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    The Ontario government is investigating allegations that a drug company offered pharmacies “illegal” payments to stock its opioid medications fentanyl and oxycodone.

    Reacting to the findings of a Star investigation, Health Minister Eric Hoskins said he has ordered a probe into drug giant Teva.

    The Star has obtained emails showing a Teva corporate accounts manager offering to pay an Ontario-based pharmacy group a rate of 15 per cent of the drug price if it stocked the company’s prescription opioids.

    In seeking comment from the government as part of its investigation, the Star provided a summary of the Teva manager’s emails, but to protect the source of the information the Star did not share the actual documents.

    Payments to induce a pharmacy to stock a company’s drugs are known in the industry as rebates and can come as financial payments, gift cards and free trips. They are illegal in Ontario.

    Teva’s conduct is already under scrutiny after professional misconduct charges were laid last year against two Costco pharmacy directors who are accused of accepting unlawful rebates from Teva, which makes generic drugs, and four other pharmaceutical companies.

    “Rebates provided by drug manufacturers to pharmacies are illegal. I take any allegations of non-compliance with these rules very seriously and have asked the Ministry to look into these allegations,” Hoskins said in a statement, responding to the Star’s questions about the Teva emails.

    A Teva spokesperson would not comment on specific allegations, but said the company follows all laws and regulations in places it does business.

    “We prohibit the offering of product-related rebates to Ontario-based customers and provide ongoing training to all employees to ensure we continue to operate our business in a legal and ethical manner,” the spokesperson said.

    “Teva Canada Ltd. will co-operate fully with any investigation by the Ontario Ministry of Health and remains confident the company is operating in compliance with regulations.”

    The company prides itself as a responsible distributor of controlled substances such as prescription opioids, the spokesperson said.

    Ontario has struggled to combat its growing opioid epidemic, which has been fuelled in part by addictive prescription narcotics.

    Drugs such as oxycodone and fentanyl — the latter is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and given as a patch that slowly releases the painkiller — make their way from pharmacies to the streets in a variety of ways, including robberies, fake prescriptions and patients selling their legally obtained medication on the street.

    Ontario pharmacies overwhelmingly stock and dispense Teva’s versions of oxycodone over its competitors, according to data from Ontario’s Drug Benefit program. The program covers drug costs for Ontarians on disability, financial assistance and seniors. The Star was unable to obtain similar data for those with private insurance.

    Since 2012, Ontario has paid more than $50 million to cover the cost of Teva’s oxycodone medication, six times more than all other generic versions of the drug combined.

    Ontario’s drug plan covers two oxycodone products made by Teva: oxycocet, a mix of 5 milligrams of oxycodone with a regular dose of Tylenol; and oxycodan, a blend of oxycodone and Aspirin.

    The Ontario Pharmacists Association, in a statement made through the crisis-management firm Navigator, said it believes oxycocet’s popularity “is related to the frequency at which it is prescribed.”

    “Pharmacists are the patient’s last line of defence when it comes to prescription oversight, and this is particularly true with opioids. We’re ready, willing and able to do more to help tackle the opioid crisis that has claimed far too many lives,” said the association, which represents more than 9,500 pharmacists, pharmacy students and pharmacy technicians.

    Pharmacies often stock just one generic version of a medication. If a patient brings a prescription that says “Percocet” (the drug’s original brand name) or “oxycodone and acetaminophen” without specifying a preferred product, a pharmacist will probably supply the version that’s on hand.

    The emails obtained by the Star are from the past two years and show a conversation chain between representatives of an Ontario pharmacy group and Alex Mishos, a corporate accounts manager at Teva.

    In the emails, Mishos said Teva can offer a rate of 15 per cent on the price of its oxycodone and fentanyl prescription products, and more than 60 per cent on high-revenue drugs such as atorvastatin, the generic form of Lipitor, a cholesterol medication.

    In the emails, Mishos also said it is Teva policy not to pay for supplying medications sold over the counter.

    When the Star reached him by phone, Mishos said, “You’re talking to the wrong guy, buddy. I’m not in that business,” before politely hanging up. He did not respond to a follow-up email from the Star.

    The emails were provided to the Star by a former employee of the pharmacy group on the condition the retailer remain unnamed.

    In announcing that he was asking the government to look into the matter, Hoskins said he remains “committed to increasing transparency across our health care system so that patients can have as much trust as possible in the quality of care they receive.”

    The province banned direct rebates in 2006 because the payments artificially inflated the cost of generic medications. Under the old system, a rebate worked like this: If the pharmacy bought a pill from a pharmaceutical company for $1, the drugmaker could rebate the pharmacy 80 cents to stock its product. This would make the actual cost to the pharmacy 20 cents, about a fifth of what would ultimately be charged to a consumer or their insurance company.

    Four years later, in 2010, the province cracked down on indirect “professional allowances,” payments the then health minister called part of a “scheme to enrich pharmacies.”

    Rebates from drug companies to pharmacies are still legal in most other provinces.

    This is not the first time Teva’s alleged payments to pharmacies have been probed by the government.

    In 2011, a Teva-owned generic brand, Novopharm, paid the Ontario government just over $10,000 in a “rebate penalty” to cover improper payments the province found the company had given out to pharmacies years earlier. The payments were not deliberate attempts to undermine Ontario’s rebate laws, according to a copy of the provincial rebate order obtained through Access to Information. Rather, the company blamed an administrative error that caused it to pay more than the acceptable limit at the time.

    The province is also looking into an alleged kickback scheme involving the wholesale chain, Costco, and five generic drug makers, including Teva.

    In November 2016, Ontario’s College of Pharmacists charged two Costco pharmacy directors with misconduct, alleging that they accepted illegal rebates from drug companies.

    Costco has maintained that the contentious payments were not rebates but rather “advertising fees” and were not connected to its decision to buy specific medications from the drug company.

    At a July hearing before the College of Pharmacists, Costco’s lawyer argued that these kinds of payments are common.

    “This is not a Costco-specific issue. This is an industry-wide issue in terms of these payments,” said lawyer Randy Sutton.

    He asked the College to put its ongoing disciplinary process on hold until the government made a decision on the whether the payments were improper, rather than rush ahead on something “which will impact industry and pharmacists as a whole.”

    The disciplinary hearings are scheduled for January.

    The Ministry of Health has known about the allegations against Costco since the fall of 2015. Two years later, the ministry recently wrapped up its preliminary inspection into the matter and is reviewing its findings to determine its next steps.

    Teva refused to comment on either the Costco allegations or the rebate penalty its Novopharm branch paid in 2011.

    The Star could not confirm if either involved opioid products.

    Contact the reporter at or 647-215-4370

    'Illegal' payments for prescription opioids under review, says health minister'Illegal' payments for prescription opioids under review, says health minister

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    Motherisk’s flawed hair-strand tests tainted thousands of child protection cases across Canada, but was every parent who tested positive for drugs or alcohol potentially harmed in some way? How much is that harm is worth? And what’s the best way to determine who should pay?

    These are among the complex questions that were debated in a Toronto courtroom this week in the high-stakes battle over the fate of a proposed national class-action seeking millions in damages for families affected by the litany of failings uncovered at the Hospital for Sick Children’s Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory.

    Whether the class-action will proceed is now in the hands of Superior Court Justice Paul Perell, who reserved his ruling on Thursday. His decision will play a key role in shaping what promises to be years of legal wrangling in the fallout from the problems at Motherisk. Already, some 275 plaintiffs are named in a series of individual lawsuits against Sick Kids and the major players at the lab, the court heard.

    “This class-action is for the thousands of families who have received an apology but no compensation,” Rob Gain, a lawyer for the plaintiff, told the court, at the outset of the two-day hearing to determine whether the case meets the bar for class-action certification.

    The proposed class includes anyone who had a positive Motherisk hair test between 2005 and 2015, the period during which a government-commissioned review by retired judge Susan Lang concluded Motherisk’s results were “inadequate and unreliable” for use in legal proceedings. (Close family members of those who tested positive are also included.)

    Gain argued that a class-action is the best way to ensure access to justice to a vulnerable group of people who suffered a shared harm due to Motherisk’s faulty tests, ranging from parents who briefly came under the scrutiny of a child welfare agency to cases where children were removed permanently.

    “When you’re dealing with the child protection regime . . . and there’s a test result from the lab showing drug or alcohol abuse, it is not discretionary what a Children’s Aid Society does. They must act,” he said. “That act is common to the entire class.”

    However, that rationale was rejected by the defendants, who include Sick Kids, Motherisk’s founder and longtime director, Dr. Gideon Koren, and former lab manager Joey Gareri, who argued that a class-action is not appropriate because the circumstances in each case are highly individualized.

    Koren’s lawyer, Darryl Cruz, told the court that his client “obviously opposes certification.”

    Cruz said a negligence claim may be valid in some individual cases, but only if the plaintiff proves there was a false positive Motherisk result, and that result led to negative consequences.

    “The link between what happened at Motherisk and these outcomes . . . is absolutely crucial, and not simple,” he said. “In each and every claim, one needs to consider, who are the various players? How do they relate to one another? How does the outcomes flow from the various players?”

    Sick Kids lawyer Kate Crawford said the hospital is “very willing to engage in discussions about compensation with the appropriate people in appropriate circumstances,” but does not accept that there are “any common issues” that could be litigated through a class-action.

    Although much of Motherisk’s hair-testing was performed at the request of child welfare agencies, some of the lab’s tests were ordered by physicians for clinical purposes, which shows the relationships between the lab and the proposed class members are “different in every case,” Crawford said.

