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TOPSTORIES

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    The Blue Jays fired a reported 23 employees Wednesday from various departments on the business side. The club insisted it was not a cost-cutting measure but more a shift of resources to address evolving needs. The streamlined front office is merging and re-organizing fan engagement and media relations.

    Gone from the former media department are Mal Romanin, the manager of baseball information, Erik Grosman, the coordinator of baseball information, and communications coordinator Sue Mallabon. The only leftover is communications vice-president Jay Stenhouse.

    The Jays expanded their existing fan engagement department last season, an area that includes business-led PR initiatives and Blue Jays social media. That department, led by Sebastian Gatica, has now merged with media in reporting to Gatica, who transferred from Sportsnet to the Jays in 2016 to coordinate personal affairs for president Mark Shapiro.

    “In recent years, our business has become more focused on engaging fans through compelling experiences, unique content and personalized service,” Gatica said. “Today’s changes reflect that evolving nature of our business as we shift to meet these needs through a new structure and resources aimed at delivering memorable experiences to our passionate fan base.”

    The new setup, with a one-person media department, is unique to Major League Baseball.

    Read more:

    Vaughan’s Andrew Wiggins signs $148M extension with Timberwolves

    Devils, Schneider hand Leafs first loss of season

    John Farrell’s dream job ends following ALDS loss to Astros: Griffin


    Blue Jays fire 23, including most of media departmentBlue Jays fire 23, including most of media department

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    The Toronto area needs 8,000 new rental units a year — more than four times the number it built last year — to restore the region to a healthy vacancy rate.

    It also needs to wean itself from a growing reliance on the private condos that represent about a third of rentals in the city, says a report published Thursday by the Ryerson City Building Institute and Evergreen, an urban sustainability charity.

    “Unless we’re going to make (home) ownership a lot more attainable, 8,000 is where we need to be at now and in the future,” said Graham Haines, research manager of the Ryerson institute.

    Read more:

    Toronto housing price ‘correction’ eases: Report

    Rental squeeze tighter in 3rd quarter, report says

    At that rate it would take five to 10 years to restore the region to a vacancy rate of at least 3 per cent, says the report called, “Getting to 8,000: Building a healthier rental market for the Toronto Area.”

    That level would permit tenants to find suitable, affordable housing. But the Toronto region’s vacancy rate has been below that for years. The most recent Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation figure is 1.4 per cent.

    Rents for available one-bedroom apartments increased 6.3 per cent between 2015 and 2016 and 8.8 per cent in the last year, says the report.

    “One of the things that would be positive would be if we can get back towards rental buildings and rental supply versus condo supply because we can get back to the place where condos are an affordable entry way into home ownership,” said Haines.

    “Right now we see condos are still going up by 20 per cent because they offer this investment opportunity for people who have spare real estate money sitting around,” he said.

    While 76,000 condos have been built in the last decade, only 2,400 new purpose-built rental units have hit the market, according to the report.

    Investors get a decent rate of return on rent and that puts the purchase price of condos further out of reach for home buyers, said Haines.

    “You’re looking at something like $600,000 for a two-bedroom condo. That’s unaffordable for a young family that’s trying to get into the market,” he said.

    The report recommends governments incentivize rental development by:

    • Expanding the development charge rebate in the Ontario government’s fair housing policy that, in April, prescribed $125 million over five years.

    • Providing municipal incentives to rental development.

    • Developing a one-stop shop for federal and provincial development incentives.

    • Changing HST rules so that rental developers can claim credits to offset the tax they pay on construction materials in the same way condo developers recoup their HST expense when they sell the units.

    Haines downplayed a report last month by the Federation of Rental Housing Providers of Ontario that showed developers, who had been planning to create rentals, had switched 1,000 of those units to condos in light of the province’s decision to extend rent controls to newer buildings.

    The odds are stacked against rentals and those buildings were probably on the edge, he said.

    “The numbers are just there for condos. The finances make more sense and that’s ultimately the challenge with or without rent control,” said Haines.

    The city is already looking at other policies recommended in the report, including a vacancy tax and restrictions on short-term rentals.

    Haines says the city also needs to open up areas of the city to multi-residential homes where currently zoning makes it difficult to build anything other than single-family houses.

    It wouldn’t make a huge difference in the number of rentals short-term but, he said, “With the vacancy rate as low as it is, providing any amount of rental supply will help improve the situation.”


    Toronto area needs 8,000 new rental units a year, less reliance on condos: reportToronto area needs 8,000 new rental units a year, less reliance on condos: report

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    OTTAWA—A proposal for a multi-billion dollar transit hub at Pearson International Airport is getting serious consideration by the federal and provincial governments, the Star has learned.

    A high-level meeting involving stakeholders from all three levels of government was held at Queen’s Park Tuesday to provide an update on the proposal and map out next steps.

    That meeting — which also involved the operators of Pearson airport and Metrolinx, the regional transit agency — brought together both transportation planners as well as the infrastructure officials who can provide the public funding needed to make the project a reality.

    “There’s definitely serious interest,” said one source familiar with the meeting who spoke on background because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

    The Greater Toronto Airports Authority has pitched its proposal for a transit hub as part of its strategy to help fuel further passenger growth at Pearson.

    That transit centre, located on airport lands, would be served by the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, Finch West LRT, Mississauga Bus Rapid Transit, GO Transit rail lines, UP Airport Express and perhaps even high speed rail in the future.

    The hub has been dubbed “Union Station West.”

    The afternoon meeting, held in a boardroom in an Ontario government building adjacent to Queen’s Park, was organized by the federal government.

    The goal of the meeting was to hear updates related to the regional transit centre. Listed as outcomes were the “identification of next steps, to advance studies and discussions on potential working groups to facilitate integrated planning.”

    Those invited to the meeting included the deputy minister of Transport Canada and three other senior department officials; senior bureaucrats from Infrastructure Canada, the finance department and the Canadian Infrastructure Bank Transition office.

