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    A provincial court pilot project that has judges presiding over bail hearings at two of Ontario’s busiest courthouses has lawyers once again questioning the role of justices of the peace.

    In an effort to speed the court process, the Ontario Court of Justice announced last week that judges would take over bail hearings at College Park in Toronto as well as the Ottawa courthouse.

    The move comes as governments and courts continue to grapple with the effects of a 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision that set strict timelines to bring criminal cases to trial.

    The pilot project, expected to last 18 to 24 months, “is exploring whether the introduction of judges’ criminal trial experience at the earliest stage of the criminal court process could reduce time to final disposition,” said court spokesperson Kate Andrew.

    “All judges at the Ottawa and College Park courthouses will participate in the bail project and will be scheduled to preside in bail court as well as in trials, judicial pre-trials and all other regular judicial responsibilities.”

    Unlike someone looking to become a judge, a person does not need a legal background to qualify for the role of justice of the peace. Aside from presiding in bail court, JPs, who earn significantly less than judges, sign off on search warrants and preside over brief court appearances and matters involving provincial offences.

    JPs will continue to handle bail hearings in courthouses other than College Park and Ottawa, Andrew said.

    The court’s pilot project has prompted lawyers to question why JPs preside over bail in the first place, pointing out that it’s a critical step in the court process in which a person’s liberty is at stake when they have not yet been convicted of a crime.

    Many criminal defence lawyers have long complained about the fact that such an important task is being placed in the hands of individuals who do not necessarily have a legal background.

    Some have blamed JPs as one reason why jails are overcrowded with inmates who are awaiting trial.

    Others see it differently.

    “Putting experienced judges in bail court isn’t a solution to ensuring speedier justice,” said criminal defence lawyer Daniel Brown, a Toronto director of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association. “While it is preferable to have our bail courts staffed with jurists who possess criminal law backgrounds, the answer is to hire more justices of the peace who possess that skill set.”

    While the court has said judges will continue with their regular duties on top of presiding in bail court, lawyers have expressed concern that the pilot project will still lead to delays at the trial stage if judges have to be moved around to accommodate bail hearings.

    Ottawa criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt said that there were times when it could take up to a week to get a bail hearing at the courthouse in that city, “which is unacceptable,” but it could take months, if not more than a year, to get a trial date.

    “The role of justices of the peace should be examined,” he said. “I think there should be an acknowledgement that justices of the peace play an important role in the justice system . . . , but I think there should be no scared cows about what that role actually should be.

    “If you take a step back and think about it, it is rather shocking that you would rather have people without legal degrees, without the type of experience that judges by definition need to have, making decisions about police searching your house and about whether someone remains in custody or is released pending trial.”

    Spratt said that a complete re-orientation of the justice system is required in order to reduce court delays, including examining the use of the criminal law in dealing with people who are in poverty, or have mental issues and addictions.

    James Morton, former counsel to the Association of Justices of the Peace of Ontario, told the Star that part of the reason for having judges conduct bail hearings could be a current shortfall on in the number of JPs.

    But he also acknowledged that there have long been calls from some groups for judges to preside over bail, and that could have played a role in the court’s decision on the pilot project.

    “Justices of the peace know the law perfectly well and can make the decision just as well, to my thinking, as any judge can,” he said.

    “Regardless of anything else, the length of time a bail hearing takes is really not contingent on the judge of the justice of the peace hearing it; it’s contingent on the Crown putting in whatever material they have, the defence calling sureties, whether they’re arguing over the form of release.”

    Court delays are expected to be at the top of the agenda of the two-day federal, provincial and territorial justice ministers’ meeting, which begins Thursday in Vancouver.

    The issue was put front and centre last year when the Supreme Court ruled in a case known as R. v. Jordan that cases that take longer than 18 months in provincial court, and 30 months in Superior Court, must be tossed unless the Crown can prove there were exceptional circumstances for the delay.

    Bail has been among the areas targeted by Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi as in need of an overhaul to speed up the court process. There have been calls for federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to push for Criminal Code amendments that would scrap preliminary inquiries in most cases.

    Wilson-Raybould’s parliamentary secretary, Marco Mendicino, told the annual Opening of the Courts ceremony in Toronto Tuesday that change is expected to be announced at the meeting in Vancouver.

    “There, we hope to adopt a suite of legislative and policy proposals whose purpose will not only be to reduce court delays, but even more so, to break free from the culture of complacency which has beset our justice system, as laid bare in Jordan.

    “It is time to act,” he said in his remarks.

    Naqvi told the ceremony, which included the chief justices from all three levels of court in Ontario, as well as a number of other judges, lawyers and dignitaries, that the Ministry of the Attorney General will soon be releasing a new policy for Crown attorneys on bail.

    “Too many of the people in our province’s correctional facilities are on remand,” he said.

    “Too many are vulnerable, low-risk people, or those with mental health and addictions issues.

    “And far too many, a disproportionate number, are racialized or Indigenous.”

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    A veteran Durham police officer has come out swinging as he fights charges of discreditable conduct relating to allegations he made homophobic comments during an exchange with potential recruits.

    The pursuit of Police Services Act charges against Sgt. Tom Andrews is a waste of resources, the officer’s lawyer, Bernie O’Brien, said as a disciplinary tribunal began on Tuesday morning in Whitby.

    “This is a Durham police management issue that’s gone amok,” O’Brien said. “We think this is a grotesque waste of taxpayers’ dollars.”

    O’Brien said Tuesday he’ll file an application to have the prosecution of Andrews declared an abuse of process. He’s also seeking removal of the prosecutor assigned to the case.

    The allegations against Andrews relate to April of this year when he was acting as staff sergeant in Oshawa. A notice of hearing from the service says Andrews, asked to speak to two recruits, used vulgar and discriminatory language when he warned them about maintaining stellar reputations as officers.

    According to the notice, Andrews told the recruits, “You can sleep with a thousand women and you’re a king. But you fellate one man and you are a c---s----- for life.”

    The comment, made in front of an officer who’s openly gay, was “unprofessional, inappropriate and harmful to those who did and would have heard them,” the notice states.

    The complaint that led to the charges, however, was not made by the recruits or other officers in the office at the time Andrews made them. A third party filed the complaint after hearing about the exchange, O’Brien confirmed.

    Andrews denied the comment was homophobic; he attributed the resulting charges to “political correctness.”

    “I used an analogy in a teaching environment,” Andrews said. “Rather than talking and resolving third-party concerns like this, I guess it’s easier to just call the lawyers and get out the taxpayers’ chequebook.”

    O’Brien said Tuesday that Andrews has been assigned to administrative duties. He is not authorized to employ use of force tactics and is barred from performing paid duty, restrictions that will cost the veteran officer $40,000 in wages, O’Brien said.

    “He was taken out and put in the penalty box,” O’Brien said. “It’s unfair. It’s undignified.”

    O’Brien will seek removal of the firm of Ian Johnstone, a longtime prosecutor for Durham police, from the case. He cited an instance in 2012 when Johnstone filed a personal complaint about a remark made by Andrews that led to disciplinary action.

    “The justification is the perception of a fair and impartial hearing,” O’Brien said later.

    O’Brien will also apply to have the disciplinary action by police brass declared an abuse of process.

    Alex Sinclair, acting as prosecutor during Tuesday’s hearing, rejected O’Brien’s assertion that the comments in question were harmless.

    “That theme I simply can’t agree with,” Sinclair said. “When you make homophobic comments in the workplace, that’s a serious issue.”

    A number of officers attended the tribunal to show support for Andrews. Brad Durst, vice-president of the Durham Regional Police Association, said Andrews has “the full support of the association.”

    “I’ve known Tommy for 25 years,” said Durst. “He is truly the hardest-working, most dedicated officer.”

    The tribunal has been adjourned to Oct. 31.

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    He was a giant of his time, a classic of his political type as regional godfather and an architect of some of the social programs on which Canadians still define and pride themselves.

    Allan Joseph MacEachen — known as “Allan J.” across his native Cape Breton Island; if you called him anything else you outed yourself as a come-from-away — died this week at 96.

    And for once the frequently uttered epitaph is true. His like is not apt to pass this way again any time soon.

    “Allan J. was the pre-eminent parliamentarian of his time,” Bob Rae, former MP and Ontario premier, told the Star.

    “He will deservedly be remembered for his deep commitment to social justice, to the economic development of his region and the whole country and to Parliament itself.”

    Sean Fraser, Liberal MP for the Nova Scotia riding of Central Nova, told the Star that MacEachen “was just a larger-than-life character. He’s peerless in Canadian politics.”

    MacEachen held just about “every position there is to hold,” Fraser said. “And he did more with those positions than can reasonably be expected of a human being.”

    Allan J. was an MP and senator for more than 43 years, starting out at the progressive heart of the Pearson government in the 1960s and using his vast parliamentary skills, University of Toronto professor Nelson Wiseman told the Star, to engineer the downfall of the Joe Clark government in 1979 and his considerable powers of persuasion on the Liberal caucus to enable Pierre Trudeau’s return as leader — after his dalliance with resignation.

    “Allan MacEachen was a very, very shrewd tactician, and it’s actually because of him that Pierre Trudeau came back into power in 1980,” Wiseman said.

    MacEachen was born in 1921 in Inverness, N.S., and grew up during the Great Depression. His father worked in the Cape Breton coal mines for 46 years, and when he left, his son once recalled, “he left with nothing; he had no pension.”