    Complicating matters further, the lab’s practices were “not consistent” and changed over time, as did the internationally accepted standards for hair-testing, which evolved as the science advanced, she said.

    The proposed lead plaintiff is a mother whose access to her son was “repeatedly interfered with as a result of unreliable (Motherisk) hair tests” from 2009 to 2012, according to the plaintiff’s written arguments.

    If the class-action is certified, the members of the class, however it is defined, will have to choose whether they want to pursue individual claims or join the class proceeding.

    The hearing did not deal with the merits of the case. In a statement of claim, the plaintiff argues the defendants were “negligent in (their) operation and supervision” of Motherisk, and were responsible for the consequences that followed. In his statement of defence, Koren denied the claims, arguing the tests were “accurate and reliable for their intended purpose” of providing clinical information “relevant to the medical care and safety of children.” In a joint statement of defence, Sick Kids and Gareri also disputed the claims, and said that if custody decisions were based on the tests, which they denied, children’s aid societies were responsible.

    Queen’s Park appointed Lang to probe Motherisk in late 2014 after a Star investigation exposed questions about the reliability of the lab’s hair tests. Sick Kids initially defended the reliability of Motherisk’s testing, but reversed course in the spring of 2015 after the hospital learned it had been misled about Motherisk’s international proficiency testing results, and closed the lab.

    Sick Kids CEO Michael Apkon issued a public apology in October 2015. Koren retired in June of 2015, and is now working in Israel.

    An independent commission is now probing individual child protection cases in Ontario to determine whether Motherisk’s hair tests had a significant impact on individual decisions to remove children from their families.

    Rachel Mendleson can be reached at

    Fallout from Motherisk's flawed tests a national tragedyFallout from Motherisk's flawed tests a national tragedy

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    The number of hospital beds occupied by patients who don’t need to be there and are waiting to receive health care elsewhere could fill 10 large hospitals, according to an annual report by the agency that monitors the performance of Ontario’s health system.

    Tabled in the Legislature on Thursday, the report by Health Quality Ontario (HQO) confirms that “hospital capacity” is a significant problem in the province.

    It reveals that in 2015-16, an average of 3,961 Ontario hospital beds per day were occupied by patients, most of them elderly, waiting for long-term care, rehabilitation or home care.

    The proportion of inpatient days which hospital beds were occupied by these patients rose to 13.9 per cent that year, up from 13.7 per cent from the previous year.

    That equates to an increase of 25,000 in the number of days that hospital beds were occupied by patients who did not need to be there.

    “Hospital capacity is an important indicator of how the health-care system as a whole is functioning,” said HQO president Dr. Joshua Tepper, adding that the system is clearly “under pressure.”

    When inpatient beds are full, it means patients coming into the emergency department must wait for these to be freed up before they can be admitted.

    The report shows that patients spent on average 90 minutes longer in the ER this past year before being admitted to inpatient beds.

    The organization’s 100-plus page report, Measuring Up 2017, states that fewer people are getting hip-and-knee replacement surgery within maximum wait-time targets.

    HQO found that one in 12 Ontarians reports having trouble paying for expenses that are not covered by public or private health insurance. This includes prescription drugs and dental care.

    Variations in access to care is a big concern for the agency, which compares performance among 14 geographic regions known as “local health integration networks” or LHINs.

    For example, the proportion of people who had high “continuity of care” ranged from 66.5 per cent in the South East LHIN (based in Belleville) to 49.8 per cent in the Central West LHIN (based in Brampton).

    This measure looks at after-hours care and continuing consistent care over time with the same primary care physician.

    A comparison of premature mortality rates reveals that the potential years of life lost is 2.5 times higher in the North West LHIN than the Central LHIN (located mostly above Toronto). There are 7,647 potential years of life lost per 100,000 people in the northwestern part of the province, compared to 3,026 years in the central part.

    “We think a publicly funded health-care system would be inherently equitable, but our data shows that certain groups have clearly poorer health outcomes,” Tepper said.

    An assessment of how caregivers of home-care patients are faring revealed they are under increasing pressure. About one in four family members or friends who serve as main, informal caregivers feels continuing, increasing distress.

    “This is an important, almost hidden workforce that we don’t acknowledge enough,” Tepper said.

    This is the eleventh year that HQO has reported on the performance of the province’s health system, but it is the first time it has provided data on how long cancer patients wait for their first appointment with a surgeon.

    It found that six out of seven patients who had cancer surgery had their first surgical appointment within target wait times in 2016/17.

    This report also marks the first time HQO reported on patient involvement in the development of home-care planning. It shows only 56.7 per cent of patients felt strongly involved in this planning.

    Ontario is providing “excellent care for many, but not all,” the report states.

    The good news is Ontarians are living longer, more are getting cancer-screening and more are seeing the same family doctor with regularity.

    In addition, residents of long-term care homes are receiving better care, with fewer experiencing daily pain, receiving unnecessary antipsychotics and being physically restrained.

    The bad news is access to help for people with mental illness and addictions remains problematic, as do smooth transitions for patients moving from one care setting to another.

    Far too many hospital beds occupied by patients who don’t need to be there: reportFar too many hospital beds occupied by patients who don’t need to be there: report

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    “I don’t think I’ve been down here before,” Bill Morneau said as he strode to the podium Thursday afternoon.

    He was talking about a subterranean news conference room on Parliament Hill, but he might as well have been talking about his political fortunes.

    Morneau had been everywhere this week — Stouffville, Erinsville and Markham, Ont., Montreal and Hampton, N.B., — everywhere but where he should have been, in Ottawa, taking action and answering questions if the Liberal government had proved more adept at desperately needed damage control on a burgeoning conflict-of-interest crisis.

    Morneau finally did the right thing by placing his substantial assets in a blind trust and announcing he would begin divesting of his interest in the family business, Morneau Shepell.

    Except this was 2017.

    This should have been done a couple of years ago, because, to paraphrase Justin Trudeau, it was 2015.

    That was the year Morneau was named the country’s finance minister and Thursday’s decision doesn’t erase the previous two years.

    So, Morneau still had some uncomfortable questions hanging, even as he embarked on his divestment strategy.

    Why now? One is left with the unmistakable sense that he got caught by some enterprising reporting. What if the Globe and Mail had not found that Morneau’s substantial holdings were not in a blind trust?

    One could easily believe that Morneau would have continued on his path, using a loophole in the conflict-of-interest legislation that allowed him to hold shares in the family company through an arm’s-length holding company.

    Why did he tell the CBC shortly after his election that he was going to put his assets in a blind trust? And why did Morneau Shepell believe his assets were in a blind trust?

    It must have been tough to counter that impression when you put it out there yourself.

    He said he expected the blind trust was the way to go, but he agreed to accept Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s advice that there were other options, including the conflict-of-interest screen he put in place.

    When he left Morneau Shepell, he held 2.2 million shares in the company, but Thursday said he had about a million shares. But when did he unload the other 1.2 million shares?

    Here’s the nub of the conflict charge, as raised by New Democrat Nathan Cullen, an unproven allegation that nonetheless brings some smoke.

    When Morneau introduced Bill C-27, legislation to make it easier for federal employees to move to a targeted benefit pension, a move that would benefit Morneau Shepell, the company’s stock went up 4.8 per cent within days, Cullen says. Morneau, he said, would have made $2 million in five days from that jump. But it’s not known if Morneau was holding or selling stock at that time.

    The Prime Minister’s Office would have been well-advised to let Morneau climb down from his tax reform package in a single day, hustle him back to Ottawa, and try to put a lid on this sooner.

    Perhaps referring to this matter as “a distraction” is not the word you want to use to demonstrate an understanding of the severity of the matter.

    A day earlier, Trudeau seemed to wilt while taking 30 questions on Morneau, falling back on familiar tropes — referring to opposition questions as “mud-slinging,” accusing Conservatives of trying to sully Morneau’s good name, of “shrieking,” and playing “petty politics.”

    Accusing opponents of getting down in the mud doesn’t work here. The charges against Morneau were sufficiently serious that they deserved more substantive answers.

    Morneau said he believed, perhaps “naïvely,” that following the rules and following the advice of an officer of Parliament would be enough.

    Naïve? That’s a hard sell, whether the minister was a political neophyte or not. He certainly knows business and commerce and you don’t get where he got by carting around a bunch of naïveté.

    He has done nothing illegal, but has badly sullied his own reputation, pushed his government far off message at mid-term and played into a dangerous narrative for the Liberals, that they are not only out of touch, but also not above using numbered companies to exploit loopholes to their advantage.

    As he wrapped up a morning media event in Erinsville, Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay was heard to tell Morneau: “I can’t imagine they (reporters) weren’t interested in the (tax) measures. Go figure.”

    One can only assume that was a minister who has been around the block a few times slyly telling the rookie he was in deep.

    Tim Harper writes on national affairs., Twitter: @nutgraf1

    Bill Morneau does the right thing two years too late: Tim HarperBill Morneau does the right thing two years too late: Tim Harper

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    This week’s announcements from Facebook aimed at protecting the integrity of Canadian elections miss the key issue.

    Having admitted their platform was used by Russians to try to influence the U.S. election, and with those methods now a public playbook for any and all potential meddlers, the company offered the bare minimum: a handy 21-page guide and training regime for Canadian politicians and political staffers to choosing better passwords.

    Alongside this sits some money for a Facebook-funded media literacy effort, and a special email hotline for politicians whose accounts have been compromised. The message from Facebook is: “Dear users, it’s your inability to spot fake news that’s the problem – not our platform’s publishing and dissemination of it.”

