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    OTTAWA—The auto sector rates nary a mention in the published list of U.S. objectives for the renegotiation of NAFTA.

    But senior Canadian officials privately believe the automotive industry is actually at the root of American demands for changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement and will be the key to the success — or failure — of negotiations to revamp the trilateral deal.

    Donald Trump, they note, rode a wave of anti-trade sentiment to victory in last fall’s U.S. presidential election, propelled by an unabashedly protectionist, America-first agenda, including a threat to rip up NAFTA, which he called “the worst trade deal in the history” of the United States.

    Read more:

    ‘Do not worry about Canada’ on NAFTA, Trump says in leaked transcript. ‘We do not even think about them’

    NAFTA renegotiation will be a test of Canada and Mexico’s relationship

    Trump to rip up NAFTA? Not so fast: Olive

    It was a populist message that tapped into long-simmering resentment over the exodus of American manufacturing operations — including the Big Three automakers and auto-parts plants — to Mexico. And it resonated particularly loudly with voters in the 14 auto-producing states, 12 of which ultimately delivered their electoral college votes to Trump.

    Now, Canadian officials believe the success of the NAFTA renegotiation, set to start Aug. 16, hinges on Trump’s ability to claim a win on the auto front. And they believe the route to that victory lies in stricter labour and environmental standards to minimize Mexico’s low-wage advantage.

    Read more news about U.S. President Donald Trump

    It’s an issue on which Canadian and American interests are largely aligned. Some stark statistics compiled by Unifor, the union representing autoworkers in Canada, explain why:

    • Mexico buys just 8 per cent of North American-made vehicles but employs 45 per cent of the continent’s autoworkers.

    • Since NAFTA came into effect in 1994, four assembly plants in Canada and 10 in the United States have closed; eight new plants have opened in Mexico.

    • U.S. and Canadian vehicle and auto-parts trade deficits with Mexico have grown exponentially — a fourfold increase for Canada, from $1.6 billion pre-NAFTA to $8.7 billion now.

    And all those disturbing numbers are explained by another stark statistic: Mexican autoworkers earn an average of about $4 per hour, compared to $30-$35 per hour in the U.S. and Canada.

    Rebalancing the auto industry so that all three countries get a fair share of investment and jobs “will be the biggest piece of the puzzle, I would suggest, in NAFTA,” says Unifor president Jerry Dias.

    On that score, there’s some urgency for Canada and the U.S., both of which hope to regain a bigger share of the pie as the auto industry embarks on historic investments in the next generation of vehicles: electric and self-driving cars.

    While the U.S. list of objectives for NAFTA negotiations doesn’t mention the auto sector specifically, it does call for stiffer rules of origin and more stringent, enforceable environmental and labour standards — which would have a direct bearing on the automotive industry.

    Unifor supports those American objectives. The union wants to see the rules of origin beefed up so that vehicles must have at least 70 per cent North American-made content — up from the current 62.5 per cent — to be eligible to move duty-free between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

    That’s aimed primarily at forcing Asian and European automakers and Chinese producers of auto electronics to build more plants in North America.

    Automakers, however, are vehemently opposed to raising the minimum content requirement, which they argue is already the highest of any trade agreement in the world.

    “Any changes to the duty-free access and content rules will disrupt the highly integrated supply chains and reduce the massive benefits, undermining the global competitiveness of that integrated automotive industry we talk about,” Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, told the House of Commons trade committee last May.

    David Paterson, vice-president of General Motors Canada Ltd., reminded the committee that a vehicle built in North America can cross borders seven times during the manufacturing process. Tracing the content of every part already requires “a lot of bureaucracy.”

    “Under the category ‘do no harm,’ we must set out to reduce, not add, red tape,” he said. “We would prefer to see tracing eliminated.”

    On this issue, the government appears to be siding with the automakers.

    Rather than focus on rules of origin, senior Canadian officials — speaking anonymously because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter — said strengthening labour and environmental standards would be a more effective way to reduce Mexico’s disproportionate share of auto investment and jobs.

    The objective, one official stressed, is not to stop auto production in Mexico, but to close the wage gap so Mexican workers benefit while making the other two NAFTA partners more competitive.

    Mexico would not be averse to measures that would raise the standard of living for its workers, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton, suggested in an interview.

    “The question really is over what period of time and how you achieve that,” MacNaughton said.

    “Also, we need to make sure that living standards and good paying middle-class jobs in Canada and the United States continue to be created, too. So the question is: can you find a way to create that win-win-win?”

    Currently, NAFTA includes side deals on labour and the environment — essentially just aspirational goals to improve working conditions and committing each country to enforce its own labour and environmental standards.

    That has allowed Mexico to take advantage of its low wage rate, lack of free collective bargaining and non-existent health, safety and environmental standards to lure auto companies looking for the cheapest place to set up shop, Dias says.

    That advantage would diminish if companies operating in Mexico were compelled to abide by standards similar to those applied in the U.S. and Canada. Dias advocates strict timelines for raising wages and penalizing companies that don’t meet them.

    “There’s going to have to be a wholesale change in the system,” Dias says.

    “Corporations are going to have to be more responsible, they’re going to have to start to treat people better, they’re going to have to start to pay them respectfully.”

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    Cyclists who cheered on Toronto’s famous bike lane guardian— and demanded more like him — got their wish.

    Kyle Ashley, the parking enforcement officer who has zapped lane invaders with $150 tickets since June, and shamed corporate offenders on Twitter, is now part of a three-person squad.

    Sabrina Kloetzig and Erin Urquhart joined Ashley this week as officers dedicated to ticketing motorists in bike lanes and on sidewalks and spreading the message through social media that it’s unacceptable to put cyclist and pedestrian safety at risk to grab a coffee or drop somebody off.

    They will be rolling and writing Monday to Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

    “In the past two-and-a-half months the cycling community has basically been asking the city to clone me,” and parking enforcement listened, Ashley said during a ridealong interview Thursday.

    “We’re really looking to expand our reach to the entire city,” including suburban bike lanes, he said. “The goal of this is to expand our reach to protect all the cycle networks, so Sabrina and Erin will be handling complaints for bike lanes east of Spadina Ave. and I’ll be focused on the west end.”

    Not long ago, relations were fraught between Toronto’s growing cycling community and parking enforcement. Cyclists complained officers seemed more focused on ticketing cars that posed no safety hazard than vehicles forcing cyclists into streets often deadly for them and pedestrians.

    Parking enforcement decided in June to give Ashley social media training, aim him solely at bike lanes and free him from daily ticket-writing targets.

    Toronto cyclists, once they got over their shock, applauded loudly. Social media helped spread his work and pleas for similar crackdowns came from riders as far away as British Columbia and even cycling mecca Copenhagen.

    After the Star wrote about Ashley’s frustration with Canada Post delivery drivers, the Crown corporation directed drivers to stay out of bike lanes.

