose death sparked demonstrations. The prosecutor announced last year that the officers would not be charged, saying they believed he was trying to grab one of their guns.

    A month before Castile’s death, the Justice Department said the officers would not face federal civil rights charges.

    Clark’s death prompted a wave of protests outside a Minneapolis police station, demonstrations that eventually saw a burst of violence. Gunfire near the protests injured five demonstrators in November 2015, and prosecutors charged a group of men—not associated with the protests—in connection with the shootings. Last month, two men in that case pleaded guilty, while another had been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

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    The 65-storey hotel and condo at 325 Bay St. no longer bears the name of U.S. President Donald Trump.

    JCF Capital ULC, the new owners of Trump International Hotel and Tower, reached a buyout deal with Trump Hotels last month. As part of the deal, the hotel’s name was to be changed.

    The joint investment group bought the property that is comprised of 211 hotel rooms and 74 private residences in March for $298 million.

    The building has been the target of lawsuits from investors who allege that they were led to believe the residential units would generate higher returns, but instead they lost money.

    It has also been a site for protests. One denouncing Trump’s policies and another that occurred after a recording surfaced of Trump, then the Republican candidate for president, using crude language and discussing his habits with women.

    Councillor Josh Matlow had also proposed a name change in 2015. He said Trump is a “fascist” and his name has no place in a “diverse and respectful” Toronto.

    The condo’s developer, Talon International, is facing a new class action lawsuit, which is seeking the return of deposits paid by people who did not close their transactions to become owners.

    With files from Ainslie Cruikshank and Alex Ballingall

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    WASHINGTON — Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas declared on Monday night that they would oppose the Senate Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, killing for now a seven-year-old promise to overturn president Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

    The announcement by the senators, both Republicans, left their leaders two votes short of the necessary tally to begin debate on their bill to dismantle the health law. Two other Republican senators, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine, had already said they would not support a procedural step to begin debate.

    “There are serious problems with Obamacare, and my goal remains what it has been for a long time: to repeal and replace it,” Moran said in a statement. He added that the Senate repeal bill “failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address health care’s rising costs.”

    Read more:

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    Trump suggests repealing Obamacare now, replacing it later if GOP senators can’t strike a deal

    In his own statement, Lee said of the bill, “In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn’t go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations.”

    By jumping together, Moran and Lee ensured that no one would be the definitive “no” vote.

    With four solid votes against the bill, Republican leaders were faced with two options: go back and try to rewrite the bill in a way that could secure 50 Republican votes, a seeming impossibility at this point, or do as Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, had promised and team with Democrats to draft a narrower, bipartisan measure to fix the flaws in the Affordable Care Act that both parties acknowledge.

    The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, responded to the announcement by urging his Republican colleagues to begin anew and, this time, undertake a bipartisan effort.

    “This second failure of Trumpcare is proof positive that the core of this bill is unworkable,” Schumer said. “Rather than repeating the same failed, partisan process yet again, Republicans should start from scratch and work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long-term stability to the markets and improves our health care system.”

    The opposition from Paul and Collins was expected, so McConnell had no margin for error as he unveiled the latest version of his bill. He survived through the weekend and until Monday night without losing another of his members — though some expressed misgivings or, at the very least, uncertainty.

    McConnell had wanted to move ahead with a vote this week, but was forced to abandon that plan after Sen. John McCain underwent surgery last week. That unexpected setback gave the forces that opposed the bill more time to pressure undecided senators. On Friday, the health insurance lobby, which had been largely silent during the fight, came off the sidelines to blast a key part of the latest Senate bill, saying it was unworkable, would send premiums soaring and would cost millions of Americans their insurance.

    McConnell has now failed twice in recent weeks to keep his caucus together for a planned vote. He first wanted to hold a vote in late June, only to postpone it after running into opposition.