    Facebook needs to take a global approach, reforming its platform across the world, instead of making tokenistic efforts in Canada alone. If it looked within, and acknowledged that some common-sense regulation is needed in this space, Facebook could actually make a dent in the issues that are shaking confidence in elections. And not just that: Facebook could shine a light on the more pernicious practice of micro-targeting, or the slicing and dicing of the electorate through highly personalized ads, that is making our politics more divided.

    What’s the recipe Facebook needs to follow to take its responsibilities in a democracy more seriously?

    First, Facebook should describe the measures they plan to take to bring transparency to political ads. CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced they will soon start to publish so-called “dark ads” (that is, ads that only the person being targeted, and no one else, is able to see). But the company has yet to tell us exactly what this entails. At the very least, it should include detailed targeting information and the money spent (or still to be spent) on an ad. It should declare how many people have seen the paid component of the ad, and how much engagement resulted from its promotion. As a Facebook user, you should be able to quickly see the ads that have appeared in your feed, and those that have appeared in everyone else’s.

    This information should be made available to researchers, journalists and regulators so they can work together to understand what’s going on as it happens, not months or years after, and only when the company is under severe political pressure. Facebook has the data, and should make the trivial effort required to publish routinely and comprehensively.

    Second, Facebook should require that anyone wishing to place a political ad declare it – as is generally the case with political ads in print, radio or TV. By checking a box to mark an ad as political, campaigns and candidates signal to Facebook that their ads require human verification. This declaration would give permission for the company to display these ads differently, perhaps showing a disclaimer and additional information about the ads’ targeting and ultimate backer. Political advertisements failing to make this declaration can be reported and sent for further checks, creating a backup plan for any that slip through the initial vetting.

    Third, posts deemed to be fake news – demonstrably and verifiably false posting, and not just the media that Donald Trump doesn’t like – should simply be deleted. Facebook’s current chosen approach, which is to flag them as questionable in order to reduce the speed at which they spread, does not do enough to deter fake news. And users who interacted with these posts by sharing or commenting on them should be informed they are sharing or spreading fake news. That would be a literacy effort with actual force.

    Finally, the company should publish clear rules of engagement with political campaigns. Currently, it offers help and support to parties in the same way it does to many of its corporate clients. In the U.S., the Trump campaign seems to have accepted a great deal of direct, hands-on support from Facebook, whereas the Hillary Clinton campaign turned them down. Facebook isn’t being clear about the actual degree of support it offers to campaigns in using their platform and targeting their ads.

    In the absence of Facebook taking meaningful steps, political parties should take the threats to free and fair elections from harmful misinformation seriously, and work together to adopt a higher standard of transparency. They should publish all of their ads, and the associated targeting and spending, on their own websites. They should declare their meetings with Facebook and the other giant Internet companies. And they should stay away from dark ads and the excessively negative content frequently associated with them.

    The public knows that online politics is a wild west. But they have almost no tools to find out what is really going on. Politicians, and Facebook as a company, rely on more than the public’s data – they rely on public trust. Meaningful transparency in online political ads is the only way to preserve trust, and keep our democracy healthy.

    Sam Jeffers is a Visiting Global Fellow at the Ryerson Leadership Lab and the co-founder of Who Targets Me?, a crowd-sourced platform to bring transparency to Facebook political advertising.

    Instead of protecting democracy, Facebook passes the buck: opinionInstead of protecting democracy, Facebook passes the buck: opinion

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    VANCOUVER—A British Columbia woman plagued by bedbugs on a nine-hour flight to London is a victim of the explosive growth in the critters globally, but travellers shouldn’t worry they’ll become a common feature on planes, says an entomologist.

    Heather Szilagyi was on a British Airways flight with her seven-year-old daughter and fiancé Eric Neilson on Oct. 10 when she said they noticed what appeared to be bedbugs crawling out of the seat in front of them.

    She said the flight attendants couldn’t move them because there were no other available seats on the plane. After landing, Szilagyi discovered they were covered in bites.

    “To actually see them pouring out of the back of the T.V. on the seat, that was actually really gross,” she said. “Once we arrived at our Airbnb . . . we put everything through the washing machine on the hottest heat we could, put everything in plastic bags, sanitized everything that we could.”

    Murray Isman, a University of British Columbia professor of entomology and toxicology, said with the increase in personal travel and the spread of the insect globally, it’s not surprising bedbugs are finding their way onto commercial aircraft.

    “One of the ways bedbugs travel is in hand luggage and personal luggage,” said Isman, who also works with a company that develops bedbug repellents. “Where there is a lot of movement of people in and out, sooner or later someone is going to transfer these things in something they’re carrying, and this is how they get spread from hotel to hotel to hotel and this is how people bring them home.”

    Changes in local insecticide use and climate change are other factors contributing to the spread of bedbugs, he said.

    But travellers shouldn’t be too worried there will be more incidents of bedbugs biting passengers on planes, Isman added.

    “If you think about the normal situation, which is someone sleeping in a hotel bed or a bed at home, the bedbugs don’t like a lot of disturbance or movement. They like it quiet, dark,” he said, adding the critters would first have to get out of luggage and onto a plane’s chairs and upholstery to even reach people.

    Szilagyi took to Twitter to share photos of her daughter’s bites after she said her calls to British Airways failed to guarantee they would not be on the same plane.

    “What we both would have been satisfied with was if it was possible to just have us on a partner line, not to fly back with British Airways,” she said, having been left unsettled by the experience.

    In a statement, British Airways spokeswoman Caroline Niven said the airline has been in touch with the customer to apologize and will investigate the incident further.

    “British Airways operates more than 280,000 flights every year, and reports of bedbugs onboard are extremely rare. Nevertheless, we are vigilant and continually monitor our aircraft. The presence of bedbugs is an issue faced occasionally by hotels and airlines all over the world,” the statement said.

    Niven added that any reports like Szilagyi’s are taken seriously, and the aircraft would be subject to any checks and treatment necessary.

    A statement from the Vancouver Airport Authority said it took immediate steps when learning about the incident to work with its cleaning and pest control partners to ensure YVR remains clean and sterile.

    Isman said exterminating the bugs is the best option for airlines since treating people and luggage before they get on an aircraft isn’t feasible.

    With travellers increasingly aware of the problem, he said more people are at least taking preventive measures by carrying insecticides or repellents to hotels to reduce the spread.

    British Airways apologizes after Canadian family bitten by bedbugs on planeBritish Airways apologizes after Canadian family bitten by bedbugs on plane

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    OTTAWA—Canadian consumer prices picked up their pace last month as the annual inflation rate moved up from very low levels and closer to the Bank of Canada’s ideal target of two per cent, Statistics Canada said Friday.

    Higher gasoline prices helped push the annual inflation rate in September to 1.6 per cent, up from 1.4 per cent a month earlier and away from its two-year low of just one per cent in June, the agency said. Excluding gas prices, inflation was 1.1 per cent.

    The inflation-targeting central bank scrutinizes inflation ahead of its rate decisions. Its next benchmark rate announcement is scheduled for next Wednesday.

    However, only one of the bank’s three preferred measures of core inflation, which seek to look through the noise of more-volatile items, increased last month while the others stayed put.

    Statistics Canada also released numbers Friday that showed retail sales contracted 0.3 per cent in August, after increasing 0.4 per cent in July. Retail sales volumes in August recoiled 0.7 per cent.

    Excluding sales at gas stations and auto dealers, the report said retail trade was down 1.3 per cent in August. Sales were also down 2.5 per cent at food and beverage stores and 2.4 per cent at furniture and home furnishings stores.

    The retail sales data suggests the economy is starting to show signs of slowing down, as widely expected, following its red-hot performance in the first half of the year.

    On inflation, the report highlighted gasoline, travel tours and air transportation as the biggest upward contributors to consumer prices. The downward pressure was led by cheaper electricity, women’s clothing furniture.

    The report also found that consumer prices rose in seven of the 10 provinces in September.

    Canada’s inflation rate up 1.6 per cent in September led by higher gasoline pricesCanada’s inflation rate up 1.6 per cent in September led by higher gasoline prices

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    Highway 401 eastbound is closed at Guelph Line following a vehicle fire.

    All eastbound lanes into the city are blocked because of cleanup efforts. The OPP are estimating that the area will be closed for approximately two hours while emergency crews work to have the highway reopened.

    Traffic is only able to pass the scene on the left shoulder of the highway.

    Motorists are being advised to find alternative routes.

    Highway 401 eastbound closed at Guelph Line after car fireHighway 401 eastbound closed at Guelph Line after car fire

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    Joy Henderson was shopping for Wolverine claws for her son’s Halloween costume last month when she saw a row of costumes at an east end store depicting her and her ancestors.

    “Dream Catcher Cutie” and “Rising Sun Princess” were being sold at the Party City alongside accessories such as Indigenous headdresses and headbands, fringe shirts and plastic tomahawks.

    “I was shocked. I expected some, but this was like a whole aisle’s worth,” says Henderson, a Scarborough child and youth worker whose family heritage can be traced to the Indigenous Lakota people of North and South Dakota. “Ceremonial wear is not a costume taken lightly,” she says.

    Incensed, she left the store deciding to find the signature X-Men claws elsewhere. She posted on Facebook about the costumes, tagged the store and called for others to do the same. 

    “We are still here, we are not costumes,” she wrote. She has not heard back from Party City and the store did not respond to the Star’s requests for comment. 

    For many people of colour such as Henderson, it’s yet another season of visual assaults like this. Year after year, Black, Indigenous and other people of colour are confronted by Halloween revellers and retailers wearing and selling racist costumes depicting a culture that is not their own. This affront is not on colour necessarily, but on cultures and ethnicities.

