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- Brooklyn-based camera shop operator Eugene Mendlowits, 51, owned a 4-per-cent stake in the tower through a shell company called Barrel Tower Developments. In 2005, as the Toronto tower was in development, he and two partners purchased a New York sweater factory and converted it into lofts without the city’s permission. The building subsequently racked up more than 100 complaints from tenants, for issues relating to inadequate heat and faulty wiring, and dozens of bylaw violations. In 2009, the city ordered everyone evicted because conditions were “hazardous to illegal tenants occupying (the) building.” In 2014, one of Mendlowits’ partners in the factory — Menachem “Max” Stark — was kidnapped and bundled into a minivan, his body later found smouldering in a gas station dumpster. Mendlowits declined to answer written questions for this article.
- Former Chicago nursing home administrator David Meisels, 70, is listed as a director of a shell company called Harvester Developments, which owned 4 per cent of the Toronto tower. Since 2001, when he invested in the project, Meisels and his nursing home companies have been sued at least five times, including for allegedly failing to make staff welfare and pension contributions and for allegedly diverting money from public insurers — Medicare and Medicaid — to relatives and close associates. He has denied the claims and the cases were settled out of court. In 2010, federal authorities cut funding to one of his facilities, fearing that residents’ safety was at risk. Meisels and his son, Joseph, who Meisels said was also involved in the tower investment, have not responded to requests for comment.
- London-based auto body shop owner Jacob Gross, 43, is co-director of Harvester Developments and the former head of an almost identically named company in the U.K., Harvester Investments Ltd, which has been purchasing small-scale real estate in and around London since the mid-1990s. He has also held leading roles in more than a dozen other small U.K. companies, most in local real estate and automotive repair.
- Two more shell companies, Exeter Development Inc. and Haddar Development Corp., owned a collective 15-per-cent stake in the tower. The only name connected to them in public records is Joseph Teitelbaum, 43, a London, U.K., landlord, who was 27 years old at the time of the deal. Teitelbaum owns several million pounds’ worth of rental units through his interests in 42 companies registered in the U.K.. One of Teitelbaum’s companies defaulted on obligations to cover cost overruns for the Toronto tower and both were bought out in August 2011. Reached for comment, Teitelbaum denied personally investing any money in the Trump Tower and said he was a nominee signatory only. He would not name the investor he said he represented.
- Little-known Toronto billionaire Alex Shnaider, 49, would become the Toronto projects’ principal investor. Shnaider made his fortune in the former Soviet Union in the 1990s and 2000s. In less than a decade, he went from mopping floors at his parents’ deli near Bathurst and Steeles Sts. to making hundreds of millions through the purchase of a Ukrainian steel mill. He then diversified into other industries like malls, convenience stores and electricity across Eastern Europe.
- Toronto businessman Valery Levitan, 54, who worked with his father running a slot machine-repair service, owned a 12.5 per cent stake through a numbered Ontario corporation. Levitan, who convinced Shnaider to make his initial investment, also co-founded a company specializing in banknote validation technology for casinos. Levitan declined to comment.
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Let’s say you’re Donald Trump.
It’s 2002 and you’ve agreed to have your name emblazoned across the top of the tallest residential tower in Canada, a $500-million, five-star condo-hotel in downtown Toronto.
Here’s the thing: Only months into the project, your lead developer is publicly exposed in the pages of the Toronto Star as a fugitive fraudster on the run from U.S. justice. Your major institutional partner — the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company — bails shortly after.
Your remaining partners in the deal — a group of investors assembled by the criminal who was just outed — include a New York camera store owner, a former Chicago nursing-home administrator, two small-time landlords in Britain and a little-known Toronto billionaire who earned a fortune in the former Soviet Union.
The one thing they all have in common — no experience in condo tower development.
Do you pull out? For Trump, the answer was no. The billionaire dug in, repeatedly told the world he was investing his own money in the project — claims that would prove false — and gushed about its spectacular promise, knowing his profits were guaranteed.
“Nothing like this has ever been built in Toronto,” Trump said in 2004 as he relaunched the stalled project. “It is going to be the ultimate destination for business, pleasure and entertainment.”
Fast forward to 2016 and Trump’s Toronto tower is built but bankrupt — a rare failure in Toronto’s booming downtown condo market.
In the last decade, more than 400 condominium towers of 14 storeys or more have been successfully built in Toronto, according to records at City Hall. Among those, the half-dozen industry insiders and analysts interviewed for this story could identify only one that went bankrupt after completion: the Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto.
An investigation by the Toronto Star and Columbia Journalism Investigations in New York reveals the tower that until recently bore the U.S. president’s name was so hamstrung by inexperienced partners and an unorthodox foreign financing deal that it couldn’t be saved by Trump’s public assurances of excellence.
“It’s pretty hard to make a mess of a real-estate investment (in Toronto),” said Toronto lawyer Marc Senderowitz, who represented four of the project’s minority investors. “In retrospect, I could have taken their money, bought a small commercial building and sat on it for 15 years ... Things just went off the rails.”
A review of bankruptcy documents and public records in three countries, as well as interviews with the rotating cast of players involved in the deal over more than a decade provides new insights about Trump’s business approach, the unconventional partners he works with and the risks for those who bet on the Trump brand.
In the end, every investor lost money on Toronto’s Trump Tower. Everyone except Trump, who walked away with millions.
“Trump never put money in; he just took money out,” said John Latimer, a former Toronto developer who worked briefly for the project.
Now that Trump is U.S. president, his conduct during the Toronto project gives an indication of how he might manage challenges with far higher stakes than a mere real estate deal.
“As I understand it, in Toronto, Trump made inaccurate statements” that may have influenced people who invested in the project, said Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who specializes in legal and government ethics. “He has shown a willingness to speak inaccurately and encourages people to rely on his inaccuracies, even when that ends up causing harm to them.”
“In the case of the Toronto deal, the harm was financial. In the case of the presidency,” she said, it could be “apocalyptic.”
Trump projects around the world — from the former Soviet republics ofGeorgia and Azerbaijan to New York City— have attracted media scrutiny for their partners with Russian links and the Trump organization’s questionable due diligence.
The parallels between Trump’s tower in New York’s SoHo neighbourhood — which also entered bankruptcy — and the Toronto development, are striking: Both towers used the same hybrid hotel-condo model; both ran into trouble when the global financial crisis hit in 2007 and some unit purchasers walked away, while others sued. In both projects, Trump claimed to have a financial stake, only later to admit that it was a licensing deal. In both projects Trump family members presented inflated sales figures when the towers, in reality, stood nearly empty.
In the New York case, Trump’s children Donald Jr. and Ivanka were investigated for potential felony fraud charges for their role in misrepresenting sales figures.
Today, more than five years after the Toronto tower opened, the skyscraper on Adelaide St. remains three-quarters empty, current property records show.
Last fall, the tower’s development company, Talon International Inc., went bankrupt, unable to repay more than $300 million owing on the construction loan. While the tower’s new owners have removed Trump’s name, the full story of who partnered with Trump to build in Toronto has never been told.
The first try
Initially, the name at the top of the tower on Bay and Adelaide Sts. was to read “Ritz-Carlton.”
The project was the dream of Trump’s original partner, Leib Waldman, a Toronto condo developer with a track record of several successful towers and apartment blocks across the GTA. Waldman hired the prestigious architect Eberhard Zeidler and raised seed money in the Orthodox Jewish community in Toronto, New York and London, U.K.
Waldman’s minority investors, some of whom have never been publicly identified, have varied and often colourful backgrounds, but no experience in condo tower development.
The four foreign partners — Mendlowits, Meisels, Gross and Teitelbaum — made their investments through shell companies registered in New Brunswick.
“They had to have corporate entities to make the investments, but those corporations never carried on active businesses,” said Senderowitz, who helped set up the shell companies. “They were only incorporated for the purpose of owning ownership shares in this project.”
The only investor who agreed to speak on the record was Gross.
“I don’t know why this failed and so many other projects were successful,” Gross said. “It is mind boggling to us.”
At the Trump Organization, concerns over Waldman emerged almost immediately, said a source familiar with the deal.
“We quickly learned that Waldman was an empty suit. I recall one or two of his cheques bouncing,” said the source, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the development. “He was difficult and disreputable to deal with.”
The Ritz-Carlton project collapsed in 2001 after the Star revealed Waldman was a wanted fugitive who had fled to Toronto from the U.S. after pleading guilty to bankruptcy fraud and embezzlement in 1995.
Waldman was detained for extradition, leaving everyone pointing fingers at each other.
“Neither the Ritz-Carlton nor the Trump Organization would have entered into this partnership if they had knowledge of this,” a senior Trump executive said in the aftermath of the Waldman revelations. “To some extent we were looking for the Ritz-Carlton to do due diligence.”
The Ritz-Carlton pulled out, leaving the minority investors, the architect, lawyers and engineers with unpaid invoices and little hope of seeing the plan come to fruition.
Trump remained convinced his brand would save the project.
“Having his name on a project brought great credibility to the project, particularly if the developer did not have a great track record,” said the source familiar with the project.
For a short while, Waldman continued to run the tower project from a jail cell in Etobicoke.
“I had to go to the Mimico detention centre to have him sign documents. I drew the short straw. I’d never been in a prison before,” said Senderowitz.
Contacted for comment in Israel, where he moved after serving his prison sentence in U.S., Waldman said: “There was the Toronto Star article and the project was getting some bad publicity. I removed myself.”
John Latimer, a former Toronto developer, was brought in to rescue the project. He called a meeting and told everyone: either you keep working for free in order to get this project off the ground or you’ll never get paid anything.
“They wanted to keep this thing alive so they could get their money back,” Latimer said in an interview.
Zeidler, the tower’s architect, recalled being relieved.
“We are $270,000 in the hole, but at least the project is moving,” Zeidler wrote in his autobiography.
Shnaider steps up
Alex Shnaider, who had originally agreed to a smaller investment alongside the others, was persuaded to become the project’s main backer.
Shnaider initially agreed to a sit-down interview for this article but cancelled more than a month later. Instead, a Washington, D.C., public relations firm acted as a go-between, relaying written questions and answers.
On paper, Shnaider was a promising lead investor. He was wealthy, and despite his lack of condo and hotel experience, he was a business phenom.
Under the banner of the Midland Group, Shnaider built his sprawling business portfolio in the countries that had just emerged from behind the Iron Curtain. He started out in the early 1990s, working for Seabeco, a controversial investment firm run by his father-in-law, Boris Birshtein, who had links to powerful political figures in the former Soviet Union.
From there he expanded rapidly. By his early 30s, Shnaider — with his partner Eduard Shifrin, a Ukrainian businessman — was already co-owner of one of the largest steel mills in Ukraine. By 2001, they were able to acquire 93 per cent of the factory for the bargain-basement price of $70 million (U.S.), according to multiple media reports. Shnaider’s spokesperson challenges that figure, saying in a written statement that they paid “significantly” more.
In 2005, their stake had reportedly grown to be worth $1.2 billion.
Shnaider then diversified into industries as varied as Russian Formula One racing, Moscow shopping malls, Ukrainian convenience stores, an Israeli soccer team and the Armenian electricity grid. He was rewarded with hundreds of millions in profits. Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold.
Back home, Shnaider was living a life few Canadians can imagine.
In 2006, he bought a $4.3-million (Canadian) mansion in Toronto’s exclusive Bridle Path neighbourhood, which sold last year for $22 million. He travelled on a private jet and vacationed on his yacht, the 52-metre Midlandia.
Two years later, Shnaider’s former wife rented a hangar at Pearson International Airport to celebrate his 40th birthday, allowing their jet-setting guests to fly in and out for the party.
He would one up her for their daughter’s 16th birthday in 2013, hiring Justin Bieber to perform in a private concert at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
For all his wealth, Shnaider was virtually unknown in Toronto until he stepped into the limelight alongside Donald Trump in 2004 to launch pre-construction sales for their tower.
Three years later, wielding golden shovels, they broke ground side by side at a ceremony to mark the start of construction.
Financial documents, made public when Shnaider’s development company, Talon, went bankrupt, show his European bank financed the tower in a way no Canadian institution would; he hired his friend Levitan, the slot machine-repair businessman, to manage the construction and sales, and Levitan’s wife, Inna, to do the interior design; he allowed his sales director, Adina Zak, to sell units to herself and flip them to buyers at a profit.
Shnaider’s spokesperson denied he had a decision-making role in the tower.
“Mr. Shnaider did not have an executive role in this project and was not a developer — he was not involved in the sale of units,” she said.
Waldman had been the only one with any experience in tower development, and his departure left a team of condo rookies, as well as his son, Joseph, to whom he transferred his 11-per-cent stake in the tower. Levitan was put in charge of managing the construction and sales for the $500 million tower.
By all accounts hard-working, Levitan was in over his head.
“The trouble is, as nice and smart a guy as Val was, he didn’t really know the process,” said Latimer, the developer who briefly worked on the project.
But the lure of Trump’s wealth and success convinced the tower’s backers that they would succeed, said Senderowitz, the Toronto lawyer.
“They just wanted Trump’s star power to pull this off,” he said.
Teitelbaum, in particular, was convinced of its success, Latimer recalled.
“All he could see was the dollar signs ringing up. This was gonna be a big payday for him,” said Latimer. “Two years later he called me to ask if I’d buy a suite in the hotel. That made it seem like things were in trouble.”
Teitelbaum rejects this account, claiming he was never an investor.
Until now, the real ownership of the tower has been shrouded in secrecy.
Without ever providing details, Trump started telling reporters in 2001 that he had made a “substantial” investment in the Toronto tower. As late as 2007, Trump was publicly bragging about his supposedly savvy investment, which would have benefitted from the appreciating Canadian dollar.
“People are saying, ‘great play,’ but I actually didn’t mean to invest because of the dollar. I just ended up being a genius for all the wrong reasons,” Trump told the Star in 2007.
It wasn’t until 2011 that Talon disclosed Trump only had a contract to license out his name and manage the hotel.
“He showed up when they broke ground, did a press conference … and walked away,” said Senderowitz.
Levitan and Shnaider became the tower’s real salesmen, but their project was a tough sell on Bay St.
Levitan met with Canadian construction financiers in a series of meetings in 2006, according to sources.
“Everyone passed on it,” said one Toronto financier, who met with Levitan and turned him down.
Even though Shnaider was based in Toronto, the fact that virtually all his assets were overseas didn’t sit well with local lenders.
“We didn’t like the fact that it was an inexperienced developer coming from abroad,” said the financier, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not permitted by his employer to discuss confidential financial matters. “If a loan goes into default, we have to go after the debtors. When they’re foreign, we can’t get their assets.”
In the end, the financing for the tower’s construction came from an Austrian bank, Raiffeisen Zentralbank Osterreich, which had little experience in the North American market.
One of its only other projects on this side of the Atlantic was the Red Leaves resort in Muskoka, a project that also went bankrupt.
Raiffeisen, which invests heavily in the former Soviet republics and had financed several of Shnaider’s previous ventures, faced scrutiny about a decade ago when a deputy central banker in Moscow accused it of acting as a conduit for wealthy Russians to launder money abroad. Raiffeisen denied wrongdoing, according to news reports.
The bank declined to comment for this article.
Adam Powadiuk, director of commercial finance at First National Financial, a real-estate lender in Toronto, reviewed the tower’s financing agreement and said it contained many “wacky” elements that “amplify the risk in a significant way.”
Typically in Toronto, banks require developers to sell enough pre-construction units to cover the entire cost of a loan before any funds are released. Not so in this case.