    The province was represented by officials from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Ontario. Officials from the cities of Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton were also present.

    Gianni Ciufo, who heads Deloitte’s public private partnership team, provided an overview of transit funding and financing options.

    The heavyweight presence at the meeting is a signal that it’s getting serious attention, the source said. “You don’t get those people out unless there is significant momentum coming behind a project,” the source said.

    Metrolinx — represented at the session by Phil Verster, its new chief executive officer, and senior planning staff — has made improved transit to Pearson one of its priorities.

    The agency’s draft regional transportation plan notes that the airport area has the second-highest concentration of jobs in the Greater Toronto Area and says that cutting down on auto use will require “more attractive and integrated transit services.”

    The draft document says that support for Pearson’s regional transportation centre should be a priority to improve transit access to the airport and better enable the airport region to support economic growth.

    The Greater Toronto Airports Authority declined to comment on Tuesday’s meeting. But it has been an advocate of its plan, presenting it to political decision-makers. It has issued a request for proposals for the design and phasing of the transit centre.

    According to the authority’s website more than 44 million people traveled through Pearson airport in 2016.

    A report done for the airports authority in 2016 described the need for a transit hub as “urgent” but said it would be “potentially one of the most effective, efficient and productive of transit investments in the region.”

    Both the federal and provincial governments are said to be interested in the proposal because of the opportunities to improve access to Pearson — Canada’s busiest airport — and improve access to transit to reduce congestion in the airport region.

    One next step will be to set in motion planning for the multiple transit lines planned to serve the centre — and how they would be funded.


    Momentum builds for new Pearson airport transit hubMomentum builds for new Pearson airport transit hub

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    A $6.1-million lottery prize is in limbo after a court injunction prevented an Ontario man from cashing in a Lotto 6/49 ticket that his former live-in girlfriend claims is half hers.

    Maurice Thibeault showed up at OLG’s Toronto prize centre recently with one of the two winning tickets in the Sept. 20 jackpot worth $12.2 million.

    But before the Chatham resident could collect the money, Denise Robertson, 46, obtained an emergency court injunction and alerted OLG not to hand over the disputed millions.

    Read more:8 of Ontario’s most notorious lottery scandals

    Sources close to Robertson say she had asked Thibeault days earlier if the ticket — with the numbers 6, 17, 29, 37, 45, and 47 — had won and he responded it hadn’t.

    Friends say she thought nothing of it until he moved out of her house five days after the draw.

    Over their two years and one month of living together in her house — along with her teenage daughter from a previous marriage — the couple frequently played the lottery, alternating each week who would buy the tickets, said a source close to the long-time federal public servant.

    Thibeault’s associates dispute that there was any such arrangement, pointing out he purchased the ticket at a Chatham convenience store using a debit card linked to his personal bank account.

    Sources said the surveillance footage of him buying the winning ticket has been erased, but there is a bank receipt of the transaction.

    They also said she texted him to ask only if he had bought a ticket, not whether their numbers had come up.

    His friends also maintain he had been planning to separate from her for months and only managed to do so when he “got lucky” and won the lottery.

    On Sept. 25, Robertson arrived home from work to find Thibeault, a 46-year-old father of three, had cleared out all his belongings from their shared home, according to three people who know the couple.

    She then learned from mutual friends he had also quit his job at a local granite and glass supply company. A colleague had emailed the entire office that Thibeault had won, which is how she learned of the windfall.

    “She couldn’t believe it,” said a person close to her, who, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on condition of anonymity.

    Robertson contacted Windsor lawyer Anita Landry, who immediately phoned OLG headquarters in Toronto and obtained an injunction in a Windsor courtroom on Sept. 28.

    “This motion, made without notice, by the plaintiff for an order that the defendant Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation not distribute the proceeds of the winning 6/49 lottery ticket from Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017 in the amount of $6,146,722.60 until the ownership issue can be disposed of ,” the court document reads.

    But the legal injunction wasn’t necessary — everything was put on hold as soon as the Crown gaming agency was aware there was a dispute surrounding the ownership of the ticket.

    That means Robertson, who declined to comment through her lawyer, could be entitled to more than $3 million of the prize.

    Thibeault — who is “laying low” in an undisclosed location until the matter is resolved, according to a friend — also declined to comment.

    The other half of the $12.2 million bonanza was won by a ticket holder in Quebec.

    OLG’s senior manager of media relations Tony Bitonti said there are very strict procedures surrounding the awarding ofprizes.

    “The prize claim process is a process OLG would have followed regardless of whether there was an injunction or not,” said Bitonti.

    “Anyone or group presenting a ticket worth $1,000 or more is subject to the prize claim review process to determine ownership of the specific ticket. For prizes of $10,000 or more, this review process includes a mandatory in-person interview of the claimant conducted by an OLG prize claims investigator,” the spokesperson said.

    “While OLG has key information about the ticket — where and when it was purchased, was it purchased with other lottery products, etc. — in addition, we ask the claimant certain questions about the ticket and the circumstances surrounding its purchase in order to confirm ownership,” he said.

    “If, for any reason, our prize claim review team cannot confidently determine the ownership of the ticket from the answers to the questions from the interview, then the claim is sent to OLG general investigations for further review. This further review can include interviewing other individuals with relevant information surrounding the prize claim.”

    A prize is awarded only after OLG — which has revamped its procedures after ascandal surrounding questionable insider wins a decade ago — completes its investigation.

    OLG investigators sometimes examine months-old surveillance video from variety stores and gas stations where tickets are sold to determine buying patterns.

    They use computerized“data analysis and retrieval technology” to analyze billions of transactions per second and can identify ticket purchase characteristics to thwart fraudsters.

    But changes in human relationships can be tricky to track.


