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    When Kyle Bye is trying to score the prescription narcotic Percocet, he looks for three letters: TEC.

    The letters are engraved in bold capitals across the dime-sized white pill, a mix of oxycodone and Tylenol. The TEC name is among the most desired brands of prescription drugs in Canada’s opioid epidemic.

    The letters are also the marking of a drug company that has not existed in nearly 20 years.

    Harm-reduction advocates are concerned the outdated TEC branding is being used by the drug’s current manufacturer today only because of the prescription pill’s popularity on the streets, a charge the company says it not true. Some are calling on the government to investigate why the pills still have the old marking.

    A recent Star investigation obtained an email chain showing that the company that now makes these oxycodone pills has offered to pay an Ontario pharmacy group to stock its prescription medications, including TECs. The health minister said he takes the allegations of “illegal” rebate payments seriously and ordered the government to investigate. In a statement, the company said it follows Ontario’s laws and will co-operate with the province’s probe.

    Read more:

    Health ministers looking at electronic database to fight opioid crisis

    Inmates in Canada accused of running massive opioid ring from prison

    Fentanyl mostly responsible for new height in B.C. illicit drug deaths

    This story is about the controversial, outdated branding on these pills — and why they are so attractive to illicit users.

    “I know what I’m getting when I ask for TECs,” said Bye, who lives in Toronto. “That’s the only thing I would buy. If it didn’t say TEC on it, I probably wouldn’t buy it.”

    The pills are officially known as Oxycocetand are a generic version of Percocet. They make their way from pharmacies to the streets in different ways, from fake prescriptions to robberies to patients selling their medication.

    Once there, a single TEC pill can fetch anywhere from $5 to $20 — and probably sells a lot easier than the same drug with different markings.

    “It’s brand recognition,” said Matt Johnson, the harm-reduction outreach co-ordinator at the Queen West Central Toronto Community Health Centre.

    “The people looking for that TEC brand are the ones buying them in ones and twos on the street.”

    The drugs are popular among young people and casual users because its lower dosage means a more manageable high.

    Many TEC users believe it gives a better high than other generic versions of Percocet, and that the product is less likely to be adulterated with a more potent narcotic such as fentanyl.

    These pills are the first taste of opioids for many people.

    TECs, which used to be made by a drug firm called TechniLab Pharma, are now distributed by Teva Canada. In a statement to the Star, Teva Canada said it markets its generic pharmaceuticals to licensed pharmacies and hospitals — not illicit users.

    “Teva denies that the retention of the TEC marking on this product is motivated by any preference illicit users may have for the product (and in fact, had no knowledge of any such preference prior to your inquiry),” a spokesperson said.

    “Teva Canada prides itself on being a responsible distributor of controlled products.”

    In Ontario, TECs are the most commonly dispensed generic form of oxycodone covered by the public drug plan, according to Ontario Drug Benefit Program data. Since 2012, the province has paid more than $50 million covering the cost of pills with that marking. The Star was unable to obtain similar data for those prescriptions covered under private health plans.

    Some of the prescription opioids, with costs footed by the government, are making their way into the hands of drug dealers.

    Toronto police recently arrested more than 20 people in an ongoing investigation into people selling Oxycocets (TECs), fentanyl and other prescription opioids that were “provided and paid for by” the Ontario Disability Support Program, said Det. Sgt. Michael Richmond of 51 Division.

    “The taxpayers are ultimately paying for some of these illegal drugs on the street,” Richmond said.

    Teva said it works with Canadian law enforcement “to identify and prevent diversion of pharmaceutical products for the illicit market.” The company said it also helps with investigations and prosecutions of counterfeit opioid products.

    The fact that the black market is producing counterfeit pills with the TEC marking is proof the brand is desired by people who use drugs, said Amy Graves, founder of the non-profit Get Prescription Drugs off the Street.

    In May, the RCMP in Newfoundland issued a public alert after finding fake pills with the TEC branding that actually contained fentanyl, which police warn can be up to 100 times more potent than morphine.

    “This is a popular brand that people seek out on the streets for illicit use. Organized crime is tailoring their products to meet the demand of the prescription drug market,” said Graves, whose brother died in 2011 after taking a different prescription opioid — hydromorphone — at a house party.

    Graves said there should also be a government probe into the TEC markings.

    “I think it should be further investigated why the company has continued to use the imprint,” Graves said.

    Each TEC pill contains five milligrams of oxycodone. By comparison, an Oxy 80, known to some as “Green Monsters” because of their emerald hue and potency, has 16 times more.

    For heavy opioid users, a TEC pill isn’t strong enough, said harm reduction worker Johnson.

    But they are popular among young people and those who prefer to mix different pills — sometimes with alcohol — to get stoned.

    “With TECs, there are a lot of suburban, middle-class people who are binge users,” Johnson said. Many others, he said, simply use it to self-medicate chronic pain because the medication they can legally access just isn’t strong enough.

    Bye, a Toronto man who uses drugs, said he takes TECs to ease the aches and pains that come from withdrawal from binge drinking or other narcotics.

    Bye works in a paid position with the Queen West Health Centre’s outreach team to help people learn safer ways to use drugs to avoid overdoses or infectious diseases. “If you’re going to use (drugs), use safely,” he said.