    Parking enforcement, a unit of Toronto’s police service, decided to make the pilot project permanent and beef up the unit.

    Urquhart, a parking officer for two years but on a bike since last October, said she received training on how to use Twitter “to really get the attention of people without going too far over the edge, making sure I stay on the facts.”

    She hopes to educate motorists “that pulling over for a coffee really isn’t worth $150,” while reminding cyclists they have a responsibility under the Highway Traffic Act to respect one-way signs and red lights and stop signs.

    Kloetzig, who has patrolled Toronto streets on a bike for 14 years, said: “I think the city has taken to (Ashley’s) Twitter, and people are paying a lot more attention now to where they’re parking, which is a great thing.”

    A ride with the trio on the protected bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide Sts. during Thursday’s rush hour saw far fewer lane invaders than when the Star made a similar ride with Ashley in mid-June.

    A UPS driver, however, argued — unsuccessfully — that because Ashley crossed the street to ticket him they were equally guilty, and he shouldn’t pay.

    Ashley is convinced that even conversations like that, where he reminds drivers they have airbags that cyclists don’t, can help change minds.

    “I’m glad people are finally joining in because the right to safe passage is universal and everyone deserves it, whether they are in a car, bike or walking.”

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    A man has been charged following the violent robbery of an 81-year-old woman at an ATM in Aurora.

    Surveillance video of the incident was released by police Wednesday, and the suspect was arrested at a home in Aurora that night.

    “I am inspired by the strength and determination of this 81-year-old woman who experienced such a traumatic event but remained so calm and focused,” York Region police Chief Eric Jolliffe said in a statement.

    The incident happened Monday at around 7:30 p.m. at a bank near Yonge and Wellington Sts., police said.

    The woman was withdrawing money when a man approached and grabbed her money. The suspect pushed her to the ground when she resisted. He then stole the money and fled the scene on foot.

    Police say the woman was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

    Terrence Rocks, 35, from Sudbury was charged with robbery. Police said they received a large number of tips helping to identify him. Rocks is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 8.

    With files from Emily Fearon

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    How will the Donald Trump presidency end? It will end badly, so let me count the ways:

    1. America is hurtling towards a constitutional crisis that will rock its institutions to the core.

    2. Its president and his business empire will soon be exposed as beholden to Russian oligarchs and mobsters.

    3. Trump will try to fire special counsel Robert Mueller to prevent this from becoming known, but Congress will intervene.

    4. His only remaining hope will be a 9/11-scale disaster or contrived war that he can exploit.

    5. If we are lucky enough to survive all of the above, Trump will resign before he is impeached — but only in exchange for a pardon from his servile vice-president, Mike Pence.

    Yes, this scenario is anything but far-fetched.

    One lesson we have learned from the slow-motion train wreck of this Trump presidency is that precise predictions are impossible to make. That is true, except for one thing.

    We are now getting a much clearer sense of where this high-stakes drama is heading. The details may change but the contours of this epic chapter in American political history are beginning to emerge.

    Although it has been another head-spinning week, perhaps the most important disclosure was a Washington Post story (notwithstanding reports that Mueller empanelled a grand jury to probe Russia’s ties to the 2016 campaign). The story suggested how centrally involved Donald Trump has become in the expanding inquiry about his secret connections with Russia.

    The story revealed that, contrary to previous public assurances, Trump himself dictated a misleading statement about the nature of a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign.

    Mueller, a former FBI head, is examining Russian interference in the 2016 election, including potential obstruction of justice and allegations of cover-up. But much to Trump’s horror, Mueller’s investigation is expanding to include the history of connections between Trump’s controversial business empire and Russian government and business interests.

    In this latter category are some of the most corrupt Russian oligarchs and mobsters, involved in widespread money laundering, who rose to prominence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

    On the surface at least, one of the most perplexing questions still unanswered from last November’s shocking election result has been Trump’s persistent refusal to single out Russia or President Vladimir Putin for dramatically interfering in the American presidential election.

    This has prompted many people in the U.S. and abroad, not only his critics, to ask the question: “What does Russia have on Trump?”

    Increasingly, it appears that the Mueller investigation will help answer that question by examining the close but largely secret relationship between the Trump empire and Russian financial interests.

    According to leaks, it has only been in recent days that Trump has realized that this Mueller probe, if not stopped, may even include an examination of his tax returns that he has been so stubborn to keep secret.

    A revealing preview of what Mueller is undoubtedly discovering was featured as the extensive cover story of September’s issue of the U.S. magazine New Republic. Written by investigative journalist Craig Unger, the story was titled: “Married to the Mob: What Trump Owes the Russian Mafia.”

    Unger was stark in his conclusions: “Whether Trump knew it or not, Russian mobsters and corrupt oligarchs used his properties not only to launder vast sums of money from extortion, drugs, gambling and racketeering, but even as a base of operations for their criminal activities. In the process, they propped up Trump’s business and enabled him to reinvent his image. Without the Russian mafia, it is fair to say, Donald Trump would not be president of the United States.”

    More than anyone, Trump knows what Mueller will discover. He knows the legal peril that he and his family are in. He also knows that his presidency is certain to end — in some way — if that story ever becomes public.

    We should remember this when we see how Trump acts in the weeks to come. Like a cornered rat, he will fight to protect his interests. In every conceivable way, he will work to stop Mueller’s probe, to challenge Congress if it intervenes, to undermine the press and judiciary if they get in the way and — yes — even to engage in reckless military adventures if he thought that would strengthen his position.

    This next stage of this Trump story will no longer be a diverting reality show. It will be the moment when Americans — and the rest of us — will learn if U.S. democracy is strong enough to stop him.

    Tony Burman is former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News. Reach him @TonyBurman or at

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    Concerned for patients’ privacy and pocketbooks, Ontario’s health minister says he will tackle a new Big Pharma marketing scheme that uses electronic medical records to sell drugs.

    Minister Eric Hoskins said he will ask Ontario’s College of Physicians and Surgeons to investigate how electronic vouchers that steer patients to brand name drugs over cheaper generics “may be impacting privacy, accessibility and affordability.”

    He said he also plans to “express my concerns” with Telus Health, which inserts the electronic vouchers into its popular electronic medical record software (EMR) used by thousands of doctors across Canada.

    “Our government remains steadfast in our commitment to put patients at the centre of our health-care system,” Hoskins said in a statement.

    To drive business their way, brand-name drug companies have paid Telus to digitally insert vouchers so that the prescription is filled with their product instead of the lower-cost generic competitor that pharmacists normally reach for, a recent Star investigation found.

    The voucher works like a coupon: If a patient’s insurance does not cover the full cost of the pricier brand name drug, the drug’s manufacturer will cover part or all of the cost difference from its generic equivalent.