    But MacEachen found education to be the great equalizer. He attended St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., and graduated in 1944 before studying economics at M.I.T.

    He was first elected in 1953 at just 33, was defeated in 1958 and re-elected in 1962.

    His first cabinet portfolio was as Lester Pearson’s labour minister. Then, in 1966, as minister of national health and welfare, he helped implement medicare in Canada, widely regarded as his greatest achievement.

    He told the Commons “this effort springs not only from a deepening of our humanitarian concern for our fellow citizens, but from a realization that we cannot afford the social and economic consequences of our failure to do so. In an industrial country such as ours, we cannot afford the loss to the economy stemming from ill health.”

    MacEachen, said Rae, “was at the heart and centre of the Pearson government — whose social and economic policies remain an integral part of the policy architecture of our country.

    “The Canada Pension Plan, medicare, manpower changes, regional development, immigration changes — Allan J. was instrumental in making these happen.”

    In 1968, MacEachen ran for the Liberal leadership, but lost badly and ended up in debt. He was shuffled sideways, then downward for a time by Pierre Trudeau. He considered quitting politics, but friends convinced him he would be letting down Cape Breton.

    For all MacEachen’s accomplishments during the Pearson years, he was what former Star columnist Richard Gwyn once called “a late-blooming media star.”

    By 1972, MacEachen had been on Parliament Hill for almost 20 years in various capacities, but cultivated a sort of shaggy, bearish demeanour that was clever camouflage for his shrewdness.

    He was an intensely private bachelor, with a reputation among some colleagues for brooding and melancholy. And it was the Clark-Trudeau dramas of 1979-80 in which he jumped to national prominence, Gwyn wrote.

    In his memoirs, Pierre Trudeau wrote that MacEachen had great strategic sense, lived and breathed politics and was “the kind of man I respected because he had no ulterior motives.

    “He said what he thought, and the reasons he would give were always his real reasons.”

    Trudeau’s confidence in MacEachen was reflected by the late Liberal cabinet minister, Eugene Whelan, when he wrote in his memoir of having his knuckles rapped by the PM after speaking out critically on financial affairs while MacEachen was minister.

    “You can say anything you like about the banks, but leave MacEachen out of it,” Whelan reported Trudeau telling him.

    MacEachen, who retired from the Senate in 1996 after 12 years in the upper chamber, led the infamous Liberal protests there in the late 1980s over the Progressive Conservative government’s free-trade treaty with the United States.

    At MacEachen’s Senate retirement, colleague Sen. Anne Cools described the country’s first deputy prime minister as a true son of Cape Breton, whose parents spoke Scottish Gaelic at home.

    “His Scottish racial ancestry is revealed in his physical build and his stalwart features. He is a handsome man with great serenity and poise. He has the countenance of one who understands human beings and the human condition.

    MacEachen enjoyed solitude, she said. His face was inscrutable when necessary. “He is a complex man.”

    Richard Gwyn concurred.

    “The only way to understand him is to understand Cape Breton,” Gwyn wrote in The Northern Magus, a biography of Pierre Trudeau.

    “That tribal, private, tightly knit kingdom peopled by cynical romantics and canny innocents, peopled that is to say by Catholic highland Scots, given to beholding the Hebrides in dreams.

    “MacEachen is happiest in the past, which to him is part of the present. He speaks Gaelic fluently and visits Scotland regularly to revivify his roots. To his Cape Breton tribe, he is shepherd and icon combined.”

    And for all the titles he held — for all the landmark accomplishments — his “reputation at home was for service to his constituents,” said Fraser.

    He recalled an oft-told tale of how, as external affairs minister, MacEachen was attending a Middle East peace conference. He wanted the schedule changed so he could leave Thursday in order to get home to Cape Breton to deal with constituents.

    He was told by other participants that changing the agenda was no small inconvenience.

    “He said to the U.S. secretary of state, ‘The difference between your political system and mine is if I don’t get back for this weekend for my meetings at home, we don’t get to have this meeting next year.”

    Fraser said MacEachen’s impact on Canadian politics will continue for years because of the leaders he groomed as they passed through his office and under his influence.

    “When I was student union president at St. F.X. (Francis Xavier), the president of the university had worked in his (MacEachen’s) office.

    “When I was deciding to go to law school, the two people who convinced me that it was a good idea . . . they both got their start in law and politics working for Allan MacEachen.

    “The people that are around Ottawa now who have worked alongside him include Ralph Goodale and Gerry Butts.

    “This man had his fingers on the careers of so many talented people that he’s going to continue to influence Canadian politics for a generation after he’s gone.”

    In fact, MacEachen — whose stamp of approval mattered until the end of his days — helped in the election of 2015, Fraser said.

    “He had a home in Antigonish until he passed and he had a big red sign in the middle of town for me during the last election.”

    Still, it might be Bob Rae who hit on the most important of Allan J.’s legacies.

    Rae met MacEachen when he was a young guide in the House of Commons in the summer of 1966 and the MP was already a parliamentary veteran.

    “I saw him perform brilliantly in an emergency debate on back-to-work legislation. When I was first elected to the House in 1978, he was friendly, but didn’t give me any leeway in debate. I was his critic when he was finance minister.

    “When I was thinking about running for the Liberal leadership in 2006, he called me out of the blue and said he wanted to help. Given my often barbed comments about him I was taken aback. I went to see him, and we talked it through. I asked him to co-chair my campaign, which he generously did.”

    MacEachen was a scholar who remained, Rae said, “a student of economics, politics and philosophy his whole life.”

    He had been “made frail by a series of strokes, but kept reading, engaging and talking things through as best he could.

    “His was a life of service,” Rae said. “And he was loved by many, including me.”

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    NEW YORK—A judge jailed former pharmaceuticals company CEO Martin Shkreli on Wednesday after finding that he violated his bail on a securities fraud conviction with a social media posting she agreed posed a threat to Hillary Clinton.

    Defence attorneys had argued at a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn that the post by Shkreli, offering a $5,000 (U.S.) bounty to anyone who could grab him one of Clinton’s hairs while she’s on a book tour, was political satire. But U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto didn’t see the humour, saying the offer could be taken seriously by fellow Clinton detractors.

    The Clinton offer could be viewed as “a solicitation of an assault,” the judge said before revoking Shkreli’s $5-million bail.

    Read more:

    ‘Pharma Bro’ Martin Shkreli reportedly selling one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album on eBay

    ‘Pharma Bro’ Martin Shkreli has been convicted of securities fraud

    “This is not protected by the First Amendment,” the judge said. “... There’s a risk that somebody may take him up on it.”

    The government had told the judge that the message had alarmed the Secret Service detail that protects Clinton, a Democratic former presidential candidate and first lady. It also argued that it fit a pattern of veiled threats against female journalists who rebuffed Shkreli’s social media advances and of taunts aimed at prosecutors in his case.

    On Monday, Shkreli, often called the Pharma Bro, wrote to the court apologizing for his behaviour, saying, “I am not a violent person.”

    But for the judge, it was too little, too late.

    “He doesn’t have to apologize to me,” she said. “He should apologize to the government, the Secret Service and Hillary Clinton.”

    Shkreli watched in silence as the hearing unfolded and sometimes put his head down and appeared to scribble notes. After the judge’s ruling, he remained expressionless as deputy U.S. marshals led him out a side door of the courtroom without handcuffing him.

    Defence attorney Ben Brafman said outside court he was disappointed in the judge’s decision.

    “We believe the court arrived at the wrong decision, but she’s the judge and right now we will have to live with this decision,” he said.

    Shkreli, who is best known for hiking up the price of a life-saving drug and for trolling his critics on social media, was found guilty last month on charges, unrelated to the price-fixing scandal, that he cheated investors in two failed hedge funds he ran. The defence had argued that investors got their original investments back and even made hefty profits.

    Since his 2015 arrest, Shkreli’s attorneys have tried and failed to get him to tone down online antics they feared would taint his jury and, after his conviction, hurt his chances for a lenient sentence by giving the court the impression he wasn’t taking his situation seriously. Along with the Clinton flap, reports surfaced that he was trying to auction off what he claims is a one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album he bought for $2 million.

    For now, Shkreli will await his Jan. 16 sentencing at a federal jail in an industrial part of Brooklyn instead his Manhattan apartment, which was a familiar backdrop for his live-streamed bluster. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, though the term could end up being shorter under federal sentencing guidelines.

    The government sought to get Shkreli locked up as a danger to the community amid the fallout from his social media post, which read: “The Clinton Foundation is willing to KILL to protect its secrets. So on HRC’s book tour, try to grab a hair from her. I must confirm the sequences I have. Will pay $5,000 per hair obtained from Hillary Clinton.”

    The defence insisted it was merely a tasteless joke comparable to some of U.S. President Donald Trump’s derisive comments.

    “Indeed, in the current political climate, dissent has unfortunately often taken the form of political satire, hyperbole, parody or sarcasm,” the defence’s court papers said. “There is a difference, however, between comments that are intended to threaten or harass and comments — albeit offensive ones — that are intended as political satire or strained humour.”

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    NDP leadership candidate Guy Caron says if elected prime minister he would approve pipeline projects only after the National Energy Board is reformed and First Nations whose lands were involved gave their consent.