Raiffeisen asked Talon to pre-sell $250 million in condos and hotel rooms — only about 80 per cent of the $310.5-million loan.
Talon didn’t even reach that lower bar.
While Shnaider publicly stated the tower had sold more than $250 million in units, the bankruptcy documents tell a different story. Based on purchasers’ deposits, it appears Talon only ever sold $218-million worth of units.
One investor, auto body shop owner Gross, said that the tower’s backers were aware construction started before enough units were sold.
“We knew,” Gross said in an interview. “We were hoping that time would be on our side.”
In public, the sales figure was constantly shifting.
Seventy five per cent of the units were sold, Shnaider said in 2007, shortly before groundbreaking. A few months later, Trump said the number was 70 per cent. By 2012, Talon was reporting 60 per cent were sold. The next year, the company admitted less than half the units had been bought.
In 2007, Shnaider announced he would buy for himself the tower’s $20-million, 12,000-square-foot “super penthouse” — Canada’s most expensive condo at the time. Public records show he never closed the deal. And Shnaider wasn’t the only buyer to back out.
According to Talon’s bankruptcy, the company only ever collected $108.3 million in unit sales — less than half of what it had said was sold and more than $200 million shy of what was needed to pay off the principal of the loan.
While revenue wasn’t coming in, construction costs were spiralling due to the exceptionally small building lot, design changes on the fly that would cut 13 storeys off the top of the planned 70-storey tower and eight months of delays caused by extreme weather.
When Talon maxed out the bank loan, the investors had to come up with another $106 million to cover the tower’s completion, bankruptcy records show.
The minority investors contributed at first but eventually, Shnaider was paying for everything out of his own pocket.
At the same time, records from the Panama Papers leak show Shnaider and his partner sold their stake in the Ukrainian steel mill to a VEB, a bank controlled by the Kremlin. They received $850 million (U.S.). Shnaider’s lawyer initially told the Wall Street Journal that $15 million of that money went to cover cost overruns at the Trump Tower. He later told the New York Times that none of the sales proceeds were used to cover costs in Toronto.
Even once the tower was complete, few people wanted to buy in.
Typically, banks intervene quickly when sales stall in an effort to protect their investments, real estate experts say. They bring in their own sales and marketing teams; they might even bring in contractors to finish construction.
But between 2008 and 2013 — the depth of the global financial crisis — the Austrian bank pushed back the repayment deadlines 12 times, according to bankruptcy records, waiting for sales to materialize. The tower was built, but it sat three-quarters empty, hemorrhaging money just to keep the lights on.
When Talon finally declared bankruptcy last year — nine years after taking out the construction loan — it still owed Raiffeisen $301 million on the $310 million it borrowed, bankruptcy records show.
Powadiuk called that level of outstanding debt “enormous” and “very strange” in the Canadian context.
“I can’t picture a scenario, the way that most lenders in Canada do these things, where you end up with that kind of chain of events,” Powadiuk said.
An empty grand opening
The tower’s lavish ribbon cutting — originally planned for September 2010 — didn’t take place until April 2012.
The pomp and ceremony included Trump and his children, each with a pair of golden scissors, surrounded by models, alongside then mayor Rob Ford bearing a wide smile.
As dignitaries and Toronto’s most powerful businesspeople gathered to fete the project’s success, the tower’s failure was likely already sealed.
Another five-star hotel, a new Ritz-Carleton, had just opened in Toronto and a second, the Shangri-La, was about to do so. Trump’s decade-old project looked stale by comparison.
“This one was dragging on and suddenly it has a bad smell,” said Latimer.
After the hotel opened its doors, too many rooms sat empty. Hotel room purchasers were hit with thousands of dollars of additional fees and commercial property tax. One disappointed buyer tried to auction off his condo, but no one met the minimum bid. Several unit ownerssued Shnaider’s company for misrepresenting their projected profits and a judge ordered one buyer’s deposit returned. A class-action lawsuit on behalf of other buyers is pending in Superior Court.
When business didn’t pick up, Talon publicly clashed with Trump, blaming the future president’s people for mismanaging the hotel. The president’s organization filed a legal motion to prevent the termination of its licensing agreement, alleging Talon was plotting to sell the remaining units and walk away. The motion was shelved.
One thing was now clear: Trump’s brand offered no guarantee of success.
“(Trump) wasn’t hands on,” said Senderowitz. “He just delegated everything. His own management style was literally chaotic.”
Everyone was losing money, including Shnaider.
“Mr. Shnaider lost more money on the Trump Tower Project than anyone else,” a spokesperson said in a written statement. “Mr. Shnaider had high hopes for the project and wanted it to succeed. These hopes were not realized.
“The project was unsuccessful, in Mr. Shnaider’s opinion, because of the global financial crisis and its effect on buyers’ and potential buyers’ ability to close or obtain funding to close, and because of inexperienced management.”
In the end, the tower and every investor’s stake in it went to JCF Capital, which had bought the tower’s debt and paid the Trump Organization to exit its licensing agreement in June. Two days later, JCF sold the hotel to InnVest, a major Canadian hotel operator. The 74 unsold condos are now back on the market, being offered under the St. Regis brand.
The total amount of money Trump received from the failed Toronto project is unclear.
Public financial disclosure documents filed by Trump in the U.S. show he collected $1.7 million (U.S.) in management fees from the Toronto project between 2014 and 2016. Walking away from the deal brought Trump’s organization a further payout of at least $6 million (Canadian), according to a 2017 Bloomberg report citing an inside source.
Requests for comment from The Trump Organization went unanswered.
“I don’t know why it failed. It’s a mystery to me,” said the source familiar with the project. “The only thing I can really conclude is the Trump brand didn’t have popularity in Toronto.”
The five letters at the top of the tower came down this summer, amid global headlines and downtown rubbernecking. The hotel has been temporarily renamed the Adelaide in anticipation of a full rebranding next year.
All that remains of Trump’s name now are a few plaques adorning the building’s street-level facade. They’ve been covered with a silver film that doesn’t quite hide the infamous moniker.
Shnaider and the minority investors have dispersed. No one wants to have anything to do with Trump anymore. Even Shnaider, who heavily promoted the tower, now wants to distance himself from its namesake.
“Mr. Shnaider and Mr. Trump met a total of four times in person,” reads a written statement from Shnaider’s spokesperson. “The two did not discuss substantive business issues. They do not have any ongoing relationship.”
With files from Asaf Shalev
Columbia Journalism Investigations. CJI is a team of leading investigative journalists, Columbia University faculty, graduate students, postgraduate fellows, coders and others who conduct deep investigations into urgent issues of public interest, without respect to beat. Funding is provided by the Graduate School of Journalism.
How every investor lost money on Trump Tower Toronto (but Donald Trump made millions anyway)
One man has died following a shooting in Newmarket on Saturday evening.
York regional police were called to the scene of Sheldon Ave. near Yonge St. and Davis Dr. around 10 p.m. after reports of a shooting.
Const. Darrin Leitch said that the man was found unconscious when police arrived to the area.
Paramedics responded to the scene shortly after and transported the man to hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.
Leitch said there are no leads on suspects yet, but there is a heavy police presence in the area and an investigation is still underway.
The area of Sheldon Ave. is blocked off by police.
Man dead after shooting in Newmarket
Centroamericano, a new variety of coffee plant, hasn’t sparked the buzz of, say, Starbucks’s latest novelty latte. But it may be the coolest thing in brewing: a tree that can withstand the effects of climate change.
Climate change could spell disaster for coffee, a crop that requires specific temperatures to flourish and that is highly sensitive to a range of pests. So scientists are racing to develop more tenacious strains of one of the world’s most beloved beverages.
In addition to Centroamericano, seven other new hybrid varieties are gradually trickling onto the market. And this summer, World Coffee Research (WCR) — an industry-funded non-profit group — kicked off field tests of 46 new varieties that it says will change coffee-growing as the world knows it.
“Coffee is not ready to adapt to climate change without help,” said Doug Welsh, the vice-president and roastmaster of Peet’s Coffee, which has invested in WCR’s research.
Climate scientists say few coffee-growing regions will be spared the effects of climate change. Most of the world’s crop is cultivated around the equator, with the bulk coming from Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia and Ethiopia.
Rising temperatures are expected to shrink the available growing land in many of these countries, said Christian Bunn, a post-doctoral fellow at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture who has analyzed the shift in coffee regions. Warmer air essentially “chases” coffee up to cooler, higher altitudes — which are scarce in Brazil and Zimbabwe, among other coffee-growing countries.
Temperature is not climate change’s only projected impact in coffee-growing regions. Portions of Central America are expected to see greater rainfall and shorter dry seasons, which are needed to harvest and dry beans. In Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, rainfall is projected to decrease, potentially sparking dry periods.
These sorts of changes will pose problems for many crops. But coffee is particularly vulnerable, scientists say, because it has an unusually shallow gene pool. Only two species of coffee, arabica and robusta, are currently grown for human consumption. And farmers traditionally haven’t selected for diversity when breeding either plant — instead, essentially, they’ve been marrying generations of coffee with its close cousins.
As a result, there are precious few varieties of arabica that can grow in warmer or wetter conditions. In addition, diseases and pests that might be exacerbated under climate change could knock out entire fields of plants.
A disease of particular concern — coffee leaf rust, or “la roya” in Spanish — devastated coffee plantations across Central America in 2011. It effectively halved El Salvador’s coffee output and cost the region an estimated 1.7 million jobs.
Coffee farmers could see their livelihoods threatened, noted Aaron Davis, a British coffee researcher, because coffee trees are perennials with a 20- to 30-year life span: If a field is damaged by a bad season, farmers aren’t necessarily in a position to immediately replant it. And because coffee takes three years to mature, farmers face several years without income after new trees are planted.
“Under all these scenarios, farmers pay the biggest price,” Davis added.
While few experts expect these factors to drive coffee to extinction, they could severely reduce the global supply — and increase the hardship for coffee farmers.
“The major concern of the industry is that the quantity, and even the future, of good coffee is threatened by climate change,” said Benoit Bertrand, an agronomist with the French agricultural research group CIRAD and one of the world’s most respected coffee breeders. “So the question becomes: How can we address this with new technology and new innovations?”
Despite coffee’s global popularity, few growers have risen to the challenge. There has historically been no real market for improved coffee plants, Bertrand and Davis said. Unlike such major commodity crops as corn or soybeans, coffee is grown primarily by small farmers with low margins who can’t shell out for the latest seed or growing system.
As a result, coffee is coming late to the intensive breeding programs that have revolutionized other crops. But in the past 10 years, interest around plant improvement has exploded, driven in part by the growth of the specialty coffee market.
Plant breeders have begun cataloguing the hundreds of strains of arabica in existence and cultivating them in different growing areas. They’ve also begun to experiment with robusta, which grows in higher temperatures and fares better against diseases, but often tastes bitter. There is some hope that new varieties of robusta, or robusta/arabica crosses, could capture that resilience without the bad flavour.
Lately, there has been a particular surge of interest in a type of plant called an F1 hybrid, which crossbreeds two different strains of arabica to produce a unique “child” plant. They can be made from any of the hundreds of varieties of arabica and bred for qualities such as taste, disease resistance and drought tolerance.
Because they are the first generation, F1 hybrids also demonstrate something scientists call “hybrid vigour” — they produce unusually high yields, like a sort of super plant.
Since 2010, eight such F1 hybrids have been released to the commercial market. Bertrand is currently testing a class of an additional 60 crosses with the support of WCR.
The researchers say that the top two or three — which are expected to become available to farmers as soon as 2022 — will offer good taste, high yields and resilience to a range of coffee’s current and future woes, from higher temperatures to nematodes.
“These hybrids deliver a combination of traits that were never before possible in coffee,” said Hanna Neuschwander, the communications director at WCR. “It’s the traits that farmers need with the traits that markets demand. People used to think the two were mutually exclusive.”
But the hybrids’ success remains largely untested at scale. Of the eight F1 hybrids on the market at present, only one — Centroamericano — has been planted in any significant volume, Neuschwander said. The variety is currently growing on an estimated 2,500 acres in Central America; for context, the U.S. Agriculture Department reports that Honduras alone grows coffee on more than 800,000 acres.
Farmers who have planted the new trees are seeing success. Starbucks has sold coffee made from F1 hybrids as part of its small-lot premium brand. Last spring, a batch of Centroamericano grown on a Nicaraguan family farm scored 90 out of 100 points in that country’s prestigious tasting competition, which some in the industry heralded as a major victory.
But the path to adoption will be steep. Breeders have developed these plants, Neuschwander said, but many areas of the world don’t have the seed industries and infrastructure in place to actually distribute them. That’s particularly true in the case of F1 hybrids, which — thanks to their particular genetics — can only be grown from tissue samples.
F1 hybrids are also expensive — as much as 2 1/2 times the cost of conventional plants. That puts them well outside the range of most smallholder farmers, said Kraig Kraft, an agroecologist and technical adviser with Catholic Relief Services’ Latin America division.
Kraft, who has worked with WCR to test F1 hybrids in Nicaragua, said that in his region, at least, only mid-size and large plantations have switched to them.
“I think our position is that we need to really understand the requirements for all farmers to be able to use these new technologies,” Kraft said. “My concern is that small farmers don’t have access to the capital to pay for these investments.”
Even if they did, however, some experts caution that the new coffee varieties are only a piece of a much larger adaptation process. To cope with the effects of climate change, farmers may need to adopt other agricultural practices, such as shade-farming, cover-cropping and terracing, said Bunn, the researcher.
In some regions, those practices won’t be economical. And in that case, policy-makers should focus on helping farmers transition to other crops or other livelihoods altogether, researchers stress.
“People sell (F1 hybrids) as a silver bullet,” Bunn said. “To be clear, those plants are indispensable and I don’t question the value of the work . . . but we need more to adapt to climate change. And we need to accept the hard reality that some places will need to move out of coffee production.”
New coffee hybrids suggest bright future for endangered industry
Police are searching for a suspect after a woman was stabbed in a “random attack” in the Lawrence Park area Saturday.
Const. David Hopkinson said the woman made her own way to hospital and police later found a crime scene at Weybourne Cres. and Dinnick Cres., southeast of Lawrence Ave. E. and Yonge St.
Hopkinson said the woman’s injuries weren’t life-threatening.
Police said the suspect is a white male in his 20s with a thin moustache and skinny, scruffy hair. He wore a black hoodie and is between five feet seven inches and five feet eight inches tall, police said.
Woman stabbed in ‘random attack’ in Lawrence Park
COOPER CITY, FLA.—Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between U.S. President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman, but his three comrades who died with him.
Some of the 1,200 mourners exiting the church after Saturday’s service said the portrait of Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, was joined on stage by photographs of Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Wash.; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga. The four died Oct. 4 in Niger when they were attacked by militants tied to Daesh, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Johnson’s family asked reporters to remain outside for the service.
“We have to remember that one thing: that it wasn’t just one soldier who lost his life,” said Berchel Davis, a retired police officer who has six children in the military. He said the preacher and Rep. Frederica Wilson both made that a part of their talks. “That was a good gesture on everyone’s part.”
He and others said the fight between Trump and Wilson was never mentioned during the service.
Johnson’s pregnant widow, Myeshia, had held the arm of an army officer as she led her two young children and her family, dressed in white, into the Christ the Rock Community Church in suburban Fort Lauderdale. The modern hymn “I’m Yours” could be heard coming from inside.
Johnson’s sister, Angela Ghent, said after the service that “it don’t feel real” that her brother was killed.