    Thousands of doctors across Canada use electronic medical records to take notes during patient visits and to create a prescription to be filled by the patient’s pharmacy. Telus Health, a subsidiary of the telecom giant, is a dominant player in the electronic medical records field. Following publication of the Star story, one major Toronto hospital has suggested that its doctors opt out of the voucher feature.

    By including the vouchers in electronic medical records, concerned physicians say a clinical tool they use to prescribe drugs and care for patients is being co-opted so drug companies can increase profits. Industry experts say the vouchers can add unnecessary costs to private drug plans, which may be passed on to the patient through higher premiums.

    Doctors had to agree to the voucher feature in the Telus software before it was enabled on their systems, and physicians can opt out at any time.

    Telus Health said the feature has been positively received by the majority of doctors using the software. The voucher is offered only after a physician chooses a drug by its brand name to prescribe “so there is no influence on what drug the physician selects,” a spokesperson said.

    Telus has been a significant beneficiary of a provincial government-funded program that saw more than $340 million distributed to doctors to adopt electronic medical records in their practices. Roughly half of the doctors who received funding went with a Telus-owned EMR that now includes the voucher feature.

    OntarioMD, a subsidiary of the Ontario Medical Association, managed the funding program, which ran from 2005 to 2015. Its role included determining if EMR software met certain specifications to be certified. The organization’s CEO, Sarah Hutchison, said the use of brand drug vouchers in EMR is not considered as part of the certification process.

    But some doctors think it should be.

    “Electronic health records are publicly funded for the benefit of patients,” said Toronto physician Nav Persaud, who complained about the voucher feature to Telus.

    “Electronic health records that are used to market products for the pharmaceutical industry or to share information for marketing purposes should definitely not be publicly funded — they could be banned entirely.”

    In his statement, Hoskins said he will be writing to Telus and OntarioMD “to express my concerns about these practices and start a dialogue on how we can best move forward with the management of our patients’ electronic health records to ensure transparency and openness.”

    Hoskins, a doctor, will also request Ontario’s College of Physicians and Surgeons look into the matter to see “how we can establish a stronger, clearer guideline moving forward.”

    The head of the doctor regulator has already said, in general, vouchers being included on a prescription is “not appropriate” as they may lead patients to think their physicians favour brand drugs over generics.

    In an internal obtained by the Star, Dr. Rocco Gerace, registrar of Ontario’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, said the inclusion of vouchers on prescriptions may also “lead some patients to perceive that the physician is in a conflict of interest, or that they are recommending or endorsing the name-brand formulation of a drug instead of a generic or other alternative.”

    Gerace said in his letter that the regulator’s policy recommends physicians generally use the generic name of a drug to make sure the prescription is clear.

    Generics contain the same pharmaceutical ingredients and can cost as little as one-fifth of the brand price.

    To keep costs down, many drug plans encourage pharmacists to substitute a cheaper generic drug when filling a prescription for a brand drug, unless the prescribing doctor specifically requests otherwise. Without a voucher, even if a doctor uses the brand name on a prescription, pharmacists may substitute the cheaper generic.

    The voucher feature is offered in a number of electronic medical record systems, a Telus spokesperson said, adding that its system, introduced in August 2016, follows ethical principles not necessarily present other software.

    Ontario’s health minister committed to raising the issue at the next meeting with his federal, provincial and territorial counterparts.

    “I believe we need a pan-Canadian approach to addressing this and ensuring consistency across the country,” Hoskins said.

    For now, it will remain up to individual doctors to decide whether to use the voucher feature.

    At St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, about 100 physicians and nurse practitioners in the family medicine and pediatrics units use a Telus EMR to write prescriptions for their patients.

    The hospital is “strongly” encouraging its doctors opt out of the voucher feature, said chief medical officer Dr. Doug Sinclair, adding that the vast majority have already disabled the function.

    “We do not see that it benefits them or the patient population we serve,” Sinclair said.

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    After a seven-month investigation into a deadly Christmas Eve cottage fire that killed a Riverdale family of four, the Office of the Fire Marshall says the source is undetermined but that it started in the living room.

    Geoffrey (Geoff) Taber, 56, his wife Jacqueline (Jacquie) Gardner, 47, and their sons Scott Taber, 15, and Andrew Taber, 13, died in the Dec. 24 fire in the McCrackens Landing area of Stoney Lake. The blaze destroyed their 4,000-square-foot cottage, also killing their two pet dogs.

    Fire investigators were able to isolate the source of the fire as coming from the living room, where the family had a wood-burning fire place, electric baseboard heaters, a real Christmas tree, and upholstered furniture, which investigators say is highly flammable.

    However, because of the level of destruction from the fire, the exact ignition source is undetermined.

    Scott Evenden, operations manager at Fire Investigations Services unit, said the cottage was equipped with multiple wall-mounted smoke alarms. However, investigators do not believe smoke alarms were installed in the vaulted ceiling above the living room and in the nearby stairwell.

    This “ultimately played a role in the inability for the victims to escape safely from the structure,” Evenden said.

    Investigators were unable to test if existing smoke alarms were functioning as the blaze consumed the cottage interior and destroyed most of the structure itself, with the roof collapsing inside.

    Family members provided investigators with photographs of the home before the fire and spoke to other witnesses to corroborate some of their findings, including the presence of candles in the home.

    The family’s two pet dogs near possibly lit candles was also considered, said lead investigator Mike Ross.

    “If you’re going to have candles in the presence of animals, keep them out of reach where they can’t be knocked over,” Ross advised.

    There is no evidence to suggest the fire was suspicious.

    The family’s funeral at St. Paul’s Bloor St. Church in January drew in hundreds of mourners.

    Taber, born in 1960, had a 30-year career at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt. His wife, Gardner, also worked there as a corporate lawyer before moving to Altamira Investment Services where she served as general counsel and secretary before raising her sons full-time, according to a statement from the firm.

    Scott Taber was a student at Montcrest School and graduated in 2015, while Andrew Taber was in Grade 8 at the same school, said David Thompson, head of the school in an email to the Star. The boys were avid hockey players.

    “There’s no recovering from this, especially at this time of year,” Withrow Park Ball Hockey coach Evan Korec told the Star after the January funeral service. Taber had been a fellow coach and sponsor for the league, and Korec had coached Scott and Andrew.

    “I think every year, going forward, this will be part of our holiday – remembering them,” he said.

    With files from Betsy Powell

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    Might as well start with a disclosure: 20 years ago, I worked for a summer for the Yonge Street Small Business Association, and for John Anderson, the proprietor of a furniture shop called Morningstar and the ringleader of the merchant and landlord group. So I know, and have warm memories of, the people and area I’m writing about here — I have a conflict of interest in this story because I made a little money once upon a time from these people and places.

    Back then, they had funding from the federal government to pay me minimum wage to paint storefronts. For a summer, I lugged cans of paint up and down a 36-foot extension ladder, putting colour on the first and second floors of restaurants and clothing stores on Yonge between College and Bloor.