    Oxycocet first came on the market in 1984, according to Health Canada product records. Montreal-based TechniLab Pharma had launched 10 years earlier and was quickly becoming one of the country’s prominent generic drug companies.

    By 2000, a crowded drug marketplace had devoured its profits. The company accepted an $80-million takeover bid from a German drug company and became part of the generic brand Ratiopharm.

    Shortly after that, Ratiopharm launched an internal initiative in Canada to get newly acquired products under its own brand, said a source who worked with the company at the time.

    Over the next few years, the markings on most of the former Technilab drugs were changed to “rph” for Ratiopharm, said the source, who asked not to be named because the person still works in the industry and fears reprisal.

    The Oxycocet pills stayed the same, however.

    In 2010, TECs changed hands again when generic drug giant Teva bought Ratiopharm for nearly $5 billion (U.S.). But Canada’s Competition Bureau quickly intervened.

    Both Teva and Ratiopharm each had their own versions of oxycodone-acetaminophen and morphine sulphate. A merger of the two companies would “likely lead to a substantial lessening of competition in the supply” of these tablets, the Competition Bureau said.

    Teva ultimately sold off its version of the oxycodone drug, the Competition Bureau said, and kept the one under Ratiopharm’s branding.

    Today, the pills arrive at pharmacies in a canister labelled ratio-Oxycocet, with Teva’s logo along the bottom. Inside, each pill is still stamped with the letters TEC.

    A Teva spokesperson said the company has a practice of not modifying products’ markings “in order to avoid unnecessary changes to products with an established stability profile, unless a change is triggered by a regulatory requirement.”

    Many Teva-distributed drugs, including Oxycocet, are still branded under the names of their former companies such as “rph” for Ratiopharm or “Novo” for Novopharm, the company said.

    According to Health Canada, a company can change the markings on a drug at any time without permission. It just has to notify Health Canada annually if it has made any changes.

    “Changes in markings on tablets and capsules should not affect the stability of the product,” said a Health Canada spokesperson, adding that as a precautionary measure, the drug regulator requires a company to monitor that the new marking hasn’t affected the medication’s expiry date.

    Toronto addiction specialists Dr. Alexander Caudarella said some of his patients have a perception that TEC pills “produce a more significant high than other ones,” especially when crushed up.

    The perception that one brand is safer or more effective can be dangerous, he said, as most of the illegal drug supply has been adulterated by illicit labs that are increasingly good at mimicking the appearance of prescription opioids.

    A pill that looks like a TEC could actually be something much more potent. Because TECs are fairly low-dose, many of its users haven’t developed high tolerance.

    “If they come across one that’s been manipulated and contains fentanyl, it makes it that much more likely that they’re going to die,” he said.

    Jesse McLean can be reached at

    Why are these popular prescription opioids branded for a company that no longer exists?Why are these popular prescription opioids branded for a company that no longer exists?Why are these popular prescription opioids branded for a company that no longer exists?Why are these popular prescription opioids branded for a company that no longer exists?

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    When Bill Harrison, a healthy 65-year-old Mississauga man, was found dead in his family home eight years ago, a pathologist listed the cause of death as “acute cardiac arrhythmia.”

    Years later, after two more suspicious deaths in the same family, Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist reviewed his colleague’s 2009 autopsy and gave a markedly different opinion.

    While there is not enough information to come to a conclusion about how Harrison met his end, the findings suggest he took “heavy blows” to his head and the front of his chest around the time of his death, Dr. Michael Pollanen testified Friday in a triple murder trial in Brampton.

    The best explanation, according to Pollanen: “They were caused by another party through an assault or an inflicted injury.”

    Melissa Merritt, 37, and her common-law spouse, Christopher Fattore, 40, are on trial for the first-degree murder of Merritt’s estranged husband, Caleb Harrison, in 2013, and his mother, Bridget Harrison, three years earlier.

    Fattore alone is charged with second-degree murder in the 2009 death of Bill Harrison, Caleb’s father. All three Harrisons died years apart in the family home on Pitch Pine Cres.

    Merritt has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Fattore pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder charges, but attempted to plead guilty to manslaughter in the death of Caleb Harrison. The Crown rejected the manslaughter plea.

    The prosecution alleges the crimes were committed in relation to a years-long custody battle between Merritt and the Harrisons. A taped police interview will show that after Fattore was arrested in 2014 he confessed to killing Caleb and Bridget, Crown prosecutor Eric Taylor said in his opening address in September.

    Pollanen said in court Friday that he did not have enough information to reach a conclusion about how Bill Harrison died. In his April 2015 report examining all three deaths, Pollanen wrote the cause of Bill’s death as “undetermined.”

    Pointing to pictures taken at the scene — Bill’s body was found in the locked powder room on the main floor of the family home — the chief forensic pathologist highlighted horizontal markings on Bill’s neck. Pollanen said the markings should have led to a more detailed autopsy to determine if pressure had been applied to the neck.

    In his report, Pollanen concluded that both Bridget and Caleb died of neck compression.

    The prosecution alleges that an assailant — Fattore — choked them.

    Pollanen said he could not diagnose neck compression in Bill’s death.