    Pipeline politics is one of the first issues the new leader of the NDP will have to confront next month, and it’s a tense one. Two NDP premiers, Rachel Notley of Alberta and John Horgan of B.C., stand opposed to one another over it. But Caron told the Star’s editorial board Wednesday he’s no stranger to a challenge.

    “I was the least known candidate in the race,” Caron said of the beginning of his campaign. “My goal was to be a competitor, and I’d say I’m exactly where I wanted to be.”

    Caron believes that for the party to climb out of its third-place position in Parliament, it needs to win back the seats it gained in Quebec with the 2011 “orange wave” led by the late Jack Layton.

    “That, for me, is unavoidable,” said Caron, the only leadership candidate from Quebec.

    He argued he’s the only leadership candidate who understands Quebec politics and believes he is bringing forward a plan to “move the party in a different direction” after learning from previous NDP strategies that failed to garner enough support to gain power.

    While NDP platforms typically focus on implementing universal programs such as pharmacare and daycare, they’re conspicuously absent from Caron’s platform, which focuses instead on tax reform and basic income.

    He called universal programs a “priority” but said he wanted to build his platform around actionable items for the first NDP budget, rather than programs that depend on “lengthy negotiations with the provinces.”

    Caron said if he became prime minister he would bring provinces together to discuss best practices on these issues — Quebec, for example, has a universal daycare program in place.

    Meanwhile, he said he’s bringing “bold” ideas about tax reform and social safety nets to the table.

    He said the tax reforms he proposes would bring in $31 billion in additional federal revenues, an amount he admits is “ambitious,” especially given the backlash the Liberals are getting for their more modest tax proposals.

    But Caron said he’ll be able to sell his plan to Canadians because it’s “all about merit.”

    He plans to amp up taxes on what he calls “unproductive capital” — such as income from investments and a wealth tax — while bringing more Canadians into the lowest tax bracket for labour income.

    “I don’t want to make everybody equal, but I want to use the tax system to level the playing field,” Caron said.

    That’s also what Caron hopes to accomplish with his basic income proposal — a unique component of his platform that has also garnered the most opposition from opponents.

    The term basic income covers a range of policies that involve the government making guaranteed payments to some, or all, of its constituents. Caron called Canada’s guaranteed income supplement and child-care benefit forms of basic income already in place.

    The idea’s detractors on the left, fellow candidate Niki Ashton for one, fear its implementation will pave the way for the dismantling of traditional social supports, including welfare and universal programs.

    Caron insists he won’t allow that to happen. He’s proposing that anyone living below the low-income cut-off in their region — including students, Indigenous people and veterans — receive basic income payments in conjunction with existing social programs.

    “It won’t work if provinces are using it to off-load their expenditures,” he said, adding he would end the program in provinces that used a federal basic income program in this way.

    He cited a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimate that his proposal would cost $30 billion to $35 billion. In the long run, he believes the price tag will be worth it.

    “When you eliminate the stress of the need to survive,” he said, rates of crime, hospitalization and divorce can also be expected to drop.

    He said he knows his lofty plans will be met with opposition, but defended them as the right direction for a deflated NDP.

    When the NDP was the official Opposition under current leader Tom Mulcair it was widely viewed as a parliamentary success, he said. Caron insists that to get out of that rut the party needs both an ambitious plan and a leader who will unite Canadians — including Quebecers.

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    ROCKFORD, WASH.—A student who opened fire in a hallway at a Washington state high school killed a classmate who confronted him Wednesday and wounded three others before being stopped by a staff member, authorities said.

    The suspect, who a classmate described as being obsessed with previous school shootings, was taken into custody. The wounded victims were expected to survive, officials said.

    The shooter brought two weapons to Freeman High School in Rockford, south of Spokane, but the first one he tried to fire jammed, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich told reporters.

    “He went to his next weapon,” Kzenovich said. “A student walked up to him, engaged him, and that student was shot. That student did not survive.”

    The sheriff said the shooter fired more rounds down the hallway, striking the other students, before a school staffer could stop him. Kzenovich called it a courageous act that prevented further bloodshed.

    Authorities say a school custodian was the staffer who stopped the student from continuing a shooting rampage that killed one student. The Spokane County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday evening that the custodian approached the shooter at Freeman High School Wednesday morning during the incident and ordered him to surrender.

    Elisa Vigil, a 14-year-old freshman, told The Associated Press that she saw one male student shot in the head who janitors covered with a cloth and another female student wounded in the back.

    Michael Harper, a 15-year-old sophomore, said the suspect had brought notes in the beginning of the school year, saying he was going to do “something stupid” and might get killed or jailed. Some students alerted counsellors, the teen told AP, but it wasn’t clear what school officials did in response.

    A call to the school was not immediately returned.

    Harper said the shooter had many friends and was not bullied, calling him “nice and funny and weird” and a huge fan of the TV show Breaking Bad. He also said the suspect was obsessed with other school shootings.

    Students say the shooter was armed with a pistol and rifle and had carried a duffel bag to school. After shots were fired, students went running and screaming down the hallways, Harper said.

    Authorities didn’t release the suspect’s identity or a possible motive. The victims also were not named.

    Luis Prito, an assistant football coach at Freeman High, called the shooting devastating. A vigil was planned Wednesday evening at a nearby church.

    “This is a real close-knit community,” he said.

    A two-lane road into the town of about 500 people near the Idaho border was clogged as worried parents sped to the school. Some people abandoned their cars on the street to make it to their children.

    Cheryl Moser said her son, a freshman, called her from a classroom after hearing shots fired.

    “He called me and said, ‘Mom, there are gunshots.’ He sounded so scared. I’ve never heard him like that,” Moser told The Spokesman-Review newspaper. “You never think about something happening like this at a small school.”

    Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Children’s Hospital received three pediatric patients, spokeswoman Nicole Stewart said. They were in stable condition and surrounded by family, she said.

    Stephanie Lutje told AP she was relieved to hear her son was safe after his high school near Freeman High was put on lockdown. She commended the school district for its communication.

    “It’s been amazing, within probably 15-20 minutes of hearing about it, I’d already received a phone call, I’d already received a text message saying that their school is OK,” she said.

    She still worried for others she knew, including a co-worker who had yet to hear from her son, a sophomore at Freeman.

    “My stomach’s in knots right now,” she said.

    Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement that “all Washingtonians are thinking of the victims and their families, and are grateful for the service of school staff and first responders working to keep our students safe.”

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    Brendan Shanahan likes to tell the story about getting drafted by the New Jersey Devils at 18, and how then-scouting guru David Conte asked him why they should draft him, and Shanahan said, “Because I’m the youngest of four Irish boys, and when there’s one potato left on the table I get it.” Shanahan thinks Conte might have polished his teenaged quote over the years, but the message stayed pleasingly simple, and on brand. You can have talent, but in hockey, it has to be married to will.

    On Thursday, the Toronto Maple Leafs open their 101st season, and it could be special. The Leafs rocketed from 30th to the playoffs last season, spent more time holding a lead that any team other than the Presidents’ Trophy winners, and took that exact team to six games and were dead-close until the very last push. Auston Matthews is a superstar right now, and while Mitch Marner and William Nylander would be the best young player on a hell of a lot of other teams, one of them ranks third on this one. The Leafs might have the best crop of young talent in the league. Everyone knows what’s possible here.

    “You see what it could be,” says Shanahan, over lunch at a downtown restaurant. “But it always evolves. That’s the fun part of sports, the unpredictability of sports. There’s always going to be challenges thrown at individuals, and thrown at the team. So you see potential, but potential doesn’t mean anything unless you’re constantly trying to meet it.”

    The Leafs president has struck this same cautious tone in various interviews, because this is just the start of things. Nobody knows how this team will respond to higher expectations, or to a league that takes them more seriously. Shanahan started as an 18-year-old whose name rang out in his high school hallways while he was absent, in the NHL; his youngsters are starting their careers, too. The tests are just beginning.

    And the Leafs have to prove their potential, game in, game out. Shanahan looks at the young players reinvigorating the league right now, and sees a byproduct of the league’s rule changes in 2005, which he helped spearhead: He sees a generation that wasn’t practicing hooking and holding at practice, and had coaches encourage skill and speed. And he also knows that in hockey, talent needs more than talent.

    “The hardest thing to assess when you’re meeting these 17, 18-year-old draft prospects is will,” says Shanahan. “And that is not necessarily something that you learn in an interview room. Because you are going up against the other best players in the world. And often the margin between one team’s group of players and another are so narrow that it really comes down to will and grit, in that moment.

    “I think you have an idea (with young players), but you have to get to those places to really see. You know?”

    Toronto got some of that last season. The necessary wins down the stretch; the dead-legged loss in Game 82 to Columbus that kept them away from a tantalizing first-round series with Ottawa, on a side of the bracket with Montreal and the Rangers. The playoff series against Washington, where the Capitals only opened a clear gap in the third period and overtime of Game 6.

    “My sense of it was, they didn’t want to get to Game 7,” says Shanahan. “And they had the experience that even if wasn’t the end of the marathon, it was time for a kick. And that was the (Justin) Williams and the (T.J.) Oshies and their playoff experience. I really thought in that moment, yeah, their playoff experience showed in that overtime.”

    Shanahan believes in those moments, and their importance. It’s one reason that privately, he pulled so hard for this team to make the playoffs last season.