    On Wednesday evening, I went back to Anderson’s Morningstar storefront — now moved across the street — for an emergency meeting of the business association. A lot of the businesses there have endured the ups and downs of the two decades since: Nail’s Attraction, Rock Variety, Hockridge china shop (there since 1900), Cat’s Cradle, ABC Books. Many of them still occupy the two- and three-storey storefronts that have long defined the strip.

    But a lot has changed in the area since then, too. The laneway food stands of Roy’s Square are gone, replaced by a giant glass condo tower at Bloor. Across the street, Stollerys is gone, replaced by a construction site that will be a condo tower. North and south of Wellesley, whole blocks have now been turned into giant holes in the ground that will become condo towers.

    And these changes, inevitably, bring other changes. And those changes, the merchants and landlords gathered Wednesday night said, represent a crisis for small businesses.

    While the meeting was taking place, the Star reported that rock ’n’ roll haircut institution House of Lords was closing up shop because, after 51 years in business, a property tax hike — “double taxation,” the owner called it — was just too much to absorb.

    At the meeting a half a block south, John Anderson was telling about 40 assembled merchants sitting among the carved wooden doors for sale in the rear of his shop that he expected House of Lords closing would be just the beginning — as many nodded along, he proposed tracking the businesses that shuttered due to tax increases and labeling them the “Mayor Tory Cemetery.”

    Read more: House of Lords hair salon set to close after 51 years

    Although the discussion soon made clear it isn’t John Tory who’s responsible for the tax increases they are complaining about. It’s the provincial agency that does property tax assessments, MPAC. Because of the recent sales in the neighbourhood to condo developers, every building on the strip has been reassessed according to the value of its “highest and best use,” in the lingo of the province. Which means a little T-shirt shop in a 14-foot-wide, two-storey Victorian brick building is assessed taxes as if it were a 40-storey condo with a Shopper’s Drug Mart in the podium.

    House of Lords owner Paul Burford called it “double tax.” John Anderson was talking about a “100 per cent tax increase in one year.” Other landlords, pointing to the assessments, were talking about a 500 per cent increase in their taxes by 2020.

    It looks like this: one landlord in attendance showed me the tax bill on his building in the 500-block of Yonge. In 2016, he paid just over $22,000 in property tax. In 2017, he was asked to pay more than $48,000. And that increase was the first year of a four year phase in — so he was told to expect similar increases every year until 2020.

    It is standard in commercial real estate for landlords to pass property tax increases directly to tenants — commercial leases include a “base rent” paid to the landlord and then an “additional rent” premium that absorbs all costs such as taxes, which is adjusted each year. But landlords in attendance said they couldn’t pass these increases to tenants, because the small retailers would be bankrupted, leaving the space vacant and the landlord with the bill.

    George Giaouris owns a building in the 500 block (“I’ve been here on Yonge St. since I was 9 years old,” he says) and operates his own shop, North Bound Leather, on the main floor. “My second floor tenant,” he said at the meeting, “I’m supposed to tell them, ‘Your base rent is $15 per square foot, now the assessment says your share of the (taxes), according to the assessment, is $22 per square foot?’ That’s just wrong. I can’t do that.”

    Some would say Giaouris and others like him ought to just sell their buildings to developers who can build something to justify the “highest use” taxation. But adding insult to injury, the landlords along Yonge don’t even believe the valuations mean anything. The area is now covered as part of a Heritage Conservation District, which means the many existing two- and three-storey buildings that remain must be protected, as is. Any new towers to be built would have to be set behind the existing storefront buildings, in order to preserve the character of the neighbourhood.

    Which means the option of building a big condo there to cash in isn’t even really available.

    This is, in a nutshell, very similar to the problem facing the converted warehouse building at 401 Richmond St. I wrote about earlier this year, where property taxes charged to little gallery and artist studio spaces were set to triple — again thanks to “highest and best use” assessments reflecting condos going up on other lots in the neighbourhood.

    Unless we want every neighbourhood where a new residential condo is built to soon be razed and replaced by walls of identical towers, it’s a problem with our tax system we need to find a solution for.

    Those in attendance seemed to feel that taxes should be based on the current use of a property — not some speculative “higher” or “better” use. A tiny book shop should be taxed as a tiny book shop, not as a massive condo that may or may not be viable on that site 20 years from now.

    Linda Malone, director of the IAM Yoga studio at 680 Yonge, told the meeting very specifically she and others were not anti-condo. In fact, she said, it was customers who live in some of the more recently built new units who she thought made her fledgling business viable.

    As the city changes, she said, it may even be that a lot of the businesses on Yonge would have to find a side-street location—perhaps even her own. “But who here feels that we are being penalized at the expense of big developers?” she asked, and almost everyone in the room raised their hands. “We want a reasonable increase so we, as business owners, can find out if our businesses can grow with the city of Toronto. A 500 per cent tax increase is pushing us out.”

    Edward Keenan writes on city issues . Follow: @thekeenanwire

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    The Blue Jays truly enjoyed their off day in Houston, fully two-thirds of the way into the season. It was the Jays’ first day off since the all-star break — 20 games ago — but that can be no excuse for being in last place in the American League East.

    On the surface, the Jays’ 51-57 mark looks OK, considering where the club was on July 23, sitting 10 games below .500 and in a seeming death spiral. But the reality of their situation is daunting when it comes to achieving even 81 wins.

    The non-waiver trade deadline has come and gone, but that does not mean that the Jays will not try to put players through waivers and complete more deals before Aug. 31. Contenders might still be looking for help and, if they reach the post-season, they can only use players that were in their organization before September.

    The Jays’ biggest question mark becomes the fate of veteran right fielder Jose Bautista. The ever-reliable Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported the Jays have already placed Bautista on revocable waivers. If he makes it through 48 hours without being claimed, he can be dealt to any team in either league at any time.

    If a team claims Bautista, the Jays can transfer his contract (with the claiming team picking up his remaining salary for 2017, about $5.9 million), they could try to negotiate a deal with that club within a two-day window, or they can pull him back from waivers and Bautista would remain with the club the rest of the season.

    Bautista, though, has a right to veto any deal — or negotiate better financial arrangements — as a player with 10 years in the majors and the last five with the same team. He could insist the acquiring team guarantee his 2018 mutual option.

    Odds are nobody will claim him within this waiver period, but the Jays will still listen to Bautista offers as the month goes on.

    Bautista is not the lone ranger in this scenario. It is common for all teams to put players on revocable waivers at the start of August. Contending teams then can claim players for themselves or in a pre-emptive move to block a team ahead of them in the standings.

    There are cases in which teams claimed a big contract in order to block a potential deal to a competitor and the player’s original team just said, “He’s all yours.” It happened when the White Sox claimed Alex Rios from the Jays in 2009, and when the Yankees claimed Jose Canseco from the Devil Rays in 2000.