    “There’s a hole, a gap, in the knowledge that we need,” he said under cross-examination by Jennifer Myers, Fattore’s defence lawyer.

    Dr. Timothy Feltis, who performed the original post-mortem examination on Bill at Credit Valley Hospital in 2009, considered his exam a “forensic autopsy,” the jury heard. But Pollanen said it was not.

    Several “hallmarks” of forensic autopsy were missing from Feltis’s exam, Pollanen testified, including: a collection of trace evidence such as Bill’s fingernail clippings; photo documentation of the autopsy that would have made it possible for an independent party to review the evidence; and a layered neck dissection that Pollanen said is standard practice when markings are found on a dead person’s neck.

    Further, Pollanen noted, the cause of death Feltis gave — “acute cardiac arrhythmia” — is not a real cause of death. It’s a “mechanism” of death. “Basically what (it’s) saying is the heart stopped, which does not actually tell you why the heart stopped,” Pollanen said.

    “In all fairness, I think what he was trying to communicate … is that there’s something wrong with the heart and that’s what caused the death,” Pollanen said.

    But Pollanen said he found no significant evidence that there was anything wrong with Bill’s heart.

    Pollanen said Feltis is a “well-experienced pathologist,” and allowed that it is easy in hindsight to point out what should have been done. He also noted that Feltis “was not provided with the proper information about the case,” but did not elaborate.

    Under questioning by prosecutor Brian McGuire, Pollanen said he first raised concerns about Bill’s death in an April 2010 case meeting with police about the second death in the family home — that of Bridget Harrison.

    “I felt we should exhume him and do a forensic autopsy,” Pollanen testified.

    But it could not be done. Bill Harrison had been cremated.

    The trial continues before Justice Fletcher Dawson.

    Chief pathologist questions autopsy in family triple killingChief pathologist questions autopsy in family triple killing

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    OTTAWA—Former Ontario premier Bob Rae has been named a special envoy to Burma.

    He will be advising Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the southeast Asian country.

    Nearly 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Burma’s Rakhine state since late August to escape persecution that the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing.

    Rae’s appointment was announced this morning by the prime minister.

    The appointment comes as UN humanitarian officials, high-level government envoys and advocacy groups hold a one-day conference aimed at drumming up funds to help refugees in Bangladesh.

    In addition to Rae’s appointment, the federal Liberals announced Canada will provide an additional $12 million in humanitarian assistance, bringing the total of Canada’s financial commitment to $25 million so far.

    “Canada is deeply concerned about the urgent humanitarian and security crisis in Myanmar’s (Burma’s) Rakhine state, particularly the brutal persecution of the Rohingya Muslim people,” Trudeau said in a statement.

    “I am confident that Bob Rae’s vast experience as a lawyer, adviser, negotiator, arbitrator and public servant will help Canada work more effectively with Myanmar and other international partners to chart a path towards lasting peace and reconciliation.”

    The Geneva meeting — hosted by the European Union, the government of Kuwait and the United Nations’ migration, refugee and humanitarian aid co-ordinating agencies — aims to help meet a UN call for $434 million in funding through February.

    Correction – October 23, 2017: This article was edited from a previous version to update an incorrect headline that misstated the number of Rohingya Muslims who have fled Burma since late August as 60,000.

    Read more:

    Refugee camps are ‘hell on earth’ for more than 300,000 Rohingya children, UNICEF says

    Burmese army killed hundreds of Rohingya Muslims: Amnesty International report

    UN says Burma violence a deliberate strategy to expel Rohingya

    Trudeau names former Ontario premier Bob Rae as special envoy to BurmaTrudeau names former Ontario premier Bob Rae as special envoy to Burma

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    MONTREAL—A lot is unknown about how Quebec will implement a new law banning people wearing face veils from receiving public services, but what’s virtually certain is that it will be challenged in court.

    In the near future, a Muslim woman wearing a veil, and possibly with the backing of one or several civil rights organizations, will likely attempt to receive a public service in Quebec and be denied.

    The interaction will spark a court challenge that will probably end up in the Supreme Court of Canada, said Natasha Bakht, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.

    “I think it goes without saying,” she said regarding the numerous civil rights groups gearing up to help challenge Bill 62. “Many groups will be impassioned by this.”

    Bill 62 prohibits anyone wearing a face covering from receiving or giving a government service and extends to public transit.

    It was adopted last week to much criticism outside Quebec, but most of the details of the law, specifically regarding how it will be enforced, have not yet been made public.

    Read more:

    Quebec’s Bill 62 declares war on sunglasses: Hébert

    Quebec women who wear niqab worry about how Bill 62 will affect daily life

    Trudeau says Quebec shouldn’t tell women what to wear and what not to wear

    The National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund have all told The Canadian Press they are studying the law and considering their next steps.

    Another avenue to contest the law is the Court Challenges Program of Canada, set up to help finance cases involving language equality rights.

    The body was recently restored by the Liberals after being abolished by the Conservatives in 2006, but Bakht said it’s not yet up and running.

    Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says Bill 62 is mainly about security and identifying people properly during an exchange of public services.

    But Bakht said that’s a “thinly veiled argument” because the only people in society who regularly cover their faces in public are a minority of Muslim women.

