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    A man in Sweden is charged with raping girls in Canada and two other countries entirely through online contact, in what prosecutors are calling a potentially precedent-setting case.

    Bjorn Samstrom, whose trial is underway, is charged with dozens of offences, including “gross rape,” involving 27 girls, two of them Canadian, according to one of the prosecutors in the case. The other girls are in the United States and Britain.

    The allegations involving the Canadians date back to 2015, when the two girls — one from Ontario, the other from Alberta — were 13, the prosecutor said.

    In an interview from Stockholm, prosecutor Annika Wennerstrom said Samstrom is accused of coercing girls to perform sexual acts in front of webcams by threatening them or their families.

    Under Swedish law, rape does not have to involve intercourse, Wennerstrom said. It can be another act considered to be equally violating.

    The country’s highest court has previously ruled that sexual assault, which is a lesser charge, can be committed through the internet but has yet to convict someone of rape in the same way, she said.

    Wennerstrom said the courts have said in other cases that rape could “hypothetically” occur over the internet, but the offences being tried did not meet the threshold.

    She believes the crimes Samstrom is accused of committing are “horrific” enough to be considered rape.

    “We see them as rape of a different kind,” she said. “They are forced to do it, they are threatened to do it, it’s painful and it goes on, in some cases, for a long time. They have absolutely no choice and they are terrified.”

    Police found video recordings of young English-speaking girls while investigating Samstrom in connection with another alleged sex crime involving Swedish complainants, the lawyer said. In some of the footage, they could hear Samstrom’s voice or see other information that linked him to the video, she said.

    Prosecutors reached out to Canadian authorities and the case was brought to the attention of the RCMP, who worked with local police to identify the girls, she said.

    Eventually, a delegation from Sweden travelled to Canada to help interview the two girls, now 15, she said. Video of the interviews will be presented at Samstrom’s trial so the teens won’t have to testify, she said.

    The trial is expected to wrap in November, but Wennerstrom predicted the decision will be appealed regardless of the outcome.


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    MANAGUA, NICARAGUA—Tropical Storm Nate gained force as it sped toward Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula Friday after drenching Central America in rain that was blamed for at least 21 deaths. Forecasters said it was likely to reach the U.S. Gulf Coast as a hurricane over the weekend.

    Louisiana and Mississippi officials declared states of state of emergency and Louisiana ordered some people to evacuate coastal areas and barrier islands ahead of its expected landfall Saturday night or early Sunday. Evacuations began at some offshore oil platforms in the Gulf.

    Mississippi’s government said it would open 11 evacuation shelters in areas away from the immediate coast, with buses available for people who can’t drive.

    Read more:

    Tropical Storm Nate blamed for 22 deaths, may hit U.S. Gulf Coast as a hurricane

    ‘Spirits have been broken’: Hurricane Maria takes a toll on mental health of Puerto Ricans

    In bizarre visit, Donald Trump compares Puerto Rico to ‘a real catastrophe like Katrina’ — and congratulates himself: Analysis

    The U.S. National Hurricane Center warned that Nate could raise sea levels by 4 to 7 feet from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida border. It had already had caused deadly flooding in much of Central America.

    The storm had maximum sustained winds of 85 km/h by Friday morning and was likely to strengthen over the northwestern Caribbean Sea on Friday before a possible strike on the Cancun region at the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula at near-hurricane strength. It could hit the U.S. Gulf coast near New Orleans.

    The storm was located about 200 kilometres east-southeast of the Mexican resort island of Cozumel and had accelerated its north-northwest movement to 33 km/h.

    In Nicaragua, Nate’s arrival followed two weeks of near-constant rain that had left the ground saturated and rivers swollen. Authorities placed the whole country on alert and warned of flooding and landslides.

    Nicaragua’s vice-president and spokesperson, Rosario Murillo, said that at least 11 people had died in that country due to the storm. Earlier Thursday she had said 15 people had died before later revising to say some of those were still counted as missing. She didn’t give details on all the deaths, but said two women and a man who worked for the Health Ministry were swept away by a flooded canal in the central municipality of Juigalpa.

    Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Organism blamed seven deaths in that country on the storm and said 15 people were missing. Flooding drove 5,000 residents into emergency shelters.

    In Honduras, there were three dead and three missing, according to Oscar Triminio, spokesman for the country’s firefighters.

    Damage caused by the storm prompted Costa Rican officials to postpone a World Cup qualifying soccer match between that country and Honduras, which had been scheduled for Friday night.

    In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency and mobilized 1,300 National Guard troops, with 15 headed to New Orleans to monitor the fragile pumping system there.

    With forecasts projecting landfall in southeast Louisiana as a Category 1 hurricane, Edwards urged residents to ready for rainfall, storm surge and severe winds — and to be where they intend to hunker down by “dark on Saturday.”

    Louisiana’s governor said Nate is forecast to move quickly, rather than stall and drop tremendous amounts of rain on the state. State officials hope that means New Orleans won’t run into problems with its pumps being able to handle the water.

    Edwards warned, however, against underestimating the storm.

    The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning from Grand Isle, Louisiana to the Alabama-Florida border.

    Officials ordered the evacuation of part of coastal St. Bernard Parish east of New Orleans ahead of the storm. Earlier Thursday, a voluntary evacuation was called in the barrier island town of Grand Isle south of New Orleans.

    New Orleans officials outlined steps to bolster the city’s pump and drainage system. Weaknesses in that system were revealed during summer flash floods.

    The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s New Orleans office said in a news release that as of midday Thursday, six production platforms, out of the 737 manned platforms in the Gulf, had been evacuated. No drilling rigs were evacuated, but one movable rig was taken out of the storm’s path.

    The agency estimated less than 15 per cent of the current oil production in the Gulf of Mexico has been shut-in, which equates to 254,607 barrels of oil per day.


    U.S. states declare emergency, people ordered to evacuate ahead of Tropical Storm NateU.S. states declare emergency, people ordered to evacuate ahead of Tropical Storm Nate

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    WASHINGTON—U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday played with the pronunciation of Puerto Rico as he saluted Hispanic Heritage Month at the White House.

    Trump drew out the name in an accented fashion three times — “Pueeeeerto Rico” — telling the crowd, “We love Pueeeeerto Rico.” Then he said it without any accent: “And we also love Puerto Rico.”

    That got a laugh from the crowd of Hispanic leaders gathered in the East Room of the White House, and Trump’ s other statements of support for the recovering U.S. territories drew cheers.

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

    Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were walloped last month by Hurricane Maria and are struggling to recover. Trump visited Puerto Rico this week, and Vice-President Mike Pence toured St. Croix on Friday and was headed for Puerto Rico as well.

    Trump has rankled Hispanics with his tough immigration policies, including building a border wall between the United States and Mexico, and he drew sharp criticism for his initial response to the toll Maria took on Puerto Rico. Critics have said the president was slow to recognize the magnitude of the hurricane’s impact early on and has overstated the effectiveness of federal recovery efforts.

    Last month, Trump signed a proclamation marking Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month. In the proclamation, Trump mentioned that Hispanic-owned small businesses are the fastest growing businesses in America.

    He moved from behind the microphone Friday to hug a Medal of Honor recipient in the crowd, and said that 60 Latinos in the Armed Forces have been awarded the Medal of Honor.

    Read more:

    What Donald Trump saw on his Puerto Rico visit — and what he missed just a few kilometres away

    In bizarre visit, Donald Trump compares Puerto Rico to ‘a real catastrophe like Katrina’ — and congratulates himself: Analysis

    Trump says Puerto Rico has ‘thrown our budget a little out of whack’


    ‘Pueeeeerto Rico’: Trump plays with Spanish accent as he celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month‘Pueeeeerto Rico’: Trump plays with Spanish accent as he celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

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    If you’re a celebrity athlete who has a sponsorship deal with a popular yogurt company, it’s probably not a good idea to disparage the female gender on national TV. Whether we like the stuff or not, women appear to be the target demographic for every yogurt ad ever created. It’s safe to say that sexism and probiotics do not mix.

    But this information was undoubtedly lost on NFL star Cam Newton this week when the Carolina Panthers quarterback — also a (now) former spokesperson for Dannon Oikos Greek yogurt — chose to belittle a female sports journalist during a press conference by practically laughing in her face.

    “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes,” a smirking Newton told Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue after she asked him a question about the team’s passing plays. Most interpreted this to mean: “Ha ha, it’s so novel when a woman knows a thing or two about sports.”

    Except it isn’t. Female voices can be read and heard at nearly every newspaper sports section and broadcaster on the continent, and many of them (Rodrigue included) took serious offence to Newton’s remark, one perceived not only as insulting, but unprofessional. They weren’t alone in this feeling.

    Newton has since apologized for his comment, acknowledging in a video posted to Twitter that it was “disrespectful to women,” but not before Dannon chose to part ways with the quarterback. “It’s simply not OK to belittle anyone based on gender,” Dannon said in a public statement Thursday. Meanwhile, as if this incident needed another layer of ick, Rodrigue has issued an apology of her own, for a series of racist tweets she made several years ago; tweets completely unrelated to her exchange with Newton but brought to the fore because of it.

    But racist tweets do not, as some Newton fans argue, cancel out sexist comments on a workplace podium. And mocking a female reporter when she asks a question about football isn’t merely “not OK,” as yogurt kings Dannon put it. It’s also downright bizarre in the context of American football, where women aren’t passive observers of the sport, twiddling their thumbs while their hubbies holler at the TV, but passionate fans in their own right. Earlier this year, an NFL spokesperson told Reuters that women make up 45 per cent of the league’s fan base.

    Newton must live a pretty sheltered existence, even within his own profession, to have been genuinely surprised by a woman who has basic knowledge about football.

    But his fans don’t appear to be particularly enlightened, either. I know that one is never supposed to “read the comments,” but I threw caution to the wind and read dozens of them this week, beneath news stories about the Newton-Rodrigue affair. And what I discovered wasn’t the lunatic ranting of misogynist trolls, but a much subtler form of prejudice. For example:

    He “wasn’t trying to be disrespectful,” argued one Newton defender on YouTube. “Sounds like he’s laughing at how far we’ve come.”

    “What did he say wrong?” argued another. “He seems to be impressed with her question and knowledge.”

    And yet another: “He did not dis her. I love when women know and talk about football.”

    This, ladies and gentlemen, is the sexism of low expectations that asserts that women should blush with pride when men congratulate them for basic competency.

    It’s the kind of sexism that frames Rodrigue, a person whose livelihood literally depends on an intricate knowledge of football, as a seemingly sports apathetic woman at a tailgate party who lets slip that she knows what a passing route is.