    $6.1M Lotto 6/49 prize in limbo after couple splits$6.1M Lotto 6/49 prize in limbo after couple splits

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    Canadian Joshua Boyle, his American wife Caitlan Coleman and their children are on their way home after five years held hostage by the Haqqani network.

    Boyle called his parents early Thursday morning to tell of their rescue. He also told his father that they’ve had a third baby in custody, a little girl who was born two months ago.

    “Josh said he was doing pretty well for someone who has spent the last five years in an underground prison,” Patrick Boyle told the Star early Thursday, about his conversation with his son.

    Boyle, 34, and Coleman, 31, were kidnapped by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network in October 2012. Coleman was five-months pregnant at the time and the couple was backpacking through Central Asia.

    Their families did not know they had crossed into Afghanistan.

    Coleman gave birth to her first son in custody, followed by a second boy a few years later.

    Their daughter was born this summer.

    Pakistan’s government issued a press released Thursday confirming the rescue “through an intelligence-based operation by Pakistan troops and intelligence agencies.”

    The statement said that U.S. agencies had been tracking the family and kidnappers in the Kurram Agency, an area in Pakistan on Afghanistan’s border and that the rescue was based “on actionable intelligence from U.S. authorities.”

    “The success underscores the importance of timely intelligence sharing and Pakistan’s continued commitment towards fighting this menace through cooperation between two forces against a common enemy.”

    Those comments appear to support what U.S. President Donald Trump alluded to in a speech Wednesday in Coleman’s home state of Pennsylvania. “Something happened today, where a country that totally disrespected us called with some very, very important news,” Trump said. “And one of my generals came in. They said, ‘You know, I have to tell you, a year ago they would’ve never done that.’ It was a great sign of respect. You’ll probably be hearing about it over the next few days. But this is a country that did not respect us. This is a country that respects us now. The world is starting to respect us again, believe me.”

    Read more:

    Canadian hostage, children seen in just-released Taliban video

    Delivering his own son by flashlight: Kidnapped Canadian’s correspondence gives glimpse of life in captivity

    Family keeps hope alive for son, daughter-in-law kidnapped by Taliban


    Kidnapped Canadian family released after 5 years of being held hostageKidnapped Canadian family released after 5 years of being held hostage

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    The Star’s running tally of every false thing the president of the United States of America has said since his inauguration — 688 so far.

    Donald Trump makes 11 false claims in Forbes interview, 11 more in sit-down with HuckabeeDonald Trump makes 11 false claims in Forbes interview, 11 more in sit-down with Huckabee

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    Ian Dwight Gray didn’t appear at his Ontario College of Teachers hearing Thursday, but submitted a guilty plea and joint submission for penalty.

    Retired Toronto teacher suspended for misconduct dating back to 2006Retired Toronto teacher suspended for misconduct dating back to 2006

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    Whether the class-action will proceed is now in the hands of Superior Court Justice Paul Perell.

    Lawyers spar over whether class-action into Motherisk drug-testing scandal should go aheadLawyers spar over whether class-action into Motherisk drug-testing scandal should go ahead

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    The big bird lured record crowds, brought in big profits, says report on waterfront festival. The attraction was a huge summer hit for Toronto.

    Turns out the giant rubber duck brought in the bucksTurns out the giant rubber duck brought in the bucks

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    Company was supposed to have delivered 146 vehicles by now, but instead has supplied just 45.

    Bombardier to miss year-end streetcar delivery targetBombardier to miss year-end streetcar delivery target

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    Community members are speaking out after two separate murders occurred in Toronto’s Dixon Road neighbourhood.

    ‘Too many of us are burying our children’:‘Too many of us are burying our children’:

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    Toronto’s real estate market weighed down the Teranet-National Bank composite home price index, which fell 0.8 per cent in September.

    ‘The worst is still to come’ as national home price index falls in September‘The worst is still to come’ as national home price index falls in September

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    Provincially owned Ontario Power Generation is in talks to potentially sell the hulking, long-decommissioned Hearn Generating Station on Toronto’s east waterfront, city councillors were shocked to hear Thursday.

    “I’m gobsmacked,” Councillor Paula Fletcher said after her intense questioning of two OPG representatives appearing before a city committee confirmed negotiations to sell the landmark publicly owned waterfront site to private owners.

    “It’s very disturbing because the province should be stewards for that land, for when the spectacular redevelopment of our waterfront moves eastward.

    “It’s a unique building in the world to have on your waterfront — it’s big, it’s beautiful, there could be a fantastic repurposing like we have seen of similar buildings in New York City and other cities.”

    Ray Davies, OPG’s real estate strategy manager, and Mary Flynn-Guglietti, a McMillan LLP lawyer representing OPG, appeared before the planning and growth committee considering future plans for the Port Lands.

    The OPG representatives repeated past objections to city redevelopment plans, saying new roadways, intersections and public space impinge on OPG’s Portlands Energy Centre at 470 Unwin Ave. and the neighbouring Hearn, which is leased to Studios of America for film production.

    Fletcher asked if there is any truth to talk that OPG is in talks with Studios of America to sell the 16-hectare (40-acre) Lake Ontario site.

    “I’m not aware of that,” Davies said, adding the Hearn is not among his files but he knew that, under its long-term lease, Studios of America would have first crack at buying the site if it is sold.

    Davies said he believes the land title is in the name of OPG, a “private corporation,” but conceded OPG is wholly owned by the Ontario government and “we wouldn’t make a decision without their blessing.”

    Fletcher continued pushing. “Are you telling me categorically that it is not up for sale, that the Ontario government is not planning, your shareholder, is not planning to sell that? ... Has that been offered up, as many people have heard, as the province is now looking to sell the Hearn and it’s being offered first?”

    Flynn-Guglietti jumped in. “I believe there has been discussions in that regard,” she said. Recently?, Fletcher asked. “Yes,” Flynn-Guglietti said.