    But back to the Jays. With 54 games left, they would have to post a 30-24 mark just to finish at .500. Considering they have basically a three-man rotation and a young bullpen that is showing signs of hitting the wall, and considering they are winless in nine games when given a chance to reach the break-even mark, the challenge is daunting.

    Over the final 54 games, one-third of the major-league season, Jays will play 32 games within the AL East, meaning they can make up ground in a hurry. But they are 17-27 within the division so far. Without Aaron Sanchez, and having traded Francisco Liriano and Joe Smith, it’s difficult to see that intra-division mark getting better.

    Still, there is good news for fans that will still be going out to the Rogers Centre because they are fans of baseball as much as they are fans of the Blue Jays.

    Third-baseman Josh Donaldson is getting healthy again. He had lingering right calf woes, a jammed thumb and other sundry issues, but he is a tough guy that never complains, instead allowing outsiders to think he’s just having a bad year.

    Whoever is lucky enough to get a healthy Bringer of Rain in 2018 is likely to benefit from a durable player that missed a total of 19 games from 2013 to 2016, averaging 33 homers and 103 RBIs, while playing Gold Glove calibre defence at third. Plus he will be motivated to position himself favourably in the talented free-agent class of 2018-19.

    Other lost-season, late-season bonuses for fans will be a chance to see what the Jays immediate future might hold. There’s the Stro Show, starring right-hander Marcus Stroman, every five days. There’s closer Roberto Osuna finding out how good he really is. There will likely be a chance to see outfielder Anthony Alford in an extended September audition for a role in 2019.

    But what there will not be for fans is a Jays’ division or wild-card race.

    0 0

    SAN FRANCISCO—At least one gunman opened fire Thursday at a popular San Francisco park packed with families and tourists, leaving three people wounded and sending dozens of panicked people running, witnesses and police said.

    Police are looking for at least one gunman who fled the scene, San Francisco Police Officer Grace Gatpandan said.

    San Francisco General Hospital spokesperson Brent Andrew said one of the victims remained in critical condition Thursday evening.

    Another man was treated and released, he said. The third victim, also a male, is a minor and remains hospitalized but Andrew wouldn't provide any other details about him.

    Nearby resident Antonia Juhasz said she was sitting in Dolores Park when she heard a burst of gunshots.

    “I saw a person with a gun in their hand running,” she said. “I think there were a total of three shots.”

    Juhasz, 47, said she saw two people who had been shot. Both were bleeding as emergency workers carried them away on stretchers, she said.

    San Francisco police advised people to stay away from Dolores Park right after the shooting but lifted that advisory two hours later.

    Dolores Park sits on a hill in the Mission District and is a popular destination for locals and tourists who come to sunbathe and take in city views. It’s near a high school.

    Juhasz, who has lived in the neighbourhood for more than 20 years, said the park was packed with families and tourists when the shots were fired.

    “At first people didn’t totally react because it sounded like fireworks,” said Juhasz, a writer and freelance journalist. “I was yelling at people, ‘It’s actually a gun, it’s actually a gun.’”

    “It was terrifying, mostly because people weren’t reacting,” she added.

    People began running after realizing there had been gunshots, she said.

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    It’s not your grandfather’s Oshawa.

    The long-time home to GM Canada has evolved into a health sciences and education hub — and one of the nation’s top performing urban economies — thanks to what the Durham Workforce Authority calls a “creative push for growth” after the credit crunch and global auto sector implosion in 2008.

    The city, along with Windsor, is expected to boast the fastest-growing economy this year among 15 medium-sized census metropolitan areas analyzed by the Conference Board of Canada in a report published Thursday. What’s more, the growth isn’t just about cars.

    While GM remains a major employer and has unveiled new investment in Oshawa this year, health sciences, the professions, construction and retail have become key to what the report calls “red hot” jobs growth in the city about 60 kilometres from Toronto.

    The city has seen the growth of nearly 30,000 jobs since 2011, including a record 18,000 in 2016.

    “We’ve reinvented ourselves as a community,” said Oshawa Mayor John Henry, adding that the city has made strategic investments in universities and colleges, boasting 20,000 full-time students at three post-secondary institutions, as well as the largest, multi-specialty medical group practice in Canada.

    The investment has helped the city on the eastern edge of the GTA attract and retain young people, along with business investment that includes Costco’s 2012 construction of a 146,500-square-foot outlet at the former site of the north General Motors plant at Ritson Rd. and William St.

    Henry said Oshawa has a diversified economy with roots in advanced manufacturing and transportation, in part by virtue of its natural deep water port on the shores of Lake Ontario.

    “We’re multi-phased,” Henry said. “We’re more than the auto industry.”

    GM Oshawa employs about 3,000 workers, down sharply from more the 23,000 in the 1980s — before free trade changed the automotive landscape in the 1990s leading to more plants in Mexico, China and Korea.

    Officials say as many as 8,000 auto jobs have been lost in Durham Region since 2007 as GM suppliers such as ACSYS Technologies went out of business.

    The economy in the city of more than 170,000 people is expected to grow by 2.5 per cent this year, the same figure forecast for Windsor, according to the conference board report. The remaining six Ontario cities in the report will post growth under 2 per cent.

    “The weaker Canadian dollar and solid U.S. demand continue to provide a lift to many southwestern and eastern Ontario metropolitan economies, especially their export-oriented manufacturing industries,” said Alan Arcand, the board’s associate director of municipal studies.

    The local construction sector is expected to be among the region’s top performers on the strength of non-residential projects, while services output is expected to post solid growth, the report says.

    Windsor, Oshawa’s traditional rival for the automotive capital title, meanwhile, is enjoying a continued revival of the manufacturing sector. Driven by the auto industry and strong U.S. vehicle sales growth, the local manufacturing sector has expanded for seven consecutive years, posting average annual output growth of 6.8 per cent over 2014-16.

    Economic growth in Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, home to tech companies including smartphone pioneer BlackBerry, is expected to decelerate to 1.6 per cent in 2017, following a 2.1 per cent increase in 2016. A modest expansion of 0.5 per cent is on tap for the local manufacturing sector this year, while services growth is expected to moderate.

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    A court hearing ended Friday with no decision on whether a York University student will stand trial a second time for allegedly sexually assaulting a fellow student.

    Mustafa Ururyar was convicted in a trial last year of sexual assaulting Mandi Gray in 2015.

    That verdict was overturned on appeal in July for being “incomprehensible” and failing to explain the reasoning for the conviction clearly.

    Related story:

    Judge overturns ‘incomprehensible’ conviction of Mustafa Uruyar for alleged sex assault of Mandi Gray

    The case was sent back to Ontario court and the Crown must now decide whether or not to prosecute for a second time.