    “When people dress up as ‘dream catcher girls,’ they’re not appreciating the culture, they’re just commodifying it,” says Henderson.

    Over the years, Henderson admits she became jaded with the concept of native dress-up for Halloween, but she was caught off guard by the sheer number of items on the racks at Party City at a time when cultural sensitivity is peaking.

    “It’s getting old. I’m surprised people still do it,” she says.

    Each year, new photographs from parties around the world go viral on social media showing celebrities and drunk college students dressed in everything from Native American Warbonnets and Mexican serapes to geisha makeup and blackface.

    In 2012, Toronto Maple Leafs Centre Tyler Bozak was photographed during Halloween wearing dark makeup and defended it as a “tribute” to Michael Jackson. Last year, Australian actor Chris Hemsworth dressed in a “cowboys and Indians” themed costume and then added his regrets to a slew of celebrity costume apologies. 

    Disney has faced public ire since last fall when it released a brown bodysuit costume online based off the tribal-tattooed Polynesian demigod Maui depicted in the 2016 film Moana. Last month, a mommy blogger on set off the debate again, questioning whether her daughter should dress as the title character, the daughter of an Indigenous Polynesian chief.

    An op-ed published this month in the Star proclaiming it a young girl’s right to dress as a Pocahontas-style “native princess” received criticism on Twitter.

    And earlier this week, online retailer pulled a costume from its website that depicted young Jewish Holocaust victim Anne Frank.

    Read more:Anne Frank, Harvey Weinstein Halloween costumes call for drastic measures: Teitel

    While supporters cry “political correctness” and argue for free expression and “cultural appreciation,” critics denounce the costumes as racist cultural appropriation that perpetuates stereotypes. 

    It’s a recurring cultural conversation that is not going away.

    “It keeps happening because there’s some fundamental misconception around what people understand to be either scary or a collectively shared public joke,” says University of Toronto professor and cultural critic Rinaldo Walcott.

    If these costumes are “jokes” then it is clear they’re not landing, particularly for the Black and Indigenous groups so often depicted in the most controversial of costumes.

    “They are harmful and they are hateful,” says Walcott. “We understand them as not just images from a history and a past gone. Many Black and Indigenous people are still living that history today.”

    When people dress up as Pocahontas, they ignore the current struggles of Indigenous people that stem from a history of colonization in favour of a whitewashed Disney narrative that presents the character as a princess among savages. When people wear blackface, they ignore the history of white minstrel performers who used the theatrical makeup in their racist depictions of slaves, and they ignore racism that still exists today, which NFL stars and Black Lives Matter activists continue to protest around the world, including in Toronto, says Walcott. 

    “When we see people engage in blackface, dress up in fake Indigenous costumes and so on, we know that these things are meant to denigrate those groups,” he says. “We know deep in our cultural consciousness, those groups have been seen to be less than or not civilized.”  

    Intention doesn’t matter, he says. We should know better in our highly “visual culture,” that wearing a cowboy costume can’t be separated from the colonizing history of North America, says Walcott, and that widening your behind and bust for a Beyoncé costume at Halloween isn’t respect as much as racism.

    “Even when the claim is being made that it is somehow an appreciation, what it’s actually doing is reproducing stereotypes and degradations of the people that they claim they’re paying homage too,” he says.

    While some stores that sell an array of these costumes have remained mum on the subject, many educational institutions have attempted to address the issue. The Toronto District School Board’s Aboriginal Education Centre provides advice to principals each year, including having further classroom discussion around Indigenous issues. “While dressing as a super hero is one thing, dressing in a way that reduces culture to caricature suggests that the culture being portrayed is less important than others,” reads a document provided by the Centre to principals. 

    Earlier this month, the French school board Conseil scolaire Viamonde, which encompasses central-southwestern Ontario, circulated a memo asking “Is My Costume Appropriate?” Walcott calls the attempt to quell racist attire “admirable,” but takes issue with the language such as “urban ghetto dwellers” to describe certain costumes.

    It’s an issue that stays with students well into the education system. University and college students are often the worst offenders during the season. Students unions across the country have been trying to get ahead of ill-informed costume ideas for a while now. The students union at Waterloo’s University of Wilfrid Laurier is in its fourth year of its “I am not a costume” campaign. Last year, they included transgender issues in the project when they became aware of people wearing costumes mocking Caitlyn Jenner, the former Olympian who had recently revealed she is transgender.

    “Those costumes aren’t jokes for people who have those lived experiences,” says Jaydene Lavallie, volunteer and community engagement director with the Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group. Lavallie’s Indigenous heritage comes from her father, who is Michis-Cree from Northern Saskatchewan. For people of colour, Lavallie says, culture is not a costume.

    “It’s not a fun thing they get to put on and take off whenever they want,” she says.

    At the University of Toronto, student union vice-president of equity Chimwemwe Alao says the costume gaffes often come out of a lack of empathy and understanding, which the union’s new campaign hopes to remedy.

    “Part of it comes from people not understanding how wearing an outfit that represents another person’s culture as a costume can be insulting,” says Alao, 22, who still remembers seeing someone wearing blackface in Texas when he was trick or treating as a young kid just 11 or 12 years ago. “It was fully unabashed. The person who did it had no understanding of the historical connotations.”

    It shouldn’t take a history lesson to understand that these costumes are wrong if even young kids can grasp the issue, says Scarborough mom and youth worker Henderson.

    Some of the Indigenous kids and teens she has worked with have taken offence to costumes meant to represent their own people, from “Native Chief” imitations to sexualized “Pocahotties.”

    She’s discussed racism and cultural appropriation with her own children, who are dressing as some of their favourite film and comic book characters: Wolverine, Guardians of the Galaxy critter Rocket the Raccoon and Batman’s nemesis the Joker. It’s been instilled “from the get go,” she says, not to dress up as specific cultures and ethnicities.

    “Those Halloween costumes are not depicting cultures. They’re making mockeries of them,” she says. “Kids are picking up on this. Maybe adults should listen.”

    Racist Halloween costumes are still being sold in Toronto storesRacist Halloween costumes are still being sold in Toronto stores

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    Concerned students and parents gathered near a Scarborough school on Friday, looking for answers after news emerged that three teenage boys had been stabbed in a fight, one of them critically.

    Paramedics said they transported the victims to hospital, one in life-threatening condition, and the two others with serious injuries.

    The incident occurred just after 3:30 p.m. near Lawrence Ave. E. and Brimley Rd., police said.

    Paramedics said the incident unfolded both on and near the grounds of David and Mary Thomson Collegiate Institute, which was placed on hold-and-secure. This was lifted around 4:30 p.m.

    “One guy was stabbed, bleeding all over,” said a Grade 10 student who requested that his name not be published.

    Many of the students had gone home by the time of the stabbing, but there were still a few waiting to be picked up by parents or friends, the student said.

    Across the street, long strips of yellow hazard tape cordoned off a section of parking lot and sidewalk, where all that remained of the earlier crime scene was an abandoned pile of clothing and large brown paper bags.

    The Toronto District School Board tweeted that they notified the parents of a 17-year-old male victim, who is a student at the school, that he had been stabbed.

    TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said it was unclear whether the other victims are students and how events unfolded.

    Bird said it’s possible that the initial incident happened at the plaza nearby and the victims came onto school property.

    In the emergency room of Sunnybrook Hospital around 7 p.m., a handful of people feverishly pressed one of many police officers for information about the victims. Some translated the officer’s updates for the others.

    “As you know, there were hundreds of people there. It was chaos,” the officer said.

    Armad Mouyed, 23, told the Star he’d tried to break up the fight after it started outside the McDonald’s.

    But someone pulled a knife.

    “I don’t know what happened,” he said. “This guy took a knife, stabbed my friend, stabbed the other friend, stabbed the other friend. And the other people, they came, all of them.”

    A second friend in the hospital waiting room, who was also there at the time, clarified that a group of people had come from around behind the MacDonald’s and swarmed them after the fight began.

    Though both declined to share the names of the victims, one described them all as “like family.”

    The three victims were all in okay condition, their friends reported.

    “We have to wait,” Mouyed said of any further information.

    Three people stabbed near school in Scarborough, one is in critical conditionThree people stabbed near school in Scarborough, one is in critical condition

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    Premier Kathleen Wynne has served Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown with a libel notice for claiming she’s on “trial” in the Sudbury byelection bribery case.

    Having given Brown the requisite six weeks to apologize for his statement on Sept. 12, the premier’s lawyers served the Tory leader with the legal papers on Friday at his Orillia constituency office.

    “You have refused to retract or apologize for those defamatory statements and have made further defamatory statements about Premier Wynne,” lawyers Jack Siegel and Sheldon Inkol of Blaney McMurtry LLP said in a four-page letter.

    The notice is the next step toward a defamation suit being filed in court.

    It stems from Brown telling a Queen’s Park media scrum that Ontario had “a sitting premier sitting in trial” and that Wynne “stands trial” in Sudbury.

    His comment was made the day before the premier testified as a Crown witness in a Sudbury courtroom where Patricia Sorbara, her former deputy chief of staff, and Liberal activist Gerry Lougheed are on trial for alleged Election Act violations, which they deny.

    “Your statements above are false and defamatory. The express meaning of these statements is that Premier Wynne was on trial for bribery, which was not the case,” wrote Siegel and Inkol, adding Brown had the “intention of further harming Premier Wynne’s reputation.”