    Members of the national assembly voted 66-51 in favour of the legislation, with both major opposition parties voting against it because they wanted a much stricter law.

    “This law is light years away from true secularism,” said Nathalie Roy of the Coalition for Quebec’s Future, which wants all teachers, judges, Crown prosecutors, police and prison guards to be banned from wearing any conspicuous religious symbol.

    Roy said her party would also include language to ban all bureaucrats from wearing “accessories of submission,” and would explicitly ban the Islamic chador, burka or niqab.

    The Parti Quebecois adopted its version of a secularism charter in 2013 similar to what Roy is proposing, but the party lost the 2014 election and it was never implemented.

    Solange Lefebvre, a professor at Universite de Montreal who researches culture and religion in society, said Quebec is influenced by French intellectual circles when it comes to secularism and religious neutrality.

    “It’s very clear why they did this,” she said.

    “It’s the French influence. Quebec is a territory where the majority of people are francophone and who are historically Catholic and this combination with the intellectual ideas in France make it so France has a (strong) influence in Quebec.”

    France, which has had a law banning all face coverings in public places since 2010, is far stricter on the issue than Bill 62 aims to be.

    Bakht said the law is an expression of the popular sentiment in Quebec in legislative form.

    Quebec’s face veil ban may face a Supreme Court challengeQuebec’s face veil ban may face a Supreme Court challenge

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    Activist investor Land & Buildings is calling for a special meeting of shareholders at Hudson’s Bay Company following the announced departure on Friday of chief executive officer Jerry Storch.

    “We are evaluating a number of proposals on which we believe the voices of shareholders should be heard – including the removal of directors from the Board – and will announce the full slate of proposals and next steps in the Special Meeting process shortly,” according to a statement by Jonathan Litt, founder and chief investment officer, Land & Buildings Investment Management, LLC.

    Late Friday afternoon, it was announced that Storch was stepping down as CEO at HBC to return to his advisory firm, Storch Advisors.

    Storch had been bullish on the future of department stores.

    HBC also announced Friday that Richard Baker, governor and executive chairman of HBC, would resume the duties of CEO – a position he previously held – on an interim basis.

    That wasn’t enough for Land & Buildings, which has been calling on HBC to find ways to surface the value of the real estate in its holdings.

    Hudson’s Bay real estate has been valued by the company at three times the current share price of $11.96, or $35 per share, according to Land & Buildings.

    “It is typical for undervalued and struggling companies such as Hudson’s Bay to try to position the exit of top executives as a reason for investors to give them more time to right the ship – while choosing to ignore the fact that the true decision makers and those at the Board level who have been complicit in the decision making remain in power. We believe this is what is happening at Hudson’s Bay. Jerry Storch is only the most recent casualty at the Company, joining several other senior executive departures including Paul Beesley, the Company’s former CFO, and Brian Pall, the Company’s former President, HBC Real Estate,” according to the statement from Land & Buildings.

    Officials at Land & Buildings and HBC could not be reached in time for comment on this story.

    Hudson’s Bay Company under fire after CEO Jerry Storch quitsHudson’s Bay Company under fire after CEO Jerry Storch quits

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    NDP Leader Andrea Horwath can count on some major campaign help from her party’s brightest star.

    Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says he will do all he can to ensure Horwath replaces Liberal Kathleen Wynne as Ontario premier after the June 7, 2018 election.

    “I’ve committed to supporting the provincial party. I have a personal reason: these are my colleagues, my friends. I also have a vested interest in the benefit of the province and of the country,” Singh said Monday at Queen’s Park where he bade farewell to his former NDP caucus colleagues.

    “It’s absolutely clear that the province will be better off with Andrea Horwath as premier and the country will be better off with the New Democratic values of putting people first, of standing up for issues that matter to the lives of people,” he said.

    Singh, who resigned as Bramalea-Gore-Malton MPP on Friday, three weeks after winning the federal NDP leadership, said it’s “very special” to be at Queen’s Park.

    “This is where my political career began and I’m really honoured to be back here as leader of the federal party,” he said.

    “Andrea’s been my mentor. She appointed me deputy leader.”

    Horwath expressed delight that Singh will help her party next spring.

    “Although he won’t be on the ballot for us, he certainly will be very, very active and prominent in our campaign,” she said.

    “Yes, we’ve lost our deputy leader and our MPP from Bramalea-Gore-Malton, but we’ve gained an amazing national NDP leader, who has brought a great amount of excitement . . . .”

    Jagmeet Singh vows to help NDP Leader Andrea Horwath topple Kathleen WynneJagmeet Singh vows to help NDP Leader Andrea Horwath topple Kathleen Wynne

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    The tally is in: Amazon received 238 proposals from cities, states, districts and territories interested in hosting the company’s second headquarters.

    The online retail giant published a map Monday showing that bids came from D.C. and all but seven states — Arkansas, Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming — as well as from most of southern Canada, three regions of Mexico and Puerto Rico.

    Last month, Amazon announced it wanted to open a second North American headquarters, setting off a scramble among economic development officials from the United States, Canada and Mexico eager for as many as 50,000 jobs and $5 billion (U.S.) of investment the company says it plans to make in another city.