    The Crown has not yet spoken with Gray and would like to get her input about before deciding whether or not to re-prosecute the case, Ururyar's lawyer Daniel Brown told the court Friday.

    The matter is next expected to be in court on Sept. 8 for a judicial pre-trial, though the paperwork was not in court for the date to be confirmed.

    Ururyar was not present in court Friday.

    Related story:

    Original trial that convicted Mustafa Ururyar of sexual assault was a baffling spectacle: DiManno

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    WASHINGTON—U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged on Friday to rein in government leaks that he said undermine American security, taking an aggressive public stand after being called weak on the matter by President Donald Trump.

    The nation’s top law enforcement official cited no current investigations in which disclosures of information had jeopardized the country. His announcement, made with other security officials at the Justice Department, followed a series of news reports involving the Trump campaign and White House that have relied on classified information.

    In prepared remarks, Sessions said: “No one is entitled to surreptitiously fight their battles in the media by revealing sensitive government information. No government can be effective when its leaders cannot discuss sensitive matters in confidence or to talk freely in confidence with foreign leaders.”

    For the latest news on U.S. President Donald Trump

    Meanwhile, a White House adviser raised the possibility of lie detector tests for the small number of people in the West Wing and elsewhere with access to transcripts of President Donald Trump’s phone calls. The Washington Post has published transcripts of his conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia.

    Trump counsellor Kellyanne Conway told Fox & Friends that “it’s easier to figure out who’s leaking than the leakers may realize.” And might lie detectors be used? She said: “Well, they may, they may not.”

    Trump’s outbursts against media organizations he derides as “fake news” have led to predictions that his administration will more aggressively try to root out leaks.

    Trump complained on Twitter last week that Sessions was weak in cracking down on leaks, saying, “Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are Emails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!”

    Sessions said in his remarks that his department has more than tripled the number of active leaks investigations compared to the number pending when former president Barack Obama left office. He said the department is reviewing guidelines related to subpoenas of journalists.

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    “This nation must end the culture of leaks. We will investigate and seek to bring criminals to justice. We will not allow rogue anonymous sources with security clearances to sell out our country any longer,” Sessions said in his remarks.

    Media organizations also had an often-tense relationship with the Obama administration, whose Justice Department brought more leaks cases than all his predecessors combined and was criticized for manoeuvres seen as needlessly aggressive and intrusive.

    That included a secret subpoena of phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors following a 2012 story about a foiled bomb plot, and the labelling of a Fox News journalist as a “co-conspirator” after a report on North Korea. The Justice Department also abandoned a yearslong effort to reveal his source in the trial of an-ex CIA officer who was later found guilty of disclosing classified information.

    Following consultation with media lawyers, the department in 2015 revised its guidelines for leak investigations to require additional levels of approval before a reporter could be subpoenaed.

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    Large commercial players are dominating the short-term rental market in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, and raking in most of the revenue, according to research analyzing Airbnb activity.

    And contrary to the Airbnb narrative that the online booking service is about regular people sharing their homes to help pay the mortgage, there has been disproportionately large growth of full-time, entire-home listings that belong to hosts with multiple Airbnb properties, according to a copy of a draft report prepared by the McGill University School of Urban Planning.

    The report said the full-time, entire-home listings represent 6,500 properties across the three cities and account for more than a third of all revenue earned. In Toronto, growth in that category has increased more than 100 per cent from May 2016 to June 2017.

    “More and more of the money is being earned by a smaller and (a) more kind of commercialized and sophisticated, large-scale set of hosts,” said professor David Wachsmuth, lead author of the report called “Short-term Cities: Airbnb’s Impact on Canadian Housing Markets.

    The report bills itself as the first comparative analysis of short-term rentals in three major cities and is based on a data set obtained from Airdna, a data company that tracks the performance of Airbnb listings. The report also used data taken from the 2011 and 2016 censuses and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s rental market survey.

    In some cases, some hosts have hundreds of separate properties listed on the Airbnb platform and are earning millions annually, Wachsmuth said Thursday.

    “These aren’t . . . people who own their house and they’re renting it out on the weekend when they’re gone.”

    Airbnb spokesperson Lindsey Scully rejected the report’s conclusions.

    “The author of this study has a history of manipulating scraped data to misrepresent Airbnb hosts, the vast majority of whom are middle-class Canadian families sharing their homes to earn a bit of additional income to help pay the bills,” she told the Star Thursday.

    “The fact is, just 760 Airbnb entire home listings, or 0.07 per cent of the entire housing stock in Toronto, are rented frequently enough to outcompete a long-term rental, undercutting the author’s baseless conclusions about housing units removed.”

    Wachsmuth said he stands by his team’s research — “my methodology is completely transparent” — and urged Airbnb to provide open data access to McGill researchers. He described as “completely absurd” Airbnb’s statement that only 760 entire-home listings on Airbnb are pushing out long-term rentals.

    Wachsmuth also wrote a study, currently under peer review, of Airbnb’s impact on gentrification in New York City.

    Where there’s no dispute is that there has been an explosion in the number of Airbnb listings in Canada. There are now 81,000 active listings in the three cities, up from 50,000 in May 2016, the draft paper said.

    “More worryingly, in the same time period the number of entire homes which have been converted to full-time Airbnb usage has increased from 9,000 to 14,000 across the three cities,” said the draft report.

    That means 14,000 entire homes, including condo units, have been taken out of the long-term rental market, at a time when there is scarce rental housing stock and a low vacancy rate.

    “Every home that is converted to full-time Airbnb use is subtracted from the pool of actual potential long-term rental housing units in a city,” said the draft paper.

    “These listings are growing around 25 per cent more rapidly than other categories of listings.”

    Wachsmuth said the unavoidable conclusion is that Airbnb is having an impact on the rental housing market. That’s why it makes sense for Toronto and Vancouver to adopt proposed regulations that would impose a one-host, one-home rule, and place other restrictions and fees on short-term rental hosts.

    Toronto’s executive committee has approved a city staff proposal that short-term rentals be legal for up to three rooms, or an entire home as long as it is a person’s principal residence. A final set of proposals will go before city council later this year.

    “We shouldn’t let short-term rentals drive out long-term rentals,” Wachsmuth said. “It’s absolutely vital that Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms be required to proactively enforce these regulations.”

    The draft report also said that while a lot of money is being made using Airbnb, the big profits are going to commercial hosts who don’t live on the properties.

    While Airbnb hosts in the three cities earned $430 million last year, 10 per cent of hosts earned a majority of that revenue, the report said. The top 1 per cent of hosts earned $51.7 million — more than 12 per cent of the total, the report said.

    “They’re making an enormous amount and an enormously growing amount of money,” Wachsmuth said.

    For instance, Toronto’s largest Airbnb host, Toronto Suite Rentals, had 128 listings and earned $1.34 million on Airbnb last year.

    A casual host in the three cities earned an average of $5,310 between May 2016 and June 2017 — a 55-per-cent-increase over the previous year.