    “A further implied meaning of these statements is that Premier Wynne is unethical and was under investigation by the police for a criminal act.”

    The lawyers said Wynne, whose legal bills are being paid by the Ontario Liberal Party, could seek an “award of aggravated and punitive damages” if the case proceeds to court.

    An unrepentant Brown accused the premier of using the libel notice “to deflect from news that 180 pages of emails and documents were released to the public yesterday during one (of) her two political corruption trials.

    “Her Liberal government is also under fire from an explosive report on hydro from the auditor general,” said the Tory chief, a lawyer by training.

    “Make no mistake, it is political corruption that’s on trial. And the premier is oblivious to the fact that her party is politically corrupt,” he said.

    “It was a sad day for Ontario and truly a sorry spectacle that the premier of our province testified in a trial,” said Brown.

    “No one wants to see the premier of our province debased or humiliated. Regrettably Kathleen Wynne compounded this with baseless legal threats against me.

    “Her baseless threats will be ignored.”

    Speaking to reporters in Windsor, where she was co-hosting the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Wynne urged Brown to recant.

    “An acceptable outcome for me is to have a debate about the truth — whatever the subject we’re talking about — to talk about the facts and to talk about the substance of the issues,” she said.

    Two Star reporters and a columnist were in Brown’s Sept. 12 press scrum along with journalists from CBC, Radio-Canada, The Canadian Press, The Globe and Mail, QP Briefing, Global, CP24, CTV, TFO, Queen’s Park Today, Fairchild, CHCH and Newstalk 1010.

    Prior to the 2014 election, Wynne launched a $2-million libel action against former Tory leader Tim Hudak and MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton) over their comments about her alleged role in former premier Dalton McGuinty’s cancellation of gas-fired power plants in Oakville and Mississauga. That matter was settled out of court in 2015.

    NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has called on Brown to “absolutely” say sorry to Wynne.

    “People are human beings. You make a mistake, you apologize. There’s not enough of that in politics,” Horwath said last month.

    Kathleen Wynne serves Patrick Brown with libel noticeKathleen Wynne serves Patrick Brown with libel notice

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    WASHINGTON—Kristen Dewar’s NAFTA nightmare goes like this.

    She is representing one of her 100 clients at a criminal trial. Then Donald Trump terminates the North American Free Trade Agreement.

    Suddenly, she cannot keep working in North Carolina without breaking the law herself.

    Dewar, 34, is a defence lawyer from Mississauga who is allowed to practice in the U.S. under the “TN” immigration status reserved for Canadian and Mexican professionals.

    TN stands for Trade NAFTA. And NAFTA might vanish, in which case the TN status might vanish as well.

    “And I have to go home,” Dewar said. “I would be literally a person without status.”

    The possible demise of the trade pact has alarmed Canadian professionals working in the U.S. under the TN, an immigration category unlike the others: it was created not through domestic U.S. law but through NAFTA itself.

    They are engineers, scientists, architects, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and graphic designers, among more than 50 additional occupations. If Trump follows through on his threat to terminate NAFTA— and he is not thwarted by lawsuits or Congress — it is entirely unclear what will happen to them.

    It is possible Trump and Congress would allow them to stay indefinitely. It is possible they would be allowed to stay until their current three-year permit expired. But it is also very possible, given Trump’s desire to reduce immigration of all kinds, that they would be forced to leave the country fast.

    “It’s a little bit unnerving,” said Mike Doherty, 30, a software engineer from Cambridge working at a large technology company in Silicon Valley. “I think the really unfortunate thing is that if things totally fall apart, no one really knows what that means. Do people have to leave the country immediately? Is there a six-month grace period? Do you potentially get to stay for the remainder of your work permit? No one really knows.”

    Immigration lawyers say they have experienced a flurry of concerned inquiries from TN holders. They have little reassurance to offer.

    “I’m advising them that I don’t know what Mr. Trump has in mind,” said Blair Hodgman, an immigration lawyer licensed in Nova Scotia, Ohio and Massachusetts. “Who knows what’s going to happen?”

    The apprehension over the TN is another example of just how wide-ranging the impact of a NAFTA termination could be. While the deal is widely understood to govern the manufacturing and trade in hard goods, like cars, it also affects everything from immigration to intellectual property to entertainment.

    Some Canadian firms could stand to benefit if the TN were eliminated, since some of Canada’s educated professionals would be forced to return home. But the Liberal government generally sees professional mobility as an asset. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has said Canada will push in the ongoing NAFTA negotiations for more professional occupations to be added to the outdated 63-occupation TN list.

    The idea is a tough sell to the Trump administration. Trump has backed a bill to cut legal immigration in half. And he has repeatedly, as recently as this month, floated the idea of killing NAFTA altogether.

    At the talks, a Canadian official said on condition of anonymity, the U.S. has largely stayed quiet during Canada-Mexico discussions of the professional-entry issue, participating “only to the degree to avoid being seen as non-co-operative.”

    Hodgman and other lawyers said people who are able to renew their TNs now should do so to position themselves for the possibility the U.S. will let them stick out their current term.

    It is not only individuals fretting. The demise of the TN would harm the American companies who employ them.

    “We represent companies that transfer workers through the NAFTA agreement. And their HR departments are quite concerned about how it’s going to impact their ability to recruit foreign workers,” said Michael Niren, a lawyer and chief executive of Canadian-American immigration firm VisaPlace.

    The U.S. government said it could not immediately provide statistics on how many Canadians currently hold TN status. But the number is at least in the tens of thousands.

    Unlike most other U.S. work visas, TNs can be obtained immediately at the Canada-U.S. border. And there is no defined limit on how long they can be renewed.

    If the TN disappeared, some Canadians would likely be able to obtain other visas through their employers. Others would almost certainly be out of luck.

    “I have my life set up here. So the uncertainty is always on my mind every time I read these articles or see Trump’s tweets or anything like that. I definitely don’t want to be kicked back to Canada all of a sudden. I’d have to uproot my life,” said Rami Abou Ghanem, 27, a Calgary software engineer working in New York City. “For my field, I found there are a lot more opportunities in this country.”

    Doherty was able to look on the bright side: Canadians face far less dire prospects than some of the other people Trump has tried to evict.

    “We’re really lucky that if I do get sent home, it’s going to be to Canada and not somewhere tragic,” he said.

    Thousands of Canadians live in the U.S. on NAFTA permits. What happens if Trump kills the treaty?Thousands of Canadians live in the U.S. on NAFTA permits. What happens if Trump kills the treaty?

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    OTTAWA—Between Feb. 1 and March 13 of this year, functionaries in some of the most powerful corners of the federal government, including the finance department and Prime Minister’s Office, were seized with a series of pressing questions.

    Should the teenage boy on the cover of the upcoming budget, for instance, be really happy with a big smile, or just sort of happy with a smaller smile?

    Should the little girl in the next photo be holding a soccer ball, or playing the cello? Actually, what about an electric guitar? No, wait, let’s make it an acoustic guitar — but make sure you add some music notes floating in the air.

    Read more: Morneau gets chippy as the light is shone on his finances

    Such were the preoccupations of government officials that are detailed in a 607-page trove of documents released recently to the Ottawa-based investigative journalism website, Blacklocks. They pertain to the Liberal government’s meticulous planning for the design of the 2017 budget cover — the physical front and back of the book — as well as accompanying fact sheets, web advertisements and explanatory videos.

    The whopper in the release, first reported last week, is that the finance department spent $212,234 on this exercise. That figure was compared with what the former Conservative government spent on budget covers, which, at a reported $600 in one instance, appears paltry — or frugal — in comparison.

    But, of course, the $212,000 cost of the current regime’s budget cover also included ad spending and videos for the 2017 budget’s website. Still, the documents show that just the photo shoot for the four images on the budget cover — actors posed at a studio in Montreal — cost the public $24,990.

    The stack of emails and design details also provides a look into how carefully this government can manage the images it releases.

    In early February, Natalie Rieger, senior marketing advisor in the finance department, nailed down an agreement with the advertising giant, McCann. Their Montreal office would design the budget cover, draw up the factsheets and make promotional videos. The McCann team of copywriters and artists got to work and appeared to liaise regularly with Rieger as their work progressed.

    The government’s priorities were outlined in a background document provided to the agency. Ottawa wanted the design and advertisements to be “friendly and positive” and targeted to “all Canadians, with a focus on families, seniors and businesses.”

    The government wanted to highlight what it considered chief accomplishments and priorities for the Justin Trudeau regime. These included the tax cut for a middle-income bracket, their re-jigged payout scheme for families with kids, planned enhancements to the Canada Pension Plan, billions of dollars committed for infrastructure and their “innovation agenda.”

    The finance department also instructed the agency to consult with Ottawa “regarding the depiction of minority groups.”

    By Feb. 6, Rieger was in touch with officials from the Privy Council Office — what’s often called the “nerve centre” of the bureaucracy that supports the cabinet and prime minister.

    Over the next five weeks, chains of emails show detailed discussions between Rieger, the higher-ups in government and the McCann agency. They zeroed in on the concept they liked — the cover would depict an arrangement of four photographs, each one representing a “pillar” of the budget vision. The government liked the agency’s idea to add “chalk” drawings on top of the photos. These would be “superimposed onto real-life contexts to illustrate visions of the future.”

    For the “innovation and skills” category, they wanted a “female older millennial” in her mid 30s, or “perhaps early 40s Gen Xer,” one email suggested. An “elderly man” fit the bill for their vision of “Stronger Canada,” while a “young girl,” maybe 7 or 8, would fit well into the “Fair Government” category, which would reflect their commitments to building a country where any child can achieve their dreams.