    “I wouldn’t say (I value) playoff performance so much as big-game performance,” says Shanahan. “And obviously in the playoffs they’re all big games, but if you break it down even further, big moments in games. I just think that there are players who consistently find ways to step up in big moments or big games that do it over a lifetime. If you go back and track their midget and bantam and pee-wee statistics, and not just in hockey but in other sports, there are certain athletes that get to that moment where they shrink and others, where the world sort of slows down for them, and the distractions become quiet for them. It’s just something they were born with in their brain.

    “You can still be that guy and have a bad series or have a bad game or have a bad season. But you look for patterns over time. (Last season), I was very pleased. I saw a group of people really embracing the moment that they were in, rather than shrinking from it.”

    So now the Leafs start their 101st season. Shanahan hates to single out his players, to talk them up too much, but one thing he says is, “One of the things that’s impressed me about Auston — and all the rookies we had last year — is they didn’t play like rookies, and they didn’t prepare like rookies, and I think they spent this entire off-season preparing like veterans. I’m happy we have him. I think he’s a fantastic person, and player, and teammate.”

    What he won’t say is Matthews unlocks everything else, and with him the window is open again, truly open. They should have a chance to win the division, to start. They should have a chance to do great things. In the language of the Shanahan brothers, there is one real potato in this sport. They could get it. That’s where they are.

    “When you go up against the best players in the sport, you get revealed for who you are and what you are,” says Shanahan. “You find out. You find out.”

    Here come the Leafs.

    0 0

    Kathleen Wynne wasn’t on trial Wednesday in a Sudbury courtroom. But as the first sitting premier to appear on the witness stand, Wynne faced her own trial by fire.

    Equally, Hillary Clinton wasn’t on trial in a congressional hearing room, or in an abortive FBI probe last year. But we know how that ended on the campaign trial.

    Legally, Wynne could have dodged this week’s courtroom confrontation. Like all MPPs, she enjoys parliamentary immunity from judicial obligations.

    Read more:

    Olivier not as ‘strong a candidate as I had thought,’ Wynne testifies at Sudbury bribery trial

    Wynne threatens Brown with libel action over his Sudbury comments

    Politically, however, the premier had every reason to waive those rights. By agreeing to testify in the bribery trial of her former top campaign aide and a local party loyalist, Wynne wanted to show in a provincial courtroom that she had nothing to hide.

    But she had everything to defend in Ontario’s broader court of public opinion this week — not least her political reputation.

    Wynne took a personal gamble, albeit with little downside. In our parliamentary system, a premier is practiced at the alternating rituals of Question Period and news conferences, which tend to be more challenging than the plodding crown prosecutors she faced in Sudbury.

    Yet if the political risk was manageable, the potential upside isn’t so measurable for a premier trying to rebuild her reputation. In our legal system, an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty; in our political system, a premier is presumed corrupt until proven otherwise (even if she is not personally on trial).

    It is unsurprising that politicians are not given the benefit of the doubt, given that they are prone to say with a straight face that their baloney is filet mignon. That said, the premier’s utterances were delivered under oath Wednesday, so there is more reason to take Wynne at her word, if only this once.

    In truth, there were no surprises in her testimony, because few of the facts in this convoluted tale are in dispute. The cognitive dissonance comes in the context, in how you connect the dots and distinguish them from false leads.

    Our accompanying news coverage lays out the background to the seemingly sordid story of attempted bribery: A failed candidate in the 2014 general election, Andrew Olivier, wanted to run again in a 2015 byelection until the premier sidelined him by settling on a more electable candidate, Glenn Thibeault.

    In the aftermath, the premier’s team tried to pacify Olivier by dangling the prospect of an appointment if he would support Thibeault in a show of party unity. Their mistake was to go out of their way to console Olivier, a quadriplegic who records his calls because he cannot take notes.

    And so a scandal was born: Olivier taped top Liberal campaign aide Pat Sorbara suggesting he consider the appointment process, and recorded local Liberal fundraiser Gerry Lougheed doing the same.

    When he posted the embarrassing recordings on Facebook, the opposition — which knows precisely how politics is played — pounced by filing an OPP complaint. Once the cops were on the scent, the story seemed to stink.

    At first, they laid criminal code charges. When the cops and crown realized the chances of a conviction were remote, they downgraded the case to lesser provincial offences under the barely understood and rarely invoked Election Act — relying on wording clearly intended to guard against greedy land developers buying off dissidents with handsome bribes, not party leaders ridding themselves of losers.

    That Olivier was never given any concrete offers, merely invited to go through the application process — for unpaid volunteer positions or a constituency assistant job that typically pays a whopping $35,000 a year — has been lost in all the bribery hyperbole. In reality, Olivier couldn’t be bought off because he had already been ruled out for the nomination, once the premier decided to appoint Thibeault using her power under the party constitution.

    Which makes the whole muddle moot. Chicanery isn’t bribery.

    Just ask Mike Duffy, who was excommunicated by his fellow senators and excoriated by his former media colleagues, before being exonerated by a judge who mocked the police case.

    To borrow a hockey analogy, and as much as I oppose fighting in the NHL, imagine if a losing coach filed assault charges every time an opposing player threw a sloppy punch. When you criminalize the competitiveness of the political game, and when you weaponize the Election Act, you arrive at the absurdity that is Sudbury.

    No one can predict a judge’s verdict. But this is a case that should never have gone to court, and may one day come back to haunt the opposition PCs as they deal with a similar mess of their own making in Hamilton — involving an embarrassing recording, a police investigation and litigation over a disputed nomination.

    Let the games begin — cops and robbers and politicians chasing their tails. But don't our police and prosecutors have real criminals to catch?

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

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    Toronto is moving forward with the development of 2,000 market-rent and affordable rental housing units, through a provincial agreement to unlock surplus land across the city.

    “There are far too many people who need to live in this city, who we need to have live in this city, who we want to live in the city, who would have an income that wouldn’t allow them to live affordably in this city,” said Mayor John Tory.

    The rental properties will be built on two lots in the West Don Lands, as well as the site of a multi-level parking lot on Grosvenor St. and the old provincial coroner’s office, on Grenville St.

    Tory’s remarks were made during a press conference with provincial Housing Minister Peter Milczyn, at one future site, near St. Lawrence Market, on Wednesday morning.

    The land will go up for sale on Thursday and developers will be invited to submit proposals, with the understanding the property must be used for affordable and market rent housing.

    The province will profit from the sale but the expectation is the land will sell for less than it would if it was put on the market with no restrictions, said Milczyn.

    They hope to have the first round of proposals within a month and work could begin on one site as early as next spring, he said. The decision to unlock the property was announced in late April.

    Milczyn said at least 30 per cent or 600 rental homes will be affordable. In Toronto, affordable is defined as rental units costing at or below the average rent across the city.

    The remaining 1,400 will be at the “low end” of market rent, or the average rent for similar-sized properties across the city.

    “So all of these units, compared to some of the other buildings that are around us, will be more affordable than you would otherwise see in the city,” he said.

    At least one in 10 of the new units will be designed for large families, he said.

    “Families should be able to live in these communities,” said Milczyn, who said more announcements about surplus provincial lands are coming.

    The city will be waiving $27.9 million in fees, charges and property taxes to support the development of the 600 affordable units, through the city’s Open Door Program.

    Kenneth Hale, director of legal service with the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, said one concern is according to federal and provincial agreements, affordable housing is defined as less or equal to 80 per cent of market rent.

    “Eighty per cent of Toronto rent is not affordable to the people who need housing most in this city,” said Hale, particularly people receiving social assistance.

    “There doesn’t seem to be any clear programs that tie future subsidies to these developments,” said Hale.

    “When they say affordable housing who is it going to be affordable to?”

    In Toronto, more than 181,000 people are on waitlists for affordable housing.

    Tory, on Wednesday, said the city has “great plans to do more” and people should “stay tuned for us making more land available,” for affordable housing.

    “I can assure you from our end that we are doing everything we can to move these projects forward quickly,” said Tory.

    Councillor Ana Bailao, the city’s housing advocate, said the development will “serve an important need,” by providing safe, affordable and long-term housing for families and workers in the downtown.

    Tory and Bailao praised late councillor Pam McConnell, who passed away in July and was devoted to social justice and the creation of affordable housing. Bailao said McConnell’s vision of an inclusive city was a powerful reminder that equality is a shared responsibility.

    Next week, Bailao will be presenting information on the creation of an additional 298 units, in seven developments, run by not-for-profit, co-operative and private sector organizations, to the city’s affordable housing committee.

    The city will be investing a further $22.4 million in “capital funding and fees, charges and property tax relief,” also through the Open Door program, said Bailao, in a release.

    The city will, for the first time, meet and exceed an annual target to approve more than 1,000 affordable units annually, she said.

    On Monday, Tory and Milczyn announced that Toronto will get $90 million in provincial funding, over three years, to help end chronic homelessness.

    Those funds come from a $200 million commitment in the last budget, to be spent over three years, and earmarked to reduce homelessness across Ontario.

    Other municipalities will receive details on funding in the fall, said Milczyn.

    0 0

    WASHINGTON—Democratic leaders on Wednesday night declared that they had a deal with President Donald Trump to quickly extend protections for young unauthorized immigrants and to finalize a border security package that does not include the president’s proposed wall.