    “Airbnb is growing like crazy, people who are saying ‘I would like a slice of that action and they’re listing their homes.’ It doesn’t mean that they’re earning much money. I think the two trends are happening simultaneously. Lots and lots of people are hoping they can make some money off Airbnb but actually it’s a maturing market and more and more of the money is being earned by the sophisticated players who really know how to make it,” Wachsmuth said.

    The report also identified the top five revenue generating listings in each of the three cities. In Toronto, the five Airbnb listings were booked, on average, 236 nights a year and pulled in $145,000 each.

    It’s easy to see why some property owners prefer short-term renters to long-term tenants.

    “There aren’t many places that go for $20,000 a month in Toronto,” Wachsmuth said.

    0 0

    Because of the whole he’s-not-an-actual-boxer thing, MMA star Conor McGregor needed some serious sparring competition to get him ready for his Aug. 26 boxing match against Floyd Mayweather. No tomato can would do; McGregor would need to get a steady diet of ring time against solid competition.

    Enter Paulie Malignaggi, a recently retired two-weight world champion boxer whose tenure as McGregor’s sparring partner lasted all of a few days this week. On Thursday night, he told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto that he was quitting after the MMA fighter’s camp released photos that depicted the sparring in an unfavourable light to Malignaggi and an untruthful light to what actually happened in the ring.

    One appeared to show Malignaggi falling backward to the canvas in a knock-down.

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    Malignaggi responded on Twitter, saying that it wasn’t anywhere near a knockdown and calling on McGregor’s camp to release video of the entire 12-round sparring session.

    “I wanted to be part of this event, but I didn’t want to become the story — and that’s what this has turned into,” Malignaggi told Okamoto. “I won’t release any information about his game plan or what he’s working on. I wouldn’t do that. But this has become a fiasco. It’s a circus.

    “And I do want that sparring video released. The UFC’s PI definitely has that video. I understand it can’t come out now, but Conor, if you have any balls, release what really happened.”

    What really happened, Malignaggi claims, is that he beat up McGregor pretty soundly, and did so soon after a cross-country flight from his home base in New York.

    Malignaggi seemed to soften his stance a bit in a statement released Thursday night, saying that he and McGregor have “a mutual respect inside the ring.” But he wants nothing to do with his training moving forward.

    McGregor’s camp made the perhaps odd move of not bringing in an experienced boxing coach to train him, instead sticking with Owen Roddy, his MMA striking coach of more than a decade. Naturally, Roddy said McGregor is an unstoppable sparring machine.

    “Conor is killing it in sparring. He’s not getting touched, you know what I mean?” Roddy told Okamoto on Tuesday. “He can do as many rounds as we want because he’s doing so well.

    “One thing I’ve noticed in camp is that week after week, he becomes twice the fighter he was. I’ve said this before, talking about MMA, that every fight, the ‘New Conor’ would smash the ‘Old Conor.’ Well, that’s happening every week this camp. Knowing what he’s doing, and how much he’ll improve in the next four weeks, I’m excited for people to see it.”

    0 0

    One eastbound lane of Highway 401 near Port Hope has reopened after a fiery fatal collision Thursday night.

    At around 10 p.m., Ontario Provincial Police responded to a call for a collision involving a tractor-trailer, a pickup truck and a car.

    “The traffic was slowing for construction at Burnham St.,” said Const. Tanya Royall. “A tractor trailer collided with a pickup truck and a sedan, resulting in a fire with all three vehicles being ignited.”

    Two people were pronounced dead on scene. Their identities are being withheld until next of kin has been notified, OPP said.

    All eastbound lanes of Hwy. 401 were closed from Toronto Rd. in Port Hope to Burnham St. in Cobourg until midday Friday, when one lane reopened.

    Royall said the Ministry of Transportation is working to repair the surface of the highway.

    “It’s a terrible tragedy but the Ministry of Transportation has to look at the overall safety of those travelling on Hwy. 401,” Royall said. “Right now the surface isn’t safe, so they have to make those repairs before it reopens.”

    Royall said the closure might create a traffic backlogs for the Civic holiday traffic.

    With files from Northumberland News and Bryann Aguilar

    0 0

    It will be a wet and messy end to the work week — and perhaps a testy commute out of the region for the long weekend — as Environment Canada has issued a severe thunderstorm watch for Toronto and the rest of the GTA.

    Other regions under the watch include York, Durham, Halton and Peel. The weather agency says the thunderstorms will begin late Friday morning and continue into the afternoon.

    The agency alert issued this morning says dangerous thunderstorms may be capable of producing damaging wind gusts, damaging hail and heavy rain. Heavy downpours can also cause flash floods and pooling on roads, so take care if you are embarking on a long weekend commute.

    There is cold air coming in the afternoon Friday, which is a factor in creating an “unstable atmosphere” when combined with the hot and humid weather from earlier this week.

    Temperatures in Toronto are expected to reach a high of 27 C with the humidex at 35. Winds will be gusting from 20 to 40 km/h. It will be partly cloudy with a low of 14 C overnight.

    0 0

    A preschool teacher buckled in for the two-hour flight from Seattle to San Jose noticed something on the cellphone screen of a fellow passenger that set off alarms. According to police, the unnamed woman began following along as the man in the seat ahead swapped messages about sexually molesting children.

    Thanks to the young teacher’s alert action, the man and another women were arrested quickly on Monday. Two children — ages 5 and 7 — have been identified by authorities as the likely potential victims. Police say without the teacher’s heroic intervention, the abuse could have gone undetected.

    “It’s kind of mind-blowing,” San Jose sex-crimes Detective Nick Jourdenais told the Mercury News. “She gets on a plane, a normal citizen minding her business. A couple of hours later, she’s intervening on quite possibly the most traumatic thing children can go through. This was life-altering for them.”

    Michael Kellar, 56, must not have realized his large-sized cellphone screen was legible to the passenger seated behind him on the flight. “It was in large font, and she sees certain words and starts contemplating there’s something bigger there,” Jourdenais told the paper. “Then the conversation transitions to children. That’s the moment when she decided to preserve the evidence as best as she could.”

    According to police, the teacher snapped her own cellphone photos of the conversations, which allegedly involved Kellar requesting the individual on the other end to perform sex acts on the kids. The teacher then told the flight crew, who in turn contacted authorities on the ground.

    When the Southwest plane touched down, San Jose police and San Francisco-based FBI agents detained Kellar for questioning. The Tacoma native told police the texts were just role playing and sexual fantasy, the Mercury reported. He freely let law enforcement look over the messages.

    But back in Tacoma, FBI agents were busy pinpointing the identity of the other party. Capt. Mike Edwards, commander of the Seattle Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force, told KIRO 7 that investigators traced the messages to a woman Kellar had met via an online dating site. Eventually, the trail led law enforcement to Gail Burnworth, 50, of Tacoma.