    Studios of America, owned by partners including company president Paul Vaughan and prominent real estate developer Mario Cortellucci, has a lease on the massive building, decommissioned as a power plant in 1983, that runs from 2002 to 2041 if all extensions are exercised.

    Asked in a phone interview Thursday if he is aware of sale discussions, Vaughan said he was but could not talk about it.

    “We have to defer to others to make that decision, I can’t do it on my own. What can I say?,” Vaughan said.

    “I have to defer to (OPG) because I’m under a gag order, I really can’t say anything. You should be talking to OPG. They are the land owners, obviously.”

    Neither OPG nor Cortellucci have yet responded to the Star’s request for comment.

    In June, the province announced it was putting up for sale the old Lakeview generating station site on Mississauga’s waterfront. The developer or consortium that buys that property will have to remediate the industrial lands before transforming the area into a mixed-use community expected to house up to 20,000 residents and 9,000 jobs.

    Many proposals for the Hearn have been floated over the years, including ice rinks, other sports facilities and demolition. It is used for specialized film studio work and, in recent years, has hosted events including the Luminato Festival. Proximity to the Portlands Energy Centre, a 550-megawatt natural gas electrical generating station, makes it unsuitable for housing.

    Fletcher said the OPG representatives’ portrayal of the land ownership reminded her of 2011 when a city agency leasing out Port Lands property launched, with the blessing of then-councillor Doug Ford and then-mayor Rob Ford, a doomed redevelopment plan including a giant Ferris wheel and megamall.

    “The public owns that land, not OPG, and I’m concerned OPG doesn’t see their job is to introduce this land into waterfront planning at some point the same way Toronto’s lands will be staged and introduced, even though we have leases on them,” she said.

    The Ontario government is a partner, along with the city and federal government, in Waterfront Toronto, the agency overseeing waterfront redevelopment.

    Mira Shenker, Waterfront Toronto’s communications manager for the Port Lands, said in an interview: “We’ve known that Studios of America, which has a long-term lease, has been in discussions with OPG but we are not privy to those. We hadn’t heard about a sale.

    “Whether we support (a sale) or not depends on the longer-term vision of the Port Lands, what the proposed re-use is. We know there is an interest from the community in some creative adaptive reuse of the Hearn.”


    Province’s waterfront Hearn site subject of sales talksProvince’s waterfront Hearn site subject of sales talks

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    Police say a doctor — who allegedly paid to have unprotected sex with a 15-year-old girl in his office at a Toronto hospital — is facing multiple charges.

    Toronto police say investigators looking into the alleged trafficking of the girl learned a man met the teen in December 2016 after responding to an escort ad for sex on an online classifieds site.

    It’s alleged he had unprotected sex with her and met with her at different hotels in the Toronto area over the next few months and paid to have unprotected sex with the girl.

    Investigators allege that after the encounters he would prescribe birth control and inject the girl with the medication.

    They allege that on one occasion he had sex with her in his office at Toronto General Hospital.

    Ernest Chiu, 32, of Toronto, is charged with sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, obtaining sexual services from a person under 18 and sexual assault.

    Investigators say Chiu is a doctor of nephrology and is associated with St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto General Hospital, Toronto Western Hospital, Princess Margaret Hospital, Toronto Rehab and Sinai Health System.

    According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario's records, Chiu studied medicine at the University of Toronto, beginning in July of 2012. His first three years of post-graduate study were in Internal Medicine, followed by two years of Nephrology ending on June 30 of this year. During that time, Chiu was practicing under a postgraduate education certificate.

    A specialty in Internal Medicine was issued to Chiu on May 8 of this year.

    The College's site, as of Thursday afternoon, lists the terms and conditions of Chiu's certificate of registration as expired.

    - With files from Victoria Gibson


    Toronto doctor had sex with 15-year-old girl, injected her with meds, police allegeToronto doctor had sex with 15-year-old girl, injected her with meds, police allege

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    WASHINGTON—Adding to the gloom surrounding negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration began the latest round of talks by making a proposal loathed by Canada and Mexico: a “sunset clause” that would automatically terminate the agreement in five years if all three countries did not approve it again.

    Trade experts say the U.S. may simply be issuing aggressive demands as a negotiating tactic. If the sunset clause proposal is not eventually withdrawn, however, it could well lead to the collapse of talks.

    Canadian and Mexican officials have both slammed the idea in the last month. And it is fiercely opposed by business groups in all three countries, who say it would deny companies the certainty they need to make investments.

    “What manufacturers want more than anything is certainly and predictability. And it’s rather hard to make long-term capital decisions or sourcing decisions if there’s an automatic sunset of five years,” said Dennis Darby, chief executive of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters. “With a five-year potential sword hanging over your head, I think what it’s going to do is cause manufacturers to not invest and be really, really risk-averse.”

    “I think this will be one of the most difficult for the business community to accept,” said Dan Ujczo, a trade lawyer and president of the Ohio-Canada Business Association.

    Jerry Dias, president of the Unifor union that represents Canadian autoworkers, said he would support a sunset clause on a bad final deal, oppose it on a good final deal. Regardless, though, he said the proposal is a “schoolyard bully” tactic that conveys “they don’t want a deal in the first place.”

    The proposal comes amid a growing consensus around the continent that the talks might fail because of Trump’s protectionism. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday he was “ready for anything,” and Dias said Thursday that “this thing is going into the toilet.”

    “They want to hold this weapon over people’s heads to get them to surrender more, surrender more, more concessions, more concessions. But they’re not fooling anybody,” Dias said.

    The sunset clause was endorsed by Canada’s United Steelworkers. National director Ken Neumann said the threat of termination would “add some accountability” for politicians making the kinds of promises the original NAFTA has not fulfilled.

    “We got sold a bill of goods with NAFTA,” Neumann said. “If you would have had a sunset clause, it wouldn’t have survived going forward.”