    It’s the kind of sexism that compelled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015 to launch a PR campaign geared toward female fans offering style tips, “culinary creations” and an opportunity to brush up on their knowledge of the game — a venture that infuriated many of the franchise’s diehard women fans.

    It’s the kind of sexism that affects not only following sports, but playing them.

    Any woman athlete is likely familiar with this scenario that could be the story of my hockey playing life.

    Play sports with other women and you get a pat on the back if you score a goal or make a nice pass. Play sports with men and you get a pat on the back for merely demonstrating that you don’t suck. (I’ve gotten pats on the back from men for raising the puck and I have played hockey since I was 5 years old.)

    Worst, though, is when you do screw up in the game — when you make a lazy error or fail to back check — and some guy begins showering you with compliments. “Good hustle out there!” he says, when it most certainly wasn’t.

    Remember that scene in Space Jam where Michael Jordan laments to his son the fact that everybody on his major league baseball team praises his crappy performance? This is the reality for pretty much every woman who has a bad game playing in a men’s league.

    Compliments aren’t compliments when they’re given in response to a subpar or basic performance. They’re insults. If you’re a guy and you find yourself surprised by a woman’s aptitude for a sport, or in Newton’s case, her knowledge of it, please don’t treat her like a child. Treat her like a colleague or a friend.

    Emma Teitel is a national affairs columnist.


    Treat women like colleagues and friends, not children: TeitelTreat women like colleagues and friends, not children: Teitel

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    Digital technology’s creators did not set out to change human sexuality. They didn’t even intend to change pornography. It was an unintended consequence, a flap of a butterfly’s wing that led to a series of alterations in the world, some helpful, some ironic, some tragic.

    The British journalist Jon Ronson, author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, a groundbreaking book on the mainstream taste for online sadism, was sitting in a Los Angeles hotel lobby in January 2013 when he saw a sneer. It was a male receptionist giving a woman in a tight, bright blue dress “a look of total contempt.”

    She was a veteran porn performer. With this, a wing flapped for Ronson personally. “With disgust comes incuriousness,” he says of the shunning of the story of porn, but he had been alerted. This very humane man began hunting backwards. From that glance, he tracked down the wreckage of the California porn industry, the social cost of free product and the intrusion of technology into, well, our pants.

    As I binge-listened to his 3½-hour Amazon Audible documentary podcast, The Butterfly Effect with Jon Ronson, I could hear a tolling bell from a decade ago. It came from Montreal of all places, where two geeks in a boring office building formed a company — it hired McGill grads for tech help — called Mansef to build websites and hunt clicks. PornHub was their biggest draw.

    They sold the company in 2010, Ronson reports, because they didn’t want their parents to find out.

    Fabian Thylmann, a young German who was already surfing primitive porn sites in the 1990s, bought it, changed the name to Manwin — he tells Ronson he intended no insult to women — and then MindGeek, as Slate has reported. He then got fantastically wealthy very fast by aggregating porn.

    Thylmann talks to Ronson with great candour. Unlike the Zuckerbergs of this world, he is a strangely charming person who somehow managed to lay waste to the San Fernando Valley, the Detroit of porn-making, a place blessed with natural light. Ever wonder why there’s so much outdoor porn?

    Porn was a lot like the newspaper industry, a cash cow with good pay, lavish awards ceremonies and a class system, with tabloids at the bottom trying for shock and broadsheets at the top aiming for dull respectability. People paid money for them.

    For reasons that still elude me, online goods became free. This created a habit, and as humans never seem to learn, habits are hard to break. Porn exploded. Profit margins became razor-thin, with videos gaining hundreds of millions of online views while desperate actors went unpaid.

    Genres became a thing. As in Google-ized journalism, keywords were essential: cheerleader; stepdaughter; babysitters; group; racial; etc. When that grew stale, customers bought custom fetish porn — their psychological origins are fascinating — contracting performers to burn their stamp collections, swat flies and do specific things with towels.

    They know what they like. Beauty is not essential, but age is. Porn women have to look like teens, aging out of the business at 26, tops. It’s a mirror of online dating, where men of all ages, however unattractive they are, all seek women under 25.

    Ronson talks gently to the People of Porn.

    Porn men sound irritable. Porn women sound kittenish and enthusiastic, with chirping voices and peals of giggles. In Shamed, victims were afraid to talk to Ronson. In Butterfly, even unhappy people are almost excessively amenable. The most common word used by women is “sweet.”

    Ronson is the journalistic equivalent of Charlie Brooker, the Guardian columnist who created Black Mirror, the surreal TV drama series about the terrifying effect of technology on human lives. It is futuristic, not historical. It’s always sickening when an episode happens in real life. Human foolishness is Shakespearean: low comedy; anguished monologues; much strutting.

    Ronson is doing Mirror’s opposite, tracking the story backwards to where it began. He is a dissector of stories, and porn is his lab rat. It’s difficult to summarize Butterfly because it continually offers details of porn life that send up emotional smoke, the “wisps of darkness” inside everyone.

    Take the performer whose 13-year-old daughter was taunted by friends who discovered what her mother did for a living. Take the performers who can’t leave because they’re so easily identifiable online, so easily shamed and fired from regular jobs.

    Porn runs like river water, seeking a profitable outlet wherever it can find one. There’s a lot of misery and poverty. As one trapped male actor says, “Porn people like us. The real world does not like us.”

    Ronson’s sympathies are with victims. But who are they? They’re us.

    Porn isn’t the problem. A surfeit is. Ordinary men and women behave like heroin addicts looking for fentanyl, with real life failing to measure up to that first fine careless rapture.

    They forget how to talk to other humans. They can’t get a date. Since 2008, erectile dysfunction has soared in the U.S., Ronson reports, and the Navy is trying to figure out why sailors are so exhausted, presumably after porny nights. This is funny. Or not.

    No one knows anything. Younger millennials may be having less sex than did older ones 10 years ago. Maybe everyone is. Sexual dysfunction may be lowering the U.S. teen pregnancy rate. Teens get ludicrous sexual instructions from porn, and the real thing is a car crash.

    At this point we’re veering into The Handmaid’s Tale territory. Men can’t cope with women who don’t look like porn stars, so sex dolls are next. After that comes VR (virtual reality) porn where you attach a device to your head, masturbate and, I don’t know, never leave the house again.

    If the effects of porn are a cascade, so is the effect of tech generally. “The tech world deadens people,” Ronson told me. Consumers didn’t mind the death of the music industry. We like free stuff. (Yes, The Butterfly Effect is free by Audible subscription and on iTunes in November.)

    Like the famous saying about Sandy Hook being the end of the U.S. gun control debate — “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over” — what is the end point of porn?

    What is the end point of sex, the final flap of that fine wing?

    hmallick@thestar.ca


    How endless free porn made sex boring: MallickHow endless free porn made sex boring: Mallick

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    Even though Ontario is recognized as a North American leader for ensuring kids have safe water to drink, according to newly obtained government data, more than 640 schools and daycares found lead levels in drinking water that failed to meet the provincial standard over the past two years.

    Some schools, including Clemens Mill Public School in Cambridge and Robert Baldwin Public School in Milton found lead concentrations in water from individual faucets or taps between 100 and 300 times higher than the province’s threshold of 10 parts per billion. Several others exceeded the standard by more than 10 times, including St. Vincent Catholic Elementary School in Thunder Bay, which failed tests both years.

    These statistics — which were obtained by the Star and have never been released before — tell a mixed story, experts say. Ontario has the most stringent program in Canada for monitoring lead in drinking water at schools and daycares. Only 5 per cent of all facilities that submitted water lead tests between April 2016 and March 2017 failed to meet the provincial standard, and the province says that “flushing” taps by regularly letting the water run has in many cases effectively reduced concentrations.

    This all suggests the province has made strides in addressing the problem over the last decade. “Every child in a child-care centre or school in Ontario is drinking clean, safe water,” Ontario’s Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said in a statement to the Star.

    Some experts, though, say flushing is only a short-term solution. Of the roughly 350 schools and daycares that failed lead tests in 2016, about 100 failed the test after flushing. The rest were samples from “standing” water.

    There is also no such thing as a safe level of lead exposure, health bodies like the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics agree.

    Young children can absorb four to five times more ingested lead than adults, according to the World Health Organization, which also notes that at lower levels of lead exposure, which were previously considered safe, lead can affect children’s brain development and result in lower IQ scores — effects that are thought to be irreversible.

    After the Star spent a year trying to obtain data from the environment ministry that would show which schools failed lead tests, the province recently decided it would proactively publish the information online starting Friday.

    Read more

    Water quality tests data shows elevated lead levels in Toronto homes

    Lowering of lead levels in Toronto water ‘promising,’ but still work to be done, councillor says

    While Ontario is doing better than most jurisdictions (it is the only province that requires schools and child-care centres to test for lead), its current standard for acceptable levels remains too high, said Bruce Lanphear, a Simon Fraser University health sciences professor and expert in the effects of toxins in children.

    A federal-provincial-territorial committee is currently considering whether to lower the drinking water standard for lead to 5 parts per billion, which is half the existing standard and, according to Lanphear, more in line with the latest scientific evidence.

    At that threshold, more than 800 schools and daycares would have failed to meet the standard in the 2016-17 fiscal year alone, government data shows.

    The long-term goal, however, should be to reduce the threshold even further, to one part per billion, Lanphear said. In Ontario, this is currently a voluntary target.

    It’s likely that excess lead in a facility’s drinking water got there by leaching out of the pipes, fixtures and/or service line, the ministry says.

    As of 2007 provincial legislation required schools and daycares to test their water annually for lead. While schools were previously only required to test one tap a year, new regulations brought into force this summer require daycares and schools with a primary division to ensure every tap used for drinking and food preparation is tested by 2020. Other schools have until 2022 to do the same.

    For each tap, schools are required to test two samples. The first, a “standing” sample, must be taken at a time when the plumbing hasn’t been used for at least six hours and the second, a “flushed” sample, must be taken immediately after the first sample once the tap has been flushed for at least five minutes and then left unused for about half an hour.

    “The vast majority of schools and child-care centres have found no problems with lead in their drinking water. Where there have been lead exceedances, facilities must take immediate corrective action to protect children as directed by the local Medical Officer of Health,” said Ontario’s Chief Drinking Water Inspector Orna Salamon in a statement.

    Schools and daycares are particularly vulnerable to heightened lead levels because the metal can accumulate to very high concentrations while the water sits in pipes during vacations, said Marc Edwards, a professor of environmental and water resources engineering at Virginia Tech, adding, “It’s unfortunate because you have the worst lead in water problems and the most at-risk population: young children.”