    Lee, one of the most conservative members of the Senate, had championed a proposal that would allow insurers to sell low-cost, stripped-down plans — an idea that ended up being added to the latest version of McConnell’s bill. But the language added was not quite what Lee had been advocating, his office said after the bill was released.

    Moran faced pressure at home about how the bill would affect Kansas, including its rural hospitals. The Kansas Hospital Association said last week that the latest version “comes up short, particularly for our most vulnerable patients.”

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    A new federal blueprint for closing tax loopholes unfairly benefiting the wealthy will target Canadians who use private corporations to “sprinkle” income among family members to lower their collective tax burden, according to a Department of Finance document obtained by the Toronto Star.

    Finance Minister Bill Morneau is scheduled to unveil a package of proposed reforms at a press conference Tuesday morning, part of an ambitious commitment to crack down on tax avoidance and evasion that emerged in the aftermath of the Panama Papers.

    “There are signs that our system isn’t working as well as it should, specifically when it comes to private corporations,” writes Morneau in an opening letter contained in the 63-page report. “There are worrying trends. There is evidence that some may be using corporate structures to avoid paying their fair share, rather than to invest in their business and maintain their competitive advantage.”

    The government is launching a 75-day public consultation on the proposed measures that are designed to target tax advantages not available to most Canadians.

    “Over the last decade, the number of such private corporations has increased substantially and evidence indicates that a significant share of taxable income has been shifted from the personal to the corporate tax base,” reads the report.

    Read more:

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    Income sprinkling is a key method of shifting the tax burden from individuals to corporations, the report says.

    Wealthy Canadians can now legally reduce their tax obligations by routing their incomes through private corporations. They then pay salaries to family members, such as their children, who are subject to lower personal tax rates or none at all.

    The government is working on new rules that would “help to determine whether compensation is reasonable, based on the family member’s contribution of value and financial resources to the private corporation,” reads the report.

    Morneau writes: “When the rules are used for personal benefit, they are not contributing to growing our economy. Rather, such practices can undermine confidence in our economy by giving tax advantages to a select few. We don’t think that’s fair.”

    As an illustration, the government report presents the hypothetical comparison of two wealthy Canadians who both earn $220,000.

    One of them, an employee, pays $79,000 in annual taxes.

    The other, who owns a private corporation, pays $44,000.

    That $35,000 tax break takes advantage of an accounting trick. The private corporation owner pays lower small-business tax rates and “sprinkles” a portion of the profits to a spouse and two children through low-tax dividends.

    The report does not address the issue of a public registry of corporate ownership in Canada — a measure widely considered to be an important step in the fight against tax evasion and avoidance.

    A Toronto Star investigation in January detailed the culture of corporate secrecy in Canada that can make it impossible to know the identity of real business owners — or “beneficial” owners.

    Britain adopted a public registry of “beneficial” corporate owners last year. It has been hailed by law enforcement and transparency advocates internationally as a breakthrough in removing the corporate veils that facilitate secret money flows.

    While absent in the report, a public corporate registry remains on the table, said Dan Lauzon, a spokesperson for Morneau.

    “It is definitely not on the back burner,” he said. “It just is not a part of this paper.”

    In a May speech in Toronto, Morneau talked about the lack of Canadian corporate ownership transparency as a “blind spot.”

    “We know we need to improve the availability of beneficial ownership information here at home to ensure law enforcement and tax authorities have timely access to this information to combat money laundering, terrorist financing, tax evasion and tax avoidance,” he said. “We can’t sit back and wait for another Panama Papers to tell us whether or not someone may be trying to hide their income from taxation.”

    Achieving that will require provincial co-ordination, he said, given that only 10 per cent of Canadian companies are federally incorporated — the rest are in provincial registries.

    The issue was on the agenda at a June meeting of finance ministers in Ottawa.

    “We discussed … ways to work together to develop a national strategy aimed at improving the availability of beneficial ownership information,” reads a Morneau press release following the meeting.

    Lauzon said Morneau’s initiative on the registry was “well received” by provincial finance ministers at the table.

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