“It hasn’t hit me yet, I haven’t had time to grieve,” said Ghent, who last spoke to her brother a few weeks before he died. She said she was glad mourners got to hear about her brother’s love for bikes and cars, not just his military service.
The fight between Trump and Wilson had taken the focus off Johnson, whose widow is due to have a daughter in January. Sgt. Johnson told friends she will be named La’Shee. The couple, who were high school sweethearts, already had a 6-year-old daughter, Ah’Leeysa, and 2-year-old son, La David Jr. An online fundraiser has raised more than $600,000 to pay for the children’s education.
Johnson’s mother died when he was 5; he was raised by his aunt. His family enrolled him in 5000 Role Models, a project Wilson began in 1993 when she was an educator where African-American boys are paired with mentors who prepare them for college, vocational school or the military.
“We teach them to be a good man, a good husband and a good father. Sgt. Johnson typified all of those characteristics,” said mourner Carlton Crawl, a public school consultant who is one of the program’s mentors.
In 2013, a year before he enlisted, Johnson was featured in a local television newscast for his ability to do bicycle tricks, earning the nickname “Wheelie King.” He said he learned his tricks by going slow.
“Once you feel comfortable, you could just ride all day,” he told the interviewer.
The war of words between the president and Wilson began Tuesday when the Miami-area Democrat said Trump told Myeshia Johnson in a phone call that her husband “knew what he signed up for” and didn’t appear to know his name, a version later backed up by Johnson’s aunt. Wilson was riding with Johnson’s family to meet the body and heard the call on speakerphone. She was principal of a school Johnson’s father attended.
Trump tweeted Wilson “fabricated” his statement and the fight escalated through the week. Trump in other tweets called her “wacky” and accused her of “SECRETLY” listening to the phone call.
Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, entered the fray Thursday. The retired Marine general 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, who is black, fired back Friday when she told The New York Times: “The White House itself is full white supremacists.”
The retorts persisted Saturday morning, with Trump tweeting: “I hope the Fake News Media keeps talking about Wacky Congresswoman Wilson in that she, as a representative, is killing the Democrat Party!”
Mourners remember soldier at centre of Trump fight during Fort Lauderdale funeral
TOKYO—Have North Korea’s nuclear tests become so big that they’ve altered the geological structure of the land? Some analysts now see signs that Mount Mantap, the 7,200-foot-high peak under which North Korea detonates its nuclear bombs, is suffering from “tired mountain syndrome.”
The mountain visibly shifted during the last nuclear test, an enormous detonation that was recorded as a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in North Korea’s northeast. Since then, the area, which is not known for natural seismic activity, has had three more quakes.
“What we are seeing from North Korea looks like some kind of stress in the ground,” said Paul G. Richards, a seismologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “In that part of the world, there were stresses in the ground but the explosions have shaken them up.”
Chinese scientists have already warned that further nuclear tests could cause the mountain to collapse and release the radiation from the blast.
North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests since 2006, all of them in tunnels burrowed deep under Mount Mantap at a site known as the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility. Intelligence analysts and experts alike use satellite imagery to keep close track on movement at the three entrances to the tunnels for signals that a test might be coming.
After the latest nuclear test on Sept. 3., Kim Jong Un’s regime claimed that it had set off a hydrogen bomb and that it had been a “perfect success.”
The regime is known for brazen exaggeration, but analysts and many government officials said the size of the earthquake the test generated suggested that North Korea had detonated a thermonuclear device at least 17 times the size of the American bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
It registered as an artificial 6.3-magnitude earthquake so big it shook houses in northeastern China. Eight minutes later, there was a 4.1-magnitude earthquake that appeared to be a tunnel collapsing at the site.
Images captured by Airbus, a space technology company that makes earth observation satellites, showed the mountain literally moving during the test. An 85-acre area on the peak of Mount Mantap visibly subsided during the explosion, an indication of both the size of the blast and the weakness of the mountain.
Since that day, there have been three much smaller quakes at the site, in the two to three magnitude range, each of them setting fears that North Korea had conducted another nuclear test that had perhaps gone wrong. But they all turned out to be natural.
That has analysts Frank V. Pabian and Jack Liu wondering if Mount Mantap is suffering from “tired mountain syndrome,” a diagnosis previously applied to the Soviet Union’s atomic test sites.
“The underground detonation of nuclear explosions considerably alters the properties of the rock mass,” Vitaly V. Adushkin and William Leith wrote in a report on the Soviet tests for the United States Geological Survey in 2001. This leads to fracturing and rocks breaking, and changes along tectonic faults.
Earthquakes also occurred at the U.S.’s nuclear test site in Nevada after detonations there.
“The experience we had from the Nevada test site and decades of monitoring the Soviet Union’s major test sites in Kazakhstan showed that after a very large nuclear explosion, several other significant things can happen,” said Richards. This included cavities collapsing hours or even months later, he said.
Pabian and Liu said that the North Korean test site also seemed to be suffering.
“Based on the severity of the initial blast, the post-test tremors, and the extent of observable surface disturbances, we have to assume that there must have been substantial damage to the existing tunnel network under Mount Mantap,” they wrote in a report for the specialist North Korea website 38 North.
But the degradation of the mountain does not necessarily mean that it would be abandoned as a test site — just as the United States did not abandon the Nevada test site after earthquakes there, they said. Instead, the U.S. kept using the site until a nuclear test moratorium took effect in 1992.
For that reason, analysts will continue to keep a close eye on the Punggye-ri test site to see if North Korea starts excavating there again — a sign of possible preparations for another test.
The previous tests took place through the north portal to the underground tunnels, but even if those tunnels had collapsed, North Korea’s nuclear scientists might still use tunnel complexes linked to the south and west portals, Pabian and Liu said.
Chinese scientists have warned that another test under the mountain could lead to an environmental disaster. If the whole mountain caved in on itself, radiation could escape and drift across the region, said Wang Naiyan, the former chairman of the China Nuclear Society and senior researcher on China’s nuclear weapons program.
“We call it ‘taking the roof off.’ If the mountain collapses and the hole is exposed, it will let out many bad things,” Wang told the South China Morning Post last month.
The recent seismic events have triggered another environmental concern, at least on the internet: that the nuclear tests might trigger the eruption of Mount Paekdu, an active volcano straddling the border between North Korea and China more than 80 miles away. The mountain has not experienced a major eruption for centuries, and its last small rumble was in 1903.
This, experts say, is a stretch.
Volcanic eruptions happen when molten rock flows into the magma chamber under the surface, said Colin Wilson, professor of volcanology at Victoria University in New Zealand.
If an earthquake occurs when the magma is hot and, as Wilson puts it, “ready to roll,” then it could trigger an eruption. But if the molten rock is not activated, then even a large earthquake won’t cause a volcanic eruption.
He cited the Tohoku earthquake in 2011, which had a magnitude of 9 but did not cause any of Japan’s many volcanoes to blow their tops.
“There’s no point in kicking a dead horse,” Wilson said. “If the horse is up and ready and you give it a slap on the bum, it will take off. But if it’s dead, even if you slap it, it’s not going anywhere.”
Experts worried as mountain hosting North Korea’s nuclear blasts shows signs of exhaustionExperts worried as mountain hosting North Korea’s nuclear blasts shows signs of exhaustion
VALLETTA, MALTA — The blast from the bomb planted in the rented Peugeot of Malta’s best-known investigative journalist was so powerful it took police investigators four days to collect body parts and wreckage scattered across sun-baked fields next to the road.
Tracking down potential suspects with deep grudges against the victim, Daphne Caruana Galizia, however, will take far longer.
“It is a very long list,” Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, one of the journalist’s many targets, said in an interview. “She was a very harsh critic of mine.”
The list of people whom Caruana Galizia offended and infuriated as a prolific journalist in this tiny Mediterranean island nation includes many members of Muscat’s ruling Labour Party as well as the leader of the centre-right opposition. Also on the list: the president of Azerbaijan and his family, executives of a Chinese electrical equipment manufacturer, foreign drug barons, an Iranian-born banker and people active in offshore tax havens like Panama and the British Virgin Islands.
All of them were the targets at one time or another of Caruana Galizia’s relentless probing of the underbelly of the European Union’s smallest country, a nation that boasts Europe’s fastest growing economy but has been hit by six car bombings in the past two years, all of them unsolved.
How a country that has in many ways been so successful could be the scene of such a macabre and brutal murder on a picturesque road only a half-hour’s drive from the capital, Valletta, has left many asking what went wrong.
In the absence of hard evidence, Maltese are grasping at wild coincidences and conspiracy theories.
The murder took place exactly five years to the hour after the dismissal of Malta’s former senior official in the European Union, the disgraced former health commissioner John Dalli. The murder, Dalli said, “had absolutely nothing” to do with his own troubles.
Dalli was another regular target of Caruana Galizia’s writing — “Everything she wrote about me was a lie,” he said — and yet another well-connected insider who, despite detailed allegations of corruption, has never been prosecuted in Malta.
Dalli, who in December filed a harassment complaint with the police against Caruana Galizia, said he “was very angry” when he heard she had been killed. “It basically removed my chances of exculpating myself from everything she said about me,” he said.
Justin Borg-Barthet, a Maltese legal expert who lectures at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, said the legal system, built up during British colonial rule, has been so steadily eroded by political meddling and constant reshuffling of the police leadership that virtually nobody expects justice to be done in the case of the murdered journalist.
“Trust does not function as a reliable constitutional principle when people are untrustworthy,” he said.
Caruana Galizia, 53, had an insider’s grasp of that world. “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate,” she wrote in her last blog post Monday afternoon, just a half-hour before she left her family home by car to run errands and was blown to pieces.
The bombing stunned Malta, where known criminals sometimes attack one another but where the streets are safe and violence against public figures is extremely rare. It also sent tremors through the European Union, which took in Malta as a member in 2004 and, at a time of deep disillusionment with the “European project” in Britain and elsewhere, has often pointed to Malta’s economic success as an example of how Europe can work.
Christian Peregin, the founder of an online news site, Lovin Malta, and an admirer of the dead journalist, said the killing had exposed a reality that Caruana Galizia had spent decades trying to uncover, a mission that won her a long list of enemies and scores of libel suits.
One of those who sued her this year — and got a court to freeze her bank accounts — is Malta’s economy minister, whom she enraged with a February report that he had been seen along with an aide in a brothel in the German town of Velbert. The minister, who was visiting Germany on government business, insisted he had been attending a conference at the time of the reported sighting.
“Beneath the veneer of a successful, well-to-do European nation there is something darker here,” Peregin said. “Malta is between Europe and North Africa. We speak English and have very English traditions, but we also speak Maltese — basically a mix of Arabic and Italian — and our national psyche is always somewhere between these two very different worlds.”
This split has in turn helped shape and harden a deep and often passionate political divide between the Labour Party, which Caruana Galizia loathed, and the Nationalist Party. She used to support the Nationalists until a new leader took over whom she described as being in cahoots with criminals because of his previous work as a lawyer on behalf of Maltese clients who she said ran a prostitution racket in London.
The Nationalist leader, Adrian Delia, was so angered by Caruana Galizia’s articles, which included details of a secret offshore bank account he controlled, that he filed four complaints against her for defamation.
He dropped the cases after the killing and is now trying to position himself as her defender, demanding that the prime minister, Muscat, resign and take “political responsibility” for the car bomb.
Saviour Balzan, a veteran editor and long-time adversary, called Caruana Galizia a “spiteful snob” who reveled in ridiculing people she viewed as inferior, particularly those who supported the Labour Party.
When the party’s former leader, Dom Mintoff, died at 96 in 2012, Caruana Galizia rejoiced at his passing: She wrote in her blog, Running Commentary, “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah . . . may you rot in hell.”
She stirred such strong feelings that her killing even prompted cheers in some quarters. Ramon Mifsud, a police officer whom she had portrayed in her blog as a drunken habitué of bars and lap dancing clubs, celebrated her killing with a post on his Facebook page: “Everyone gets what they deserve, cow dung.” Suspended from the police force, he quickly deleted the message.
“She was certainly the best investigative journalist Malta has ever seen. However, she was at times also a tabloid trash writer, and did not always follow normal journalistic standards,” Ken Mifsud Bonnici, a Maltese legal adviser to the European Commission in Brussels, said, speaking in a personal capacity. Nevertheless, he added: “People do not get killed for publishing lies.”
Maltese news media reported that the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia was made from Semtex, the plastic explosive that brought down a Boeing 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Malta’s previous car bombings involved more easily obtained explosives and targeted known criminals or their associates.
The police commissioner, Lawrence Cutajar, the fifth person to hold Malta’s top law enforcement job in just four years, declined at a news conference Thursday to comment on the kind of explosive used. He was so evasive in his response to questions that local journalists left the event convinced that the case, like previous car bombings, would never be solved — despite the presence of investigators from the FBI and Dutch police.
With trust in the police so low, representatives of the island’s main news outlets filed a petition with a court in Valletta demanding that any information found by investigators on Caruana Galizia’s phone and computer relating to her sources be kept secret to protect their security.
“When a leading journalist — an institution — is killed and you don’t have any faith in the justice system, everyone becomes a suspect,” Peregin said. “We are all scared because we have no idea who killed her.
“It could be anyone she has written about over the last 30 years, or it could be a message to the Maltese press or the government: Watch out for your neck and accept our demands or we will do worse.”
Balzan, the managing editor of Malta Today, said that while he was a critic of Caruana Galizia’s work, he was appalled and frightened by her murder.
“What happened has taken us back to the Stone Age,” he said. “Who would want to work in journalism after this? Why should I go to work when people are asking: Who will be next?”
The murder of Malta’s best-known journalist has exposed ‘something darker’ in the tiny EU nationThe murder of Malta’s best-known journalist has exposed ‘something darker’ in the tiny EU nation
WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump announced Saturday that he planned to release the tens of thousands of never-before-seen documents left in the files related to president John F. Kennedy’s assassination held by the National Archives and Records Administration.
“Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened,” Trump tweeted.
Kennedy assassination experts have been speculating for weeks about whether Trump would disclose the documents. The 1992 Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act required that the millions of pages — many of them contained in CIA and FBI documents — be published in 25 years, by Oct. 26. Over the years, the National Archives has released most of the documents, either in full or partially redacted.
But one final batch remains, and only the president has the authority to extend the papers’ secrecy past the October deadline.
In his tweet, Trump seemed to strongly imply he was going to release all the remaining documents, but the White House later said that if other government agencies made a strong case not to release the documents, he wouldn’t.
“The president believes that these documents should be made available in the interests of full transparency unless agencies provide a compelling and clear national security or law enforcement justification otherwise,” the White House said in a statement Saturday.
In the days leading up to Trump’s announcement, a National Security Council official told the Washington Post that government agencies were urging the president not to release some of the documents. But Trump’s longtime confidant Roger Stone told conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars this week that he personally lobbied Trump to publish all of the documents.
Stone also told Jones that CIA Director Mike Pompeo “has been lobbying the president furiously not to release these documents.”
Some Republican lawmakers have also been urging Trump for a full release. Earlier this month, Rep. Walter Jones and Sen. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, brought forward resolutions calling on Trump to “reject any claims for the continued postponement” of the documents.
“No reason 2 keep hidden anymore,” Grassley tweeted earlier this month. “Time 2 let American ppl + historians draw own conclusions.”
Though Kennedy assassination experts say they don’t think the last batch of papers contains any major bombshells, the president’s decision to release the documents could heighten the clarity around the assassination, which has fuelled so many conspiracy theorists, including Trump himself.