    U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross floated the sunset idea in September. It was formally put on the negotiating table late Wednesday, said a source with knowledge of the negotiations.

    “Yes, that’s our proposal,” Ross said at a Wednesday event.

    In a speech the day prior, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue, described the proposal as a “poison pill” that “could doom the entire deal.”

    The fourth round of talks, scheduled to run until Tuesday in a suburb of Washington, are expected to be the most challenging to date. The U.S. is likely to introduce a contentious proposal to require that a hefty percentage of an automobile be manufactured in the U.S. itself, rather than just in the NAFTA zone, to be exempted from tariffs.

    The specifics of the sunset proposal were not immediately clear. One key question: whether it would give the president unilateral authority to renew NAFTA or if Congress would have to vote again as well.

    Canadian ministers did not address the proposal Thursday. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one official said, “We expected a tough round.”


    Trump administration just introduced a 5-year ‘sunset clause’ into NAFTA talksTrump administration just introduced a 5-year ‘sunset clause’ into NAFTA talks

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    It was 3 a.m. on Thursday, when I woke up, too nervous to go back to sleep. On the other side of the world, millions of people shared my anticipation, awaiting an Indian High Court judgment of an appeal by two people convicted for murder.

    A little before 6 a.m., my phone began buzzing like a string of firecrackers on silent mode. When I finally dared to pick it up, I scanned the notifications for one nugget of information: convictions overturned.

    Oh sweet relief. Vindication. Now was the time to let the tears flow, but they've stubbornly held back so far, damn them.

    Four years ago, when I was a digital editor at the Star, I had shared a story of the pain and betrayal that followed the sensational 2008 murder of Aarushi Talwar and the live–in cook Hemraj Banjade in India. Aarushi’s parents – Nupur and Rajesh Talwar – were eventually convicted in 2013, when the judge called them, “freaks in the history of mankind.”

    Nupur is my cousin — our mothers are sisters. In Indian relationships, a cousin is like a sibling, which made her daughter my niece.

    The whole story had begun with what should have been a pretty straightforward case of murder. There were two crime scenes that were rich with evidence including a bloodied shoe print, a bloodied handprint on a wall, and 22 fingerprints.

    However, the continuous bungling by various investigators — none of those prints were identified, for instance — created not just twists and turns but explosive craters in a case that held a nation in thrall as the media breathlessly chased every morsel of gossip, innuendo and information.

    The scandalous narrative spun by the police in the early days was the one that stuck until the end: A pretty 13-year-old was doing something “objectionable, though not compromising” with the 45-year-old cook, an enraged father approached stealthily with a golf club that accidently hit the girl, he killed the cook, then finished off the job by slashing his daughter’s throat with his dental scalpel. The parents, both dentists then tried to cover up the crime with medical precision. They dragged the man’s body upstairs to a terrace, and wiped out every trace of his blood. The next day, they showed no grief, no remorse.

    Since truth is stranger than fiction, any of this was plausible.

    Except, there was not a shred of evidence to support it.

    No sign of the cook in the child’s room — neither blood, nor hair nor semen.

    Nor was his blood on her parents’ clothes. Her blood, meanwhile, was splashed up on her bedroom walls, the bed, the floors, and their clothes from holding her body when they found her. There was no credible murder weapon. The motive, which alternated between honour killing (premeditated) and fit of rage (spontaneous), was never established.

    Meanwhile, there were partially drunk bottles of wine, beer and pop in the cook’s room that suggested the presence of outsiders there.

    I won’t rehash the story as you can read it at thestar.com/aarushi or read the best-selling book titled Aarushi or watch the filmTalvar on Netflix.

    But it now has visible Canadian markings on it. When I first wrote it, I expected it to have the distant appeal of a foreign news story, but I had underestimated the cultural linkages between India and Canada. I had also overlooked the universality of human connection. My editor Lynn McAuley did not, and she guided my work, helped sew it up and play it big, as we say in the newsroom.

    My inbox was flooded for months. Photographer Spencer Wynn who came with me to India to capture the story visually told me working on it was a highlight of his career.

    A couple of years later, quite by coincidence, Cameron Bailey, the artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival, went movie spotting with an eye out for strong independent work by women and brought Talvar to premiere at the festival.

    The indomitable Win Wahrer of Innocence Canada, formerly the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, once introduced me to John Artis, the man who spent 14 years in a U.S. prison with boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter for murders they did not commit.

    “Dream, hope, never give up,” Artis told me.

    Another time when I was looking for an independent forensic expert, Harold Levy, a retired investigative Star reporter and former defence lawyer, swung into action and used his unique skills to identify and track a man down — while he was on vacation in Romania.

    On Thursday, there were various nationalities among the Indians whooping with joy, sending congratulations, acknowledging the end of a miserable ordeal that will allow us to begin the process of grieving.

    These have been a long and exhausting 9 years, felt most intensely by the couple at the epicentre of a tragedy but also by those caught in the aftershock.

    It will take my cousin and her husband time to feel their way back to freedom. When they last had any semblance of normalcy, Facebook was nascent, there was no Twitter, and digital cameras were still a thing. Obama was America’s new president, the Arab Spring had not happened, and “occupy” was a word without political meaning.

    Also, the horrific Delhi gang rape that sparked a new conversation around rape culture had yet to take place. In those days, when people nudged and winked about the fabricated story of Aarushi and Hemraj’s “affair” — they tittered at her character, oblivious that they maligned him as a rapist, too.

    Hemraj is often the overlooked victim of this tragedy. I believe this is partly a class issue — he comes from a poor background, partly a geographical issue — his family lives in neighbouring Nepal, but also partly a news relevance issue — his family members weren’t being prosecuted.

    In my family, the nightmare never ends.

    Rajesh once told me he is haunted by that fateful night in May 2008 and he plays it in his head over and over again.