    After a White House dinner with the president, the Democrats — Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California — released a joint statement that appeared aimed at ensuring that the president would follow through after their discussions on the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

    “We had a very productive meeting at the White House with the president,” the statement said. “The discussion focused on DACA. We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.”

    In its own statement, the White House was far more muted, mentioning DACA as merely one of several things that were discussed.

    “President Donald Trump had a constructive working dinner with Senate and House minority leaders, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, as well as administration officials to discuss policy and legislative priorities,” the statement said.

    “These topics included tax reform, border security, DACA, infrastructure and trade. This is a positive step toward the president’s strong commitment to bipartisan solutions for the issues most important to all Americans. The administration looks forward to continuing these conversations with leadership on both sides of the aisle.”

    A White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private dinner insisted that the president had stressed his interest in seeing the border wall funded. The wall was a key campaign pledge, but Democrats are vehemently against it.

    According to a person briefed on the meeting, the president said at the dinner that he was not tethering wall funding to the DACA solution. Trump recently began to wind down DACA, which has provided protection from deportation for roughly 800,000 young unauthorized immigrants. But he has been torn about it, and he has made clear he would like a legislative fix.

    The president is pursuing a bipartisan patina as he heads into the fall legislative season with few major achievments in his first eight months in office.

    The meeting Wednesday night was described as a follow-up to one that Schumer and Pelosi held in the Oval Office last week with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, at which Trump astonished — and undercut — his own advisers by leaping at a deal offered by Democrats to attach a stopgap spending bill and debt-ceiling increase to a package of recovery aid for areas affected by Hurricane Harvey.

    Read more:

    Toronto doctor plays starring role in selling Bernie Sanders single-payer planned

    U.S. Supreme Court upholds Trump administration’s ban on most refugees

    California sues Trump administration over ending DACA, joining 15 other states, D.C.

    0 0

    WASHINGTON–One by one, an American doctor, American nurse, American mother and American businessman explained to the cameras why their country’s health system is a disaster.

    Then Bernie Sanders called up the Canadian standing behind him. She had a kind of magic trick to perform.

    Dr. Danielle Martin, a family physician from Toronto, described a glorious place, “just north of your border,” where everyone is covered, costs are lower, outcomes are better, and people have no idea what it’s like to cough up cash for the privilege of delivering a child.

    Martin revealed her OHIP card.

    “I just handed over this card, my Canadian health-care card, to my doctor. And that was it,” Martin said.

    Some of the Sanders devotees sitting in the packed room on Capitol Hill murmured appreciatively, as if she had just conjured a rabbit.

    “I wish that all of my American neighbours could experience the same simplicity in their moments of need,” Martin continued. “And I hope that the American people will seize this opportunity to declare to each other, and to the rest of the world, that you do believe access to health-care is a human right.”

    Read more:

    Bernie Sanders’ universal health care plan has no chance but is getting record support

    The doctor on a mission to heal medicare

    Democrats fight Trump in bid to reignite push for Canada-style health-care

    The occasion was momentous: Sanders, joined by high-profile Democratic colleagues in the Senate, was introducing a “Medicare for All” bill to transform the U.S. health system from a patchwork of private and public insurance to a government-run single-payer system like Canada’s.

    “Health-care in America must be a right, not a privilege,” he said. “Today we begin the long and difficult struggle to end the international disgrace of the United States, our great nation, being the only major country on earth not to guarantee health-care to all of our people.”

    Sanders, the Vermont social democrat who lives near the border, has made Canada central to his initial pitch. He extolled Canada’s single-payer system in a New York Times op-ed on Wednesday morning and then at the rally on Wednesday afternoon.

    “You know, I think it is high time that we started taking a look at what countries around the world were doing in providing quality care to all of their people in a far more cost-effective way than we do. And one of the examples of a single-payer system that is working well, that is popular, is the Canadian system,” Sanders said in introducing Martin.

    Martin, a vice-president at Women’s College Hospital and the former chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, came to the senator’s attention with the moment that made her an internet sensation.

    Testifying before a Sanders-chaired U.S. Senate committee in 2014, Martin trounced an ill-prepared Republican senator who peppered her with negative questions about Canadian care.

    The video has been viewed millions of times. Sanders’s aides have kept in touch, and they invited her back to town for his big day.

    Sanders is still years, perhaps decades, from a realistic chance of a legislative victory. But the Wednesday scene showed just how much has changed in two years.

    Sanders campaigned on single-payer care during his 2016 campaign. Under Barack Obama, however, Democrats lined up behind the significant-but-incremental changes of the president’s Affordable Care Act, relegating Sanders to his regular place on the left-wing fringe.

    His position is fast become the party standard.

    Unsettled and energized by U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempts to repeal Obamacare, and dismayed that more than 25 million people remain uninsured, much of the Democratic base is agitating for a true universal system. And now some of their most prominent elected officials are falling in line behind a proposal Hillary Clinton said will “never, ever come to pass.”

    Sanders’s bill has quickly gained 16 Senate co-sponsors. Though almost all of them represent liberal states, they amount to a third of the Democratic caucus.

    “People who are angry at Trump’s election, a lot of Democratic base folks, are saying, ‘We demand this. We’re tired of tinkering with this, we want to fix it.’ So they’re putting huge pressure on their senators,” said Minnesota State Sen. John Marty, the leading proponent of single-payer there. “And these senators are saying, ‘Oh, what am I going to do? Keep defending a broken system when my folks are saying we want something better and I know the broken system can’t be fixed?’”

    Joining Sanders on Wednesday were four senators thought to be contemplating their own runs for president: Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker.

    "I love my northern neighbour,” Booker said, “but it is embarrassing to me to have a Canadian stand here in the capital of the United States of America and talk about a system that takes care of their children better than we take care of our children."

    Sanders would create a system far more generous than Canadian provinces offer. Unlike OHIP, it would offer full coverage for vision and dental care, and partial coverage for prescription drugs, to everyone including illegal immigrants.

    The cost, therefore, would be higher. Sanders did not say how he would pay. His bill has no chance of passing under a Republican-controlled Congress, and he described it as a mere first step in a consultative process.

    Two-thirds of Americans currently have private insurance, with more than half covered through their employers. Sanders proposes a politically perilous forced transfer of these people onto the government Medicare program currently reserved for seniors.

    An unscripted moment soon after the Wednesday speeches underscored just how hard it may be to combat fears about what many Republicans describe as socialized, or socialist, medicine.

    As Martin spoke to the media, a Maryland man wearing a pro-Sanders t-shirt approached her to tell her about someone he knew in Canada who had waited more than a year for a hip replacement.

    The Canadian system has problems, she told him, but wait times can be improved without leaving people uninsured.

    “There’s nothing about a publicly funded, single-payer system that necessarily leads to waits,” she said.

    Some Republicans are still attempting to repeal Obamacare, and Trump applauded their effort, without endorsing their specific proposal, in a Wednesday statement. Press secretary Sarah Sanders called Bernie Sanders’s proposal “a horrible idea.”

    “I can’t think of anything worse than having the government be more involved in your health care instead of less involved,” she said.

    0 0

    North Korea threatened to use a nuclear weapon against Japan and turn the U.S. into “ashes and darkness” for agreeing on fresh United Nations sanctions this week—rhetoric that is likely to exacerbate tensions in North Asia.

    “Japan is no longer needed to exist near us,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said on Thursday, citing a statement by the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee. “The four islands of the archipelago should be sunken into the sea by the nuclear bomb of Juche,” it said, a reference to the regime’s ideology of self-reliance.

    Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called the comments, which sent the Korean won lower, extremely provocative. “If North Korea stays the course that it is on, it will increasingly become isolated from the world,” he told reporters in Tokyo.

    Read more:

    UN security council accepts new sanctions against North Korea

    South Korean president ‘sandwiched’ by North’s threat

    Trump doesn’t want to negotiate with North Korea, but world leaders are split on strategy

    The comments come amid reports the regime may be preparing another missile test. There are signs North Korea has fuelled and readied for launch a rocket with an engine for liquid fuel, suggesting it may be an intercontinental ballistic missile, the Nikkei reported Thursday evening, citing a Japanese government official it did not identify.

    The UN sanctions follow North Korea’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test earlier this month. In late August, the regime launched a ballistic missile over northern Japan in what it said was “muscle-flexing” to protest annual military drills between the U.S. and South Korea. Leader Kim Jong Un called it a “meaningful prelude” to containing Guam. North Korea previously threatened to launch rockets over Japan into the Pacific and toward the U.S. territory.

    “A telling blow should be dealt to them who have not yet come to senses after the launch of our ICBM over the Japanese archipelago,” a spokesperson for the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee said in Thursday’s KCNA statement. The committee is an affiliate of the ruling Workers’ Party.

    KCNA had previously described the rocket as an intermediate-range strategic ballistic missile.

    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the launch at the time, while U.S. President Donald Trump reiterated that “all options” were under consideration in responding to North Korea’s provocations.

    The remarks about Japan came sandwiched between threats against the U.S. and South Korea.

    “Now is the time to annihilate the U.S. imperialist aggressors,” the statement on KCNA said. “Let’s vent our spite with mobilization of all retaliation means which have been prepared till now.”

    The report said the South Korean “puppet forces are traitors and dogs of the U.S. as they call for harsher ‘sanctions’ on the fellow countrymen, adding that the “group of pro-American traitors should be severely punished and wiped out with fire attack so that they could no longer survive.”