    Finally, for “Infrastructure,” the poster boy would be a “sharply dressed” teenager wearing “mid-tone colours” and glasses. This last piece of attire received particular attention, with the ad agency even offering a mockup of the shape and size of the glasses in one of their missives to Ottawa.

    Dan Lauzon, the director of communications for Finance Minister Bill Morneau, appears to have settled the matter in an email Feb. 23. “I vote glasses,” he wrote. “Put me on team hipster.”

    Duly noted.

    But there was also the matter of the actors themselves. Whose faces should be the faces of the 2017 budget? Sorry, it’s #Budget2017 (an official made a point of underlining the importance of that capital B).

    Following their instructions to consult on the depictions of minorities, a McCann executive wrote: “We would like to know about ethnicities you would like us to cover. Asian? Native? Indian? Latino? There are four models, so we will have to choose.”

    The agency provided a host of options, prompting Rieger to ask if “No. 2” for one of the categories is Indigenous. The response came that Indigenous people “are identified by the yellow squares.”

    They went with No. 2 — the future engineer with the “hipster” glasses.

    1. Light bulb

    After ditching plans for a graduation hat, the government settled on a light bulb to represent the flash of brilliance for the woman on the boat (which is supposed to be an icebreaker, by the way). Emails show they took pains to make sure the bulb was an LED, rather than one of the old-fashioned, kilojoule-gobbling variety.

    2. Heart monitor

    Initially, this was to show the man’s blood pressure reading. Presumably to remain “positive,” as their mandate dictated, it read a perfect 120/80. But for reasons that documents fail to explain, the decision was made to go with the basic heart and pulse reading. From this, the viewer can conclude that the smiling man in the chair is, indeed, alive.

    3. The hand

    The man is reaching out to grasp the faceless outline of a hand that enters the frame from nowhere. Several emails pertained to the existence of this hand. It’s meant to be the warm and affecting touch of a caregiver. Judging by the man’s expression, he’s more than happy to accept the touch of a disembodied cartoon figure.

    4. Glasses

    The teenage boy, who is supposed to portray a future engineer, is wearing glasses. But this wasn’t an automatic choice. Like pretty much everything else, it was considered with care. In the end, this discussion reaped one of the most memorable quotes from the email trove: “I vote glasses,” said the official from the finance department. “Put me on team hipster.”

    5. The iPad

    Yes, that’s an iPad. Originally it was an amp, because the girl was rocking out at high voltage on an imaginary electric guitar. That changed when they switched to the smoother vibe of an acoustic. But they still wanted some technology, so after some debate about where it should be placed and whether it should have a cord plugged into something — well, you can see the result.

    Inside the government’s $200,000 budget artworkInside the government’s $200,000 budget artwork

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    BERLIN—A man with a knife attacked eight people in Munich on Saturday and then fled, police said. The suspected assailant, a local German already known to police for theft and other offences, was arrested a few hours later.

    No one was seriously hurt in the attack that started at around 8.30 a.m. in the Haidhausen area, east of downtown Munich. Police said they believe it was not a terror attack, they suspect instead that the assailant had psychological problems.

    The lone attacker apparently went after passersby indiscriminately with a knife, police said. He attacked eight people in all, including a 12-year-old child, at different sites. They mainly had superficial stab wounds and in at least one case had been hit.

    About three hours later, police arrested a man matching a description they had issued based on witness reports. They said he was heavy, unshaven with short blond hair and had a black bicycle and a backpack.

    The 33-year-old suspect, who was carrying a knife when he was arrested, was already known to police for bodily harm, drug offences and theft, city police chief Hubertus Andrae told reporters.

    The suspect didn’t immediately give police any information on his motive.

    “There are absolutely no indications at present of a terrorist, political or religious background, though we can only rule things out when all the questioning is finished,” Andrae said. “Rather than that, we believe that the perpetrator had psychological problems.”

    He said police have “no serious doubts” that the suspect was the assailant, and that there was no longer any danger to the public.

    Man with knife attacks 8 people in Munich; 33-year-old arrestedMan with knife attacks 8 people in Munich; 33-year-old arrested

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    Wearing a white T-shirt emblazoned with swastikas, Randy Furniss, hands in his pockets, walked slowly through a crowd Thursday that had largely gathered to protest white nationalist Richard Spencer, who was delivering a speech at the University of Florida.

    Days before Florida Gov. Rick Scott had warned in an executive order that a “threat of a potential emergency is imminent” in Alachua County, where the University of Florida is located, noting that prior speaking engagements involving Spencer have sparked protest and violence.

    The event was Spencer’s first public speech on a college campus since he led hundreds of torch-bearing white supremacists, white nationalists and others through the University of Virginia in a far-right rally in August that preceded a weekend of violent protests in Charlottesville. More than 500 law enforcement officers were deployed, with snipers positioned on the rooftops of nearby buildings.

    Read more:

    White nationalist Richard Spencer greeted by chants of ‘Black lives matter’ and ‘Go home, Spencer’ at Florida speech

    University of Florida students rally against speech from Richard Spencer

    Florida declares state of emergency ahead of Richard Spencer speech, white nationalist rally

    “Go home, Nazi scum!” the crowd chanted, jeering at Furniss, of Idaho.

    Suddenly, an individual in a green hoodie punched Furniss in the face, before quickly disappearing into the crowd. Furniss recoiled, but carried on walking. Blood trickled from his lip down his chin.

    Then something unexpected happened.

    A man went up to Furniss and gave him a hug, wrapping an arm around the Nazi’s shoulders, and another arm around his shaved head.

    “Why don’t you like me, dog?” the man asked Furniss.

    The man, identified by the New York Daily News as Aaron Courtney, is a 31-year-old high school football coach in Gainesville, Florida. He said he wanted to show Furniss some love.

    “I could have hit him, I could have hurt him ... but something in me said, ‘You know what? He just needs love,’” Courtney told the Daily News.

    The hug may have been a small act, but Courtney thinks it can speak volumes.

    “It’s a step in the right direction. One hug can really change the world. It’s really that simple,” he said.

    Courtney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    Furniss, a self-described white nationalist, explained his views to News4Jax.

    “They want what we have. And we just want them to shut up and get on with life,” Furniss said. “They’re being raised up and it’s getting to the point where they want to push us down. That’s not right.”

    Furniss could not be immediately reached for comment.

    Courtney hadn’t originally planned on attending the protest. But he was surprised when he received a state of emergency notification on Monday, ahead of Spencer’s planned appearance, the Daily News reported.

    Courtney didn’t recognize Spencer’s name, and decided to do some research.

    “I found out about what kind of person he was and that encouraged me, as an African-American, to come out and protest,” Courtney said. “Because this is what we’re trying to avoid. It’s people like him who are increasing the distance ... between people.”

    Courtney was about to leave the protest, having already spent almost four hours at the scene, when he saw Furniss causing a scene in the crowd, the Daily News reported.

    “I had the opportunity to talk to someone who hates my guts and I wanted to know why. During our conversation, I asked him, ‘Why do you hate me? What is it about me? Is it my skin colour? My history? My dreadlocks?’ “ he said.

    Courtney repeatedly asked Furniss for an answer, only to be met with silence and a blank look.

    Exasperated, Courtney asked Furniss for a hug. He was initially reluctant, but as Courtney reached over the third time, Furniss reciprocated, wrapping his arms around Courtney.

    “And I heard God whisper in my ear, ‘You changed his life,’ “ Courtney said.

    “Why do you hate me?” Courtney asked Furniss one last time.

    “I don’t know,” Furniss finally answered, Courtney said.

    For Courtney, that was a good enough answer.

    “I believe that was his sincere answer. He really doesn’t know,” Courtney said.

    Inside the school, Spencer’s speech was repeatedly disrupted and drowned out by people shouting at him.

    After the speech, three men were arrested and charged with attempted homicide after arguing with protesters and firing a shot at them, police said.

    A Black protester hugged a white supremacist at a Florida rally and asked: ‘Why do you hate me?’A Black protester hugged a white supremacist at a Florida rally and asked: ‘Why do you hate me?’

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    It’s been two weeks since movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was outed and ousted for alleged sexual assault and rape. One week since a hashtag sparked a movement that exposed the global scale of the sexual misconduct epidemic.

    In social media terms, you could say the #WeinsteinScandal relit the spark for a decade-old #MeToo movement, which opened the #Floodgates releasing harrowing stories of sexual experiences in various forums, prompting the confessional and rather ghastly #ItWasMe, but also leading a few men to step up and say #IWill and #IWillChange.

    It’s stupendous, really, this mass level gaslighting: about half of humanity has been silently heaving under misogynistic pressure to receive unwanted sexual advances as a compliment, or consider them the price to pay for ambition, or as part of the parcel of living with the other half.

    This violence draws its power from the secrecy vested in it; it depends on concealment.

    As long as those who are sexually assaulted keep it secret, it allows the creation of a parallel world where men — especially those who present to the world as powerful, talented and therefore respectable — can inflict violence on them. They can be secure in the knowledge that the shame of their actions will be borne by the violated, and serve to silence them.

    As long as there is silence, these men have the power to wound.

    It hardly needs saying that this misogynistic duplicity is also supported by women who are conditioned to see as normal a system that privileges men. These are the women who will rush to dismiss others’ experiences or minimize them as a rite of passage: “This is just normal.” “That guy is an idiot.” “This happens to everyone. You’re not that special.” “Be the better person.” “Don’t be weak.”

    That wall of silence is crashing down.