    Read more:

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

    More than 100 cities have put forward bids for Amazon’s HQ2. Here are the weirdest

    Seattle knows all about the downsides of an Amazon headquarters

    Seattle-based Amazon and its founder, Jeffrey Bezos, who owns the Washington Post, launched the search for “HQ2” by publishing its criteria online. Bezos issued a statement saying he expected the new location “to be a full equal to our Seattle headquarters. Amazon HQ2 will bring billions of dollars in upfront and ongoing investments, and tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. We’re excited to find a second home.”

    If Amazon fulfils its plan to add 50,000 jobs and eight million square feet of office space in another city, it will amount to the largest corporate move in decades, though the company plans to maintain its current Seattle headquarters. Some governors and mayors have already begun floating subsidies of as much as $7 billion while others have filmed online videos or launched marketing campaigns aligned with their bids. On the day bids were due, Oct. 19, buildings around New York City were lit orange to match the company’s logo.

    The next step is for Amazon’s real estate team to sort through the bids and decide which proposals to consider more closely. It plans to make a decision early next year.

    However, urban policy analysts have warned that jurisdictions ought to tread lightly when offering single corporations large subsidies, arguing that investing in workforce, education and transportation tends to be a better bet for economic growth. To accommodate the company’s growth in Seattle, taxpayers funded hundreds of millions of dollars in improvements, although Amazon directly contributed $30 billion to the local economy.

    Affordable housing advocates point to spikes in rents in Seattle as evidence that bidding cities ought to prepare for rising housing costs if Amazon decides to locate thousands of highly paid employees there.

    Amazon says it received 238 bids for its second headquartersAmazon says it received 238 bids for its second headquarters

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    A new type of vehicle is about to roll out on Toronto’s streets.

    UPS announced Monday the U.S.-based shipping giant is a launching a pilot project of using cargo bikes for package deliveries.

    At a press conference outside city hall to mark the launch of the pilot program, Mayor John Tory said deploying cargo bikes could help reduce congestion and mitigate the “traffic nightmares that people experience in this city.

    “It’s time we take a look at something like this, because it’s being done in Frankfurt, in Vienna, in Hamburg, in Rome. And it has made a difference in those cities; they know that,” he said.

    According to UPS Canada President Christoph Atz, this is the first time it has piloted the vehicles in Canada, although it has used cargo bikes in cities around the world. Atz called it “another step towards a more sustainable city.”

    Evaluation of the project “will determine our strategy going forward for cargo delivery by bicycle on a larger scale in Toronto and potentially to other cities across Canada,” Atz said.

    According to a spokesperson for the company, the pilot will begin soon and will “continue until it is determined that the weather may jeopardize the safety and comfort of the UPS rider.”

    The company has chosen York University and the surrounding neighbourhood as a testing area, in part because its proximity to the corporation’s main distribution hub.

    The specialized bike weighs roughly 217 kg. when empty, and has a payload capacity of up to 408 kg., including the driver, according to a fact sheet provided by the company. It is 2.8 metres long and can hold up to 50 packages. Safety features include headlights, tail lights, turn signals, side markers and hazard lights. The lights are powered by a solar panel on the vehicle’s roof.

    Because of its size the bike won’t be allowed to operate in bike lanes, Tory said.

    Nithya Vijayakumar, a senior adviser on transportation and urban solutions at the Pembina Institute, an environmental think-tank, recently authored a report advocating for the increased use of cargo bikes in Toronto.

    It determined that 16.4 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the city come from vans, light-duty trucks, and SUVs.

    “Replacing delivery vans with cargo bikes is going to be great for improving air quality and congestion,” Vijayakumar said.

    According to the report, at least four smaller companies in Toronto already use cargo bikes as part of their business.

    Vijayakumar said she hoped a major company piloting the vehicles will help bring the idea into the mainstream.

    “Seeing a UPS cargo bike zipping around the city will, hopefully, demonstrate to other large shipping companies that, sometimes, the most innovative solutions are those that go back to the basics,” she said.

    UPS is advocating for changes to provincial regulations that would allow the company to deploy electric-assist cargo bikes, which have an electric motor to help the driver climb hills or speed up quickly after a traffic stop. Atz said the technology “would significantly increase the efficiency” of cargo-bike delivery.

    There is no provincial classification for electric-assist cargo bikes heavier than 120 kg., and allowing the vehicles on the road would require changes to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act.

    UPS to test cargo bikes for deliveries in Toronto to help with 'traffic nightmares'UPS to test cargo bikes for deliveries in Toronto to help with 'traffic nightmares'

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    A key aspect of the Law Society of Upper Canada's plan to address systemic racism in the legal profession is coming under fire.

    The issue is whether Ontario's legal regulator should be requiring lawyers and paralegals to adopt and abide by a so-called statement of principles that “acknowledges (their) obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, and in (their) behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public,” as described in an email sent last month by the law society to all licensees, reminding them that the statement is mandatory.

    Licensees can either adopt a statement of principles prepared by the law society, or come up with their own, but they must indicate whether it's been done in their annual report to the law society, the regulator says. They do not have to submit the actual statement to the law society for approval.