    Humanitarian aid

    Still, South Korea’s Unification Ministry is considering providing $8 million (U.S.) in humanitarian aid to North Korea through international organizations such as UNICEF, Yonhap News reported Thursday, citing the ministry.

    If the aid is approved by the government it’d be the first time in two years that Seoul has provided such assistance to its northern neighbour. In 2015, the ministry sent $10.3 million through international bodies.

    When South Korean President Moon Jae-in came into power in May he promised a new era of engagement with North Korea. But he’s turned more hawkish in recent weeks, seeking stronger warheads on ballistic missiles, stepping up military drills, and embracing a missile defence system he’d questioned.

    Jim Woolsey, former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, said Thursday the U.S. should aim to de-escalate tensions with North Korea.

    “We can’t push these things right close to the edge,” especially “if the president makes decisions really, really rapidly in the middle of the night,” Woolsey said on Bloomberg TV.

    Pyongyang trip

    The threat to Japan comes a day after a lawmaker said some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party were considering visiting Pyongyang for talks with North Korean leaders.

    “In the LDP there are some people seeking dialogue,” independent lawmaker Antonio Inoki told reporters in Tokyo following a trip to the North Korean capital. “There’s a change in atmosphere at the moment” about the need for talks rather than pressure, he said.

    The government in Tokyo had criticized Inoki’s visit, with Suga saying beforehand that all trips to North Korea by Japanese citizens are discouraged.

    Abe has stressed the need for pressure on Kim via sanctions, as opposed to talks. He told the Nikkei newspaper this week that Japan was in agreement with the U.S. and South Korea that dialogue would only be possible when North Korea committed to complete and verifiable denuclearization.

    0 0

    Two men have been rushed to hospital and the province’s police watchdog has been called in after a stabbing and a shooting in North York on Thursday morning.

    Police and paramedics were called to Driftwood Ave. and Cobbler Cres., in the Jane and Finch area, just before 9:15 a.m. for reports of a stabbing.

    Chris Precious, a 48-year-old who lives nearby, said he was woken up by screaming, shouting and cars honking. When he went to his balcony to see what was happening, Precious said he saw a man attacking an older man and lots of blood.

    The man ignored pleas from bystanders and police to stop, said Precious.

    “Then the police officers shot him and that was the end of the commotion,” Precious said, adding that he thought the man’s back was turned to officers as he was facing the other man.

    Toronto police called the province’s Special Investigations Unit to the scene shortly afterwards, said Const. Jenifferjit Sidhu. The SIU hasn’t confirmed Precious’ account.

    The SIU investigates all incidents involving police resulting in death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.

    Paramedics said the man who was shot suffered life-threatening injuries, and that the other man was seriously injured after being stabbed numerous times.

    Behind a string of yellow police tape, a pool of dark red blood could be seen taking up the better part of a square of sidewalk on the corner of the intersection. A few metres away lay a black jacket with what appeared to be a white shirt on top, while a black baseball cap sat on grass nearby.

    Neighbours looked on as police spoke with a group of young people. Meanwhile, a school bus and a TTC bus also sat in the taped-off area, taking up the better part of the block.

    Precious said the TTC bus passed by while the altercation was happening, so those on board likely saw the incident. He also said he didn’t think any children were on the school bus when it passed by a few minutes afterwards.

    Spokesperson Monica Hudon confirmed that the SIU has taken over the investigation from police.

    0 0

    Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown is refusing to apologize to Premier Kathleen Wynne despite her threat of a libel action against him for saying she was on “trial” in the Sudbury byelection bribery case.

    Some 22 hours after Wynne’s lawyer slapped him with a letter threatening a defamation suit, Brown finally issued a statement early Thursday.

    Her legal missive coincided with her taking the stand as a Crown witness in a Sudbury courtroom where her former deputy chief of staff and a key Liberal activist are on trial for alleged Election Act violations.

    “Yesterday was a sad day for Ontario,” wrote Brown.

    “No one, whatever their political view, wants to see the premier of our province debased and humiliated. Regrettably Kathleen Wynne compounded this sorry spectacle with baseless legal threats against me; threats that will be ignored,” he said.

    “We as a province need to put this ugly chapter behind us and move on.”

    Speaking with reporters later at Queen’s Park, he stuck to those talking points.

    “Yesterday was a sorry spectacle and, regrettably, Kathleen Wynne compounded the problem by this threat of a lawsuit. Her baseless lawsuit will be ignored,” said Brown, who refused to acknowledge he misspoke.

    In Washington, where she is meeting with U.S. officials to discuss NAFTA, Wynne noted Brown has until 5 p.m. Thursday to retract his comments.

    “We’re letting the lawyers speak at this point. Because my letter speaks for itself. And I think the deadline has not yet come, so we’ll see,” the premier told the Star.

    “I have to say if there was a mistake that he made, I think it would be a good thing for him to step forward and say that,” she said.

    “The fact is that this whole issue has been put into the hands of the courts. And so it has become a legal issue. And so I think it has to be clear what is actually happening, and that’s what my letter sought to clarify.”

    Her lawyer, Jack Siegel, said “this conduct by Patrick Brown is extremely disappointing.”

    “As a matter of law, a full and fair retraction prevents a plaintiff from recovering punitive damages,” said Siegel.

    “Mr. Brown’s refusal to take that simple step therefore suggests that this was not an accident and that his remarks were deliberately made with the intention of harming the reputation of the premier.”

    On Wednesday, he served Brown with a letter stating that he “made a statement about the premier of Ontario that is false and defamatory.”

    “Contrary to your statement, Premier Wynne is not standing trial. Your statement is false and misleading and appears to have been made with the intention to harm the reputation of Ms. Wynne,” wrote Siegel.

    “As you should well know by now, especially in light of the notice letter sent to your colleague Bill Walker just last week, the premier is not subject to any charges and will not stand trial for anything,” the lawyer continued, referring to the Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound Tory MPP forced to apologize for public comments he made about the premier.

    The letter stems from comments made by Brown at a Queen’s Park scrum on Tuesday with reporters from the Star, CBC, The Canadian Press, Radio-Canada, Global, CP24, CTV, Globe and Mail, QP Briefing, TFO, Queen’s Park Today, Fairchild, CHCH, and Newstalk 1010.

    “We’ve got a sitting premier sitting in trial and answering questions about allegations of bribery,” Brown, a lawyer, said.

    “I hope that the premier will give us answers. We’re not getting them in the Legislature. Maybe when she stands trial,” he added.

    Before the 2014 election, Wynne launched a similar action against former Tory leader Tim Hudak and MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton). That matter was settled in 2015.

    NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Thursday that Brown should apologize.

    “Both the premier and Brown seem to be in this tit-for-tat. The more important thing to be doing here is focusing on people,” said Horwath.

    Deputy Premier Deb Matthews said Brown appears to be bringing Donald Trump-style politics to Ontario.

    “There is a principle in Canada that you do not make defamatory, misleading comments about another political leader,” said Matthews.

    “In Canada, we actually expect people to be honest. There is, south of the border, a change in that culture. I do not want to see that change coming to Canada,” she said.

    “He’s a lawyer — he knows exactly what he did.”

    Brown’s snafu came six days after his chief of staff issued an edict to Tory MPPs and staffers to “please refrain from commenting” on the trial lest they cause the party problems.

    0 0

    The federal government says at least 2,816 deaths in 2016 were linked to the opioid crisis and that number “will almost certainly” surpass 3,000 in 2017.

    Nearly three-quarters of the Canadians who died of opioid-related causes last year were male, while 84 per cent of the deaths involved another intoxicating substance such as alcohol, cocaine or prescription drugs.

    Just over half of the deaths were linked to fentanyl-related opioids.

    On Thursday, a report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) warned the opioid crisis is having a significant impact on the health system as a growing number of Canadians seek emergency hospital care for overdoses.

    In 2016-17, 16 Canadians a day were admitted to hospital for opioid toxicity, up from 13 per day two years earlier — a rise of almost 20 per cent.

    That one-year hospitalization rate translates into more than 5,800 Canadians needing treatment.

    Read more: Province won’t call opioid crisis an emergency, but pledges ‘significant’ help

    Makers of OxyContin, Percocet sued by U.S. governments over opioid crisis

    Small pool of Ontario doctors treat majority of residents with opioid addiction, study finds

    The last decade has seen hospital admissions for opioid poisonings jump 53 per cent, with more than 40 per cent of that increase occurring in the last three years, CIHI found.

    “I think what’s interesting is to look at this issue across the country,” said Brent Diverty, vice-president of programs at CIHI.

    “We see when you look at hospitalizations that rates are higher in Western and Northern Canada. But the rates while lower in Eastern Canada are on the rise.”

    Adults aged 45 to 64 and seniors 65 and older had the highest rates of hospital admissions for opioid toxicity over the last 10 years, but the fastest-growing rate was for youth and young adults aged 15 to 24, CIHI found.

    About half of those admissions were due to accidental opioid poisonings; about one-third were intentional; and the cause of the remainder are unknown.

    “With seniors, you seem to see higher rates of accidental poisonings, perhaps related to multiple medications that they may be on,” said Diverty. “So they simply take the wrong dose.

    “We see higher rates of intentional self-harm in younger folks.”

    CIHI found intentional opioid overdoses were most prevalent among young people aged 15 to 24, accounting for 44 per cent of hospitalizations.