    In one scene, he’s asleep, he hears a sound, goes out, confronts the men in the living room. In another he’s about to sleep, then gets up to lock all the doors to the house — including Hemraj’s — before going back to bed. In a third, he’s asleep. He wakes up and realizes it is all a nightmare, that his Aaru is safe and sound.

    Sometimes the guilt of not being able to protect their daughter, of being asleep while she was killed next door, gets too much to bear for the couple.

    Nupur’s parents are in their 70s and 80s. That they’ve withstood this ordeal despite serious personal illnesses is proof of the power of love. My aunt who took care of granddaughter Aarushi had lost her cheer.

    “I was supposed to go first, I’m oldest,” she once said to me, weeping over the phone. We speak in Marathi, our mother tongue. “Instead, my Aarushi is gone, then my daughter has been taken away.”

    Some semblance of order will be restored when my cousin and her husband walk out of prison soon.

    Thursday was the first time in years I heard a smile in my aunt's voice. I let that sound wash over me, comfort me as it closed the thousands of kilometres between us. “They’re coming home!” she said. “Our Rajesh, our Nupa will be home for Diwali.”

    It will take time to sink in, but Thursday’s judgment liberates me, too. It feels like a boulder is starting to roll off me. It will perhaps help me relearn feeling pleasure without that awful guilt, that warning voice in my head, “Are you forgetting her?” accompanied by an image of my cousin caged behind bars.

    I don’t know what the future holds. The real killers are still at large. The prosecutors could appeal this decision at the Supreme Court, although I hope they don’t.

    Nupur and Rajesh have been traumatized enough. This ordeal has taunted their sorrow, prodded their pain and left them with searing scars. What they need now is the space to grieve their loss before they can move on with their lives.

    Once safely ensconced in their families, they need to be left alone.

    On Twitter @shreeparadkar


    My cousin acquitted in murder of her daughter Aarushi Talwar needs space to grieve: ParadkarMy cousin acquitted in murder of her daughter Aarushi Talwar needs space to grieve: Paradkar

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    SMITHS FALLS, ONT.—After five years of communicating with his family only through hostage videos and carefully written letters, Joshua Boyle spoke freely to his parents from a guest house in Pakistan.

    They talked of the passports his young family needed, the flights they could take and their long-awaited reunion. The couple and their children flew out of Pakistan with Canadian officials on a commercial flight early Friday.

    “My family is obviously psychologically and physically shattered by the betrayals and the criminality of what has happened over the past five years,” Boyle told the Star during a call from Islamabad to his parents, Patrick and Linda.

    It was a moment of calm for the Boyles — being able to hear their son’s voice, to listen to him laugh and at one point nearly cry — in what had been an emotional day marked by relief, anxiety and anticipation.

    “But we’re looking forward to a new lease on life, to use an overused idiom, and restarting and being able to build a sanctuary for our children and our family in North America,” Boyle told us as we sat listening around the dining room table.

    Then he added, with a laugh: “I have discovered there is little that cannot be overcome by enough Sufi patience, Irish irreverence and Canadian sanctimony.”

    Boyle, 34, his American wife, Caitlan Coleman, 31, and their children were freed Wednesday after a dramatic rescue by the Pakistani Army, based on intelligence provided by the U.S.

    Boyle told his parents in a phone call earlier Thursday that they had been in the trunk of the kidnappers’ car during the rescue and the Pakistani forces had shot dead five of the captors.

    He later told the Star that some of the kidnappers had escaped and he wanted to ensure they were caught and charged for their crimes.

    Read more:

    What we know about the rescue of Canadian Joshua Boyle, his wife and their three children in Pakistan

    Kidnapped Canadian-American family freed in Pakistan gun battle after 5 years in captivity

    A timeline of the captivity of Canadian Joshua Boyle and his family in Afghanistan

    The Taliban-linked Haqqani network has held the couple since 2012 and their two sons, age 4 and 2, and a two-month-old daughter were all born in captivity.

    For five years, since Boyle and Coleman were kidnapped while on a backpacking trip in Afghanistan, their families have prayed for this day.

    It began Wednesday.

    ***

    Canadian government officials emailed the family at 12:56 p.m. Wednesday and asked them to gather at their Smith Falls home.

    “First and foremost, no bad news,” Jennifer Kleniewski, the head of Global Affairs Canada hostage team wrote.

    But minutes later the meeting was cancelled.

    The Boyles didn’t know what to think but it was impossible to not get their hopes up. There had been here so any times before, so many heartbreaking near misses — negotiations that seemed promising but then fell apart.

    At 4 p.m., they had their regularly scheduled weekly call with government officials. Nothing new was discussed. Officials told the Boyles there had just been some mixed signals. That wasn’t unusual — there were always rumours and erroneous reports that needed to be tracked down.

    But still, Patrick, Linda and Josh’s siblings hoped a deal was quietly underway and they just couldn’t be brought into the loop yet.

    It wouldn’t be until nine hours later, at 1 a.m. Thursday that the phone rang. “We’ll be there in five minutes,” Kleniewski said.

    “They couldn’t help but smile and just nodded their heads,” Linda Boyle said about the Canadian officials who knocked on their door moments later. “I just gave them a big hug.”

    The family was freed.

    All five were safe.

    It was not a deal.

    It was not release.

    It was a rescue.

    Linda cried. She’s not the one who usually cries — that’s the joke with her and her husband, a federal tax court judge, who on matters concerning their children is usually the first to break.

    They called security consultant Andy Ellis, a retired member of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, who the Boyles had hired earlier this year to help them navigate the political and security labyrinth that relatives of hostages must negotiate.

    But the celebration was short lived, as just 10 minutes later the Canadian officials were back in their dining room.

    There was a problem. Josh Boyle did not want to get on a U.S. flight.

    They asked Linda and Patrick if they could they talk to their son. They would arrange a call.

    At 1:40 a.m. Thursday, they spoke to Josh.