    Edwards said the results from Ontario are what he would expect to see. He added that he is more concerned with jurisdictions who do no testing at all.

    School boards contacted by the Star said they took immediate steps to address high lead levels. Clemens Mill Public School in Cambridge, which found lead levels of 3,120 parts per billion in a flushed sample from one tap (the highest result in the 2016-17 fiscal year), retested the failing tap and passed. The school will now flush its taps daily for the next two years.

    St. Vincent Catholic Elementary School failed more than 15 lead tests in the last two years, including one 2015 standing sample that found lead levels of 488 parts per billion and a 2016 standing sample of 348 parts per billion.

    Pino Tassone, director of education for the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board, said the high 2015 samples were taken in the summer and not indicative of water quality during the school year. The 2016 samples came after the removal of a “tap aerator” that “disturbed some debris in the piping.” The school replaced the tap and copper piping leading to it.

    Some schools like Duke of Connaught Jr. & Sr. Public School in Toronto, which had six failing tests including one flushed sample that came back at 460 parts per billion in the 2015-16 fiscal year, immediately provided bottled water and investigated the source of the contamination — a fixture that was subsequently replaced. A letter was also sent home to parents informing them of the lead exceedance.

    “It always makes you feel bad that something like that was in a school and was unknown to a particular point,” said Sheila Cary-Meagher, a Toronto school trustee who represents Ward 16 Beaches-East York.

    “It’s not the sort of thing that you can taste, or smell, or see, you have to do the test to know it,” she said, adding the school’s response to the exceedance was standard.

    One element of the school’s response, however, does stand out — parents were proactively informed. Some schools, including Robert Baldwin Public School in Milton, conducted lead testing in the summer of 2016 and did not notify parents that there had been five exceedances, including a flushed sample that came back at 110 parts per billion and a standing sample at 2,000 parts per billion.

    While it may be difficult to notify parents during the summer months, Cary-Meagher said they should be informed come September that high lead levels were discovered and either addressed or that bottled water is being provided.

    “I wish it had been communicated to us,” said parent Darren Harrison, whose 9-year-old daughter is in Grade 4 at Robert Baldwin Public School. “We give her bottled water for her lunch, this makes me wonder what she’s drinking the rest of the day.”

    Explaining the high sample taken at Robert Baldwin Public School, Halton school board superintendent of education Robert Eatough, said “a major renovation” may have contributed to high lead levels detected. Subsequent retesting found the concentrations within the provincial standard. The school is flushing its pipes daily.

    Lead levels in water from any given tap can fluctuate. Extremely high lead levels can be caused by a dislodged pellet of lead, which may not happen all the time, Lanphear, the health lead expert said.

    “But the point of it is if you’re finding levels above five or 10, and certainly above 20 or 1,000 there are major sources of lead in that faucet or in those fountains and that should serve as an indicator that we have to fix this, ” he said.

    Lanphear said water sources that tested above five parts per billion could be brought to below one part per billion over the next 10 to 20 years. The taps with the highest lead concentrations should be addressed urgently, he said, additional flushing — one of the most common measures used to reduce lead concentrations in Ontario, according to a plain language guide to the province’s drinking water regulations for schools and daycares — may not be the answer.

    The province’s environment ministry requires all schools and daycares to flush their plumbing by letting the water run for at least five minutes at least once a week in an effort to reduce lead concentrations that can accumulate in water that’s left standing in unused plumbing. Schools where lead levels exceed the standard may have to flush the errant tap or the whole system daily.

    While the ministry says flushing has been shown to reduce lead levels, Lanphear said it isn’t a long-term solution.

    “Even if you flush it and it goes down it can build up within about 30 minutes back up to the pre-flushed levels and we can’t expect the maintenance guys at the schools to walk around and flush these things before every class break ,” he said, adding that installing certified filters would be a slightly better short-term solution.

    Over the long term the best approach is to find the source of the contamination and get rid of it, he said. In the next couple of decades he’d like to see a new standard of 1 part per billion enforced.

    The debate over how to decrease lead levels in schools ultimately comes up against how much funds are available to do so.

    This year the province invested $1.4 billion in school repairs and upgrades to plumbing systems, roofs, flooring and more, according to the education ministry.

    Edwards, the engineering expert from Virginia Tech, said he thinks Ontario’s existing standard “is very aggressive and probably tests the limits of what’s achievable with reasonable interventions.” To virtually eliminate lead in drinking water could mean diverting funds away from another worthy priority, he said.

    Lanphear said he’s “fairly optimistic that once we decide to act on something we can do it.”

    With files from Alex McKeenAinslie Cruickshank can be reached at (416) 869-4352 or acruickshank@thestar.caJayme Poisson can be reached at (416) 814-2725 or jpoisson@thestar.ca


    More than 640 Ontario schools and daycares failed lead tests in the past two yearsMore than 640 Ontario schools and daycares failed lead tests in the past two years

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    Linda and Patrick Boyle are the parents of hostage Joshua Boyle.

    That’s how they identify these days. And that is what has become of their lives, moving in circles they never imagined: meeting diplomats, former spies and soldiers, academics, consultants, others who inhabit war zones with undefined roles, cops, journalists and negotiators; struggling to comprehend the geopolitical landscape, mind-numbing bureaucracy and government-speak; learning about the group that has held hostage their son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons for five years.

    Five years.

    That’s the milestone they mark next week with the anniversary of the day Boyle, 34, and his American wife Caitlan Coleman, 31, were kidnapped after foolishly crossing into Afghanistan on a backpacking trip.

    The couple’s sons, 2 and 4, were both born in captivity. According to letters home, they hid the second pregnancy and Boyle, with a flashlight clenched between his teeth delivered his son, surprising their captors.

    A “proof-of-life” video last December showed the Boyle’s grandchildren for the first time. The blond boys squirmed on their father’s laps, the oldest picking his nose and giggling at someone, or something, off camera, as their sombre-faced dad pleaded for release.

    There are many people trying to help free the young family —a story that cannot be fully told until their release, for fear of jeopardizing negotiations.

    Since 2012, the kidnappers have released eight videos and a handful of letters. For Boyle’s parents, the videos elicit a range of emotions: relief, worry, optimism, despair. Every tilt of head, lilt of voice, every word is studied for clues about the couples’ mental or physical state.

    The family is never sure what they write reaches the couple. But earlier this year it was clear one did, with the help of intermediaries.

    The Boyles have shared with the Toronto Star a video, sent privately in January, a reply to letters that the Boyle and Coleman parents had sent.

    “The letter was received very quickly seemingly, since we received it on January 4th and you apparently wrote it on January 1st,” Boyle says to the camera, adding that should put “Canada Post to shame since I can’t get a letter to my grandmother that fast when I’m in Canada.”

    “God willing,” Boyle later says, “this all wraps up soon and doesn’t inconvenience anyone any more than it already has.”

    Coleman looks around nervously and rocks her youngest son, who is concealed in a blanket. At the end of the two-minute video she addresses her father, telling him she has “become more of a Belle than an Ariel.”

    The reference to Disney heroines may have been lost on the kidnappers, or some of the officials working the case. Ariel from the Little Mermaid is rebellious, defiant of her father. Belle is the dutiful daughter from Beauty and the Beast.


    Linda Boyle, who has humble roots and is most comfortable baking or volunteering to deliver lunches to those who need them, says the experience has taught her she can do anything.

    On one recent trip to an embassy in Ottawa — in the hopes that the country could exert influence with the captors — Linda panicked about her appearance. “I honestly do not know how to put on make-up,” she laughs. She reached out to a friend who sells Avon but was quickly overwhelmed by the thought of mascara. They decided instead that tinted Burt’s Bees lip-gloss from Walmart would suffice. “Patrick kept calling me a tart.”

    Laughter to tears, tears to laughter and back again. This is how they try to cope, and most days they do.

    One of the greatest frustrations is that while they try to do all they can, there is also not much they can do since the captors’ demands have not been made to them, but to governments — Canada, the United States, Afghanistan.

    They are being held by the Haqqani network, a powerful Afghan group with ties to the Taliban and a history of taking Westerners hostage and holding them for years before release. Their highest profile hostage was U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured after leaving his base in Afghanistan. Bergdahl was held for a little less than five years, and freed in May 2014 in exchange for five Taliban prisoners detained in Guantanamo Bay.

    On August 29, an Afghan court sentenced Anas Haqqani, the son of the powerful Haqqani network’s founder, to death for his role in raising funds for the network. That coincided with a video uploaded to YouTube where a despondent Joshua Boyle, who appears to be reading from a script, says that if the Afghan government did not stop executing Taliban prisoners, his family would be killed.

    Near the end of Ramadan this June, Patrick and Linda Boyle posted their own video, addressing the captors. “We’ve done the best an ordinary Canadian family can do. I’ve personally written to several of the most senior government officials in Afghanistan, those with great power over the execution of your brothers,” Patrick says, his voice breaking. “We understand your frustration and impatience as we too are frustrated and frightened. We’re a modest family but our efforts have resulted in some success. Your family members are still alive.”

    “We’ve done what you’ve asked of us, we’re now respectfully asking you to show mercy to our family members in return. Please.”

    There has been wild anticipation and devastating disappointment. Asked if she can believe it has been so long since her son was taken, Linda Boyle answers quickly, “Oh yes. It feels like more.”

    “Patrick and I keep saying we don’t know if our inability to do things is because we are just naturally aging, or how much of it is the stress.”

    Patrick turned 60 last month, and Linda turns 60 next week.

    Linda knits clothes for her grandsons and then donates them, knitting more in larger sizes. The family tries to look after each other — there are five Boyle children and many relatives — by taking comfort in traditions and humour . Dark, dark humour.

    Coleman and Boyle met online as teenagers on Star Wars fan sites, so the Boyles honour them with a cake every May 4th — Star Wars Day: May The Fourth Be With You. One of their daughters once baked a “Sorry your son is kidnapped by the Taliban” cake for Mother’s Day. Last year, Patrick, a federal tax judge, got a Father’s Day card from another daughter saying “Well Nobody’s in Prison. Way to go Dad.” Inside she wrote, “technically.”

    This May 4th was the first time they didn’t make a cake and they didn’t celebrate Josh’s birthday. It was the first Christmas there were not presents for him under the tree.

    “For each of my kids when they were 3, I would make them a special Christmas stocking,” says Linda. She made one for her oldest grandson and hung it alongside ones for Coleman and Boyle. “But then I had to take them down. It was just too hard to think of another year without them.”

    Five years.


    On Wednesday, MP Omar Alghabra stood in parliament and said he wanted to mark “a difficult anniversary.”