In May 2016, while on the presidential campaign trail, Trump gave an interview to Fox News strongly accusing the father of his GOP primary opponent Sen. Ted Cruz of consorting with Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald right before the shooting.
Some Kennedy assassination researchers believe the trove could shed light on a key question that president Lyndon Johnson tried to unsuccessfully put to rest in 1963: did Oswald act alone, or was he aided or propelled by a foreign government?
The records are also said to include details on Oswald’s activities while he was travelling in Mexico City in late September 1963 and courting Cuban and Soviet spies, as well as the CIA’s personality profiles written of Oswald after the assassination.
But some experts fear the history that may be lost forever in unreadable documents in the trove. One listed as “unintelligible” is a secret communication from the CIA to the Office of Naval Intelligence about Oswald in October 1963 — weeks before the assassination. Oswald had been honourably discharged from the Marine Corps in 1959, but he was outraged and made violent threats after learning in October 1963 that the military had changed his discharge to a dishonourable one.
Phil Shenon, who wrote a book about the Warren Commission, the congressional body that investigated Kennedy’s killing, said he was pleased with Trump’s decision to release the documents. But he wonders to what degree the papers will ultimately be released.
“It’s great news that the president is focused on this and that he’s trying to demonstrate transparency. But the question remains whether he will open the library in full — every word in every document, as the law requires,” Shenon said. “And my understanding is that he won’t without infuriating people at the CIA and elsewhere who are determined to keep at least some of the information secret, especially in documents created in the 1990s.”
There are about 3,100 previously unreleased files that hold tens of thousands of pages of new material. The National Archives also has another 30,000 pages of information that have been disclosed before, but only partially and with redactions.
Jefferson Morley, a former Post reporter who has studied the Kennedy assassination records for years, said the last tranche of material is also intriguing because it contains files on senior CIA officials from the 1960s — officers well aware of Oswald’s activities in the days before the assassination.
He specifically pointed to the files of former CIA officers William Harvey and David Phillips. Morley said Harvey led the agency’s assassinations operations and feuded constantly with Kennedy’s brother, Robert F. Kennedy, over the administration’s crisis with Cuba. Phillips, Morley said, oversaw the agency’s operations against Cuban president Fidel Castro and was deeply familiar with the CIA’s surveillance of Oswald in Mexico City.
“What’s in those files could tell us how those men did their jobs,” said Morley, who wrote a 2008 book on the agency’s Mexico City station chief. “There might be stuff on why we were interested in the Cuban consulate, how we surveilled the consulate, how we did our audio work and how did we recruit spies there?
“We might understand much better why they were watching Oswald.”
With files from John Wagner and Carol Leonnig.
Trump plans to release last cache of secret JFK assassination files
While campaigning for the job of running Canada’s largest city, Mayor John Tory promised to restore stability at city hall after the tumultuous term of his predecessor Rob Ford.
Even Tory’s detractors agree he’s accomplished that, and as a result has maintained high approval ratings in public opinion polls.
But beyond his calming influence, what has John Howard Tory, multi-millionaire lawyer, businessman, and former provincial Progressive Conservative leader, accomplished since he became 65th mayor of Toronto.
What about the other promises to tackle traffic congestion and expand transit, cornerstones of his 2014 election campaign. Does it take any less time to cross the city? Has traffic gotten better, or has it gotten worse?
“I like to think it’s better, I have people tell me anecdotally, that it’s better,” Tory says in an interview to mark the third anniversary of his Oct. 27, 2014 election.
Then Tory, as is his custom, qualifies his answer.
Measuring progress is difficult, he admits, though it will get easier with recently installed Bluetooth technology that monitors traffic speed on major downtown streets.
“I will say with certainty, that if we hadn’t done all the things that we’ve done, and that we’re doing, then it would be much worse, because we have a growing city.”
Those things include towing and ticket blitzes for downtown lane blockers, a pilot project using paid duty police officers to direct traffic at major intersections, to be replaced soon with full-time “traffic wardens.” Next month, Tory will meet with representatives of utility companies asking them to confine non-emergency work to off-peak hours.
On the transit file, Tory remains committed to creating a transit line called SmartTrack. Although, the current configuration is nothing like the original proposal made during the 2014 election campaign. The original proposal has been reduced to six proposed stations added to the GO train network in Toronto and an LRT line towards the airport.
During the campaign, Tory promised it would be a surface rail subway “that moves the most people in the shortest time across the entire city in seven years.” Only recently has he begun to admit seven years was an overly ambitious target.
“It may not end up being seven,” he said last week sitting in his office overlooking Nathan Phillips Square. “I mean, it’s going to be, I’m saying in the early 2020s.”
And while Torontonians might not see evidence, Tory insists progress is being made on the plan, which involves Metrolinx electrifying existing GO train tracks. Last week, there were public meetings on the design of stations, and next spring, a request for proposals will be issued, he said.
“There’s stuff happening, and it’s going to get done.”
Last week, Tory held a series of sit down media interviews wearing a dark suit, chartreuse tie, red and purple argyle socks and polished black shoes.
Sunday marked the one-year countdown to next year’s municipal election on Oct. 22 when Tory will seek re-election. So far, there is only one other major declared challenger: former city councillor Doug Ford, whom Tory beat in 2014.
Some pundits are already sizing up the campaign ahead — though it doesn’t officially start until next May — and suggest Tory’s weakness is that he lacks a bold vision for Toronto.
“I would say to people there is a vision that’s connected to a 15-year network transit plan that’s been approved by city council, we’ve never had one before,” he said, bristling slightly.
“People may say well that sounds dull, well not to me.”
And he touts his role as a champion of the tech, and film and TV sector, as further evidence.
“Nobody will call that visionary, but if you said in terms of my thinking ahead, to the future of the Toronto economy and making sure that we’ll have the new jobs that will last into the future — I am.”
He’s also proud of his record on affordable housing, pushing the province and federal governments for funding, and supporting council-set goals of building between 1,200 and 1,500 units — though housing activists challenge whether they’re affordable enough for people who need them most.
Council critics on the left credit Tory with demonstrating leadership in areas one might not expect from a politician with a Conservative pedigree: his backing of safe injection sites and the Bloor St. bikes lanes, for example.
But those same critics say Tory falls short because he won’t raise property taxes above the rate of inflation to make the necessary investments in areas that he says he cares about.
There will be no budging in the upcoming 2018 budget debate on that 2014 election pledge.
“The government is talking about stress testing people on their mortgages, in light of rising interest rates, why don’t we stress test as well what would happen to a lot seniors and young people if we started property taxes up by 7 or 8 per cent,” Tory said in response.
Instead, Tory suggests much can happen with the gas tax revenue which Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne ponied up after killing Tory and council-backed road tolls, and the infrastructure levy, which he introduced in 2015. The 0.5 per cent property tax surcharge kicked in this year and will compound to 2.5 per cent over five years.
The mayor says he isn’t thinking about what other tax measures the city should consider in the future.
“We still have sort of a delta that we’re going to have to speak to but at this stage, I’m not consumed with that because we don’t need the money at this moment.”
Looking ahead to the final year of this term, Tory insists he is not about to play it safe with a do-nothing agenda.
“They grossly underestimate me,” he says of critics who suggest otherwise. “We have tons to do just look at the agenda.” He cites upcoming transit reports, the 2018 budget and a proposed short-term rental bylaw to regulate Airbnb.
“I’m going to fully occupy myself between now and the campaign time doing my job … moving transit, housing, poverty reduction forward.”
Tory, 63, also plans to continue showing up at city hall at 6:30 a.m., after sleeping for five-and-a-half hours, and admits while he doesn’t have the best work/life balance, it’s not “unhealthy.”
He credits wife Barb Hackett for being so “understanding,” such as putting up with his punishing schedule that saw him work 30 days straight in September. He vows to resume regular workouts with a personal trainer and to spend more time with his grandchildren.
Adding more express buses on TTC routes
Measures to fight traffic gridlock, such as illegal parking crackdowns
Formed a task force to overhaul Toronto Community Housing Corp.
Keeping property tax increases to the rate of inflation
The 22-stop SmartTrack transit plan, as pitched during the 2014 election campaign
TTC fare freeze, fares have gone up every year since he has been mayor
Plant 380,000 trees annually
Outsource garbage collection east of Yonge St.
John Tory defends his record heading into his final year as mayor
To imagine the scale of last Saturday’s terrorist attack in Mogadishu, think about two truck bombs exploding within minutes during rush hour in the heart of downtown Toronto.
Buildings for blocks around Yonge and Dundas Sts. would crumble, cars and pedestrians incinerated.
The blasts Oct. 14 in Mogadishu’s commercial and entertainment hub were so powerful some of the victims may never be identified and the missing never found. The death toll is just an estimate. There are more than 350 dead, and as many are grievously injured and missing, making this one of the deadliest terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001.
After 9/11, Manhattan’s streets became a gallery of the dead. “Have You Seen” posters lined every post, fence and wall, the faces of hundreds of victims staring out.
The search for the missing and tributes to the dead in Mogadishu have been virtual, pictures and posters spreading online.
A photo of medical student Maryam Abdullahi, 21, was one of the first to go viral. Her father flew from London that day to attend her graduation, but instead was in Mogadishu for her funeral. Marian Omer, another victim, worked at the ministry of planning and was described by many as a “rising star.”
Mohamoud Elmi, the director general of humanitarian affairs; human rights activist Yassin Juma; the four Ayaanle brothers, who ran a popular shop in the Safari Hotel; a school bus of children stuck in traffic.
For those who equate Somalia with endless war, piracy or the 1993 U.S. intervention known as Black Hawk Down, in which 18 American service members and hundreds of Somalis were killed, the truck bombings were a merely a tremor in country wracked by earthquakes.
But some are calling this attack Somalia’s 9/11. Which means its impact will spread well beyond the crater the bombing has left, where the search for the remains of the dead continues.
If a country can break your heart, then Somalia has broken mine.
There are few places that have experienced such trauma over the decades, yet proven so resilient. There are few places that have succumbed to such an endless loop of corruption and warfare, and international meddling that often seems to do more damage than good. There are few places as frustrating.
In my travels to Mogadishu since 2006, I have seen more destruction, and more resurrection, than anywhere else I’ve reported.
There is a 14-year-old Somali boy named Abdibasid Ahmed Hussein, who lives among more than 245,000 other refugees at the Dadaab camp, just across the Somali border, in Kenya. He hadn’t spoken since 2008, when he watched his father and brother die in a cruise missile attack.
When I met him and his mother in 2015, his face was haunted; his eyes unfocused; a thin sheen of sweat on his upper lip even though there was a cool July breeze blowing through the camp. His reaction to what he witnessed was so severe, but what shocked me was that his depression and comatose state was considered uncommon. Somalia’s population should collectively be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder for what they have endured.
“The resilience of human beings is just incredible,” Sahal Abdulle told me by phone Thursday from his home in Mogadishu, just a couple hundred metres from the outer edge of the blast site.
Sahal, a Somali-born Canadian and former photojournalist for Reuters, has become a good friend since I first met him Toronto years ago. He possesses that resilience he praises, having covered two decades of war, surviving a targeted attack on his car in 2007 that killed another Canadian journalist and colleague, Ali Sharmarke.
The Saturday explosion damaged part of his roof and when he was repairing it this week, he found body parts. “I’ve never seen or heard anything like this. It looks like a nuclear bomb had fallen onto the place,” he said about the district known as K5, where the bombs exploded.
But Sahal believes this is a turning point in Somalia’s history and hopes the reaction can be channelled into change.
“What made me stronger and realize that this will come to an end, is the public,” he said. “Today if you go around, you see people are rebuilding, immediately. Yesterday, children, moms and dads came out saying no to this killing; enough is enough. In all the wars I’ve covered in Somalia, I’ve never seen that kind of anger, the magnitude of the bombing brought this to the surface.”
Al Shabab has not claimed responsibility for the attack, but there is little doubt they are responsible. No other group in Somalia has the capacity to carry out a bombing so big or has the network to move the trucks into Mogadishu past what Somali government officials have called the security “ring of steel.”
Matt Bryden, strategic adviser at Sahan Research, a Nairobi-based think tank, said the scale of the destruction was the only surprise, as Al Shabab has been conducting smaller-scale IED (improvised explosive device) attacks throughout the country. “The killing of numerous (Shabab) leaders, including some bomb-makers, has seemingly failed to disrupt their ability to plan and carry out IED attacks,” a 2016 Sahan report states, noting that there is often two phases to their bombings.
“They had reached somewhere between 800- and 1,000-kilo (bombs) … They were getting bigger all the time,” Bryden said. “So we absolutely should have expected a large suicide (vehicle-borne IED). The surprise is the quantum leap from the maximum of 1,000 kilos to what I guess we’re estimating over 2,000 kilos.”
Some reports have said the bomb exploded near a gas tanker, increasing the destruction. The details of the attack are still being investigated.
The level of destruction may have come as a surprise to the Shabab, too, and could be part of the reason they have not made a statement as of this writing. In 2009, the Shabab bombed the Shamo Hotel in Mogadishu during a graduation ceremony for medical students. The backlash against the group was immediate — although not as fierce as it has been this week.
Most analysts believe K5 was not the intended target and Al Shabab was likely aiming for the airport, the Turkish military training base that opened just weeks ago, or one of the embassies inside Mogadishu’s fortified zone; where most international visitors work and live and is protected by forces with the African Union, a mission known as AMISOM.
While the Shabab does not control areas of Mogadishu as the group once did, members of its elite intelligence unit, Amniyat, have infiltrated the capital. In the last two years, there have been a number of assassinations and smaller attacks on hotels, restaurants and shops.
How the trucks, laden with explosives, entered the city — the route the suicide bombers took and checkpoints they passed — is still uncertain.
“There’s no question about the degree of negligence and/or complicity at some of the checkpoints in Mogadishu,” Bryden said. “But it sounds as though one of the checkpoints may have done its job.
“By some accounts, the truck was stopped at a checkpoint, refused to pull over, guards opened fire, and it barrelled down the road towards K5 and it became so cluttered with kiosks and small vehicles, that it eventually came to a stop and exploded outside the hotel.”
Al Shabab began as a small, militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union in 2006, but rose to power during the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion the following year. By 2009, when Ethiopia was forced to pull out its troops, and Somalia was weak from two years of war, Al Shabab had grown to a major force. In 2012, they officially joined Al Qaeda and attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi a year later.
In recent years, they have lost most of their territory, now based primarily in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region. There have been high-level defections from the group, and the Somali government has run a rehabilitation centre to help the hundreds of defecting foot soldiers reintegrate with their families.
There was a photo posted on Twitter on Sunday of Mukhtar Robow, as he donated blood for the wounded. Robow, the original co-founder of Al Shabab, defected to the government in August. The image sparked vigorous debate online. How could a man who had so much blood on his hands be acknowledged for giving his own?
“I recognize that this image is deeply upsetting on a day like this,” wrote Abdi Aynte, who has worked as a journalist, analyst and most recently as the minister for planning and international co-operation in Somalia. “But such is the paradoxical reality in #Somalia. #Pray4Somalia.”
Andrew Harding, a BBC journalist and author of TheMayor of Mogadishu, later weighed in on Twitter: “What does this extraordinary image say to you? The sting of conscience, idle hypocrisy, gesture politics, or perhaps the price of peace?”
The Toronto sign at city hall was illuminated in blue and white for a night last week, the colours of Somalia’s flag. There were other signs of solidarity around the world — at the Eiffel Tower, the moment of silence that was held at the UN Security Council, social media hashtag hugs that included #MogadishuMourning.
But the outpouring of support was nowhere near that which follows attacks in the West, which can compound the grief of the grieving.