    At a news conference Thursday, San Jose Police Sgt. Brian Spears said investigators were able to rescue the children before the assault. Burnworth was babysitting the children. “Extremely disturbing,” he said.

    “Folks that are doing these sort of things are literally all around us,” Edwards told reporters. “We don’t know who they are. The discussion that was going on was very disturbing, about harm to children,” he told Q13 Fox TV.

    “Had she had not come forward, had not done anything with this, they would have carried out their plans and intentions. . . . They need to be punished and they need to be kept away from kids.”

    “I’d like to highlight that if it wasn’t for this particular passenger taking action to alert the staff and alert the police, this catastrophic event would have been horrific,” said Spears. “In my eyes, she is our hero.”

    Kellar is now in jail in Santa Clara County. He faces two counts of attempted child molestation and two counts of solicitation of a sex crime. Burnworth was booked at the Pierce County jail in Washington. She faces charges of sexual exploitation of a minor, rape of a child, and dealing in depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

    It could not be determined if the two had lawyers yet to speak for them.

    0 0

    Toronto’s new Medical Officer of Health is calling for a public discussion on the merits of decriminalizing all drugs in the wake of the ongoing overdose epidemic.

    “It’s clear that our current approach to drugs in this city and this country doesn’t seem to be having the desired impact,” Dr. Eileen De Villa told reporters Friday at a briefing on how the city is responding to drug users overdosing and, in some cases, dying.

    There have been six suspected fatal overdoses since the weekend, including two teens found dead in an Etobicoke highrise. In addition, Toronto emergency wards treated 79 people suspected of overdosing during the last week of July. It’s not yet clear how many were deaths.

    Last year, it’s believed more than 2,400 Canadians died as a result of opioid-related overdoses.

    On Friday, following Thursday’s emergency meeting of city partners, De Villa reviewed with reporters the city’s overdose prevention strategies which include asking police to carry the fentanyl antidote and speeding up the opening of three safe injection sites.

    De Villa said among the 10 key strategies in Toronto’s Overdose Action plan is a call for a public health approach to drug policy that puts the health of the community first, “rather than looking at this as an issue of criminal behavior and or an area for law enforcement.”

    The city is convening a committee of health and drug policy experts to explore “a different approach that puts the health of the community first,” she said.

    While acknowledging the city doesn’t have the power to change the Criminal Code, “Toronto has always been a leader … in policy and I don’t see why we wouldn’t continue to be a leader on this front,” said De Villa, who stepped into her high-profile position four months ago.

    Councillor Joe Mihevc, chair of the board of health, joined De Villa at the briefing and said the generations of the war on drugs has been an “abject failure.”

    He said Toronto should be “provoking” the conversation that is happening internationally. About 25 countries, including Portugal, have decriminalized drugs in some form, and next year recreational marijuana will be legal in Canada, he noted.

    “Is it appropriate, is it a wise use of public resources to be throwing police, lawyers, courts…the criminal justice system at it, or is it an issue where we throw in a lot more public health staff and nurses? What yields the best result?,” he said.

    Mihevc predicted, if the fentanyl crisis deepens in Canada, mayors across the country will begin pressuring the federal government to look at legalizing and regulating illicit drugs.

    He drew the connection to the wave of opioid overdoses, where former patients prescribed painkillers, including “nice, white middle-class people,” get hooked, then turn to fentanyl-laced heroin bought on the illegal market. Some traffickers cut their drug supply with fentanyl, a highly potent painkiller.

    “If there is a silver lining to the tragedy that we’re living with overdoses, it is provoking a larger conversation on how he have understood drugs, the control of drugs, the illegality of drugs, the ethics of drug use in Canada,” Mihevc said.

    0 0

    OSHAWA, ONT.—Police say a 26-year-old female cyclist has died after being struck by a car east of Toronto earlier this week.

    Durham regional police say Emily Sharon Shields of Oshawa, Ont., died Friday after she was take off life support.

    Police say she was struck Wednesday morning by a black Ford Crown Victoria sedan that veered out of control. The car then hit a tree.

    They say Shields suffered critical injuries and was taken to hospital then later airlifted to a trauma centre in Toronto. The 32-year-old driver sustained minor injuries.

    Police say they are also seeking a third vehicle that may have been directly or indirectly involved in the collision.

    It is described as a small sedan with black tinted windows, last seen travelling east on Adelaide Ave. toward on Townline Rd. in Oshawa, Ont.

    0 0

    QUEBEC—Muslims in Quebec City are going to have their own cemetery after all.

    The cemetery will be located on a parcel of land of about 6,000 square metres the city is selling for about $270,000 plus taxes, Mayor Régis Labeaume and members of the Muslim community said at a news conference Friday.

    It is expected to be ready this fall.

    The news came just three weeks after a zoning change proposal aimed at setting up a Muslim cemetery in Saint-Apollinaire, a town of around 6,000 southwest of Quebec City, was defeated in a referendum by a 19-16 margin. One ballot was rejected.

    “It’s very disappointing,” Mohamed Labidi, president of the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, told the Star on July 16. “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.

    Quebec City’s Muslims have been looking for a cemetery for two decades, but made a renewed push after they completed the payment for the city’s main mosque in 2011.

    It was there last January that a gunman shot and killed six men in the main prayer hall and injured 19 others. The bodies were sent overseas and to Montreal for burial.

    Labidi praised Labeaume for keeping his promise to forge ahead with plans for the cemetery.

    “It’s a great day,” Labidi said. “It is a historic day for Quebec City. Today, we are reaping the benefits of 20 years of hard work.”

    Boufeldja Benabdallah, interim co-ordinator of the cemetery project, also welcomed the news.

    “Earlier, Mr. Labeaume was praising the land and its beauty,” he said. “I told him, ‘You’re going to push us to die earlier because we want to take advantage of the land.’ It’s just to say there is joy today and we are all going to die in peace and with respect.”

    Benabdallah also stressed the importance of remembering those who died in the shooting in January.

    “I’ll finish up with a fraternal thought for our six brothers who died in the tragedy last Jan. 29,” he said. “Today’s announcement will put a bit of balm on this tragedy.”

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also endorsed the decision.

    “An important and courageous step for dignity and decency. Congratulations Mayor Labeaume for taking action,” Trudeau tweeted Friday.

    The GTA’s first Sunni-Shia cemetery was approved in March 2012. The Toronto Muslim Cemetery Corporation received a licence from the province, officially giving it the go-ahead to begin operations at Bethesda Sideroad and Leslie St. in Richmond Hill, the Star’s Noor Javed reported.

    For years, Muslims in the GTA used non-denominational cemeteries, often compromising on certain religious requirements at the time of death, such as speedy burial. The new Muslim cemetery ensures that all graves are correctly aligned toward Mecca, as preferred, and service is available on weekends.

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