    “It is an unspeakable ordeal. Joshua, Caitlan, and their two children born in captivity are victims in the truest sense. Our thoughts are with Patrick and Linda Boyle and the rest of their family. I have met the Boyles and I can tell you Mr. Speaker their strength is remarkable,” said Alghabra, the parliamentary secretary responsible for Canadians held abroad.

    “I want to say this to the Boyle and Coleman families: Know that Joshua and Caitlan’s freedom remain a priority for our government. Know that we are working with all relevant authorities here and abroad to bring them home safely. Know that we will not stop until that goal is achieved. It is a truly difficult anniversary, but also know this: Canadians stand with you and are united in our determination to seeing your loved ones back in your arms.”

    Every Wednesday night, the family talks with the officials from Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and the RCMP tasked to the case. The names and faces have changed over the years with maddening regularity that only underscores just how long the kidnapping has dragged on.

    Held Hostage,” an eight-part Star series last year investigated what happens behind the scenes when a Canadian is taken hostage abroad. The stories of victims and their families, along with interviews with nearly 50 witnesses, government, military, intelligence officials and private security consultants, revealed a system ripe for overhaul.

    Last month, Patrick traveled to Geneva to stand with representatives for Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) as they addressed the UN Human Rights Council, urging Ottawa to fix how they handle hostage-takings.

    Linda’s sister, Kelli O’Brien, had launched a social media campaign to make sure Boyle, Coleman and their kids were not forgotten, urging politicians to #saytheirname.

    There have been small improvements recently — Alghabra’s statement Wednesday among them. On Thursday the prime minister’s office acknowledged that the report from LRWC and said it was being “carefully reviewed.” Also on Thursday, parliamentarians held their first meeting to review how Ottawa helps Canadians trapped abroad.

    The Boyles also recently began working with consultant Andy Ellis, a former senior member of Canada’s Security Intelligence Service who retired in 2016 to form the ICEN Group. It has helped to have someone who was once on the inside, they say.

    Canada, like the U.S. and most Western nations, maintain they do not negotiate with terrorists — but negotiations always occur in kidnappings.

    Canadian Colin Rutherford was released in January 2016 after five years held hostage on “humanitarian grounds” thanks to Qatar’s involvement in the negotiations. Trudeau offered his personal thanks to Doha.

    The days when other hostages are released is a hopeful time for the Boyles. That optimism soared after Rutherford returned and the Canadian government sent two psychiatrists to their home — an American and a Canadian —to help prepare them for the psychological needs of their son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren.

    Officials said the timing simply coincided with a conference being held in Kingston, but it was hard to not get excited, even though getting their hopes up makes the pain more intense when those hopes come crashing down from such a height.

    That was two years ago.

    There have been other times when they sensed something might be going on, and then later had those suspicions confirmed.

    In June 2015, a former U.S. special forces officer testified that Coleman, Boyle and one other American and a Canadian hostage (presumably Rutherford) were to be freed with Bergdahl but that the deal collapsed due to bureaucratic infighting. “I failed them. I exhausted all efforts and resources available to return them, but I failed,” U.S. Army Special Forces Lt. Col. Jason Amerine told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

    The news — even belatedly — that they may have been so close, was heartbreaking.

    With each new development, each trip that someone from Canada’s hostage team makes to Kabul, or Doha or Washington, each news report or rumour, officials in Ottawa are careful not to raise the family’s expectations, saying they don’t want to give the family “false hope.”

    The Boyles understand. And yet: “I say, ‘Look. All we have is hope,’ ” says Linda, “ ‘so don’t take that away from us.’ ”

    It has been five years.

    Michelle Shephard is the Star’s National Security correspondent. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm.


    Family of kidnapped Canadian shares new video, clings to hope as anniversary of abduction approachesFamily of kidnapped Canadian shares new video, clings to hope as anniversary of abduction approaches

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    Bargaining teams for Ontario’s 24 colleges and their 12,000 faculty members will be back at the table after the Thanksgiving weekend, as an Oct. 15 strike deadline looms.

    JP Hornick, who leads negotiations for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, confirmed that dates have been discussed with the College Employer Council.

    Hornick said Friday that the union had reached out to restart talks, which were put on hiatus at the end of September after no progress was made.

    Don Sinclair, CEO of the college council said his team will be at the hotel and ready to return to talks Tuesday, and “we will not speculate or comment on what might occur … The colleges remain committed to achieving a negotiated settlement, which is fair to our faculty while being affordable and responsible to the colleges.”

    Sinclair offered reassurances to students, saying “the colleges appreciate that students are concerned about a strike occurring and disrupting their studies. Students should continue to focus on their studies — individual colleges will provide updates as soon as they are available.”

    The union represents full-time professors as well as “partial load” instructors who teach between seven and 12 hours a week, as well as college counsellors and librarians.

    It is looking for more full-time positions given the growth of precarious part-time and contract work, as well as the creation of a university-style senate giving faculty more say as to how the institutions are run.

    The last offer from the colleges provided a 7.5 per cent raise over four years, as well as improvements to benefits and a lump-sum payment.

    The colleges say senate issues are not within the scope of contract talks, and that union demands will cost $400 million a year and the loss of thousands of contract jobs.


    Ontario colleges and faculty to resume contract talksOntario colleges and faculty to resume contract talks

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    OTTAWA—Priscilla Meeches was just days old when she was removed from the care of her Indigenous mother and put up for adoption by a non-Indigenous family.

    Meeches says that her adoptive parents were wonderful and loving and yet she had always had a yearning “to find out who I was and where I belonged.

    “Everything they did in their power to give me a good life, for me I still had that loss,” she said.

    Meeches, 48, is among thousands of Indigenous children caught up in the ’60s Scoop when they were taken from taken from their parents, moved out of their Indigenous communities and placed with non-Indigenous families far from their homes, sometimes even out of the country.

    It would be years, decades even, before many of them uncovered the tale of their past, a discovery that often launched them on a daunting task of reconnecting with family and trying to learn their Indigenous culture.

    “Their stories are heartbreaking. They talked of their identity being stolen. They talked about not really feeling that you belong anywhere because people have been moved so often or that they didn’t really have a home,” said Carolyn Bennett, minister of crown-Indigenous relations and northern affairs.

    On Friday, Bennett announced that an agreement-in-principle had been reached to resolve a drawn-out legal battle.

    The settlement includes up $750 million for individual compensation of up to $50,000 each for survivors. Another $50 million will be used to establish a foundation for healing and education in language and culture. And $75 million will go towards legal fees.

    Bennett called the ’60s Scoop a “terrible legacy” that was the result of “misguided policies.

    “Their stories are heartbreaking,” she said.

    Stewart Garnett was born to an Indigenous mother in Winnipeg and put up for adoption by a family that raised him in Arkansas and California. He praised his adoptive parents as the “greatest family on the planet.

    “But I had something on my back the whole time, which was this: the loss of culture, the loss of language. It’s dragged with me my whole life,” said Garnett, 43.

    He’s moved back to his birthplace in Winnipeg and attempted to connect with biological family, but said it’s been “very turbulent.”

    “Sometimes the connections are challenging. Me being raised in the non-Indigenous world has been a big part of it,” said Garnett, who was on Parliament Hill for the announcement.

    Peter van Name, 46, was born in northern Alberta, and, within a few months, was adopted by a family in New Jersey.

    It wasn’t until he was in his early 20s that he truly became aware of his Indigenous roots. He had gone to a Philadelphia theatre to see a play about Native American history. People there mistook him for a fellow Indigenous cast member and told him to “hurry up and get backstage,” he said with a laugh.

    “That’s where it started. The people took me in,” he said.

    He recalled his first trip to his birthplace after connecting with his mother, travelling from the urban sprawl of the Philadelphia area to the rural solitude of northern Alberta.

    “It was such a cultural shock . . . . It was like taking a ride into the sticks,” he said.

    Marcia Brown Martel, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, said she hoped the agreement would prevent such action from happening again.

    “I have great hope that because we’ve reached this plateau, that this, again, will never, ever happen in Canada again,” said Brown Martel, chief of the Beaverhouse First Nation in northern Ontario.

    “We need our children back in our communities. We need to be together, every community. I don’t care what part of the world you’re from. You need to have the people, so that they can continue in tradition, culture, language, so these great things can be part of their lives,” she said.

    Bennett said the lessons of that “dark and painful chapter” decades ago must be remembered today, saying the child welfare system needs to be “totally” overhauled.

    “Too many children are still being taken from their families,’ Bennett said.

    “We want that overhaul to happen, so that we have a system of the rights and well-being of Indigenous children and youth to be raised in their language and culture and not have this harm done that was done to these courageous people,” she said.

    Bennett was at a loss to explain what motivated child welfare officials in the 1960s to take the Indigenous children.

    “I don’t know what people were thinking. I don’t know . . . why settlers or government thought they could do a better job than the village,” Bennett said.

    For those taken from their parents, Friday’s announcement was bittersweet, providing a measure of compensation but failing to make up for what was lost.

    Meeches said the impact of children being taken from their biological families will be felt by generations of Indigenous people.

    Taken from her mother within days of birth, she was ignorant of her own culture and today struggles to pass along Indigenous lessons to her own children and grandchildren.

    “I don’t know how I’m going to be able to help them learn their culture, because I wasn’t raised that way,” she said.

    Meeches regrets that she only was able to reconnect with her biological mother just a few years before her death.

    “That’s another piece of my history, who I am, that I won’t ever get,” she said.


    Survivors of ’60s Scoop share stories of loss as Ottawa announces compensationSurvivors of ’60s Scoop share stories of loss as Ottawa announces compensation

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    A 19-year-old Mississauga man was arrested in connection with an alleged Daesh-inspired plot targeting New York City in the summer of 2016, according to documents released by the U.S. Justice Department Friday.

    Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, a Canadian citizen, pleaded guilty to seven terrorism-related charges on Oct. 13, 2016. Two other men — 19-year-old Talha Haroon, an American citizen living in Pakistan, and 37-year-old Russell Salic, a citizen of the Philippines — have also been arrested.

    The Justice Department press release offered the first public information on the alleged plot.

    Communicating via internet messaging applications, the three allegedly plotted to conduct bombings and shootings in New York City during Ramadan in 2016, the Justice Department said.

    El Bahnasawy was arrested in New Jersey on May 21, 2016.

    In messages, El Bahnasawy and Haroon said they intended to carry out the killings on behalf of Daesh, also known as ISIS and ISIL, using a style similar to that used in attacks on Paris and Brussels.

    More to come


    19-year-old Mississauga man arrested, pleads guilty over alleged Daesh plot to attack Times Square, New York subways19-year-old Mississauga man arrested, pleads guilty over alleged Daesh plot to attack Times Square, New York subways

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    Alektorophobia: Fear of chickens.