    We’ve seen it before, high-profile cases of sexual misconduct leading to the sharing of stories. This time around though, the sharing has penetrated more layers, opening the door wider to hear the experiences of women of colour.

    Tarana Burke is the Black woman who founded the Me Too movement 10 years ago, long before the actress Alyssa Milano tweeted about it last Sunday.

    “Sexual violence knows no race or class or gender,” Burke told The Root, “but the response to sexual violence does.”

    For women of colour, there are additional layers that constrict speaking out: patriarchy within their own cultures, instances of racial contempt and misogyny from white men (or men of another race in positions of power) and lack of support from white women.

    Then there is the fear of contributing to racial stereotyping, something white women don’t have to bear. Women of colour face pressure from within their communities to not speak out against perpetrators of their own background, to not air dirty laundry in public, for fear that the entire community would be further marginalized.

    The sexual assault of a white woman by a white man is about toxic gender power dynamics — nothing to do with whiteness. But narratives around sexual assault of, say, a Muslim woman by a Muslim man are framed as a problem with Islam; that of a Black woman by a Black man as a problem of Black criminality, that of an Indigenous woman by an Indigenous man as a problem of backwardness and substance abuse.

    If minority women speak up, not only are they disbelieved, they are criticized by their own people and left alone by people from other communities who see it as an internal problem. The isolation is acute.

    “Me Too is about the response to sexual violence,” said Burke. “And it’s also about the journey towards healing.”

    In the past week, the actions of six Indigenous female authors shone a spotlight on that healing process. Their work was scheduled to appear in an anthology by the University of Regina Press until they learned that the anthology would also include the work of Neal McLeod, the award-winning poet from James Smith First Nation, Sask. In 2014, McLeod, who is Cree and Swedish, had pled guilty to domestic assault.

    The writers asked the publisher to remove McLeod’s work from Kisiskâciwan: Indigenous Voices from Where the River Flows Swiftly. “We cannot consent to publish our work alongside Neal McLeod, whom to the best of our knowledge has not made amends to those that he has harmed,” they said in an open letter.

    McLeod had already resigned from his job at University of Trent where he was an associate professor in Indigenous Studies. He had already pled guilty. Was that adequate?

    “I believe there can be redemption for violent men, just as there can be for anyone,” said U of R Press publisher Bruce Walsh, who refused the women’s request to pull McLeod’s work.

    From the First Nations authors’ perspective, though, McLeod may have been penalized by a colonial code of justice, but their understanding was he had not made amends with the communities he hurt.

    “Every Indigenous person is accountable to their community, and . . . if you’re not making amends to the community you are accountable to then . . . prepare to have your wrongdoings named,” one of the people involved said, on condition of anonymity because they needed time to reflect on developments that took place after they first spoke to me.

    What happened after was the author himself withdrew his contribution to the anthology, “I do not want others to leave so I can stay,” he said in a public statement where he offered his regrets to his communities. “I attended ceremonies, went through intensive counselling, and also used my poetry as a way to process my feelings,” he said. “I sought the advice and teachings of elders about how to be a better man going forward.”

    The episode triggered anguished but respectful debate and disagreement among community members, but there is no right way to call out abuse, no guide books to show marginalized women how to deal with the dual challenge of patriarchy within and bigotry without.

    The anthology will still be published next year, now without the words of either the poet or the six authors. At first blush, it appears as if the women lost a platform for their stories, but in naming the abuse and seeking accountability, they gained a voice.

    In the long run, that is progress.

    Shree Paradkar writes about discrimination and identity. You can follow her @shreeparadkar

    #MeToo opens door to voices of women of colour: Paradkar#MeToo opens door to voices of women of colour: Paradkar

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    WASHINGTON—Unwilling to put the tussling behind, U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday jabbed back at the Democratic lawmaker who has slammed him for his words of condolence to a military widow, calling Rep. Frederica Wilson “wacky” and contending her antics are “killing” her party.

    Trump’s broadside came a day after the White House defended chief of staff John Kelly after he mischaracterized Wilson’s remarks and called her an “empty barrel” making noise. A Trump spokeswoman said it was “inappropriate” to question Kelly in light of his stature as a retired four-star general.

    The fight between Trump and the Miami-area Democrat began Tuesday when Trump told the pregnant widow of a service member killed in the African nation of Niger that her 25-year-old husband “knew what he signed up for.” Wilson was riding with the family of family of Sgt. La David Johnson to meet the body and heard the call on speakerphone.

    Read more:‘Somebody screwed up here’: Why did Trump take 12 days to address the deaths of four soldiers, and why did he attack Obama?

    Trump offered a grieving military father $25,000 in a call, but didn’t follow through

    Former U.S. president George W. Bush slams Trump’s ‘America first’ policy in scathing speech

    The administration has attempted to insist that it’s long past time to end the political squabbling over Trump’s compassion for America’s war dead.

    But Trump added to the volley of insults with his tweet on Saturday morning: “I hope the Fake News Media keeps talking about Wacky Congresswoman Wilson in that she, as a representative, is killing the Democrat Party!” That came after she had added a new element by suggesting a racial context.

    Kelly asserted that the congresswoman had delivered a 2015 speech at an FBI field office dedication in which she “talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building,” rather than keeping the focus on the fallen agents for which it was named. Video of the speech contradicted his recollection.

    Wilson, in an interview Friday with The New York Times, brought race into the dispute.

    “The White House itself is full of white supremacists,” said Wilson, who is black, as is the Florida family Trump had called in a condolence effort this week that led to the back-and-forth name calling.

    Trump, in an interview with Fox Business Network, then called Wilson’s criticism of Kelly “sickening.” He also said he had had a “very nice call,” with the late sergeant’s family.

    The spat started when Wilson told reporters that Trump had insulted the family of Johnson, who was killed two weeks ago in Niger. She was fabricating that, Trump said. The soldier’s widow and aunt said no, it was the president who was fibbing.

    Then Kelly strode out in the White House briefing room on Thursday, backing up the president and suggesting Wilson was just grandstanding — as he said she had at the FBI dedication in 2015.

    After news accounts took issue with part of that last accusation, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders chastised reporters for questioning the account of a decorated general.

    “If you want to go after General Kelly, that’s up to you,” she said. “But I think that if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.”

    Video of the FBI office dedication in Miami, from the archives of South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel, shows that Wilson never mentioned the building’s funding, though she did recount at length her efforts to help name the building in honour of the special agents.

    That did nothing to deter Sanders, who said “If you’re able to make a sacred act like honouring American heroes about yourself, you’re an empty barrel.”

    Sanders also used a dismissive Southwest rancher’s term, calling Wilson, who often wears elaborate hats, “all hat and no cattle.”

    Wilson was in the car with the family of Johnson, who died in an Oct. 4 ambush that killed four American soldiers in Niger, when Trump called to express his condolences on Tuesday. She said in an interview that Trump had told Johnson’s widow that “you know that this could happen when you signed up for it . . . but it still hurts.” Johnson’s aunt, who raised the soldier from a young age, said the family took that remark to be disrespectful.

    The Defence Department is investigating the details of the Niger ambush, in which Islamic militants on motorcycles brought rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine-guns, killing the four and wounding others. The FBI said it is assisting, as it has in the past when American citizens are killed overseas.

    Sanders said Friday that if the “spirit” in which Trump’s comments “were intended were misunderstood, that’s very unfortunate.”

    Trump jabs back at ‘wacky’ congresswoman as spat over condolence call continuesTrump jabs back at ‘wacky’ congresswoman as spat over condolence call continues

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    GENEVA—Shock and condemnation continued Saturday after Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was named a “goodwill ambassador” for the World Health Organization by the agency’s first African leader.

    The 93-year-old Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, has long been criticized at home for going overseas for medical treatment as Zimbabwe’s once-prosperous economy falls apart. Mugabe also faces United States sanctions over his government’s human rights abuses.

    “The decision to appoint Robert Mugabe as a WHO goodwill ambassador is deeply disappointing and wrong,” said Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, a major British charitable foundation. “Robert Mugabe fails in every way to represent the values WHO should stand for.”

    Ireland’s health minister, Simon Harris, called the appointment “offensive, bizarre.” “Not the Onion,” tweeted the head of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, in a reference to the satirical news site.

    With Mugabe on hand, WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia announced the appointment at a conference in Uruguay this week on non-communicable diseases.

    Tedros, who became WHO’s first African director-general this year, said Mugabe could use the role “to influence his peers in his region” on the issue. He described Zimbabwe as “a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies.” A WHO spokeswoman confirmed the comments to The Associated Press.

    Two dozen organizations — including the World Heart Federation, Action Against Smoking and Cancer Research U.K. — released a statement slamming the appointment, saying health officials were “shocked and deeply concerned” and citing his “long track record of human rights violations.”

    The groups said they had raised their concerns with Tedros on the sidelines of the conference, to no avail.

    UN agencies typically choose celebrities as ambassadors to draw attention to issues of concern, but they hold little actual power. They also can be fired. The comic book heroine Wonder Woman was removed from her honorary UN ambassador job in December following protests that a white, skimpily dressed American prone to violence wasn’t the best role model for girls.

    Zimbabwe’s government has not commented on Mugabe’s appointment, but a state-run Zimbabwe Herald newspaper headline called it a “new feather in president’s cap.”

    The southern African nation once was known as the region’s prosperous breadbasket. But in 2008, the charity Physicians for Human Rights released a report documenting failures in Zimbabwe’s health system, saying Mugabe’s policies had led to a man-made crisis.