    The statement of principles was one of the recommendations stemming from a law society working group that looked into the challenges faced by racialized licensees, and which were adopted unanimously (with three abstentions) at the law society's board meeting last December.

    Toronto lawyer Joe Groia, a member of the board of directors (known as “benchers”), said he fully supports efforts to improve equality and diversity in the profession, but takes issue with the fact that the statement is mandatory. He will be bringing a motion at the board meeting this December that would allow an exemption for those who have a “conscientious objection” to the requirement, which is proving to become a divisive topic in the profession.

    “Not that these are not laudable objectives, because they are, and not that lawyers don't occupy a special position, they do, but I think that the real question is: Is this requirement, which I think amounts to compelled speech, compelled belief, is that something that the law society is allowed to do? And even if it is, is it something that the law society should do?” he told the Star.

    Groia's motion is being seconded by Ottawa lawyer Anne Vespry, herself a racialized licensee.

    “I believe I have a duty to act in a way that does not discriminate, but I do not believe that I have a duty to promote anything except maybe my own business,” Vespry told the Star, adding she will “stand up for this motion and any other motion that will make the recommendations make better sense.”

    Both Groia and Vespry were among the 19 benchers who had supported bencher Sidney Troister's unsuccessful motion to discuss and vote on each recommendation separately last December.

    “I have been approached by more lawyers and paralegals and asked to reconsider this initiative than I have on any other matter that's been before the law society in my time as a bencher,” Groia said. “Every single person I've spoken to have said ‘we are not opposed to the promotion of equality, we in fact support every effort, what we are opposed to do is being required to prepare a statement of principles that may indeed go against our faith, may go against our beliefs, may go against our conscience.’”

    Groia is already locked in another battle with the law society; the Supreme Court of Canada is set to hear on Nov. 6 his appeal of his incivility conviction for being rude in court and one-month suspension imposed by the law society tribunal. More than 3,600 lawyers elected him a bencher in 2015 as his case — which is being closely followed in legal circles — was making its way through the courts.

    The working group spent four years looking into challenges faced by racialized licensees, finding them “both long-standing and significant.” It came up with a total of 13 recommendations, three of which, including the statement of principles, are being implemented this year. Another mandatory recommendation requires “legal workplaces” with 10 or more licensees to develop and implement a human rights and diversity policy. The third recommendation, for licensees to participate in an “inclusion survey,” is optional.

    The statement of principles “forces people to think about what exactly is their obligation, to understand that they have such an obligation and to think about how they're going to implement it in their own practice,” said lawyer Paul Jonathan Saguil, chair of the law society's equity advisory group. “There's no debate about the fact that people can decide what words to use (in the statement), but to fail to acknowledge that you have an obligation to promote equality and inclusion, if people don't want to do that, if people say they don't have any such obligation, that to me is a serious flaw on their perception of what it means to be a lawyer in the 21st century in Ontario.”

    The law society has said change is needed now more than ever, as the number of racialized lawyers in Ontario has doubled — from 9 per cent of the profession in 2011, to 18 per cent in 2014.

    Licensees who don't come up with a statement of principles this year will receive a letter indicating their non-compliance, said treasurer Paul Schabas, the elected head of the regulator. Whether they will face penalties in the future remains to be seen.

    “We're trying to be positive and proactive,” he told the Star. “Our focus is on raising awareness and achieving the culture shift the working group recommended, which is make people aware of the challenges faced by racialized licensees in getting jobs and advancing in jobs. Our aim is simply to educate and raise awareness, we didn't bring this in to penalize.”

    Lawyers challenging part of Law Society of Upper Canada plan to address racism Lawyers challenging part of Law Society of Upper Canada plan to address racismLawyers challenging part of Law Society of Upper Canada plan to address racism Lawyers challenging part of Law Society of Upper Canada plan to address racism

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    First they fought fires, then they fought cancers.

    Now they’re fighting among themselves in a bitter legal battle over millions of dollars — a battle that grows uglier and more acrimonious as thousands of pages of court documents pile up.

    On one side is the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA), which represents more than 10,000 active firefighters across the province.

    On the other side are Hamilton firefighter Colin Grieve and a Toronto firefighter named Paul Atkinson. For years, they have helped victims settle claims with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

    Read more:

    Two veteran firefighters facing fraud, money laundering charges over workers’ compensation claims

    Fraud allegations ‘hard to believe,’ says firefighter’s widow

    Firefighters launch counter-claim against Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association

    Grieve was one of the hundreds of Hamilton firefighters who battled the notorious Plastimet blaze two decades ago. He then became an advocate for colleagues stricken with work-related cancers, sought after for his expertise in navigating the bureaucracy of the WSIB claims process.

    The two sides are now fighting over what has happened to some of the settlement money that has gone, in many of the cases, to the widows and families of firefighters who died from illnesses linked to their jobs.

    So far, there has been a $4-million lawsuit filed by the OPFFA against Grieve and Atkinson, a $12-million countersuit filed by the two firefighters against the OPFFA and its former president, Carmen Santoro, and a total of eight criminal charges laid by Halton police against Grieve and Atkinson.

    The OPFFA alleges the two firefighters “misappropriated” at least $3 million that should have gone to the association while Grieve and Atkinson claim their actions were condoned by the OPFFA.