In a New Yorker piece Tuesday, staff writer Alexis Okeowo asked, “Where is the empathy for Somalia?”
“It was as if the bombing were just another incident in the daily life of Somalis — a burst of violence that would fade into all the other bursts of violence. The lack of public empathy was startling but not surprising,” she wrote.
Empathy for many, comes with a shared bond: citizenship, religion, a common affliction or experience, or simply being able to just picture a scene. Part of my affection for Somalia and sadness this week is because I’ve been stuck in traffic at K5 where the explosion occurred and on my Facebook feed friends in Mogadishu were checking in as “safe,” as they posted their painful accounts of what they saw.
Public empathy, beyond giving comfort to the grieving, is important as it can drive change.
But not all reactions to terrorist attacks transform a country for the better, and just how last Saturday’s attack will affect Somalia is unclear.
Mogadishu has undoubtedly reformed in recent years, and dramatically so since the 2011 famine. Mogadishu “rising from the ashes” became cliché, but is an apt description in terms of the physical restructuring.
The election earlier this year of “Farmajo” Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed as president was seen as a turning point for many. Like most Somalis, he is referred to by his nickname, which he told me in a 2012 interview he adopted because of his father’s love of cheese.
Farmajo, who is also a U.S. citizen, was Somalia’s prime minister in 2010, credited with cleaning up much of the government corruption and ensuring Somalia’s soldiers were fed and paid. In August 2011, the Shabab withdrew from the capital and retreated to strongholds in the south.
Farmajo’s return to government in February was celebrated, especially among the youth, considerable in a country where 70 per cent of the population is under the age of 30.
But a president — no matter how popular — cannot alone overcome the deep clan and political divisions that often frustrate Somalia’s governance.
Most recently, the country has been split over the Gulf dispute. In June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and initiated an economic boycott, accusing Doha of funding terrorist groups.
Somalia’s federal states announced last month that they have cut ties with Qatar, in defiance of Mogadishu’s neutral stance. “As the Saudis and Emiratis develop direct links with federal states and undermine their relations with the federal government, tensions have grown over which side of the Gulf dispute to back,” notes an International Crisis Group report released Friday. “This also diverts attention from security problems in Mogadishu.”
There has also been recent strife within the government’s ranks. Two days before the attack, the country’s defence minister and army chief resigned following an increase in Shabab attacks on army bases across south and central Somalia.
“What we’re seeing in Mogadishu and elsewhere — this sentiment, this surge of anger — could be actually quite dangerous,” says Bryden. “Although it’s a reaction to this atrocity, it can be directed in any direction.”
The thousands who took to the streets wearing red headbands this week in Mogadishu and other major Somali city were united against Al Shabab.
But the Shabab’s survival in recent years has not been due to popular support. Their strength comes from the weaknesses they exploit.
Michelle Shephard is the Star’s national security correspondent. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm.
Who will channel Somalia’s anger after one of the world's deadliest terror attacks?: Analysis
Ayman Elkasrawy got the phone call late on a Sunday night in February. An incredulous friend was on the line, with a strange and troubling question.
“Did you pray for the killing of the Jews?”
The friend sent him an online article about Masjid Toronto, the downtown mosque where Elkasrawy worked as an assistant imam. It included a video: rows of Muslim worshippers standing under fluorescent lights, their eyes closed and hands cupped. At the front of the crowded room was Elkasrawy, dressed in white and praying to God in Arabic.
“O Allah! Count their number; slay them one by one and spare not one of them,” read the article’s translation of his prayers. “O Allah! Purify Al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews!”
Elkasrawy remembered the scene, filmed during Ramadan eight months earlier. He also remembered praying for Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, a bitterly contested holy site.
But he was shaken by the English translation. “I was surprised,” he says. “When I (saw) that, I even doubted myself. Did I say that?”
Elkasrawy woke up the next morning feeling calamitously misunderstood. He was bursting with things he wanted to explain, but he also realized he had made serious mistakes, for which he needed to apologize.
“Neither I, Masjid Toronto or the congregation harbour any form of hate towards Jews,” he wrote on Twitter later that day. “And so I wish to apologize unreservedly for misspeaking during prayers last Ramadan … I sincerely regret the offence that my words must have caused.”
His apology only fanned the flames. Elkasrawy was suspended from his mosque and fired from Ryerson University, where he worked as a teaching assistant. Toronto police opened a hate crime investigation and condemnations rained down, from Parliament Hill to the National Council of Canadian Muslims. Elkasrawy also became a bogeyman in the federal Conservative party leadership race, cited in campaign literature as an example of Muslim extremism.
“We need to clarify what is going on at this mosque,” Meir Weinstein, head of the far-right Jewish Defense League of Canada, told the Toronto Sun. “Is this a den of worship or a den of hate?”
Eight months later, the story is crystallized online as a putative reminder of the hatred that can fester within Canadian society. A Google search for “Ayman Elkasrawy” — once yielding just a smattering of academic papers and social media profiles — now turns up pages of hits that brand him a genocidal anti-Semite.
Offline, however, new layers of the story began to reveal themselves.
Elkasrawy went quiet soon after his Twitter apology, advised by everyone in his life to stop talking. But a month after the scandal broke, he reached out to a stranger for help.
Bernie Farber is a household name in Toronto’s Jewish community, the former head of what was once Canada’s leading Jewish advocacy group. Both affable and combative, the white-goateed Farber has spent most of his career tackling anti-Semitism. For the past two years, until his retirement in early October, he also ran the Mosaic Institute, a non-profit that promotes diversity.
Farber opened his email one day to discover an unusual request: would the Mosaic Institute help Elkasrawy learn from his mistakes? Farber immediately said yes, assembling a team of experts and planning a cultural sensitivity curriculum.
But after meeting the young imam, Farber was puzzled by the facts of this case. Elkasrawy was always quick to admit he made a serious mistake — it was wrong to pray about “the Jews.” But he also insisted his words were twisted, an explanation he struggled to articulate.
Farber was bothered by the discrepancy between the “quiet, dignified” man he had come to know and someone who would pray for Jewish people to be slain. Over the years, he has developed “almost a sixth sense” for detecting anti-Semites. Elkasrawy did not fit the mould.
At a time when white supremacists are mobilizing across North America, the fight against anti-Semitism has taken on renewed urgency. But this is a story that is far more tangled than it first appeared.
It is about an imam who made hurtful mistakes that he could not adequately explain. But it is also about the slipperiness of language — especially in a climate of viral misinformation, polarized debate and geopolitical conflicts that have found fresh battlegrounds in Canada.
Elkasrawy’s prayers were undeniably problematic, but they were also distorted to fit a certain narrative that gave his words added potency amid rising anti-Islamic sentiment.
In a controversy that hinges on his words, a central question was never fully investigated: Did Elkasrawy really say Jews were filth? Did he really call for them to be killed?
According to several Arabic experts contacted by the Star, the answer is no.
“I’ve learned a personal lesson throughout this entire process,” Farber says. “Do not take anything for granted. Not even words.”
Ayman Elkasrawy prefers not to speak at all, whenever he can help it.
At about six feet and 285 pounds, the bearded and bespectacled 32-year-old has an understated presence for someone who looms so large. He speaks softly and hesitantly; in the presence of strangers, he tends to fade into the background.
“I’m not so good at being social,” he says. “The more you talk, the more you make mistakes.”
Born and raised in a devout family in Egypt, Elkasrawy has dual Canadian citizenship through his father, an agronomist who immigrated here in 1976. He spent three summers with his dad in Toronto, “a different planet” in the eyes of a 13-year-old kid from Cairo.
After university, he moved to Canada to continue his education and is now at Ryerson pursuing a PhD in electrical engineering. While he sometimes wears traditional dress at the mosque, at Ryerson he blends easily with the campus crowd — just another grad student riding his Bike Share in jeans, sneakers and a backpack that looks slightly shrunken on his broad frame.
Elkasrawy and his wife, Somaia Youssef, found a religious community in Masjid Toronto (“Toronto Mosque”) on Dundas St. W., located in an old bank building near the bus terminal. The mosque opened in 2002 but did not hire a resident imam until 2015, so it sometimes asked Elkasrawy — who had memorized the Qur’an — to lead prayers or Friday sermons.
He was timid at first, even avoiding eye contact with congregants, but received positive feedback and was officially hired as an assistant imam in 2015. Elkasrawy sees this work as a spiritual duty and found himself spending hours at the mosque nearly every day — not just leading prayers, but also teaching and planning events, such as networking socials for Muslim professionals. “I felt that’s like my second home,” he says.
Over the years, Canada has become home for Elkasrawy as well. But as with many immigrants, an invisible umbilical cord connects him to the part of the world where he was born. His Twitter feed is dominated by Egyptian and Middle Eastern politics. He mostly retweets accounts he follows, including one called “Friends of Al-Aqsa.”
The silver-domed Al-Aqsa mosque is located on an elevated limestone compound in East Jerusalem. The compound — known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif and to Jewish people as the Temple Mount — is Islam’s third holiest site (after Mecca and Medina), and Judaism’s holiest.
Over the past century, the compound has become an explosive flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In 2000, a provocative visit by Israeli politician Ariel Sharon sparked clashes that escalated into the deadly Second Intifada. This summer, the mosque was at the centre of some of the worst violence, and biggest demonstrations, Jerusalem has seen in years.
For many in the Muslim and Jewish diasporas, stories about the holy site are front-page news. On June 26, 2016, the latest headlines were about a skirmish between Israeli police and Muslim worshippers.
What people understood about the incident depended in part on the media they consumed. According to the Arab press, Israeli officers “stormed” Al-Aqsa mosque, beating worshippers and deploying tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets. According to Jewish newspapers, “masked Arab assailants” were arrested after hurling rocks, chairs and slurs at Jewish tourists.
For Muslims, the Al-Aqsa violence was particularly alarming because it broke out during the last 10 days of Ramadan, an especially sacred time in Islam’s holiest month. So Elkasrawy decided to include the mosque in his prayers at Masjid Toronto. “I thought maybe this will help, praying together for this place,” he says.
It was nearly midnight by the time he finished reciting the Qur’an and began his supplications.
Unlike sermons, which are more like religious lectures, supplications are invocations to God; during prayers, they are recited by imams who face away from the congregation. While made in the highly technical style of Quranic Arabic, and typically in a rhyming scheme, supplications are often improvised.
Elkasrawy spent 10 minutes thanking God and asking for help — for protection from evil and greed, for beneficial knowledge to humanity, for good health, empathy, benevolence and love of the poor.
He then prayed for victimized Muslims around the world. He thought of Syria, a recurring topic of prayer at his mosque, invoking a quote from the Hadith (reports of the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions). He also prayed for Al-Aqsa, repeating a supplication he had found on the internet earlier that day.
Meanwhile, someone was filming. This didn’t bother Elkasrawy; prayers are sometimes recorded for worshippers unable to attend. When the mosque posted the video on YouTube, he scanned various parts, curious about his performance. Then he forgot about it.
The video sat there in its corner of the internet, barely seen. The next time Elkasrawy watched it was eight months later, when he got the phone call: “Did you pray for the killing of the Jews?”
On a sunny morning in May, Elkasrawy rode an elevator to the 34th floor of a Bloor St. office tower, where two prominent members of Toronto’s Jewish community awaited him.
Dressed in jeans and an electric blue sweatshirt, Elkasrawy sat across a boardroom table from Bernie Farber — the one-time CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress — and Karen Mock, a former director with B’nai Brith Canada and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. He was also joined by his mosque’s senior imam and officials from the Muslim Association of Canada, which owns Masjid Toronto.
Everybody was there for Mock’s anti-racism workshop, one of five sessions Farber had organized to educate an accused anti-Semite. The mood was friendly and relaxed, with pleasantries and business cards exchanged.
But those abhorrent words loomed over this group of newly acquainted Muslims and Jews: “Purify Al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews!”
When it comes to Jewish-Muslim relations, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the ever-present “elephant in the room,” Farber says — even in Canada, where both minorities share the burden of religious discrimination. According to Statistics Canada, Jewish people are the most frequent targets of police-reported hate crimes, while attacks against Muslims are the fastest-growing.
But there is also enormous diversity within both groups, which are sometimes the source of one another’s pain. There is mounting concern over anti-Semitism in certain corners of the Muslim world; meanwhile, Jewish people on the far right are among the loudest voices in the anti-Muslim movement. Israeli-Palestinian debates also have a tendency to slide into accusations of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia.
Farber, who once ran for the provincial Liberals, says Muslim issues have become a divisive topic among Jewish Canadians. He says he has received criticism from right-leaning members of his own community for defending Muslim Canadians and for supporting M-103, the parliamentary motion to recognize and condemn Islamophobia, which prominent Jewish advocacy groups opposed.
But he remains a vocal ally of Canadian Muslims. After the Quebec City mosque shooting in January, he joined people who gathered at mosques to form “rings of peace” across the country — an act of solidarity spearheaded by a Toronto rabbi that was covered by media outlets around the world.
But just two weeks later, that feeling of solidarity crumbled. “Supplications at Masjid Toronto Mosque: Slay them one by one and spare not one of them,” read the headline on a story published by CIJ News, an obscure right-wing website that has since been taken down.
Elkasrawy’s prayers quickly gained widespread coverage, from the Star and Sun to the CBC and the Canadian Jewish News, the country’s largest Jewish weekly. B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish advocacy group, also wrote about the incident after urging Ryerson to fire Elkasrawy from his job as a teaching assistant.
The imam became a topic of heated discussion around Farber’s Sabbath table. “I was very troubled by it,” he says. “I was hearing a lot of anger. I was also hearing a lot of ‘How could this be? Just last week I was involved in a circle of peace, and now this happens.’”
Farber wasn’t exactly surprised, however. This was not the first time an imam had been accused of preaching hate against Jewish people, even in Canada. Elkasrawy’s story emerged around the same time as other accusations of anti-Semitism in Canadian mosques. This summer, a Jordanian cleric was also charged by Montreal police after allegedly praying at a local mosque for Jewish people to be killed.
But something about the Elkasrawy case struck Farber as odd, and he was skeptical of the website that broke the story. “I’ve been in this business long enough to know that before judgments are made, you really need to get all the facts,” he says.
So in April, when a mutual friend reached out to Farber on Elkasrawy’s behalf, he was intrigued.
The imam said he wanted to gain a better understanding of Canadian norms and values, in the hopes of learning from his mistakes. Farber — who once helped a repentant neo-Nazi leave her white supremacist organization — agreed to help.
Given the disturbing anti-Semitic prayers Farber had read about in the news, his initial plan was to prescribe intensive anti-racism training. But he changed his mind after meeting Elkasrawy.
“We’re not dealing with a racist or anti-Semite,” he says of his gut reaction. “I really saw a young man who felt beaten down for something that he didn’t quite understand.”
Farber switched gears. He organized five workshops to help Elkasrawy develop a better understanding of Canada’s cultural, legal and human rights landscape. (The workshops were provided at no cost, though the mosque later made a small donation to the charity.)
Elkasrawy learned about anti-racism, hate crime laws and Canada’s human rights framework. He also visited his first synagogue — Beth Tzedec, Canada’s largest Jewish congregation — where he learned about Judaism and discussed interfaith issues with a rabbi and reverend.
Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl did not ask Elkasrawy to explain himself, but he expressed how his language was harmful. “We are concerned about discrimination against Muslims,” he said, as Elkasrawy nodded. “But we are also concerned about extremism that comes out of the Islamic community.