    “We got chicken in the barn, whose barn, what barn, my barn/Come on over baby” — Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, Jerry Lee Lewis

    Personally, I’m not crazy about chickens, until they turn up on my plate. Always found them rather . . . broody. Understandable when we take their unhatched babies away soon as they’re laid.

    Maybe I was traumatized as a child — weren’t we all, about something or another — when, periodically, my mother, clad in one of my father’s plaid flannel jackets (at 4-foot-11, they came to her knees), Wellingtons and a head scarf, with axe in hand, would disappear into the garage, there to commit murder most fowl upon a few dozen hens from Kensington Market. When she emerged, hours later, my mom looked like Sissy Spacek in Carrie after the bucket ‘o blood had been dumped on her head at the prom.

    But chicken broth, made from scratch, I loved that, with pastina and tiny meatballs.

    Peasant ways.

    A whole lot of Toronto city folks, judging by letters to the editor, turn up their urban noses at live poultry scratching about. They’re madder than a wet hen over city council’s decision this past week permitting a pilot project that would allow people to keep up to four hens in the yard. Gotta have a yard. And only allowed in four wards, the pilot undertaking running for three years. And humanely maintained or there will be tar and feathering from the animals rights brigades, possibly PETA protesters showing up naked on your front lawn.

    Don’t go selling any eggs either, to make a wee bit of profit. That’s verboten. No roosters either because cock-a-doodling at the break of dawn might disturb the neighbours. Unlike, say, garbage trucks banging bins and crushing trash at 7 a.m. Or the endless construction — jackhammers, cement trucks churning, backhoes beeping — at just about any hour of the day or night because believe you me they don’t abide by noise regulations.

    Cities are by their nature noisy places, a constant assault on the ears. But roosters, that’s a crow too far.

    In any event, hens, an elevated species, don’t need roosters to lay eggs. Unfertilized eggs, however — cock-less — don’t produce chicks. Which just about exhausts my knowledge on the subject.

    Toronto, amongst the most anal of cities, with a simultaneously inferiority and superiority complex, must figure itself insufficiently removed from Hogtown days, wanting no reminder of its hayseed past. That accounts for the snooty hysterics, in some ratepayer quarters, over council loosening its corset on the prohibited animals bylaw.

    Montreal, a far more sophisticated metropolis, doesn’t mind backyard chicken coops. New York City doesn’t mind backyard chicken coops. Ditto London, as in England.

    You’d think, as the little red hen squawked alarmingly — or was that Chicken Little — that the sky was falling, such was the cluster-cluck from some councillors who voted against the motion (with city staff also disapproving). Councillor Stephen Holyday warned about “the introduction of livestock into the city” as if next cattle will be herded through our streets. Preferable to cyclists, I say.

    From a letter to the editor in a certain Toronto tabloid: “Permission to raise any chicken at all will be taken as carte blanche by many to raise lots of meat for local butcher shops and restaurants, by passing (sic) safety meat inspectors and in keeping with traditional ‘culture’ practices.”

    Oh yes, it’s all those other sorts of people stirring up the chicken in every pot and backyard; the ones whose cooking smells offend the nostrils, all that curry and garlic and cardamom. Same immigrant-clinger bumpkins with tomato plants out back and, once upon an Anglo-cracker time, cabbage plants out front.

    Dirty beasts, those chickens, likely to attract rats and raccoons, as if they need a hen-invitation. And, oy, the stinky poop! Although wouldn’t amount to a hill of turd compared to the estimated 657 kilos of guano dropped on Toronto yearly by every single Canada goose.

    But what, asked Councillor Frances Nunziata, if a chicken, gosh, escaped? All Points Bulletin: Pullet on the loose! Description: Black with a red hoodie.

    At least equinophobes can rest easy. Toronto remains a no-go zone for jackasses.

    Except maybe not so much around city hall.

    HEE-HAW

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


    Backyard chickens in Toronto won’t cause the sky to fall: DiMannoBackyard chickens in Toronto won’t cause the sky to fall: DiManno

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    Catholic high school students in Hamilton can earn volunteer hours by attending anti-abortion prayer demonstrations — but both the premier and education minister say such activities are not appropriate for the mandatory community service required for graduation.

    “Each school board is responsible for developing a list of community involvement activities that the board considers acceptable,” Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said in a statement to the Star.

    “We expect boards to develop a list of approved activities in consultation” with parent councils and other committees, and “in this case, providing these credits for such use does not seem to be what these community involvement activities were designed for, and we’re currently looking into the matter.”

    At an unrelated announcement on Friday, Premier Kathleen Wynne was surprised to learn students were earning credit for anti-abortion activities when asked about the issue by a reporter, who also said teens had allegedly been offered deals to earn more hours than they put in to attend.

    “That is the first I’ve heard of that, and I will just say that was never the intention of the 40 hours of volunteer work,” Wynne said.

    Both the Toronto and Dufferin-Peel Catholic boards say taking part in anti-abortion protests and vigils are not allowable volunteer activities.

    The abortion issue has recently resurfaced at Queen’s Park, after Wynne’s Liberal government tabled new legislation to ban protests near clinics, pharmacies that dispense pregnancy termination pills as well as the homes of doctors and staff.

    Then, on Thursday, the Liberals balked when the Progressive Conservatives requested the bill be fast-tracked and approved immediately. That move prompted critics to say the government was playing politics, keeping the issue in the news in the hopes of highlighting divisions within the PC party.

    Wynne said Friday the harassment of women is “unacceptable, so we will move as quickly as possible” with the hopes of passing the bill before the end of the year.

    “But I think it is important, as with all legislation, that the public have an opportunity to weigh in … most legislation needs some amendment in order to get it right.”

    But Lisa MacLeod, the PC MPP who requested “unanimous consent” for the bill, said the government is now “going to drag their feet until the middle of December” despite earlier talk about the pressing need for such legislation given women are being yelled at and intimidated — even spat on — as they enter abortion clinics.

    “They continue to delay the safety of women in Ottawa, and across the province,” said MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton), referring to a string of incidents in the capital in recent months.

    MacLeod said the government has fast-tracked at least 12 bills, “so it’s not unprecedented. And the government, to its own credit, already consulted widely on this (bill).

    “This is unnecessary foot dragging,” MacLeod said. “ … Kathleen Wynne is better than that.”

    Meanwhile, Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic board Chair Pat Daly said the required 40 community service hours — which his board calls Christian service hours — can include “pro-life activity similar to many other types of social justice issues.”

    He said students can only earn the hours they put in.

    The demonstrations are usually held at busy intersections where attendees pray silently, and may carry anti-abortion signs, he said.

    “This is very, very different than participating” in a protest, he also said.

    Praying alone or at mass wouldn’t be acceptable for volunteer hours, he said, but in the case of the demonstrations, “students are taking the time … on a Sunday, time from their day to be part of this public prayer. They are not just sitting at home praying.”


    Catholic school students earn volunteer hours for anti-abortion activitiesCatholic school students earn volunteer hours for anti-abortion activities

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    Convinced by friends that Canada’s low-wage temporary foreign worker program would provide a better life for her family, Gina Bahiwal borrowed $6,000 to pay a recruiter in the Philippines to take care of paperwork and get her a job.

    Within nine months she was in Leamington packing vegetables for minimum wage, signed to a two-year work permit that tied her to an employer — and to a Canadian job recruiter who collected more money, she was told, to cover rent and utilities, in an apartment of the recruiter’s choosing.

    When it came time to renew her work permit, the recruiter asked for $2,500. Instead, she received free legal help and got the permit for nothing, but by not paying the recruiter, it cost her the vegetable packing job.

    It would be the first of three Canadian recruiters Bahiwal would encounter — each asking for thousands of dollars — on a years-long odyssey that involved jobs as a housekeeper and fast food restaurant worker, a deportation order, a public outcry and, a rarity, permanent residency. She has also become a champion for worker rights.

    “All of us paid this money in order to come work here,” Bahiwal, 43, says of her and her friends who came to Canada. And then they paid more in order to move around Canada and stay employed.

    Under Canadian rules, it was money they never should have had to pay.

    READ MORE:

    He's worked legally in Canada for 37 years but the government considers him ‘temporary’

    Why Canada's farm industry is ripe for change: Wells

    Employers seeking low-wage temporary foreign workers must bear the costs of bringing the workers to Canada, including recruiting and transportation. Yet, through private recruiters paid directly by workers, employers can avoid the costs, which are passed on to the workers — plus the recruiters’ markup.

    Bahiwal’s experience is not uncommon among workers in the low-wage stream of the temporary foreign worker program, one of four streams under which migrant farmworkers are brought into Canada.

    Recruiters, individuals who connect workers with jobs for a fee, have proliferated in and outside Canada as more and more foreign agricultural workers stream into the country. The temporary worker programs, which tie workers to an employer, have a weak federal enforcement mechanism around recruiting, leaving it to the provinces to monitor.

    Roughly 54,000 migrant farm workers came to Canada last year. The number of migrant farmworkers in the country has more than doubled since 2000.

    Manitoba is considered the best at ensuring workers are not left vulnerable to unscrupulous recruiters. It has a proactive licensing system for recruiters and requires employers to register with the government before recruitment of temporary workers begins. Employers cannot access the federal program unless they comply. Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia have similar protections in place.

    Elsewhere, reactive complaint-driven enforcement, exorbitant illegal fees and a program that ties workers to employers have left workers open to abuse, as outlined in numerous studies, including examinations of the legal framework of Canada’s temporary migrant worker programs by Toronto lawyer Fay Faraday.

    “What we have created is a system that facilitates indentured labour — debt bondage,” says Faraday, who has been advocating for improved rights for migrant workers for decades.

    The potential for abuse and exploitation begins at the recruitment phase of a migrant worker’s “labour migration cycle.”

    The worker and his or her family in the developing world see hope in the developed world. Recruiters sell and benefit from that hope. The developing country and the worker’s family benefit from remittances — earnings sent back home. The developed country gets cheap labour. Employers rely on recruiters to find workers. Recruiters control access to work.

    Sometimes, owners and recruiters also control housing. It’s at this point in the cycle that workers are most vulnerable, and the economic and power imbalance at their greatest, giving recruiters leverage over workers, their families and hometowns.

    All of this must be contemplated in designing legal protections in Canada, Faraday argues in Profiting From the Precarious, her 2014 report on how low-wage migrant workers are exploited by recruitment practices.

    Ontario’s temporary foreign worker protection system is particularly weak, says Faraday.