    ***

    “Josh said he was doing pretty well for someone who has spent the last five years in an underground prison,” Patrick Boyle told me about the conversation with his son.

    Josh Boyle talked about being in the trunk of the kidnappers’ car and in what he called a shootout. He said the last words they heard from the kidnappers were “kill the hostages.”

    He said he didn’t want to board an American flight to the U.S. base in Bagram, Afghanistan, and asked if they could be taken instead to the Canadian High Commission in Islamabad, Pakistan.

    That didn’t surprise his parents. Boyle had been a staunch civil rights advocate and critic of the security measures that were implemented after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It was through this advocacy that he heard about former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr. He was briefly married to Khadr’s controversial and outspoken sister Zaynab, who the RCMP once investigated for terrorism offences.

    Canadian and U.S. officials have dismissed any connection of his kidnapping with his involvement with the Khadr family.

    As dawn broke Thursday, the Boyles’ home filled with people and boxes of doughnuts. Ellis arrived. As did Linda’s sister, Kelli O’Brien, who had launched a social media campaign to make sure Boyle, Coleman and their kids were not forgotten.

    Josh’s sisters Kaeryn and Heather prepared the upstairs room — already filled with quilts, toys and a Maple Leafs jersey — for their two nephews and niece. Dan, Josh’s brother, kept an eye on the media gathering on the sidewalk.

    The dining room became a war room with cellphones ringing and pinging, and laptops open, waiting for news.

    Pakistan’s government issued a press release, confirming that it was “an intelligence-based operation by Pakistan troops and intelligence agencies.”

    The statement said U.S. agencies had been tracking the family and kidnappers as they crossed into the Kurram Agency, on the border with Afghanistan. The rescue was based “on actionable intelligence from U.S. authorities,” the statement said.

    “The success underscores the importance of timely intelligence sharing and Pakistan’s continued commitment towards fighting this menace through co-operation between two forces against a common enemy.”

    The Pakistan press release appears to support what U.S. President Donald Trump alluded to in a speech Wednesday in Coleman’s home state of Pennsylvania. “Something happened today, where a country that totally disrespected us called with some very, very important news,” Trump said. “And one of my generals came in. They said, ‘You know, I have to tell you, a year ago they would’ve never done that.’ It was a great sign of respect. You’ll probably be hearing about it over the next few days. But this is a country that did not respect us. This is a country that respects us now. The world is starting to respect us again, believe me.”

    In a Thursday morning statement, the White House called the rescue, “a positive moment in our country’s relationship with Pakistan.”

    The Haqqani network is a powerful Afghan group with a history of taking and holding Western hostages. On Aug. 29, 2016, an Afghan court sentenced to death Anas Haqqani, the son of the group’s founder. In a YouTube video released around that time, Boyle told the Afghan government that if it does not stop executing Taliban prisoners, his family would be killed. He appeared to be reading from a script.

    Negotiations about the family’s release always involved what the Haqqani’s regarded as a “prisoner swap.” Their highest profile captive was U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who was held for nearly five years before being freed in May 2014, in return for five Taliban detainees held in Guantanamo Bay.

    “Afghanistan was never going to release Anas Haqqani because of the political cost,” said New America Foundation’s Peter Bergen. “At the same time the Haqqanis were never going to harm the hostages because they wanted their brother back. So that’s the equilibrium that it settled into.”

    Hostage rescues, however, almost always end in tragedy.

    ***

    Phone calls came from around the world all day Thursday at the Boyle’s home. CNN, BBC and Pakistan’s High Commissioner in Ottawa, whom Linda and Patrick had met repeatedly, emailed congratulations.

    A morning of sensational news turned into an afternoon of waiting.

    One of Josh’s sisters took their pet Labradoodle to the groomer for an appointment. Someone bought sandwiches. Linda wondered if she should keep her dental surgery for Friday morning and later went out to buy three children’s car seats — astonished at how the cost had gone up since her five children needed them.

    Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who was travelling with the prime minster on a visit to Mexico City Thursday, issued a statement expressing gratitude for the rescue.

    “Canada has been actively engaged with the governments of the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan and we thank them for their efforts, which have resulted in the release of Joshua, Caitlan and their children,” Freeland said in the statement.

    “Joshua, Caitlan, their children and the Boyle and Coleman families have endured a horrible ordeal over the past five years. We stand ready to support them as they begin their healing journey.”

    The Boyles kept in touch by phone and email with Canadian officials throughout the afternoon.

    Then came the second call of the day to Josh. It was after midnight Thursday in Pakistan. Caity and her three children slept.

    Patrick Boyle began: “Hi Josh. How are you? It’s Dad. Are you OK?”


    ‘We’re looking forward to a new lease on life,’ Joshua Boyle tells the Star after five-year kidnapping nightmare‘We’re looking forward to a new lease on life,’ Joshua Boyle tells the Star after five-year kidnapping nightmare

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    A Toronto Catholic high school teacher has been charged by police with luring a child online for sexual purposes.

    Toronto police said a search warrant was executed in the area of Bloor St. W. and Lansdowne Ave. on Thursday.

    Police said the suspect taught at Bishop Allen Academy in Etobicoke.

    He previously taught at Bishop Morroco-Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School in 2007 and 2008.

    Police alleged that the teacher used different usernames online, including thepoppaship, poppaship, mrmcteacher, G-Note/ G Note, massive reggae/massivereggae.

    TCDSB spokesperson John Yan said the teacher has been removed from his position at Bishop Allen Academy.

    “We want to reassure our parents and students that these allegations are not reflective of the caring and compassionate teaching professionals who work in our schools,” said Yan. Counsellors are available to any students and staff who may need support.

    The teacher may have worked as an education assistant at St. Francis Xavier Secondary School in Mississauga from 1995 to 2000, police said. He worked as an administrative assistant at St. Francis Table in Toronto from 2000-2006.