    “The government of Robert Mugabe presided over the dramatic reversal of its population’s access to food, clean water, basic sanitation and health care,” the group concluded. Mugabe’s policies led directly to “the shuttering of hospitals and clinics, the closing of its medical school and the beatings of health workers.”

    The 93-year-old Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, has come under criticism at home for his frequent overseas travels that have cost impoverished Zimbabwe millions of dollars. His repeated visits to Singapore have heightened concerns over his health, even as he pursues re-election next year.

    The U.S. in 2003 imposed targeted sanctions, a travel ban and an asset freeze against Mugabe and close associates, citing his government’s rights abuses and evidence of electoral fraud.

    Shock, condemnation as Zimbabwe’s Mugabe named WHO ‘goodwill ambassador’Shock, condemnation as Zimbabwe’s Mugabe named WHO ‘goodwill ambassador’

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    Eamon Fitzgerald and Rebecca Moroney start their day like many couples: ruffling out of entangled sheets, groaning at the alarm, boiling water in a tea kettle and clicking on a laptop.

    But when they pause to look out their bedroom window, their view is a little different — partly due to the windshield wipers.

    The Toronto couple has been living in a converted cargo van since spring — travelling thousands of kilometres across Canada. Their view changes often, from the snow-topped mountains of Squamish, B.C., to the beaches of Prince Edward County.

    “It’s like we have a $5 million cottage on the water,” says Moroney, of spending summer days parked along a County side street. “The best part of van life is you have your home with you everywhere you go.”

    Moroney, 27, and Fitzgerald, 25 are among thousands who have taken up “van life.” With more than 2.1 million posts under the hashtag #vanlife on the photo-sharing app Instagram, it’s one of the most coveted lifestyles on social media.

    Today’s van lifers aren’t the off-the-grid driveway squatters or Woodstock hippies of the ’60s. These millennial-aged wanderers, also known as digital nomads, are extremely plugged in; mostly freelance writers and entrepreneurs, they’re an Apple-era hybrid of HGTV renovation shows, Coachella festival style blogs, and Dragons’ Den success stories.

    Some adopt the lifestyle as an alternative to paying high rents while others see it as the next step in the minimalist “tiny homes” movement. But even those who can afford spacious bricks-and-mortar housing have taken to #vanlife, such as former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Daniel Norris, who made headlines in 2015 for moving into a van during the off-season, telling the Star at the time he did it for the “solitude.”

    For Fitzgerald and Moroney, living on wheels was a way around Toronto’s skyrocketing rents that also let them expand their business, Chaiwala, selling natural masala chai to independent cafés.

    In March, they were preparing to sign a lease on a basement apartment near Trinity Bellwoods Park for $2,200 a month, when Fitzgerald, who had been following the #vanlife hashtag for months, saw a post about a 2008 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van for sale for $13,500. Their business was locking in more clients around Ontario, and they thought a van would let them expand beyond the province.

    “We dropped the lease, I kid you not, and drove out to the lot where the van was and we bought the van,” recalls Moroney.

    They spent a month and $11,000 renovating the interior with mostly discounted items, such as recycled wood and subway tile from Italy found on Kijiji. They insulated and panelled the walls and ceiling, and installed a foldaway table, futon-style bed, couch, a mini fridge, cabinets and a counter with a stovetop and sink connected to three 19-litre fresh water tanks. The most expensive items were solar panels installed on the roof.

    For the next five months, they zigzagged from New Brunswick to B.C., cooking vegan meals and showering at yoga studios that granted trial passes. They made use of washrooms at cafés, restaurants, gyms and various public facilities — “Call us lucky but we’re not your pee-in-the-middle-of-the-night kind of people,” jokes Moroney — and parked wherever they could find a quiet space: a few paid campsites, but mostly for free near beaches, behind clients’ cafés, on side streets in small towns and in Walmart parking lots.

    Though some van lifers are nervous about unauthorized parking — known as “stealth camping” — Moroney and Fitzgerald haven’t run into any problems. “Most nights, if we haven’t found somewhere epic to park, like a great spot on the water, we’ll look for a Walmart,” says Moroney.

    Since the van doubles as a home and office, come tax time the couple are able to write off most of their regular expenses, which aren’t that much to begin with — their monthly bills include $60 for internet, $100 for van insurance, and between $200 and $500 for gas.

    Like many van lifers, the couple also makes money off social media content. In September, they made $500 on their YouTube channel, which has some 21,000 subscribers, and may soon enter the sponsored Instagram post market.

    They met writers and fellow van lifers Lisa Felepchuk, 33, and Coleman Molnar, 31, “the way all great friendships begin in 2017” — on Instagram, jokes Felepchuk.

    Known as Li et Co online, the Toronto couple spoke with the Star by phone from a public library parking lot in Kenora, Ont., where they’d stopped to take advantage of free Wi-Fi on their way to Banff, Alta.

    Since March 2016, they’ve made a home in their 1983 Volkswagen Westfalia, which they share with their cat named Mewan McGregor (they keep a litter box on the floor and have only stepped in it on a couple of occasions).

    The couple adopted van life, which is more common on the West Coast and in sunny California than Ontario, for the freedom and to escape Toronto’s rent — and nasty winters.

    “Toronto is not a hippie hot spot in Canada,” says Molnar. They spent most of last winter in Arizona. “We were paying close to $2,000 to live in this city that’s frigid cold for six months a year and all we did was dream about going on vacation somewhere else.”

    But for Moroney and Fitzgerald, their business keeps them from being able to chase the sun. And when the weather changes with the area codes — like last month, when they went from a Toronto heat wave to frigid temperatures in Winnipeg in a matter of days — van life isn’t as charming as the Instagram shots.

    But the couple, who’ve since installed a heater, are determined to continue van life over the winter.

    “It is our home,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s the most comfortable bed we know.”

    “Sometimes we’ll go and sleep somewhere else,” says Moroney, “and every night we do, we’re like ‘Why did we do that? We miss our van.’ ”

    Toronto couple takes up #vanlife as a way around skyrocketing rentsToronto couple takes up #vanlife as a way around skyrocketing rents

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    You can almost hear the TV announcer’s voice booming through the speakers: “There’s $5 billion on the line and 50,000 new jobs. Do you have what it takes to be Amazon’s next HQ2?”

    The contestants cheer. They’re all big city mayors — John Tory and Naheed Nenshi among them — vying for the grand prize: a red rose from Jeff Bezos.

    But this is not a reality TV show; this is Amazon’s offer to the city that hosts its new HQ2 development — a replica of their home base in Seattle.

    Read more:

    There’s no begging in Toronto’s Amazon bid: Keenan

    Bidding for Amazon HQ2 could become a ‘race to the bottom’

    The winning proposal has to be located near an urban centre, an airport, and must be close to the highway. The development is slated to start at 500,000 sq. ft., but is expected to reach up to 8,000,000 sq. ft. as the project continues.

    More than 100 cities have put forward bids to woo Bezos and Amazon.

    To win over the heart and mind of the tech giant, however, applicants are going to have to be memorable.

    With the final HQ2 bids submitted Thursday, the Star takes a look at the craziest gimmicks cities have come up with in order to score top prize, and a place in Bezos heart.

    Tucson, Arizona

    Sun Corridor Inc., an economic development group based out of Arizona, packed a 6.5-metre cactus into a truck and delivered it direct to Bezos in Seattle.

    Amazon had to turn down the spiky specimen, however, telling the city in a tweet that they could not accept gifts — “even really cool ones.”

    Amazon donated the cactus to a desert museum.

    New York City

    Light me up, baby.

    New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday that the city would go “Amazon Orange” in an attempt to appeal to Bezos sensibilities.

    Several of the city’s landmarks, including the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center, were outfitted in bright orange for the duration of Wednesday evening.


    Working the Canadian Way, Ottawa finalized their pledge with a chorus of hockey fans.

    Attendees of a hockey game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Ottawa Senators were asked to cheer for Amazon at the game’s intermission— in both French and English.

    Birmingham, Alabama

    Taking a flirty approach to winning Bezos heart, Birmingham set up giant imitation Dash Buttons throughout the city. The buttons were programmed to tweet one of 600 pickup lines at Amazon when pressed.

    One such tweet professed Birmingham’s hunger for Amazon’s affection, reading: “We are Chipotle and these other cities are Taco Bell, Amazon.”


    Some lovers might catch a grenade for you, but Nenshi would fight a bear.

    Calgary infiltrated Seattle with persuasive graffiti, and hung a 60-metre long banner across from Amazon’s current HQ proclaiming its willingness to take down a bear in Bezos honour.

    Denver, Colorado

    Capitalizing on the dreary weather in Amazon’s Seattle home base, Denver offered a reprieve from the cold and damp, telling the company they had “300 days of sunshine” and “bluer and prettier” skies than the Seattle HQ, according to the Associated Press.

    (Albuquerque, New Mexico, on the other hand, has counter offered 310 cloudless days.)

    In addition to their appeal to nature, Denver also touted the opportunity for Amazonians to eat, drink, and be merry. The city referred to the large number of breweries in Colorado — six per every 100,000 residents — as a reason for Amazon to set up shop in Denver.

    Stonecrest, Georgia

    In perhaps the most outrageous stunt to take home the grand prize, Stonecrest is offering to change its name to Amazon.

    Yes, seriously.

    The new city, incorporated in 2016,has offered to dedicate 139 hectares of the city for use by the company, and has offered to install Bezos as the de-facto mayor of Amazon.

    Who wants Amazon’s HQ2 the most? Take a look at bids from other citiesWho wants Amazon’s HQ2 the most? Take a look at bids from other cities

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