    “It depends on individual workers coming forward and filing complaints, but that doesn’t happen,” says Faraday. “Any complaint about the terms of work, any complaint about the housing conditions, very promptly results in the worker being fired.”

    Permits that tie workers to a single employer, says Faraday, are “probably the most damaging part of this system, along with the fact that there is no possibility of access to (permanent resident) status. The UN has recognized that tied permits are an invitation to exploit workers.”

    Doing away with them — replacing them with open permits or sector-specific permits that would both allow an easier change in employer — would help cleanse the program of unscrupulous recruiters.

    Paying in order to get a job in low-wage jobs in agriculture, food processing, warehouses and restaurants is “widespread, even routine,” Faraday says in her 2014 report, citing interviews with workers.

    Money to pay recruiters is often borrowed from family or from private lenders recommended by recruiters. Fees start at $1,000 but usually range between $4,000 and $10,000, notes Faraday.

    A study by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada estimated employment broker fees can eat up about half of temporary worker salaries — or more.

    Farmworkers come to Canada under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), which limits them to working a maximum of eight months a year here, or under one of three streams of the year-round temporary foreign worker program.

    The SAWP requires employers to provide housing and pay for the workers’ airfare to and from Canada and is administered by government officials from Canada and the workers’ home countries.

    However, the other temporary foreign worker streams are based on private contracts between the Canadian employers and foreign workers with less official oversight.

    These temporary foreign workers are more vulnerable — and increasingly more appealing to year-round farming operators, such as greenhouses.

    “The lack of oversight leaves (temporary foreign workers) totally at the mercy of their employer; a seemingly non-issue for the federal government which has nonetheless expanded the (temporary foreign worker) program,” the United Food union said in its 2010-2011 report on the status of migrant workers.

    The picture has not changed as the number of temporary foreign workers increases year over year.

    Workers here under the SAWP are chosen for suitability, initially by their own country, and farmers choose who comes back year after year. There is no formalized seniority.

    While they are not exposed to unscrupulous private recruiters and predatory fees, they are however caught in a cycle of “perpetual” recruitment, says Faraday.

    “Every year the worker is dependent on getting a favourable review from the employer in order to be named to come back,” says Faraday. “So what that does is create a relationship in which the worker has to maintain favour with the employer.

    “Because, if they don’t they’ll not be named and if they’re not named they can be kicked out of the program and there’s no recourse.”

    As for complaining about unscrupulous recruiters, workers here under the temporary farmworker program feel they would lose their jobs if they don’t pay the fees charged for finding them the work and employer they are tied to. If that were to happen, they’d most likely have to leave Canada — or pay another recruiter.

    In a rare case, reported the Windsor Star, recruiter Nehwin Wanhar was charged with extorting three Indonesian temporary foreign farmworkers toiling in Leamington greenhouses out of $15,000. He pleaded guilty in February to a lesser charge of theft for collecting baseless fees.

    The recruiter was ordered to pay back the victims, who were featured in Migrant Dreams, an award-winning, 2016, documentary by Toronto filmmaker Min Sook Lee.

    The case served to highlight the mostly unchecked world of recruiting, something Bahiwal learned all about — and kicked back at.


    Gina Bahiwal’s time in Canada began in 2008 when she was housed with five other Filipino workers in a two-bedroom apartment chosen by the Canadian recruiter.

    The cost was around $50 per week per worker, which the recruiter deducted from their paycheques. That made the monthly rent roughly $1,300, which seemed high to Bahiwal, as she learned more about how affordable housing was — and remains — in Leamington, a city in southwestern Ontario known for tomatoes and greenhouses.

    Bahiwal, with a son and niece to support in the Philippines, got involved with the advocacy group Justicia for Migrant Workers.

    When it came to for her to renew her work permit, she and other workers balked at paying the recruiter, who, she says, threatened to remove their names from their employers’ Labour Market Impact Assessment — a necessity for a worker to get a permit. She and another worker lost their jobs.

    “You have a fundamental problem when the recruiter brings them in from the country of origin, drives them to the farm and then still acts in some sort of management capacity, managing the housing of the worker,” says lawyer Cathy Kolar, an immigration specialist who helped Bahiwal find another employer. “And (the recruiter) also is there as sort of a liaison, so if there is a problem between the worker and the employer, that person is there to step in but also there to offer employment elsewhere. They’re in a position of power.”

    In Bahiwal’s case, some workers saw the recruiter as a saviour.

    “They don’t feel that their life here in Canada is being controlled by this recruiter,” says Bahiwal. “Actually, they are thankful they are here.”

    The years since have seen Bahiwal travel to B.C., where she worked as a hotel housekeeper and at a McDonald’s. When she encountered recruiters this time around, she either paid partial fees or refused to pay anything.

    She returned to Leamington in 2015, where she met a Canadian. They fell in love and married.

    Earlier this year, she was nearly deported based on a now-rescinded federal rule that stipulated foreign workers who had been in Canada for four years, had to leave the country for the next four.

    After Justicia for Migrant Workers intervened, she received a one-year permit to stay. It allowed her time to make a spousal sponsorship application. She got her permanent residency May 4.

    This past summer, she travelled back to the Philippines and saw her 14-year-old son for the first time since 2008. She hopes to bring him, and her niece, to Canada.

    The Canadian recruiter who brought Bahiwal to Leamington, say Bahiwal and worker advocates, still operates in the area.


    Unscrupulous recruiters keep migrant workers in ‘debt bondage’Unscrupulous recruiters keep migrant workers in ‘debt bondage’Unscrupulous recruiters keep migrant workers in ‘debt bondage’Unscrupulous recruiters keep migrant workers in ‘debt bondage’

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    One person is in custody and a man and two children, a boy and a girl, have been rushed to hospitals following an assault in the Black Creek area Saturday afternoon.

    Police said the assault happened near Jane St. and Steeles Ave., just after 3 p.m. Saturday. They arrived on the scene and found the two children and a man in his 40s with serious injuries.

    The two children were taken to Sick Kids Hospital in serious condition and the man was rushed to Sunnybrook Hospital in life-threatening condition, according to Toronto police and EMS.

    Const. David Hopkinson said that one person has been taken into custody but has not been charged. Media reports indicated the person in custody was a male.

    A witness who spoke to CP24 at the scene said the two children were bleeding from their heads when they approached her and asked her to call 911. She said the boy told her he was eight-years-old and that his sister was six.

    Police are still investigating at the scene of the assault and have cordoned off an apartment in a building at 5000 Jane St.


    One person in custody after man and two children seriously injured in assault One person in custody after man and two children seriously injured in assaultOne person in custody after man and two children seriously injured in assault One person in custody after man and two children seriously injured in assault

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    A teenager has died and another is in serious condition after being stabbed in an East York park.

    Toronto police were called to the playground area of Stan Wadlow Park near Cosburn and Woodbine Aves. just before 9 p.m. Saturday after a stabbing was reported. There they found two teenage male victims in the playground area, one with no vital signs, the other with serious injuries.

    Paramedics rushed the two victims to hospital, where one died from his injuries. Police said both were in their late teens.

    Const. David Hopkinson said the two teenage victims were confronted by a group, then both were stabbed.

    Three people have been arrested in relation to the stabbing. Police are still investigating.


    Teen dead in East York stabbingTeen dead in East York stabbing

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    Rev. Jeff Rock is a self-professed geek who’s as likely to quotefromSpider-Manas he is chapter and verse.

    “With great power comes great responsibility,” says Rock, 33, talking about his new role as the head of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto.

    The superhero citation may not have the gravitas associated with church services. But perhaps that’s fitting at a church known for its advocacy, inclusion and as the site where two marriages in 2001 would later be recognized as the first legal same-sex unions in the world.

    Rock — who arrived in Toronto a week ago to start a four-month handover from long-serving senior pastor Brent Hawkes — is exactly what the church was looking for.

    He was the unanimous choice of the church’s three-person search committee, who worked for two years to find the right person to replace Hawkes.

    On Sunday, he will preside over all three of the church’s services, preaching to a total of about 600 congregants. That’s triple the number on a typical Sunday in Red Deer, Alta., where he had been the head of the Gaetz Memorial United Church for six years.

    He’s nervous. But as a friend once told him, “If you’re not nervous to preach on a Sunday, you shouldn’t be doing it,” says Rock, standing in the church on a residential street in Riverdale this past week, on his third day of work. “You’re getting up to bare your soul in front of hundreds of people.”

    Rock will be talking about thankfulness, borrowing some passages from the Old Testament.

    But on a given day, he’s just as likely to preach about potlucks. That’s what he did when he visited MCC in July and talked about the relationship between Jesus’s ministry and food: the wedding banquet at Cana, when he turned water into wine, and the Last Supper, the basis for Holy Communion.

    “Jesus literally ate his way through the gospels,” Rock told the congregation.

    Later that day, 98 per cent of church members elected him as their new leader to replace Hawkes, 67, seen by many as an icon.

    Rock’s selection came after a period of turmoil. Hawkes was tried in November, for the alleged sexual assault of a 16-year-old male in the mid-1970s. He was acquitted in January.

    In the intervening months, the church organized meetings with clergy and church members, for people to air their concerns and be reassured and supported.

    “These listening circles in fact provided a window for us to see the depth of love and commitment people had to MCC Toronto that would endure, whatever the outcome of the trial,” says Lori Boyce, who is co-chair of MCC’s board of directors. The congregation overwhelmingly backed the senior pastor, she says.

    Finding his replacement was considered by board members as the most pivotal decision since MCC decided to pursue equal marriage rights in 2000.

    “The things that we have done here — one of the forces behind fighting for spousal benefits, and the right not to be discriminated against because we’re gay and lesbian, let alone the right to marry — all of that momentum that we created here in Canada has cascaded around the world,” says Boyce, who was also on the search committee. “And it has changed public perception and human rights elsewhere as well.”

    Hawkes has not only led the church for 40 years, he is its CEO, responsible for programming and staff, all part of a $1.2-million annual budget that is approved by the board. What excited the search committee was that Rock knew all of that and still wanted the job.

    “I certainly had my eye on MCC Toronto,” says the Sudbury native, who was looking to relocate to Ontario so he could be closer to his family.

    When the votes were tallied, and Rock was chosen, the church borrowed from a papal tradition to herald its momentous decision. Pink smoke billowed from the chimney.

    Beginnings

    Rock grew up in a middle-class Sudbury neighbourhood with wide lots and brick and siding homes built in the ’60s.

    He says his existence was so typically Canadian, it was “really quite atypical when you stop and think about it. Hockey practice on Saturdays, church on Sundays, a cat, a dog, an older brother, a two-car garage.” He quit hockey at 15, a “lousy” player despite being the fastest on the ice, he says.