    Gerard McGilly, 46, is charged with luring a child under 18, sexual exploitation, making sexually explicit material available to a person under 18, making child pornography, possessing child pornography, and accessing child pornography.

    Police said the investigation continues. They are urging anyone who may have been subjected to inappropriate contact by the teacher to call investigators.

    Anyone with information is asked to contact Sex Crimes, Child Exploitation Section at 416-808-8500, or Crime Stoppers, anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477).


    Catholic high school teacher facing sexual exploitation chargesCatholic high school teacher facing sexual exploitation charges

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    The wait is almost over for our purported premier-in-waiting.

    We may soon know a little more about Patrick Brown, the little-known leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative opposition.

    Next month at a convention centre near the airport — same place where he won a leadership convention two years ago — Brown is giving us a sneak policy peak. Then as now, it is a fait accompli, held mostly for show.

    Brown had the party’s votes in 2015, just as he has them in 2017. But to win the province’s votes in 2018, the PC leader can’t keep playing possum with policy.

    Or it won’t be worth the wait.

    Most public opinion polling shows Brown poised for victory over Premier Kathleen Wynne, whose personal unpopularity is dragging down a Liberal brand tarnished over time. Yet after all this time, most Ontarians still tell pollsters they don’t know anything about Brown.

    Why is there so little to show, or know, about where he stands? Is it because the province’s next premier is merely afraid to say, has nothing to say, or both?

    All along, the PCs have been pointing to next month’s policy convention as the big reveal, an insight into how the party will steer the province when it takes power. Against that backdrop, we bring you a sample from this week’s list of 139 “Recommended Policy Resolutions” that the party brass are feeding the grassroots — and the rest of us — as leading edge thinking:

    • “PC Party policy is to help make life more affordable for families with young children.”

    • “PC Party policy is to create a wider range of options for child care.”

    • “PC Party policy is to protect workers, their economic freedoms, and the pensions they’ve been promised.”

    You get the idea about the lack of ideas, crafted with platitudes to cover virtually every base — something for everyone, or perhaps nothing for anyone.

    Yes, there are a few deadly serious promises, mostly to kill programs such as cap-and-trade or renewable energy supports. But the rest of the policy folio is a fig leaf — serving as strategic foliage for the grassroots to chew on.

    And cloaking an emperor with no ideas.

    The only certainty is that a policy convention announced with great fanfare to give voice to the grassroots has rolled over them with a fresh layer of Astroturf. The better for Brown to sprint to power without tripping up.

    Absent from the agenda is any hint of social policy of the kind he played footsie with during and after his leadership run. No more talk of tackling abortion, sex education or gay rights that won him the support of socially conservative PCs in the past.

    It may be that Brown’s U-turn — steering clear of the people to whom he once hitched his wagon — is a politically astute move. What helped him in the party leadership race, and as a backbench MP in Stephen Harper’s Ottawa (when he backed a motion opening the door to criminalizing late-term abortions) would likely hurt him with the general population.

    “Let me be very clear: I am pro-choice,” Brown declared this month.

    How to square his reincarnated pro-choice persona with his pro-life stance, in a previous life, suggesting a fetus is a person?

    “I was a backbench member of a broader team,” he told The Canadian Press this week by way of explaining his voting record. “Now that I’m the leader of the party I can much (more) clearly speak from my own heart.”

    But the abortion vote in Ottawa was a free vote of conscience — you know, from the heart — which Harper urged his own backbenchers to oppose. Brown now insists that as premier he wouldn’t reopen the debate.

    That’s to his political credit, but not his political credibility. Was it a matter of conviction then, and convenience now — or vice versa?

    There is nothing especially scary about Brown, beyond his being scared of his own shadow. Nor are there any ominous signs of a hidden agenda about which he won’t speak, just warning signals that there is no agenda to speak of.

    Don’t take my word for it. Listen to his fellow Tories — not just the vast majority of caucus members who lined up against Brown in the leadership race, but the growing number of party members complaining about internal party democracy. Apart from dissent over the policy process, protests over candidate nominations have dissolved into a police investigation — and litigation involving an awkward tape recording.

    Brown and his team are gaining a reputation for telling people what they want to hear, and then changing their story — not just with the general public, but the party faithful. That may work at next month’s carefully choreographed policy convention, but not on the campaign trail next spring, by which time motherhood resolutions promising apple pie will be awfully stale.

    No one really knows who will be Ontario’s next premier — just that if it’s Brown, he may be truly unknowable.

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


    What we don’t know about Patrick Brown as premier: CohnWhat we don’t know about Patrick Brown as premier: Cohn

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    After more than 1,000 students and graduates signed a petition to save a “yearbook’” wall dating back to the 1980s, Malvern Collegiate Institute has decided to move forward with its decision to paint over it.

    The wall of the dressing room in the Upper Beach high school has been signed by Grade 11 and 12 drama students over the years as a tradition, but earlier this month the school board planned to paint over it because of “offensive comments” that were also written on the wall.

    The dressing room was locked after Malvern’s new principal, Bernadette Shaw, saw the comments. Earlier this month painters came to the school but left following outrage from students.

    After a meeting Thursday with staff and students, the decision was made to move forward with the paint job, according to Toronto District School Board spokesperson Ryan Bird.

    “I still think this is the wrong decision,” said Ben Loughton, who graduated from Malvern last year.

    But before the names and comments are erased, the wall will be photographed in high resolution (without the offensive writing) and the pictures will be put up in the school.

    “Removing the writing isn’t that simple. You’re tearing away memories and history,” said Loughton.

    “I don’t think the photographs do the students and graduates justice but it’s better than nothing.”

    Bird said there’s currently no set date for when the wall be will repainted.

    With files from Alex McKeen


    Malvern Collegiate will paint over students’ ‘yearbook’ wallMalvern Collegiate will paint over students’ ‘yearbook’ wall

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