    Each side has declared the other’s actions and statements to be some combination of “outrageous,” “malicious,” “scandalous” and “defamatory.”

    On Oct. 26 and 27, a judge will be asked to rule on five separate motions clogging the arteries of the civil cases as the legal battle becomes uglier and more acrimonious.

    The two most crucial motions are an attempt by Grieve and Atkinson to have the OPFFA’s lawsuit dismissed, or failing that, to have the civil suits put aside until the criminal charges are resolved.

    “Our clients want to deal with these issues but fighting a two-fronted battle on the same issues at the same time is unfair,” said Gavin Tighe, a Toronto lawyer representing Grieve and Atkinson in the civil cases.

    “Our clients believe there is no merit in either of the cases,” Tighe added.

    On Feb. 28, Halton police laid four criminal charges each against Grieve and Atkinson — two counts each of fraud over $5,000, and single counts of attempting to obstruct justice and money laundering.

    Grieve and Atkinson have already failed in their attempt to take the extraordinary step of forcing three of the OPFFA’s lawyers to get on the witness stand and provide evidence against their client in the civil lawsuit.

    The two firefighters have raised concerns about the “unusually close” relationship between the OPFFA’s lawyers and Halton police.

    Grieve and Atkinson have also taken the inflammatory step of threatening to name two of the OPFFA’s lawyers as defendants in a malicious prosecution action if the criminal charges are withdrawn or dismissed at a trial.

    None of the allegations made so far in the OPFFA’s statement of claim, the counterclaim of Grieve and Atkinson, or the various filed affidavits have been proven in court.

    A pretrial conference on the criminal charges will continue on Nov. 16.

    Rahool Agarwal, the lead lawyer for the OPFFA, declined to comment on the case because the matter is still before the court.

    The OPFFA’s lawsuit was launched in the spring of 2016 but the story starts 20 years ago in the wake of the Plastimet fire, one of Hamilton’s worst environmental nightmares.

    A toxic soup of chemicals from the burning plastics left a number of the firefighters stricken with long-term illnesses, including elevated rates of cancers.

    Following an appearance on CBC’s The Fifth Estate in late 1997 to discuss the Plastimet fire, Grieve began informally helping other firefighters, retirees or their families advance claims for occupational illnesses.

    By the late 1990s, Grieve and Atkinson were appointed to the OPFFA’s WSIB committee.

    What complicated the matter was the fact many of the WSIB claims needing assistance were coming from retirees or their families and they weren’t members of the OPFFA, which represents active firefighters.

    By 2004, the association established the Retirees Cancer Claim Fund (RCCF), which started with $20,000 in seed money from the OPFFA to help with the process of submitting claims.

    The association decided to also seek voluntary donations from retired firefighters or their beneficiaries, paid as a percentage of a WSIB settlement.

    The OPFFA drew up a letter of agreement and if a successful claimant decided to make a contribution, they were asked to donate 1.5 per cent of the settlement to help the association continue representing others.

    But the fund couldn’t keep up with the requests for assistance.

    By 2005, the OPFFA had increased the suggested donation amount to 3 per cent of the settlement and then to 5 per cent in 2007. The association also introduced a $1-per-month levy on its members in 2006 that has generated more than $1 million for the retirees’ cancer fund.

    In 2005, the OPFFA decided to formalize the roles of Grieve and Atkinson. Their full-time job was to represent active and retired firefighters or their families as they made claims for workplace-related illnesses.

    Grieve and Atkinson continued to be paid their regular salaries by their respective municipalities and the OPFFA paid the costs of substitute firefighters to cover the shifts that Grieve and Atkinson would normally take.

    The OPFFA also paid Grieve and Atkinson’s expenses and daily per diems in some cases, along with annual honoraria.

    A balance sheet filed in court by the OPFFA shows it paid out $1.37 million in expenses related to Grieve and Atkinson over a nine-year period from June 2006 through May 2015.

    The expenses included $216,000 in mileage charges and $46,500 for cellphones.

    The allegations

    In 2015, the association began to have concerns about the “conduct” of Grieve and Atkinson, according to its statement of claim.

    The association alleges some of the donation money from successful WSIB claimants that should have gone to the OPFFA was instead being kept by the two firefighters.

    From 2004 through 2015, Atkinson and Grieve represented more than 230 claimants, leading to over $80 million in total WSIB payouts. “However the OPFFA received just over $600,000 in donations to the RCCF over that same time period, or approximately 0.7 per cent,” the association alleges.

    The OPFFA alleges that Atkinson and Grieve “misappropriated” at least $3 million in donations. That’s on top of the expenses, honoraria and regular salaries that were already paid to them.

    In 2005, Grieve and Atkinson created a company called Professional Firefighters Advocates Inc., which they allegedly referred to at times as PFFA “in an effort to confuse claim recipients into believing they were agreeing to contribute monies to the OPFFA,” according to the statement of claim.

    The OPFFA alleges Grieve and Atkinson developed “copycat” letters of agreement for claimants to sign that replicated “almost verbatim” the OPFFA’s agreement but instead directed donations be made out to “PFFA” — an acronym they used to refer to their company.