    Summer weekends were spent at the family cottage on Manitoulin Island. In winter, Rock skied cross-country with his parents and his brother, Christopher. Throughout his life, the family attended a church that locals call St. Peter’s on the Rock.

    “We had a wonderful community in the United Church,” says his mother, Carolyn Lane-Rock, who calls her family’s views “God-loving” and not “God-fearing.”

    Rock skipped Grade 8 and went straight to Sudbury Secondary, a downtown high school, where he enrolled in the theatre program. He describes the school — where his mother was teaching — as “a little rough around the edges,” but also diverse enough in terms of race, religion and sexual and gender diversity to make him feel comfortable.

    There, he broke up with his girlfriend and they both came out at the same time. But while he felt acceptance, especially in the church and in his notion of God, his ex-girlfriend didn’t have the same support and she took her own life, he says.

    “What got me through those teenage angsty years was having heard from the pulpit that I was a beloved child of God, no matter who I was or where I had come from,” says Rock. “So for me as a teenager, the church was a real bedrock.

    “My friend who had died likely didn’t feel that unconditional love,” he says. “I wish I would have had the opportunity to share that with her.”

    When Rock was in Grade 10, his mother left Sudbury Secondary and became a principal at another school. (His father was a chemist, in industrial sales for Imperial Oil.) She says she didn’t know her son was gay until long after he left home.

    “I was out in high school, and my teachers all knew I was gay,” says Rock. “And my teachers were all my mom’s best friends. But we never had that sit-down conversation until I was probably 24.

    “Coming out to your parents is always the toughest thing.”

    After high school, Rock considered going into theatre, but was also strong in science. He chose McGill for microbiology and immunology, hoping it would lead to AIDS research.

    On the weekend he was graduating from McGill, and his parents were visiting, he decided to become a minister.

    He says a lot of his friends were applying to law school or med school, and he thought, “Good Lord, what am I going to do with my life?”

    “I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world and work with people and do the work of social justice and build inclusive communities,” says Rock. “And to me that’s what being a minister is.”

    It wasn’t that much of a surprise to his mother, who says theatre taught him how to be a preacher, and bartending his way through university taught him compassion. His parents also set an example as people of conscience. “Both his dad and I have always fought for the underdog,” says Lane-Rock.

    Rock’s father, Bill, was a devout Catholic who considered the priesthood after high school, but his view on celibacy clashed with the church.

    In the ’60s, when studying at Loyola College in Montreal, he helped smuggle U.S. draft dodgers into Canada. He eventually split with the church over the issue of birth control.

    Now 71, he has Alzheimer’s and lives in a nursing home on Manitoulin Island.

    Lane-Rock taught family studies and co-op at Sudbury Secondary, a school with a large Indigenous population, for 17 years. “We pulled a lot of kids through that didn’t have much of a home life,” she says. “The theatre school (at Sudbury Secondary) was fabulous for saving kids.”

    She was also at N’Swakamok, an alternative school for Indigenous kids that was part of Sudbury Secondary, before she left to become a principal at Manitoulin Secondary School.

    The entire family volunteered with St. Peter’s Out of the Cold dinners at a neighbouring church, and the kids would come to the N’Swakamok charity bazaars.

    “Growing up in a church community, the issues of poverty and homelessness and a whole myriad of social justice issues were raised in my consciousness,” says Rock.

    After his McGill science degree, he went back to the Montreal university, which has several seminaries including one for the United Church, to get a bachelor in theology.

    During a year-long break from school, Rock was a hospital chaplain at Princess Margaret in Toronto, seeing cancer patients each day, many of whom were dying. For six months, he struggled with the question that many patients asked him — why do bad things happen to good people?

    About halfway through the year, he realized he didn’t have the answer but could help patients through a difficult time.

    “It’s my steadfast belief that God is with us through the good, the bad and the downright ugly.”

    He received his Master of Divinity from the Montreal School of Theology.

    After he graduated he applied to become a minister at Gaetz United, a job he says was far above his qualifications would typically have gone to someone with 30 years’ experience. But the Alberta church, seeking a new direction, was open to hiring someone fresh out of the seminary, he says.

    Rock says he’d already fallen in love with the west after an internship in Edmonton at McClure United Church.

    In Red Deer, he sat on numerous boards, including the Remembering the Children Society for six years. The society organized a memorial stone for four unmarked graves of youth, aged 13 and 14, who died during the Spanish flu epidemic in the Red Deer Indian Industrial School, an overcrowded residential school with poor sanitation. Last month, Rock attended the unveiling of the memorial at the Red Deer Cemetery.

    During the 2015 federal election, Rock took a one-month leave to run as the Liberal candidate in the riding of Red Deer-Lacombe. He finished second, and is no longer a member of the party.

    He says in Red Deer, he never experienced homophobia, but there was some racism.

    “There are certainly a few rotten apples … in Red Deer, but I’m hell-bent and determined that a couple of bad apples won’t ruin the bushel.”

    Moving forward

    “I’m tired,” says Brent Hawkes. “It’s been 40 years and I’m tired.”

    Hawkes is sitting in a café on Church St., his papers and daily agenda strewn in front of him, his phone practically gyrating off the table, buzzing with the near-continuous arrival of texts and emails.

    “New ideas come up now, and my default position is to say, I can’t take on this. Or we can’t do that,” says Hawkes. “The church needs a can-do, let’s-go-at-it energy and approach. And I think (Jeff Rock will) bring that.”

    The church was founded in 1973 in Toronto as a branch of an LGBTQ-friendly Christian church started by Troy Perry in California in 1968. Perry, a Pentecostal minister, was kicked out of his church because of his sexuality. He founded the Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles for gays and lesbians with a focus on inclusion, spirituality, community and social justice.

    People in Toronto heard about it and wrote a letter to the L.A. branch, asking for a pastor in Toronto. Rev. Bob Wolfe arrived in July 1973, and Hawkes took over four years later.

    At first, services were held in backyards, church halls and chapels, until MCC purchased its first building on Gerrard St. W. They moved to the church on Simpson Ave. in 1991.

    Under Hawkes, MCC has supported human rights initiatives such as adding sexual orientation protection to the province’s human rights code, and it was an intervener in a Supreme Court case that ended with the recognition of same-sex spouses under the Old Age Security Act. That case led to the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Charter of Rights.

    Today, the church still advocates for human rights. It runs a refugee program to help individuals come to Canada from countries where people are persecuted for being gay. The TDSB operates the Pink Triangle High School, a refuge for LGBTQ students who have left mainstream education, in the church’s basement.

    In more recent years, MCC has gone from being simply “the gay church” to one that is progressive, vibrant and the “conscience of the city.”

    The music at services can range from gospel to show tunes. Some days, MCC may be hosting fall jazz vespers, a homecoming cabaret or even Lorraine Segato, the former lead singer of the Parachute Club. On others, the church may organize social justice movie nights, seder dinners, funeral planning seminars and yoga.

    A quarter of the congregation is heterosexual.

    As a progressive Christian church, the board actively tries to identify social justice issues and learn more about them.

    “Our goal is to transform lives and through our words and actions, our community,” says board co-chair Lori Boyce. “Education, dialogue, action: they are all essential to our growth.”

    After the Black Lives Matter protest at Pride two summers ago, a church member posted some anti-Black comments on Facebook that were viewed by a church deacon. Soon after, the church instituted a program called the “Healing Racism Initiative” to educate the congregation about race issues and to discover what it could do to fix systemic racism in the church. Meetings and workshops are held to educate others about racism, and the church is looking at its organizational structure to identify systemic problems.

    The church thinks the program could be used as a model for other LGBTQ organizations.

    Racism within the gay community “is a very real problem,” says Rock. It’s an issue the church hopes to tackle during his tenure. He has made a promise to stay for 10 years.

    He acknowledges he’s a white male with privilege. But he says it’s “incumbent on people in positions of power to deconstruct the systems that give them that power.”

    Rock doesn’t hold to the notion of God as a male figure with a beard sitting somewhere in the sky, but as a “deep inner voice of love that calls us to do our best.”

    He says he always tells people that his “job as a minister isn’t to save souls. It’s to build community,” he says. “So my job is to help people learn and grow from each other.”

    Hawkes will move on to the global stage, to start a charity that will tackle homophobia and counter the religious right.

    “One of the issues that we see internationally, and in Canada and the U.S., too, is that quite often the people who are most vehement against gay/lesbian/trans equality are kind of the religious right,” says Boyce. “And so what’s kind of missing on the stage is another religious perspective, which Brent can offer with tremendous credibility.”

    When Rock officially starts in February, Hawkes, the senior statesman, will step away from the church for six months.

    When he comes back he’ll take a seat in a pew.

    “You need to let him be his own person,” says Hawkes. “Because he’s going to make changes and he needs to make changes, because if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got,” he says. “And the church needs a shift.”

    Hawkes says that although MCC has helped foster equality in law for LGBTQ people, there is still a lot more to be done to ensure “equality in practice.”

    LGBTQ kids are still bullied in school, he says, and seniors who go into retirement homes have to go back in the closet. “The addiction rate in the gay community is three times the society at large. And depression is the number one health concern in the LGBTQ community in Canada, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.”

    For Rock, living up to the image of a man who has been a friend and mentor to so many will be hard. The inevitable comparisons to Hawkes, who has been the pastor for nearly the whole of the church’s existence, have already started.

    Hawkes has been a presence in the church, but also in his downtown community, where he makes a point of wearing his collar and rainbow cross as a visible symbol of church leadership. Rock, who is single, has bought a townhouse condo near the village.

    He hasn’t decided whether to wear a collar or not.

    “Likely I will. I’m a little intimidated by the high profile of this position but know it’s important in building those connections.”

    The transition at the church is as important for Hawkes as it is for Rock.

    “For it to be successful, they have to stop comparing, stop looking over their shoulder at me,” says Hawkes. If they don’t, he says he can’t stay.

    Rock knows his new job is going to be a challenge. “I have no illusions,” he says. “I’m terrified, to be honest. But this all feels so God-led.”


    Rev. Jeff Rock has big pews to fill at Toronto's Metropolitan Community ChurchRev. Jeff Rock has big pews to fill at Toronto's Metropolitan Community Church

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    RALEIGH, N.C.—North Carolina’s highest court is reviewing whether justice means the death penalty for a survivor of El Salvador’s blood-soaked civil war of the 1980s who strangled and then decapitated his estranged wife.

    The state’s Supreme Court hears oral arguments Monday on whether the state can execute 41-year-old Juan Carlos Rodriguez of Winston-Salem for the 2010 murder of his wife, Maria. The high court automatically reviews death cases.