“Our people hear the extremism and when you speak that way, that’s what they hear. They become afraid. And they become angry.”
During each session, Elkasrawy listened intently and occasionally jotted notes. He also asked questions, including one he repeated several times: “How do you speak (clearly)? How do you tell things?”
When the program ended, Farber reached a conclusion. “I just do not believe that Ayman is a hateful person,” he says. “He came in here with an open heart and a real willingness to understand.”
But he still couldn’t wrap his head around the words Elkasrawy had been accused of saying, or the imam’s muddled attempts to explain himself.
Two things were clear: Elkasrawy was sorry. He also felt misunderstood.
“I made this mistake,” he said at one point. “But not that mistake.”
Translation is not an exact science. Words are like prisms, refracting different shades of meaning. A good translation is one that captures the right hue.
Elkasrawy’s prayers were first translated on CIJ News, a website founded and edited by Jonathan Dahoah Halevi.
Halevi describes himself as a retired lieutenant-colonel and intelligence officer with the Israel Defense Forces, who now researches the Middle East and radical Islam. He learned Arabic in school and university, he once explained to an interviewer.
He has also been a go-to pundit for the now-defunct Sun News Network and its offshoot Rebel News, a right-wing media website that has drawn controversy for its anti-Muslim coverage.
Halevi’s writings and statements suggest that he sees himself as a soldier in the information wars — particularly when it comes to allegations against Israel, which he challenges by using “continuous, intensive and thorough” research, according to a profile on the Economic Club of Canada’s website.
This work includes counting “Gaza fatalities in his free time,” according to a 2009 NPR article that described his “macabre hobby.” During the first Gaza war, NPR wrote, Halevi suspected Palestinians of exaggerating their civilian fatalities and spent six months scrutinizing 1,400 deaths listed by a human rights group — checking each name against a terrorist database he personally compiled and “whatever he finds on the internet.”
Halevi has also written extensively about Islam and Muslim Canadians on CIJ News, where his Arabic translations have drawn praise from the “anti-Islamist” blog Point de Bascule. “His knowledge of the Arabic language gives him an advantage when it comes to understanding the ambitions of the enemy,” the Quebec-based blog wrote last year.
On Feb. 18, CIJ News published a story about Masjid Toronto, which included his translation of Elkasrawy’s controversial prayers.
Halevi later told the Toronto Sun that he was prompted to dig up the material after reading media coverage of a rally outside the mosque.
The rally was ostensibly to protest the federal Islamophobia motion, but demonstrators brought signs that read “Say no to Islam” and “Muslims are terrorists.” The protest was roundly criticized, including by local politicians who denounced it as an Islamophobic “display of ignorance and hate.”
But in his interview with the Sun, Halevi suggested the real hate was happening inside the mosque. “The double standard and hypocrisy was appalling,” he said.
After the story broke, Masjid Toronto took all its videos offline but it was too late; a new, edited clip was posted on YouTube, crediting Halevi with its translation and referencing an extreme anti-Muslim ideology known as “counter-jihad.” The account hosting the clip also mentions “Vlad Tepes Blog” in its video description.
The “counter-jihad” is described by researchers as a loose network of people and groups united by the belief that Muslims are plotting to take over the West. A recent National Post investigation described Rebel News as a “global platform” for the counter-jihad, and linked Vlad Tepes Blog — regarded as a key website in the movement — to a frequent Rebel News contributor.
Rebel jumped on the story about Elkasrawy’s prayers, which it credited “our friend Jonathan Halevi” with breaking. In a video segment, “Rebel commander” Ezra Levant plays the YouTube clip while imploring his viewers to “look at what the folks inside the mosque were saying.”
“Look at the translation written on the screen,” Levant says in the video, which has now drawn more than 35,000 views. “Here they are talking about Jews — there’s a lot of Jews in Toronto — and how they need to be killed one by one.”
But such stories contained a glaring oversight: this was not at all what Elkasrawy said.
This is the consensus that emerged from five Arabic experts who independently analyzed Elkasrawy’s prayers at the Star’s request. The experts — from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom — are Arabic translators, linguists and university professors with published book chapters, academic papers and textbooks. None of them knows Elkasrawy.
The experts found that the imam’s prayers were not without fault, and many clarified that they do not condone or excuse some of the language he used.
But they also described the initial, widely circulated translation as “mistranslated,” “decontextualized” and “disingenuous.” One said it had the hallmarks of a “propaganda translation.”
The YouTube clip was particularly troubling for Arabic sociolinguist and dialectologist Atiqa Hachimi, an associate professor at the University of Toronto.
This is because the clip was digitally manipulated: the first two seconds were cut and pasted from a different prayer Elkasrawy had made two minutes earlier. A slanted translation then transformed this Quranic verse from “Thou art our Protector. Help us against those who stand against faith” to “Give us victory over the disbelieving people.”
“It changed their meaning in such a way as to promote the dangerous myths that violent extremism and hate are inherent to Islam,” Hachimi said.
Elkasrawy also was not referring to Jewish people when he said “slay them one by one,” a line from the Hadith that is often invoked as a cry for divine justice. This line was misunderstood as being part of his prayer about Al-Aqsa mosque; in fact, it was the closing line in a previous supplication that he made on behalf of suffering Muslims around the world, Hachimi said.
As for “Purify the Al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews,” a more accurate translation is “Cleanse Al-Aqsa mosque from the Jews’ desecration of it,” according to Nazir Harb Michel, an Arabic sociolinguist and Islamophobia researcher at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
The crucial word here is danas. Arabic-English dictionaries list several possible definitions — among them “besmirch,” “defile,” and spiritual “impurity” or “filth” — so context is key in determining the appropriate translation. Harb Michel said “no translator worth two cents” would choose the “filth” definition in the context of Elkasrawy’s prayer.
When danas is used in reference to a holy place — like Al-Aqsa — the common definition is “desecration,” the experts agreed. “He does not say ‘the filth of the Jews,’” said Jonathan Featherstone, a senior teaching fellow at the University of Edinburgh and former Arabic lecturer with the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
But what did Elkasrawy mean by “desecration”? Again, context is instructive. Days before his prayers, he and his congregants were reading reports of Israeli police deploying tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets inside Al-Aqsa mosque — actions many Muslims would consider to be a desecration of the site, especially during the 10 holiest days of Ramadan.
Elkasrawy now realizes how wrong it was to mention “the Jews,” especially since his intention was to pray for the mosque, not against people.
“If I could say it in a more clear way,” he says, “it would be ‘O Allah, protect the Al-Aqsa mosque from occupation. Or preserve the sacredness of the Al-Aqsa mosque from violation.’”
He said “Jews” is widely used in the Arabic-speaking world to mean “Israeli forces” or “Israeli occupiers,” not as a sweeping reference to all ethnic and religious Jews. But he acknowledges this common usage is problematic. And, he asks, “How is it perceived in my (current) community? It’s something I didn’t take into account.”
“I have never thought of anything against people of Jewish faith,” he says. “In Islam, we believe that no one should be forced into any religion. We cannot hate any people, any group, because of their ethnicity or their religion.”
Halevi declined requests for a phone interview but, in emailed responses, he stood by his original translation of Elkasrawy’s prayers. He did not answer specific questions, including why he chose the “filth” definition, but sent links to various websites and Arabic-English dictionaries.
He also did not answer questions about the source of the digitally manipulated clip, saying only that the original video was available on his website until the mosque deleted its YouTube channel.
But Halevi provided context that he considered important: excerpts from Islamic books that promote praying against disbelievers; translations of violent, aggressive or anti-Semitic statements made by other Muslims; links to CIJ News, which Halevi took down shortly after being contacted by the Star.
“Canadian imams deny any rights of the Jews over the Temple Mount or in (the) Land of Israel/Palestine,” Halevi wrote.
B’nai Brith Canada said two Arabic experts independently verified the original translation before the group urged Ryerson to fire Elkasrawy. B’nai Brith said it also reached out to the imam on Facebook but did not get a response. (Elkasrawy deleted his account shortly after the story broke.)
“Statements like this have been made in many parts of the world and it’s actually been used directly as incitement,” said B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn. “Jewish people have lost their lives over statements like this.”
Mostyn rejects the linguistic opinions obtained by the Star, in one case accusing an expert of having an anti-Israel bias. But he would not identify his own translators, citing concerns over their safety. The Star’s request to interview them anonymously was also declined.
In response to the Star’s questions, B’nai Brith solicited a third opinion from Mordechai Kedar, an assistant professor with the Arabic department at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.
In a phone interview, Kedar did not remember being asked to evaluate Elkasrawy’s entire supplications, just the phrase that referred to “Jews” and danas. But he said he didn’t need any context to interpret Elkasrawy’s prayers because “when it comes to what Israel is doing, it is the worst meaning of the word.”
“Nobody should give them the benefit of the doubt that they mean something else, because they don’t,” he said. “(They want) to make the mainstream media in the free world believe them that they are the targets, when they are the problem in the whole world.”
Like Halevi, Kedar is a former Israeli intelligence officer and media pundit. His views have also drawn controversy, and Kedar once served on the advisory board for Stop Islamization of Nations — an organization co-founded by the anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller and designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a U.S.-based civil rights watchdog.
Kedar argued Elkasrawy’s language was “meant to create a religiously charged rage and anger against the Jews.”
“Reacting violently against (Jewish people) in revenge for their deed is almost a required reaction,” he wrote in an email. “You can call it, in one word, terrorism.”
B’nai Brith Canada has not gone so far as to allege verbal terrorism, and said it is glad Elkasrawy has undergone cultural training, but its position remains unmoved: “Mr. Elkasrawy’s message at the mosque was irrefutably offensive and anti-Semitic.”
Farber feels differently. He says Elkasrawy chose his language poorly, especially when he referred to “the Jews,” and failed to understand the harmful impact of his words.
But he now believes Elkasrawy’s prayers were misrepresented to the public. Like many people, Farber accepted the initial translation unquestioningly, but now says “if people were going to take that and ruin lives, we should have been a lot more careful.”
“He said something that’s highly charged and highly political and could be anti-Zionist — but it’s not anti-Semitic,” Farber says. “And that changes the flavour of this.”
In the rush to condemn Elkasrawy’s prayers, Muslim organizations were among the first in line.
“Unacceptable” and “inappropriate,” his mosque said in a statement. “Appalling and reprehensible,” wrote the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the country’s largest Muslim advocacy group.
There was much to disapprove of, in addition to the mention of “Jews.” Many Muslim Canadians disagree with praying negatively and feel frustrated when religious leaders speak in ways that reinforce harmful stereotypes.
Prayers like “slay them one by one” also have no place inside a Canadian mosque, says Mohammad Aboghodda, a lecturer with the Understanding Islam Academy, an educational charity in Mississauga. Aboghodda was one of the Arabic translators consulted by the Star.
This quote from the Hadith has a specific reference to ancient Islamic struggles but is sometimes used in prayers for divine justice; Elkasrawy says he invoked it on behalf of Syrian people killed and tortured by the government regime or by Daesh (ISIS) terrorists.
But Aboghodda finds this language inappropriate, even if well intentioned — it would be like a priest delivering a Sunday sermon and quoting Bible verses that say “wrongdoers will be completely destroyed.”
“That’s a very common old prayer, but it implies violence that we don’t need,” he says. “I think many young and novice imams go to the old books and just copy these from it.”
These were some of the concerns Muslim groups had in mind when they denounced Elkasrawy’s prayers — public statements that many took as an implicit acceptance of the initial translation. But those statements did not reveal whether the Muslim community thought the translation was accurate, or whether they understood Elkasrawy’s words at all.
How many Canadian Muslims speak Arabic? Contrary to assumption, only about 20 per cent of the world’s Muslims are native Arabic speakers; according to the latest census, 1.2 per cent of Canadians cite Arabic as their mother tongue. Quranic Arabic, which Elkasrawy used in his prayers, is also notoriously complex and difficult to deconstruct.
Hachimi pointed out that several Arabic-language newspapers also clearly relied on English reports of the incident, because when they back-translated the word “filth,” they chose a different Arabic word — najas— from the one Elkasrawy used in his prayers.
And who bothered to check the original video? The translation was not verified by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, executive director Ihsaan Gardee confirmed in an emailed statement.
He said the organization is now “deeply troubled” to learn that the widely circulated clip of Elkasrawy’s prayers was manipulated and the translations called into question. But in the fast-moving aftermath of the scandal, he said, the organization “could only respond to what was being reported” — in other words, it reacted to the CIJ News translation.
“Unfortunately, we are living in a time where the very worst is believed about Canadian Muslims — contrary to the reality that the vast majority are contributing positively,” Gardee wrote. “So when a story like this emerges that contains the words of religious leaders speaking in a way that is understood — rightly or wrongly — to be promoting hatred against anyone, it is critical that human rights advocates be quick to condemn such language.”
Officials from the Muslim Association of Canada said their first priority was to reach out to the Jewish community and apologize for their employee’s inappropriate language, which violated the mosque’s stated policies.
But that doesn’t mean they considered the translation to be accurate — they didn’t. “We avoided this detail because a clear position was required so that there will be no confusion of our stand on this,” spokesperson Abdussalam Nakua wrote in an email.
Elkasrawy’s prayers exploded into view at a particularly fraught time.
Only weeks had passed since a gunman stormed into a Quebec City mosque and massacred six Muslim worshippers. The United States had just inaugurated a new president who campaigned on a Muslim travel ban. The acrimonious debate around the Canadian Islamophobia motion had reached a fever pitch, with Liberal MP Iqra Khalid even receiving death threats.
Elkasrawy’s prayers were quickly taken up by politicians. A month after they emerged, MP Steven Blaney — who was then running for the federal Conservative party leadership — cited Elkasrawy in a campaign email seeking donations to “stand against violence and radicalization.” (“Should Allah kill all the Jews? I don’t think so but frighteningly, some do.”)
Right-wing groups also latched on to the story and Elkasrawy’s picture was used on a poster at a rally against M-103. A hate crimes complaint was filed by the Jewish Defense League, which has been active in anti-Islamic protests. (A local JDL member is himself facing possible hate crime charges in the U.S. in connection with an alleged assault on a Palestinian-American man in Washington, D.C., earlier this year.)
“We’re dealing with a community in fear,” Farber says of Muslim Canadians. “Even if the community itself might feel that ‘Well no, this translation isn’t exactly right … we don’t want to make people more angry.’ In the end, I’m not particularly surprised that the mosque and others involved said, ‘Let’s shut this down and apologize.’”
Elkasrawy said his first priority after the story broke in February was to apologize to the Jewish community. He worried, too, about further inflaming the situation. “I feared for the people inside the mosque, that they might be attacked because of this.”
He decided to let things calm down before attempting to explain himself. But within days, posters were plastered around Ryerson’s campus, where Elkasrawy had been a teaching assistant on and off since 2008, a job that partially funds his graduate studies.
The posters had a picture of his face and the words “Fire him now” — a demand that was echoed by B’nai Brith Canada. The student who led the postering campaign, Aedan O’Connor, recently announced on Facebook that she is now working with Rebel Media.
Ryerson and its new president, Mohamed Lachemi, were already under pressure to respond to previous reports of anti-Semitism on campus. A meeting was quickly called between Elkasrawy and the dean of Ryerson’s engineering department.
Elkasrawy attended the meeting and brought a more accurate translation of his prayers, assuming this would be a first step in the university’s investigation. According to Elkasrawy, his translation was disregarded and Ryerson officials deliberated for about 15 minutes before handing him a two-page termination letter.
Ryerson declined to be interviewed for this story, stating that it does not discuss human resources matters.