    Still, the researchers also found escalating rates of accidental overdoses among younger people, which Diverty said may be linked to recreational use of illicit drugs, some of which may be laced with a synthetic opioid such as fentanyl.

    “We have a supply that is completely unpredictable in terms of exactly what is included in what is being purchased and the quantity,” said Matthew Young, a senior research and policy analyst at the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse.

    “It really comes down to how in the last few years, there’s just been this injection of these new compounds that are making the illicit opioid market incredibly volatile,” he said.

    “And nobody really knows what they’re purchasing and what they’re using.”

    In data from Alberta, CIHI found emergency department visits related to heroin and synthetic opioid overdoses soared almost 10-fold over the last five years.

    In Ontario, emergency department visits for heroin poisoning rose almost fourfold, while visits for synthetic opioids more than doubled.

    “They were seeing about 13 emergency department visits a day in Ontario, 11 in Alberta,” said Diverty. “But if you think about that in population terms (Ontario’s population is three times larger), we’ve got a more significant issue in Alberta.”

    While CIHI doesn’t have a dollar figure for the cost to the health-care system, Diverty said people admitted for an opioid overdose spend longer than average in hospital and there are downstream costs for continuing treatment of complications.

    “The simple fact that there are more of these cases occurring is creating more costs for the system,” he said.

    “So it will be important for us to monitor these rates over the foreseeable future to see both how this issue is progressing across the country, but also how various types of interventions that are taking place may be helping to stem the tide.”

    0 0

    In its strategy of presenting a united front to beat out fierce competition for Amazon’s second North American headquarters, Toronto is partnering with three other municipalities and two mayors to put forward a single, regional bid.

    Three mayors — Toronto’s John Tory, Mississauga’s Bonnie Crombie and Brampton’s Linda Jeffrey — and chairpersons of the Durham, Halton and York regions have joined forces in the bid.

    The municipalities are part of Toronto Global, a new agency working to bolster efforts to attract foreign direct investment to the region.

    Amazon is the agency’s first major project, and one that Mayor Tory believes is unparalleled in Canada when considering its possibility to generate tens of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in investment and potentially massive spinoffs.

    Seattle-based Amazon announced its search for a home for “Amazon HQ2” on Sept. 7. The tech giant is poised to invest “more than $5 billion (U.S.) in construction and grow this second headquarters to include as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs.”

    “It’s going to be a blockbuster bid because it’s going to have the region bidding, hopefully with some people who aren’t technically part of Toronto Global joining us,” Tory said in an interview.

    Though Global Toronto was conceived to include the immediate GTA area at the time of its launch in February 2017, Tory said he hopes to partner with cities like Waterloo and Hamilton in this bid and for future projects.

    Tory said the timing of this agency was perfect for the Amazon bid, but creating a regional partnership to entice foreign investors is something he has been working on for years.

    “It wasn’t just about creating an organization,” Tory said. “It was about actually deciding that when we went forward to attract foreign direct investment, which this is, that we would do it as a region because we were stronger together.”

    Tory referenced a Cities of Opportunity report by Price Waterhouse Cooper that showed the success of similar organizations in London, Chicago and Montreal.

    “We are stronger when accentuating the business benefits of the entire region,” said Mark Cohon, chair of the Toronto Global board of directors, in a statement to the Star.

    Diverse site selection, cultural diversity and quality of life across the region are factors that can leverage these opportunities, he said.

    Toronto isn’t the only Canadian city vying to house Amazon online retail giant’s second home. Vancouver also signalled plans to bid, as well as other North American states and cities like Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Detroit.

    Abdullah Snobar, executive director of Ryerson University’s DMZ business incubator, believes having Amazon headquartered in the city would bring international exposure to Toronto’s tech community, but could absorb start-up talent.

    “It’s going to be a lot of work . . . to ensure that by bringing on a corporation, it does not mean that we lose the potential of building out an innovation nation of talented entrepreneurs and startups,” he said.

    The organization has until Oct. 19 to submit its bid in the “Olympics of foreign direct investment,” as Tory calls it, with eyes on the gold.

    “We’re going to try to win,” he said.

    With files from David Rider

    0 0

    One morning five months ago, Rosemary Finlay woke up and made porridge for her son Scott, just as she’s done every morning for nearly four decades.

    Only he wasn’t in the living room to eat it.

    “She forgot,” says her husband Hugh Finlay, laughing at the memory.

    “She thought he was still here. It was a big, big change for us.”

    The day before, on April 10, their 61-year-old son had finally moved into the supportive home that they, along with the Canadian ski community and other supporters, had worked tirelessly to have built.

    Scott Finlay was a promising 21-year-old ski racer when he suffered a devastating brain injury in a ski crash at the 1978 Canadian championships in Lake Louise, Alta, that left him almost completely paralyzed and unable to speak.

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    For most of his life since, Rosemary has cared for him in the living room of their home just outside Napanee, 40 kilometres west of Kingston.

    He was in the centre of the home — and the centre of their lives.

    “Someone said he should have a bedroom and we said ‘no thanks, this is great,’ ” Hugh Finlay says. “He was part of our family all the time.”

    Which is why leaving him for the first time at his new supportive home, known as The Finlay House, was wrenchingly difficult.

    “It was a tearjerker for us,” he says.

    But they couldn’t have been happier for their son.

    The Finlay House, now home to Scott and five others with acquired brain injuries, is in a retrofitted wing of an existing health complex in Napanee, which means all the medical facilities from dental to physiotherapy are on site. The home is funded by the local health network and additional family-paid fees and operated by Pathways to Independence, so there are daily activities and trips.

    Hugh Finlay has high praise for the “terrific” staff, but notes they’re no match for Scott’s charms. “He’s sucking them right in,” he says. “They like his big blue eyes.”

    Scott’s room is full of ski team photos and memories of his life before his accident and, of course, it is painted golden yellow.

    “We asked him what colour he wanted and he said gold,” Hugh says. “He was always reaching for gold.”

    His race bibs from all those years of chasing the top step of the podium have been transformed into a spectacular quilt by the local farmhouse community quilters. The yellow No. 11 bib he was wearing on Feb. 24, 1978, sits in the middle. That’s the day his dream of a ski career — and very nearly his life — ended on a set of bumps known as Double Trouble.

    He was skiing hard, looking for a spot on the national team in the Crazy Canucks era of Ken Read and Steve Podborski, and came into that treacherous spot on the hill at 110 km/h. It was too much speed and he lost control over the first bump. He was out of position when he hit the second one and that threw him into a backward spin. His head snapped back and smashed against the icy slope, knocking him unconscious, and horrified spectators watched as he continued to tumble down the steep hill.

    Scott Finlay’s life was frozen in time that day. He never spoke again. His father says he understands everything, but can’t find a way to communicate verbally.

    But Hugh Finlay can speak and shout and bang his fists on the office doors of government and health care officials — and he did all that for 15 years to make sure that Scott would have a supportive home for that day that he and Rosemary couldn’t take care of him anymore.

    All parents worry about their children’s future, but for caregivers of adult children with needs, the thought of what might happen to them after they’re gone can be a terrifying thing.

    When Hugh Finlay started his drive to get a home built for Scott and others in the area with acquired brain injuries, he was told there were 2,400 parents in Ontario in the same predicament they were in.

    “We had over 100 applications for this place, people from Toronto would phone me and say, ‘If we moved to Napanee, do you think we’d get in?’ Thank God I wasn’t the person choosing the people,” he says.

    Through the activities in his new home, Scott Finlay has already been on numerous trips, including Kingston, the Thousand Islands and to watch drag racing, a real treat given his love of cars.

    His parents, who are in their mid-80s, have been taking things a little slower.

    “We haven’t gone anyplace yet,” Hugh Finlay says. “We keep thinking about it, but we’re homebodies. It’s awfully hard after you stay home for that many years not doing too much, it takes a while to figure out what to do.”

    But there is one thing he is clear on doing and that is thanking “all the people in Canada that really helped to make this Napanee acquired brain injury home a success.”

    At the top of his list are two Toronto Star journalists, the late Randy Starkman and Randy Risling, whose contributions were remembered at the celebratory opening on Wednesday.

    Starkman, the Star’s award-winning amateur sports reporter, wrote a feature headlined “The Skier: When love runs out of time” in 2011, a year before his sudden death from pneumonia.

    That story and the accompanying video by Risling galvanized community support and started the flood of donations that helped jump-start government action on building the Napanee home.

    “I bet he’s looking down from heaven smiling from ear to ear,” Hugh Finlay says of Starkman, whose commemorative plaque adorns a bench in the home’s courtyard.

    Scott Finlay is smiling a lot these days.

    He likes the staff, the activities, the food, and sitting in his golden room, looking out the window at the parking lot where his parents pull in to visit.

    They do so twice a day, every morning and evening, his dad says, but all these months later, Scott’s bed is still in their living room.

    “In case we want to bring him home for the weekend.”

    0 0

    WASHINGTON—U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said he was “fairly close” to a deal with congressional leaders to preserve protections for young immigrants living illegally in America but he’s insisting on “massive border security” as part of any agreement.

    Trump, speaking to reporters before surveying hurricane damage in Florida, pushed back against Democratic leaders who claimed there was a deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative. He also said his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border would “come later.”