    North Carolina is rare among southern states in that it hasn’t had an execution in more than a decade because of various legal challenges. While the state has continued to suffer 500 to 600 murders a year, prosecutors have sought the death penalty only a handful of times each year and juries have condemned killers in only a fraction of those cases.

    Rodriguez’s children told investigators their father beat and bloodied Maria Rodriguez after she told them she was leaving in November 2010. He tossed the woman’s still-breathing body over his shoulder, placed her in his vehicle, and said he was taking her to a hospital. Maria’s body and severed head were found at different locations three weeks later, after Juan was already jailed for her kidnapping.

    Justices are holding hearings in the case for the second time in almost exactly a year. Monday’s hearing comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this spring that states needed to use current medical standards in deciding whether a killer is so mentally disabled he can’t be executed. The U.S. constitution bans “cruel and unusual punishments,” and that has been interpreted to prohibit executing people with severe mental shortcomings.

    Rodriguez’s IQ was estimated several times at below 70, a threshold for significantly impaired intellectual functioning. But accused killers in North Carolina also must show significant inability to adapt to daily life and that their mental handicaps were evident before adulthood.

    Prosecutors introduced testimony showing Rodriguez worked as a brick mason meant he competed in the job market and earned a decent salary, was able to fill out forms, sign a lease, and pay bills. But a forensic psychiatrist testifying for Rodriguez said he compensated at work for his inability to learn addition or subtraction by marking a yardstick with common measurements.

    Attorneys trying to prevent his execution argue that growing up in rural El Salvador meant Rodriguez was scarred by extreme poverty, malnutrition so severe his mother once told him to eat grass, exposure to neurotoxins in pesticides, and education that ended with seventh grade at age 16. Rodriguez also suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from the war, his attorneys said.

    “In addition to the torture and murder of his brother, young Juan Carlos was regularly exposed to heavy combat, air raids, and the possibility of stepping on land mines,” defence attorney John Carella wrote in one court filing.

    Prosecutors countered that while psychologists agree that traumatic experiences could contribute to intellectual disability, Rodriguez’s “experience of growing up during a particular civil war was collective and not individualized to him.” In other words, thousands of other rural Salvadorans survived the ghastly violence without turning into killers themselves.

    Despite having one of the world’s highest homicide rates, El Salvador allows the death penalty only for exceptional crimes.

    There are 144 killers on North Carolina’s death row, including Rodriguez and three women. He’s been one of the most recent additions to the line waiting for their execution day. The longest has been on death row for 32 years. The latest was added in April 2016.


    North Carolina Supreme Court reviewing death penalty for man who beheaded wifeNorth Carolina Supreme Court reviewing death penalty for man who beheaded wife

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    OTTAWA—Federal lawyers have racked up a legal bill of more than $2.36 million fighting a group of women who allegedly were wrongly denied sickness benefits while they were on maternity leave.

    The costs, revealed in an access to information request filed by The Canadian Press, show the Justice Department added about $300,000 to its bill between early 2016 and last June to fight a case the Liberals once vowed to drop.

    That brings the total federal bill on the case to more than $2.5 million when factoring in previously released costs from a second department involved in the litigation.

    Jennifer McCrea, the woman at the centre of the case, and her lawyer wonder why the government can’t end their case when it settled with former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr for $10.5 million and offered up to $750 million to victims of the ’60s Scoop, where Indigenous children were taken from their homes and placed with non-native families.

    Read more:

    Mothers denied sickness benefits urge Liberal government to end legal battle

    Liberals dragging heels on $450M class-action lawsuit, moms denied EI say

    “It’s the only right thing to do and I believe in the strength of our case,” said lawyer Stephen Moreau.

    “I have yet to see a reason why they wouldn’t come through on this promise, other than the fact that they’re taking a long time. That’s the only thing that gives me some pause.”

    McCrea said she hasn’t given up hope the Liberals will settle, as the party promised at the end of the 2015 election, but admits it may finally mean getting their day in court.

    “I’m upset that this is taking so long,” said Moreau, who has been interviewed extensively by the Star.

    “I’m in too deep and too long to give up on it, so absolutely we intend to continue the fight. It’s just very slow and painful.”

    It was two years ago, just a week before the federal election, that the NDP and Liberals vowed to immediately drop opposition to the case if either became government.

    Instead, Moreau said, the Liberals, like the previous Conservative government, continue to fight every element of the case.

    McCrea has been brushed off by ministers and local MPs, with all saying they couldn’t comment because the matter was before courts.

    “That’s all that they’ll tell me,” McCrea said.

    A spokesperson for Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said it would be inappropriate to comment on the case because it is in Federal Court.

    “The minister is sympathetic to the challenges faced by women who were diagnosed with cancer while receiving parental benefits. EI claimants who fall ill or are injured during their parental benefits claim are now able to access sickness benefits,” Mathieu Filion said.

    Parliament decided in 2002 to allow those who were diagnosed with cancer, for instance, to access 15 extra weeks of employment insurance payments in addition to a year’s worth of maternity leave benefits.

    McCrea was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2011, while she was on maternity leave with her youngest son, Logan, who was eight months old at the time.

    She had a double mastectomy in August 2011 and was deemed cancer-free shortly afterwards.

    But she was denied sickness benefits. Her claim alleges thousands of others were also denied between 2002 and 2013 — when the Tories further clarified the law — although the exact number of women affected isn’t clear because it would require searching through millions of paper EI files.

    Federal lawyers are now looking to limit the potential number of additional women who may be part of the $450-million class-action lawsuit in the latest procedural wrangling. A hearing about whether to expand the definition of who is part of the class action is scheduled for early January.


    Federal costs to fight lawsuit from moms denied sickness benefits tops $2.5 millionFederal costs to fight lawsuit from moms denied sickness benefits tops $2.5 million

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    Richard Spencer, who in August led white nationalists and white supremacists in a torchlight march across the University of Virginia campus that touched off a weekend of deadly clashes, returned Saturday night to Charlottesville.

    Spencer, a white nationalist, posted video on social media of followers carrying torches to the statue of Robert E. Lee, which the city has sought to remove.

    The march coincided with the university’s celebration of its bicentennial.

    “It was a planned flash mob,” Spencer said in an interview Saturday night. “It was a great success. We’ve been planning this for a long time.”

    “We wanted to prove that we came in peace in May, we came in peace in August, and we come again in peace,” he said.

    Their message, he said, is that, “Our identity matters. We are not going to stand by and allow people to tear down these symbols of our history and our people — and we’re going to do this again.”

    Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer sent a tweet denouncing the march: “Another despicable visit by neo-Nazi cowards. You’re not welcome here! Go home! Meantime we’re looking at all our legal options. Stay tuned.”

    Wes Gobar, the leader of the U-Va. Black Student Alliance, who was trying to finish a paper for class when he learned of the rally, said it was difficult balancing studies while bracing for the next burst of hatred that might seize Charlottesville. On Saturday, some members of his group knelt in protest during the National Anthem and the school’s Good Old Song.

    Read more:

    White nationalist leader Richard Spencer says conservatives should protest against Trump — not for him

    Hearing to be set on white nationalist Richard Spencer’s right to speak at Michigan campus

    Michigan State University sued after denying space to white nationalist Richard Spencer

    Spencer, a U-Va. graduate, said he was unaware that the school was marking its bicentennial. They have been planning this “for a long time.”

    WVIR-TV reported that Spencer and his group arrived at Emancipation Park about 7:45 p.m., and departed 15 minutes later.

    The video Spencer posted show him and his crowd chanting, “You will not replace us”

    They promised to keep returning to Charlottesville, which they argued had become symbolic of their right to speak and also had come to symbolize the tearing down of symbols of the nation’s history.

    “You will not erase us.”

    “We are about our heritage. Not just us Virginians. Not just as Southerners. But as white people ... we’ll take a stand.

    “You’ll have to get used to us.

    “We’re going to come back again and again and again.”

    Then they began singing about Dixie.

    Officials with the Charlottesville police department did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday night.

    Spokesmen for the University of Virginia did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    The August march at U-Va. — with people chanting “Jews will not replace us!” — touched off violence between demonstrators and counterprotesters the next day. A man drove into a crowd, killing one woman and injuring others, and two police officers who were monitoring the protests died when their helicopter crashed.

    In the days that followed, several public universities denied Spencer a platform.

    Last week, the University of Florida reluctantly agreed it would allow Spencer to speak later this month, saying it had no choice because as a state institution, it must all expression of all viewpoints.

    The university, in Gainesville, Florida, is charging the National Policy Institute, which Spencer leads, $10,000 (U.S.) to rent a campus facility and to provide security inside the university’s performing arts centre.


    White nationalist Richard Spencer and supporters return to Charlottesville for 'planned flash mob'White nationalist Richard Spencer and supporters return to Charlottesville for 'planned flash mob'

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    Police are looking for two men wanted in the fatal shooting of Abdulkadir Bihi in Etobicoke on Oct. 5.

    The 29-year-old was found inside of a car with gunshot wounds following a collision near Dixon Rd. and Islington Ave. W. just before 3 p.m. on Thursday. Police responded to the scene of 263 Dixon Rd. following reports of gunshots.

    Det. Steve Henkel said Zayn Q. Chaudry, 19, and Yahya Abdirahman, 20, are wanted for the killing of Bihi, and “are considered to be armed and dangerous.”

    Bihi was rushed to hospital with life-threatening injuries, and was pronounced dead upon arrival.

    The driver of the other vehicle involved in the incident apparently fled on foot.

    “Get a lawyer and turn yourselves in,” was the advice Henkel gave to the suspects in a live media conference Sunday.

    Henkel said police are seeking warrants for the arrest of Chaudry and Abdirahman.

    “On Saturday, a search warrant executed in Oakville in the Speers Rd. and Kerr St. area — led by 23 Division and members of the Emergency Task Force — resulted in the arrest of three Toronto males, the recovery of two semi-automatic handguns, a quantity of drugs (and) approximately $27,000 in Canadian currency,” said Henkel.

    All three of the men have been charged with firearm-related offences and drug-related offences. The trio appeared in court at Old City Hall on Sunday at 10 a.m.

    • Toronto police say they are also investigating the death of a teen who was fatally stabbed in an East York park on Saturday night.

    Investigators rushed to the playground area of Stan Wadlow Park near Cosburn and Woodbine Aves. just before 9 p.m. where they found two teenage male victims in the playground area. One had no vital signs, while the other had suffered serious injuries.

    Three people have been arrested in relation to the stabbing. Police are still investigating.


    Two men wanted in the slaying of Abdulkadir Bihi in EtobicokeTwo men wanted in the slaying of Abdulkadir Bihi in Etobicoke

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