For Elkasrawy, this was the moment that killed any hope he had of eventually explaining his side of the story. The YouTube clips, the media coverage, the public statements, his suspension, the police investigation, the termination — it all braided together into a knot that felt impossible to unravel. It all happened in 10 days.
Elkasrawy says he agreed to speak with the Star because “I have nothing to hide.” He has contemplated leaving Toronto or changing careers, but for now, he wants to move forward.
He has returned to his mosque, which conducted its own internal probe into the incident. He has applied, unsuccessfully, for new teaching jobs at Ryerson. And while the hate crime complaint against him remains active, Elkasrawy says he has yet to be contacted by police.
When asked what this experience has been like, Elkasrawy sighs heavily, his eyes drifting to the floor of his modest downtown apartment. He explains in a wavering voice that he has tried to take an Islamic point of view.
“People go through difficult times, hard times, in which they have to be patient and have some forbearance,” he says. “You have to listen to people and learn from this experience.”
He is holding tight to the lessons he’s learned, including those from the Mosaic Institute. Chief among them: when you speak, your meaning has to be clear — not just in your own head or to the people in front of you, but to Canadians of all backgrounds.
“Once the word comes out, even if the person who was hurt later understands your meaning, it will leave something in his heart,” Elkasrawy says. “It will not be the same as before.”
The Star consulted five Arabic experts for this story. They are:
A Toronto imam was accused of hate-preaching against Jews. But that wasn’t the whole storyA Toronto imam was accused of hate-preaching against Jews. But that wasn’t the whole story
A second person has been struck and killed this month by a GO train near Barrie South station.
The incident occurred just before 6:30 a.m. just south of the station, said Metrolinx spokesperson Vanessa Barrasa. It was the first train of the day, she said.
Emergency personnel have been dispatched to the scene and service on the line has been suspended, Barrasa said. The customers on the incident train will have to remain there until transit safety officials clear the scene.
“It will be very difficult for customers on the line this morning,” Barrasa said. “There will be major delays on the Barrie line.”
The delay will likely take several hours to clear. Barrasa recommends that customers use the Richmond Hill line or the TTC.
Barrasa said a number of York Regional Transit buses and GO Transit buses have been mobilized to shuttle people from the station to the TTC, and an extra train will be leaving from Aurora station between 8:15 and 8:30 a.m.
There is also a regular train service from Bradford station at 8:19 a.m. Barrasa said they are not expecting the afternoon service to be affected.
A person was also struck and killed near the same location several weeks ago, on Oct. 6.
Person struck and killed by GO train near Barrie South station, service suspended
A classic green and white Parks Canada sign now welcomes visitors to Rouge National Urban Park at a Markham entrance after the provincial government signed over its portion of the parklands to the federal government and paved the way for other public bodies to do the same.
“This has been a priority for our government since the very beginning,” said federal Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott, who represents the riding of Markham-Stouffville.
“We’re celebrating a very significant milestone in the completion of Canada’s first national urban park,” she added.
The agreement announced this weekend transfers 6.5 square kilometres of land from the province to Parks Canada. Ontario has also relinquished its interest in 15.2 square km managed by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and 1.1 square km of land managed by the City of Markham, paving the way for those bodies to also transfer management to Parks Canada.
Once that happens, the federal government will manage 80 per cent of the 79.1 square kms identified for the Rouge National Urban Park. The remaining 20 per cent of land is expected to be transferred to Parks Canada by other municipal governments in the coming months.
Ontario’s Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid thanked the various groups and people who’ve spent decades fighting to protect the area, offering a special thanks to Lois James, 94, who is often called the “mother of the Rouge,” and Jim Robb, whom he jokingly called a “pain in the butt.”
Though the provincial government endured some “political shrapnel” for delaying the transfer of provincially managed lands to Parks Canada until the ecological protections in the federal Rouge National Urban Park Act were strengthened this summer, Duguid said, “we truly believe that we’ve got it right and that makes me very proud.”
Rouge National Urban Park covers the traditional territories of a number of First Nations, including the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, which never surrendered their rights to the lands.
“It’s good to have this park so that they can renew themselves with the creator’s beauty,” said Mississaugas of the New Credit elder Garry Sault.
While decades ago the establishment of parks excluded First Nations, Louis Lesage, who spoke on behalf of Huron-Wendat Nation Grand Chief Konrad H. Sioui, said things are different today thanks to examples like Rouge National Urban Park.
He encouraged parents to bring their children to the park and to teach them the history of the lands, which were once home to the largest First Nations villages in Canada.
Some, though, are still concerned about the level of environmental protections in the park.
Jim Robb, general manager of the Friends of the Rouge Watershed, expressed concern that Parks Canada is looking at extending private leases to farmers before the park management plan is completed.
“We want them to complete the management plan in a public open forum before they extend the leases,” he said. He’s concerned that some farming in the park, which he described as “industrial” and pesticide dependent, may not be consistent with their goals of environmental protection.
There is room for other farmers in the park who take a more ecological approach though, he said.
Rouge National Urban Park Superintendent Pam Veinotte said Parks Canada hasn’t extended any of the private leases yet. Instead, they are working concurrently to finalize the management plan and examine the leases at the same time.
“Part of the character of this national urban park is that you have this mix of urban and forest,” said Anna Baggio, director of conservation planning for CPAWS Wildlands League.
“Obviously there needs to be restoration but I think we can work with the farmers to get there, they want to see this land well-managed and so do we,” she said.
Ontario hands over huge swath of land for Rouge Park
Facebook Canada’s election integrity plan fails to get at the heart of the problem — and government should step in, say experts in digital politics.
The social media network released a cybersecurity guidebook last week for politicians and launched an exclusive email helpline in case their accounts are hacked by malicious players. It’s also partnering with non-profit MediaSmarts to run a news literacy campaign that will help citizens spot political misinformation ahead of the 2019 federal election.
The plan follows a report from Canada’s electronic spy agency in June that said the election could be vulnerable to cyber hacks and adversaries that sow fake news online.
Taylor Owen, assistant professor of digital media and global affairs at the University of British Columbia, said Facebook’s response misses the mark and it’s up to Ottawa to fill gaps in policy.
“The economics and the functioning of the platform bump right up against our ability to govern our elections — and we’re not going to solve that through news literacy. We can only solve that by much more dramatic policy measures from governments, not from Facebook,” he said.
Because Facebook uses algorithms and profile data to tailor users’ news feeds, advertisers are able to strategically and directly target audiences based on their interests and political leanings — making it an effective campaign tool. That can also potentially incentivize the dissemination of propaganda and misinformation in elections.
Facebook’s plan is “relying on this omni-competent citizen to be able to know that there’s something being run against them . . . It’s not actually addressing some of the root systemic causes — which is producing the possibility of fake news being lucrative, or the accountability issues in their ad targeting system,” said Fenwick McKelvey, an assistant professor of information and technology policy at Concordia.
South of the border the company has faced mounting pressure to shed more light on micro-targeted advertising since revealing Russian-linked groups placed approximately 3,000 ads to disrupt the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook agreed to hand over the posts to congressional investigators, and the company’s lawyer is slated to testify about possible Russian interference in November. Google and Twitter, also facing flak for enabling foreign influence in the election, will testify too.
Facebook previously vowed to make so-called dark advertising on its platform less opaque with a new tool — expected to be operational in time for Canada’s 2019 election — that would show users who ran a particular ad and all the other ads that organization is running. Dark advertising allows organizations to promote their message only to an intended recipient, meaning a politically-charged group can direct messages with deceptive content on hot-button issues, or false election promises, and that user is the only one to see it.
That culminated this week in U.S. senators introducing a bipartisan bill that calls for more transparency in online advertising.
Canadian policymakers must follow suit, said Elizabeth Dubois, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa who focuses on digital democratic accountability and engagement.
“The laws are there for a reason. Right now we don’t have the data or the ability to enforce them properly, and we need the platforms to be on board,” Dubois said. Owen and McKelvey echoed the sentiment.
“They need to demand access to these ads . . . The first step to accountability has to be at least having access to the data,” Owen said.
All three want Elections Canada’s mandate expanded to fully cover digital political campaigns — including forcing platforms to disclose all information on targeted ads posted during the campaign, such as where they are placed, who sees them, who purchased them and for how much.
Owen suggested empowering Elections Canada to impose fines on platforms that don’t promptly remove politically-motivated hate speech.
The voter contact registry could also be expanded for social media bots — a network of computer accounts run by one user to amplify a message — which would lower the potential for vote-suppression tactics or a robocall-esque debacle, said Dubois. Political entities that make automated phone calls to voters have to register. That was established after thousands of people received robocalls with false instructions on where to vote in the 2011 election.
“Does (the initiative) go to what the biggest threats are in our democracy? I would say no, I don’t think it is solving the major problems,” she said.
Elections Canada requires political and third parties to disclose who paid for an ad, but if there’s not enough space to do that directly in the post, it’s acceptable for the disclosure to be made on the page the ad links to. However there’s no guarantee someone scrolling through their feed would click through. Political ad campaigns are also subject to spending caps, but filing requirements don’t ask for specifics on digital promotions.
Kevin Chan, Facebook Canada’s head of public policy, acknowledged the measures in the company’s plan are not a “silver bullet” and said there are many actors involved in strengthening digital democracy.
“That’s not to say as a platform we don’t take our responsibility seriously and we don’t want to do what we can,” Chan said in an interview. “We are very lucky and fortunate, in a way, that we have the luxury of thinking about this two years in advance.”
He stressed the initiative is a direct response to the spy agency’s report, the first of its kind, and the potential for further action closer to the federal vote. That includes cracking down on fake accounts that wreak mischief in elections, which Facebook has done elsewhere — in the recent French election, it said it targeted 30,000 inauthentic accounts.
The platform also introduced technical safeguards to make it more difficult to post clickbait, with an eye to quashing the financial incentive to mislead.
“We have to be very careful of this challenge of removing inauthentic content, but not removing things that may be legitimate free speech,” said Chan.
Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, who was front and centre for Facebook’s announcement, said cybersecurity is a “responsibility we all share.” She lauded the initiative but said it is only a first step.
“Social media platforms have become the new arbiters of information, and have an important responsibility to facilitate respectful and informed public discourse,” Gould said. “It is important that we have conversations with social media platforms to ensure the continued protection of Canada’s democratic process.”
Experts say Facebook’s ‘election integrity’ cybersecurity plan misses the mark. Should Ottawa step in?Experts say Facebook’s ‘election integrity’ cybersecurity plan misses the mark. Should Ottawa step in?
Black people in Ontario spend more time in jail awaiting trial than white people, even when charged with the same type of crime, according to data recently released by the province.
Government officials admit it’s yet another systemic barrier faced by minorities as they manoeuvre through the justice system, and say they are working to find solutions.
But legal advocates say Ontario’s bail system has become one of the “most onerous in the country” and the province is simply offering a “colour-blind approach to a colour-coded problem.”
“There is systemic anti-Black racism in that there are many in the legal system who are not trained, encouraged or directed to consider the systemic barriers facing African-Canadians when they call for a surety,” said Anthony Morgan, who specializes in human rights law at Falconers LLP.
A surety is a friend or family member who agrees to supervise the accused in the community and forfeit a specified sum of money if bail conditions are violated.
“If you look at the stats of socio-economic marginalization, African-Canadians are dramatically overrepresented in unemployment, underemployment and poverty rates,” he said “So when you call on that same community to have to present a surety, there are barriers.”
The data, which spans 2011 to 2016, includes more than 20 categories of crime, ranging from homicide to fraud to impaired driving. In the most recent data, from 2015-16, there were just over 6,000 cases involving Black people and more than 31,000 cases involving white people. Some of these people would have been in custody on more than one occasion.
In more than half the categories in the bail data, Black people were in jail, on average, longer than white people, although in a few cases not as long as other minority groups.
In two categories — weapons offences and serious violent crimes — Black people were in jail significantly longer awaiting trial than fellow white inmates, outstaying them by more than a month in the former category, and 45 days in the latter.
In a number of categories, such as theft and traffic offences, white people were held in remand longer. In a few categories, the difference between the two groups was an extra day or two in jail.
In some categories, such as impaired driving, those who identified as Southeast Asian were remanded for an average of 19 days, while white people stayed in jail for an average of seven. In the case of traffic infractions, those from West Asian/Arabic backgrounds waited in jail an average of 40 days, as opposed to Black people, who were held for 20 days.
The data, obtained first by Reuters news agency through access to information requests, was provided to the Star by the Ministry of the Attorney General. Ontario asks inmates to identify their race when they are jailed.
In addition to statistics for Black and white inmates, the data also included information on members of the Asian, Hispanic, West Asian/Arab and Indigenous communities, and those who declined to identify their race.
Ministry officials “recognize that racialized communities face systemic barriers and we have been and will continue to tackle these issues,” said spokesperson Andrew Rudyk.
“Bail is a critically important part of the criminal justice process,” Rudyk said, adding that last December the province created the Bail Action Plan to “support vulnerable and low-risk accused — many of whom are Indigenous or racialized — who may have otherwise been denied bail because they lacked appropriate supports like housing or programming.”
The ministry is working to expand the existing bail verification and supervision program to help “facilitate the successful release on bail of low-risk accused pending trial,” Rudyk said. It has also launched a new “bail beds” programs that “provides supervised housing for low-risk individuals in five Ontario communities, making duty counsel available at six correctional facilities across the province to allow for more effective bail hearings and developing a new, culturally responsive program to provide supports to Indigenous people going through the bail and remand process,” he added.
The ministry has also appointed three prominent legal experts to provide “advice on modernizing Crown policies on bail,” he said.
“This includes providing advice on the use of sureties and bail conditions which we know disproportionately impact vulnerable populations and racialized communities,” said Rudyk. He says the ministry is also working with partners to provide training in diversity and unconscious bias to those who administer the justice system.
Cash bail was largely eliminated in the 1970s to make the bail process less burdensome on the poor. But some critics say Ontario’s heavy reliance on a surety as a condition of bail has become just as taxing for poor and marginalized people.
“The province’s solutions don’t go far enough, because they don’t explicitly identify anti-Black racism as a problem within our justice system, within how decisions are made at every level,” said Morgan, who has worked at the African Canadian Legal Clinic. “Until we get there . . . no one-size-fits-all program is going to help adjust these very particular disparities affecting African-Canadians.” he said.
A recent Supreme Court decision called Ontario’s surety system one of the “most onerous forms of release” and noted a justice or judge should apply less onerous bail conditions unless the Crown can prove a need for tougher terms.
The ministry says the numbers, while up to date, “should not be considered to be a comprehensive representation of the remand population,” as inmates self-identify, and the same individual may be admitted multiple times. Moreover, the court tracking system does not track racial identity, and therefore there is no data on rates or types of bail or conditions.
Race matters when awaiting trial, data showsRace matters when awaiting trial, data shows
OTTAWA—Health groups joined forces on Sunday with the Conservative opposition to accuse the Liberal government of trying to raise tax revenue on the backs of vulnerable diabetics.
The accusation opened a new front in the ongoing opposition-waged war on government taxation policy, amid the backdrop of the conflict-of-interest controversy dogging Finance Minister Bill Morneau over whether he’s properly distanced himself from millions of dollars in private sector assets.
Diabetes Canada was among the groups that joined Conservative politicians to publicly denounce what they say is a clawback of a long-standing disability tax credit to help diabetics manage a disease that can cost the average sufferer $15,000 annually.
Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre branded it as one more example of an out-of-touch Liberal government that he characterized as unfairly targeting the hardworking middle-class people it claims to support.