    “We’re working on a plan subject to getting massive border controls. We’re working on a plan for DACA. People want to see that happen,” Trump said. He added: “I think we’re fairly close but we have to get massive border security.”

    After he landed in Florida, he declared repeatedly, “If we don’t have a wall, we’re doing nothing.”

    Trump, in a series of early morning tweets, disputed the characterization of a private White House dinner on Wednesday night by his guests, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the top Democrats on Capitol Hill. Trump said there was no deal.

    But speaking on the Senate floor Thursday morning, Schumer insisted that both sides were in agreement and there was no dispute.

    “If you listen to the president’s comments this morning ... it is clear that what Leader Pelosi and I put out last night was exactly accurate,” said Schumer. “We have reached an understanding on this issue. We have to work out details, and we can work together on a border security package with the White House and get DACA on the floor quickly.”

    Indeed, in the face of ferocious pushback from conservative lawmakers and media outlets including Breitbart, run by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, the White House appeared focused more on reshaping presentation of the agreement, than on denying it outright.

    “By no means was any deal ever reached,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters told reporters aboard Air Force One as the president travelled to Florida. “This is something that Congress needs to work on”

    Democratic aides said that although there was no final deal, an agreement had been reached.

    But Breitbart was already labelling Trump “Amnesty Don.”

    “The Trump administration will not be discussing amnesty,” Walters said. The president wants “a responsible path forward in immigration reform. That could include legal citizenship over a period of time. But absolutely by no means will this White House discuss amnesty,” she said, although most conservatives would consider “legal citizenship over a period of time” to meet the definition of amnesty.

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    Schumer and Pelosi said in a statement that the details on border security needed to be negotiated, that both sides agreed “the wall would not be any part of this agreement” and that Trump said he would pursue the wall later.

    And soon after, Trump appeared to confirm that approach. “The wall will come later, we’re right now renovating large sections of wall, massive sections, making it brand new,” he told reporters before his Florida trip.

    He also said Republican congressional leaders, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky favoured his approach on the immigration program. “Ryan and McConnell agree with us on DACA,” Trump said, adding that he had spoken to them by telephone.

    Trump said he had spoken to Ryan.

    It was a head-snapping series of events for a president whose White House campaign demonized immigrants and focused intensely on construction of a border wall that Trump insisted Mexico would pay for. During the campaign, Trump declared repeatedly that he would “immediately terminate” president Barack Obama’s DACA executive order upon taking office.

    However, since then the president has not seemed comfortable with a harsh approach toward immigrants brought here illegally as kids, and he has been inclined recently to turn to Democrats to jump-start legislative imperatives. Only days ago, Trump and the Democratic leaders agreed to back a three-month extension of the debt limit in order to speed hurricane assistance.

    “The WALL, which is already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built,” Trump tweeted early Thursday.

    At the same time, he expressed sympathy for the hundreds of thousands of younger immigrants vulnerable to deportation even though they were brought to the United States as toddlers or children. He had announced last week that his administration was rescinding the program and gave Congress six months to come up with a legislative fix.

    “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military, really?” Trump wrote. “They have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own - brought in by parents at a young age. Plus BIG border security.”

    A person briefed on the Wednesday night meeting, who spoke on condition anonymity about the private get-together, said the deal specifies bipartisan legislation that would provide eventual citizenship for the young immigrants.

    House Republicans would normally rebel over such an approach, which many view as amnesty for lawbreakers. Early response from conservatives indicated their loyalty to Trump did not go so far as to allow them to embrace his immigration pact with the Democrats.

    The House’s foremost immigration hard-liner, GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa, addressed Trump over Twitter, writing that if the reports were true, “Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible.”

    Conservative commentator Ann Coulter said over Twitter, “At this point, who DOESN’T want Trump impeached?”

    0 0

    Slightly more than 3 per cent of real estate deals in Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe from May to August involved foreign buyers, new statistics released by the Ontario government show.

    From May 27 to Aug. 18, “approximately 3.2 per cent of 66,434 real estate transactions in the (Greater Golden Horseshoe) involved at least one foreign entity,” says the report.

    “Out of the 35,264 transactions outside of the GGH, approximately 1.6 per cent involved at least one foreign entity. Overall, out of the 101,698 transactions in Ontario, approximately 2.6 per cent involved at least one foreign entity.”

    That's down from 4.7 per cent of those who purchased homes and condos in a wide swath stretching from Niagara through Toronto and east to Peterborough, and north to Barrie in the month immediately after the province introduced a new tax on non-residents.

    However, the 4.7 per cent from April 24 to May 26 includes numerous deals that were grandfathered in and would have been unaffected by the “non-resident speculation tax,” the government says.

    There is no provincial data on the number of foreign buyers before the levy was introduced in April, although estimates are that they comprised about 5 per cent of deals.

    Outside of the Greater Golden Horseshoe, in the month after the tax was implemented — from April 24 to May 26 — 1.5 per cent of transactions involved foreign buyers, and rose slightly from May to August.

    The Liberals brought in the 15 per cent non-resident tax in April, with a host of other changes to help cool an overheated market that saw skyrocketing prices fuelled by strong demand. It is levied on foreign businesses and buyers who aren’t citizens or permanent residents of Canada.

    At that time, it was estimated that foreign buyers accounted for about 5 per cent of transactions.

    The levy here is similar to one in British Columbia that’s been in place for more than a year.

    The government report also notes that province-wide, 21 per cent of deals involving non-residents were for properties the buyer planned to lease.

    As well, in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area, 80 per cent of foreign buyers said they or a family member would live in the residence.

    “The measures that we introduced as a part of the Fair Housing Plan are working — we are seeing increased housing supply and evidence that more people are finding affordable homes,” said Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa in a news release. “Ontario continues to be a place that welcomes all new residents, drawn by its rising employment and strong economy.”

    0 0

    Ontario is banning a new Big Pharma marketing scheme that uses electronic medical records to sell drugs.

    The prohibition comes after a Star investigation found Telus Health has been inserting electronic vouchers for brand name drugs into its popular medical record software (EMR) used by thousands of doctors across Canada.

    “Ontario patients must have confidence that (prescribing) decisions are not influenced by marketing programs or electronic vouchers,” Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins said in a statement.

    “This practice is particularly concerning given its powerful influence on the brands of drugs that Ontarians receive, often without patients even being aware that this practice is happening.”

    The electronic vouchers steer patients to brand name drugs over their less expensive generic equivalents, and have raised concerns that patients’ health records are being used to sell pricier drugs that can pile unnecessary costs onto private insurance plans.

    The voucher feature, found in medical record software owned by Telus Health and other companies, will be disabled over the coming weeks, said Hoskins.

    The minister said he is working on the prohibition in collaboration with OntarioMD, which oversees and certifies electronic medical record software.

    A Telus Health spokesperson said the company “has always been careful to ensure that our EMRs comply with provincial policy as it evolves over time.

    “The minister’s directive to the industry is clear, and we are taking the necessary steps to implement the required changes.”

    The Star had found that brand name drug companies paid Telus to digitally insert the vouchers so that the prescription is filled with their product instead of the lower-cost generic competitor that pharmacists normally reach for.

    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.

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

    The Star found in some cases, doctors were unaware they had inadvertently enabled the feature.

    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.

    Hamilton Dr. Monica De Benedetti applauded the minister’s “strong and important” decision to prohibit electronic vouchers.

    “Patient information should not be used for marketing purposes — patients aren’t ways to make money, they’re people we care for and try to keep healthy,” said De Benedetti, lead physician for the Hamilton Family Health team, a network of 165 physicians.

    She said some of the team’s doctors were unaware the vouchers had been added to their medical record system following a 2016 software update —nor were they aware that information about those vouchers was being shared with drug companies.

    Without the physicians being fully aware, they could not tell their patients about the program, De Benedetti said.

    The health team encouraged its members to turn off the voucher feature, and De Benedetti and others raised their concerns with Telus and OntarioMD, a subsidiary of the Ontario Medical Association that oversees the certification of electronic medical record software.

    “I’m very glad to hear this issue has been pushed forward not just for our patients but for all patients in Ontario,” she said.

    Telus said drug manufacturers paying to have their vouchers in the EMR receive “aggregated and anonymized, province-level statistics” on the total number of vouchers printed off for their products, Telus said.

    No patient or physician information is shared, the company said.

    Paul Lepage, president of Telus Health, previously said, “Protecting our customers’ privacy and safeguarding data is, and will always be, a cornerstone of our business.”

    Telus Health said the voucher 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 company spokesperson said.

    Meanwhile, the brand companies said the payment assistance vouchers are about giving the patient choice between brand and generic drugs without having to spend more money.

    Critics, however, say vouchers manipulate physicians’ prescribing practices, adding that many doctors use a drug’s brand name when writing a prescription out of habit and aren’t necessarily instructing that a drug be dispensed over its generic.

    The vouchers also reinforce a false premise that generics are inferior in quality to the original brand name drugs, say doctors critical of the feature.

    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 software, which introduced vouchers in August 2016, follows ethical principles not necessarily present in other software.

    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.

    At St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, about 100 physicians and nurse practitioners in the family medicine unit use a Telus EMR to write prescriptions for their patients. All of them have opted out of the voucher feature.

    One of those doctors, Nav Persaud, said, “It’s good that this function has been banned because it wasn’t actually helping people. It was an invasive and inappropriate marketing tool.”

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