“His tax department tried to tax the employee discounts of waitresses and cashiers. Now his government is targeting vulnerable people suffering with diabetes with thousands of dollars in tax increases,” Poilievre said on Sunday at a Parliament Hill news conference flanked by fellow Conservative critics, a young diabetic constituent and a top official with a leading diabetes advocacy organization.
In May, the revenue department stopped approving a disability tax credit for people with Type 1 diabetes for those who had previously claimed it, he said.
People who need more than 14 hours per week for insulin therapy and had a doctor’s certification previously qualified. But other than citing a spike in applications for the benefit, the government offered no explanation for the change during initial interactions earlier this spring, said Kimberley Hanson of Diabetes Canada.
Thousands of claimants from across Canada who had previously been given the $1,500 annual benefit have been rejected in recent months, but Hanson said she can’t get an exact number from Canadian Revenue Agency and has had to file an Access to Information request to find out.
In recent months, the agency officials and Minister Diane Lebouthillier have for the most part rebuffed their overtures.
“Over the past two months, she’s stopped responding to my messages and answering some of my questions,” Hanson said, referring to one senior department official.
On Saturday, a senior department official reached out to her to reopen dialogue, she said. Poilievre said that only happened because the matter was raised briefly on Friday by the Conservatives during Question Period.
“Applicants are now being denied on the basis that ‘the type of therapy indicated does not meet the 14 hour per week criteria.’ These denials are in contradiction of the certifications provided by licensed medical practitioners and do not appear to be based on evidence,” says an Oct. 3 letter to Lebouthillier, signed by Diabetes Canada, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism and two other organizations.
In an emailed response to The Canadian Press on Sunday evening, a spokesperson for Lebouthillier writes that the “concerns brought up by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and other groups, are worrisome.”
It says the minister has initiated a “five-point plan” that included numerous consultations with “stakeholders” to better understand how the benefit is administered.
It says she wants the agency to improve its data collection and is planning to hire more nurses to work in processing centres to evaluate the claims.
This would help “to ensure that a medical professional is involved in the reviewing of individual’s applications,” said the emailed statement.
This latest complaint about the government’s tax policy comes after the Liberals were forced to reset proposed tax measures after weeks of vocal opposition from small business owners, doctors, farmers and backbench Liberal MPs.
The Canada Revenue Agency was also recently forced to withdraw a notice that targeted employee discounts after it caused an uproar.
“It’s not like I can snap a finger and this disease turns off,” said Madison Ferguson, a constituent of Poilievre’s who first raised it with her MP this summer after her claim was rejected.
She said she has to constantly calculate the effect of what she eats, while monitoring her blood sugar levels as much as four to 10 times a day, using test strips that cost $1.50 to $2 each time.
“It’s quite expensive but it’s needed because without this I wouldn’t be here,” said Ferguson. “So every moment of every day has to be calculated.”
Liberals accused of tax grab by clawing back disability credit for diabetics
LOS ANGELES—Writer and director James Toback, who received an Oscar nomination for writing Bugsy, has been accused of sexual harassment by 38 women in a report published Sunday in The Los Angeles Times.
In the report, many of the women allege that Toback approached them on the streets of New York City and promised stardom. His meetings would often end with sexual questions and Toback masturbating in front of them or dry-humping them, according to the accounts.
The 72-year-old denied the allegations to the Los Angeles Times, saying he never met any of the women, or if he had it “was for five minutes and (I) have no recollection.”
Thirty-one of the women spoke on the record including Louise Post, who is a guitarist and vocalist for the band Veruca Salt, and As the World Turns actress Terri Conn.
Actress Echo Danon recalled an incident on the set of his film “Black and White” where Toback put his hands on her and said that he would ejaculate if she looked at his eyes and pinched his nipples.
“Everyone wants to work, so they put up with it,” Danon told the Times. “That’s why I put up with it. Because I was hoping to get another job.”
The Los Angeles Times also reported that Canadian actress Chantal Cousineau alleged that Toback made sexually explicit comments in a Toronto hotel room when she was asked to meet him for an audition in 2001. She also alleged during a subsequent rehearsal that Toback was masturbating just off the set.
On Sunday afternoon, Times reporter Glenn Whipp said the number of accusers had doubled since the story had published.
Toback hasn’t responded to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
The report comes amid the ongoing downfall of producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by over three dozen women. He was fired from the company he co-founded and widely denounced by his Hollywood peers.
“James Toback damn you for stealing, damn you for traumatizing,” tweeted Weinstein accuser Rose McGowan on Sunday.
Another Weinstein accuser, actress-director Asia Argento, tweeted, “So proud of my sisters for bringing down yet another pig” in response to the Toback report.
Though less widely known than Weinstein, Toback has had a successful four-decade career in Hollywood and has a devoted following who have praised him for his originality and outsized, deeply flawed characters.
A New York native, Harvard graduate, creative writing professor and compulsive gambler, Toback used his own life as inspiration for his first produced screenplay, “The Gambler,” which came out in 1974 and starred James Caan. The film was remade in 2014 with Mark Walhberg and Brie Larson.
He also wrote and directed the Harvey Keitel film “Fingers,” the loosely autobiographical “The Pick-up Artist,” which starred Robert Downey Jr. and Molly Ringwald, “Two Girls and a Guy,” also with Downey Jr. and Heather Graham, “Harvard Man,” with Sarah Michelle Gellar, and the Mike Tyson documentary “Tyson.”
His one and only Oscar nomination is for writing the Barry Levinson-directed and Warren Beatty-starring “Bugsy.”
Toback’s upcoming film, “The Private Life of a Modern Woman,” stars Sienna Miller and Alec Baldwin and debuted at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year.
Like Weinstein, reports of Toback’s alleged behaviour toward women have been around for decades. Spy magazine wrote about him in 1989, and the now-defunct website Gawker also published accounts from women in New York who had had run-ins with Toback.
But in the past few weeks, amid the Weinstein scandal and the rise of the #MeToo social media movement, in which women are revealing instances of sexual harassment and assault, more reports have emerged about the conduct of many working in the entertainment industry.
Just days ago, top Amazon Studios executive Roy Price resigned following sexual harassment allegations made by a “Man in the High Castle” producer.
On Sunday, a few in Hollywood began denouncing Toback on social media, including “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig, who tweeted that Toback “Is a disgrace.”
“One of the main jobs of a director is to create a safe environment for the actors,” Feig wrote.
“Doctor Strange” director Scott Derrickson added, “If there is a Hell, James Toback will be in it.”
“Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn wrote a lengthy Facebook post Sunday about the allegations, saying that he has personally met at least 15 women who have said they have had these kinds of encounters with Toback, including three women he has dated, two friends and a family member.
“For over twenty years now, I’ve been bringing up James Toback every chance I could in groups of people,” Gunn wrote. “I couldn’t stop him, but I could warn people about him.”
Dozens of women accuse writer-director James Toback of sexual harassment
What if an accused, charged with beating a dog to death, told the court: I didn’t know that was against the law.
Who would be unaware that such cruelty towards a defenceless animal is a crime?
Who would be afforded judicial latitude for ignorance?
The crime is the crime.
Now imagine instead that a man is charged with raping his wife. Actually you don’t have to imagine it because such a man went on trial for the alleged crime in Ottawa some four months ago. And was acquitted last week.
Neither husband nor wife understood that sexual assault — “rape” no longer exists in Canada as a specific charge — was an offence under the Criminal Code.
It was an arranged marriage, to which the woman consented reluctantly but dutifully, as was the practice in her culture. Raised in Kuwait by Palestinian parents, arriving in Canada in 1989 as a teenager, age 22 at wedlock, after she withdrew from university.
She believed she had no choice. That is how some females still lead their lives of quiet desperation in this country, in our midst, in a kind of shrouded existence, denied basic human rights and treated as property.
Like a dog.
Couldn’t say no to her parents. Couldn’t say no to her husband when he forced her to have sex against her will.
In court documents, the woman is identified only as “Z.”
“I . . . accept Z.’s evidence that the accused believed that as her husband he had the right to have sexual relations with her when he wished,” Justice Robert Smith writes in his reasons for judgment.
“Z. testified that there were many instances during her marriage where she did not consent to having sex with the accused but that he went ahead anyway in the circumstances where they both believed he had the right to do so. She was unaware that she could stop her husband from having sex with her without her consent. Their sexual relationship continued in this manner from 1992 until Jan. 1, 2013.”
The marriage had been performed in Gaza. Children were born to them here.
In time it became an unhappy union and the couple separated in 2013.
A change had come over her husband, the woman testified, after he returned from a 20-month visit to settle family estate matters in Gaza. He became aggressive, had no patience and “was no longer kind to her.”
Speaks volumes, that phrase, doesn’t it?
It wasn’t until later in 2013, when police attended at the couple’s home — they were arguing over access issues — that Z. discovered she could have indeed refused her husband’s sexual demands over all those years.
That has been the law in Canada since 1983. Prior to then, rape was considered an offence only outside of marriage, meaning a husband could not be charged with raping his wife and a wife could only have her spouse charged with indecent assault, common assault or assault causing bodily harm.
A year previous to the revised legislation, NDP MP Margaret Mitchell was mocked about the issue — laughed at by other MPs — when she rose in the House of Commons and demanded the government take action to stop domestic violence.
Bill C-127, which came into effect Jan. 4, 1983, made sexual assault against a spouse an offence under the Criminal Code. A spouse could also be charged with aggravated sexual assault if the crime included a beating.
That was scarcely 35 years ago. In some patriarchal countries, it’s still not a crime.
Z. recalled one incident in particular which became the basis of the sex assault charge against her husband and it dated to an episode from 2002, when he grabbed her by the wrist, pulled her on the couch, tugged down her pants and had sex despite Z. asking him three times to stop. “She closed her eyes and prayed for it to end and then took a shower,” Smith writes.
Now, anyone with experience of sex assault trials would instantly recognize the frailty of the case — so long ago, no witnesses, no independent corroboration, he-said she-said accounts.
Except the judge believed Z., found her entirely credible. “She answered questions in a straightforward manner. Her evidence that the accused believed he had a right to have sex with his wife was not contradicted. The accused acknowledged that he exercised control over his wife’s body by refusing to allow her to have an abortion when she became pregnant …
“I find that the accused probably had sex with his wife on many occasions without her specific consent, as both he and she believe that he had the right to do so.”
Z. told the court she fulfilled her connubial role because she believed it was her obligation as his wife.
By comparison, the accused “was argumentative and evasive when cross-examined and often did not answer the question posed. I find that his evidence was not believable and did not raise a reasonable doubt.”
Smith was especially skeptical about the husband’s claim that he clearly remembered not having sex at all with his wife during the period of the alleged assault — because he’d had a hair transplant and, he said, the doctor had told him to avoid sexual activity for two weeks. No medical evidence for that advice was presented; it’s nonsensical.
And yet. And yet.
Because the Crown had not proven mens rea— a guilty mind, the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime — beyond reasonable doubt.
Because he believed he had the right.
It is to weep. It is to rage against the madness of the courts.
Little wonder women don’t report. The standard of proof is too high. While it should not be lower for sexual assault, it sure as hell shouldn’t be higher.
This was not a woman caught in a web of lies. She didn’t collude to support her claim. She submitted because we clearly have done a wretched job of informing women about their rights. And then a judge found her credible narrative wanting, falling as it did within this crevice of perverse woman-hating culture.
The judge also acquitted the defendant on charges of assaulting his daughter — seizing her by the neck — and threatening the girl, though both she and her sister testified about how their father had returned from Gaza more fervidly religious, setting limits on what his daughters could wear, which resulted in family disputes.
“I will end you,” the girl testified her father had said to her in Arabic during the argument, after even the accused admitted he’d gone upstairs to “straighten her out.”
Girls and women: Who were they to challenge his authority?
The judge had prefaced his decision with this observation: “Marriage is not a shield for sexual assault; however, the issue in this trial is whether considering the whole of the evidence the Crown has proven the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Here, the doubt was profoundly unreasonable.
Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
How a man was acquitted of sexually assaulting his wife because neither knew he needed consent: DiManno
Officials with the Toronto District School Board are scrambling to ease the concerns of parents and students worried that an initiative meant to “enhance equity” will lead to the end of specialized programs.
The board says that “is not their intent.”
Earlier this month, the TDSB Equity Task Force released a draft report as a result of a year-long community engagement process, to “explore what equity strategies have worked and identify where challenges remain.”
One of the recommendations put forward, to “eliminate disparities between schools” is to work to realign resources “so that all schools, at least every cluster of local schools, can offer a variety of specialty programs.”
And once that is achieved, the report suggests that “optional attendance and specialized schools should be phased out.”
Phi Than, parent’s council co-chair at Earl Haig, in North York said parents were shocked to see the “phasing out of schools” even considered.
“When we read the report, we thought, wow these are really sweeping changes,” said Than, who has daughter who attends Claude Watson Secondary Arts Program at Earl Haig, one that both her and husband also attended for high school.
“We truly believe in specialized programs, and we wish that every child would have access to it and the same benefits that we have had,” she said. “But the board is struggling financially, how do they train the teachers, how can they implement this quality of education across the city? There are so many unanswered questions.”
But TDSB director John Malloy says shutting down specialty schools, like the Claude Watson Arts Program offered at Earl Haig, is not the intent of the proposal.
“I believe there is no intention of closing art schools, and there is no intention of ending great programs,” he said. “As director, I would certainly not be bringing that recommendation to the board.”
“However, we do wish to explore how to provide greater access so all of our students can participate in the programs they deserve,” he said.
He said the recommendation would have no impact on other specialty programs that are run within schools either such as gifted programs, STEM, International Baccalaureate, or TOPS.
The report says, “The task force recognizes that specialized schools and programs, along with optional attendance, while benefitting certain populations, have inadvertently resulted in greater competition and disparities between schools.
“In many cases, these schools and programs have served to limit enriched learning opportunities for students, especially those from the most marginalized communities, who experience barriers to accessing optional attendance,” it states.
The Federation of Canadian Secondary Students | Fédération des élèves du secondaire au Canada (FCSS-FESC), also sent out of a press release over the weekend protesting the proposal and said the board should “investigate alternative solutions to educational inequity (that) support the improvement of underprivileged students and schools without limiting opportunities for others to learn and perform to the best of their abilities.”
Malloy added that the recommendations are a draft, and that community members are welcome to weigh in. “Nothing is set in stone,” he said.
He said once feedback is received, a report will come to trustees in December. If approved, staff will work on the report and offer next steps early next year.
In the meantime, he said he will speak to the facilitator of the task force this week about clarifying the he language around the recommendation.
“We understand everyone’s perspectives, but don’t want to get distracted by this really important work of equitable access,” he said.
TDSB says it has ‘no intention’ to close specialty schools in push for equity in access to programs
Opening arguments are set to get underway today in the murder trial for a Toronto woman who vanished five years ago.
Dellen Millard, 32, of Toronto and Mark Smich, 30, of Oakville, Ont., have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of 23-year-old Laura Babcock.
Justice Michael Code, who is presiding over the case, has told potential jurors that the Crown alleges Millard and Smich murdered Babcock at Millard’s Toronto home on July 3 or 4, 2012.
Code has said to potential jurors that the pair allegedly burned her body in a large incinerator that was later found on Millard’s farm near Waterloo, Ont.
The judge told the jurors the incinerator was purchased shortly before Babcock disappeared and that her body has never been found.
Police laid charges against Millard and Smich in 2014.
Five years after she vanished, opening arguments set to begin in Laura Babcock murder trial