    The court filings include examples of invoices provided to claimants’ families.

    On some, the “O” from OPFFA is missing but the address below “PFFA” is the Plains Rd. location of the actual OPFFA headquarters in Burlington.

    There are notations to “Make all cheques payable to Professional Fire Fighters Advocates Inc.” and that cheques should be mailed to a Stoney Creek address that appears to be Grieve’s home.

    The OPFFA states it received a complaint from Bev Bamlett, the widow of a deceased firefighter. Atkinson had helped handle her WSIB claim and she was concerned about his conduct, according to the documents.

    The OPFFA filed text messages that purport to show Atkinson soliciting Bamlett to pay him for the work he did preparing her claim.

    In notes provided to the OPFFA by Bamlett, she said she wanted to donate $7,500 from the settlement.

    She asked if she should make the cheque out to OPFFA but Atkinson said, “No, he has a company for that,” she alleges.

    She was particularly upset that Atkinson seemed to consider a successful settlement similar to a lottery win.

    “Paul mentioned lottery so many times,” Bamlett wrote. “The settlement is not a lottery win. I lost my husband and my daughters lost their father.”

    The OPFFA alleges Atkinson and Grieve asked some claimants to sign confidentiality agreements and asked some “to destroy all documents related to their claim after the fact.”

    Last October, current OPFFA president Rob Hyndman filed an affidavit outlining a number of cases where the association believes financial irregularities took place.

    There was the case of London firefighter Jack Kellum, now deceased, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour. After the claim was settled, his wife made two payments — one for $2,200 made out to the OPFFA and a second donation for $8,588.50, “to an organization called ‘PFFA,’ ” according to a statement filed in court by Kellum’s wife, Nancy.

    “Jack thought it was strange that we would be asked to make those two separate donations and questioned Colin about it,” Nancy Kellum stated.

    “Colin never indicated that PFFA was a company that he owned and operated,” she alleges. “It was not our intention that this money would be received by Paul or Colin personally or any company under their control.”

    There was the case of Caledon firefighter James Martin, who died of esophageal cancer. His daughter Nora attempted to make a donation of nearly $30,000 to the OPFFA.

    According to a witness statement by Martin filed in court, Atkinson told her to make the cheque payable to “PFFA.”

    “It was not my understanding that our donation was made to compensate Paul or his company in any way,” Martin wrote. “It was my intention that the money ultimately go to the OPFFA.”

    The OPFFA alleges the two firefighters committed breach of fiduciary duty, breach of trust, false misrepresentation, breach of contract and unjust enrichment, among other acts.

    “The defendants’ actions were outrageous, malicious and high-handed,” the association alleges. “Their motive was to dupe retired firefighters suffering from life-threatening illnesses, and their families, out of money they agreed to give to the OPFFA.”

    The two firefighters deny the OPFFA’s allegations and state in their defence that they never engaged “in any fraudulent scheme, conspiracy or subterfuge.”

    “The allegations in the statement of claim to this effect are purposefully scandalous,” they claim in their statement of defence.

    Grieve and Atkinson state that the OPFFA couldn’t provide the name of a single victim and the “true purpose” of the association’s lawsuit “is to gain monetary benefit for the OPFFA and its current executive,” they allege.

    What’s more, they allege, the OPFFA condoned the compensation arrangements between the WSIB claimants and the two firefighters “as long as it continued to receive a percentage of the proceeds of such efforts.

    “It was only after (Grieve and Atkinson) decided to break ties with the OPFFA, and in the face of a loss of revenue to which the OPFFA had no legal entitlement in the first place, that the OPFFA suddenly began to take issue with these defendants’ work on behalf of claimants,” their statement of defence alleges.

    “The families and firefighters assisted by these defendants were fully aware of and agreed to compensate them for their efforts,” Grieve and Atkinson claim, “at a fraction of the cost that a paralegal or lawyer would have charged.”

    The two firefighters launched a counterclaim against the OPFFA and its former president Carmen Santoro, seeking $5 million in damages and $1 million in punitive damages against each for unlawful interference of economic interest, abuse of process, defamation and intentional infliction of mental distress.

    Atkinson and Grieve allege that Santoro “embarked on a malicious smear campaign” designed to harm their integrity and damage their reputations.

    “(We) have been subject to embarrassment, scorn and ridicule,” the two firefighters claim.


    Firefighters in bitter legal battle over fate of settlement moneyFirefighters in bitter legal battle over fate of settlement money

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    The city says it could be forced to leave millions of dollars in federal infrastructure funding unspent unless Ottawa agrees to extend the deadlines for using the money.

    Last year the Liberal government gave Toronto’s transportation plans a huge boost by allocating the city $856 million from the first phase of its $3.4-billion Public Transit Infrastructure Fund.

    However, the funding came with strings attached — it can only be spent on projects scheduled to be complete by March 31, 2019,and a maximum of 40 per cent of the money can be spent in the final year of the program.

    Council has identified 87 projects to spend the money on, the majority of which are for the TTC. They include subway track maintenance, upgrades to TTC stations, design and construction of rail yards, and the purchase of nearly 800 new buses. The money must be matched by municipal spending.

    A report going to Mayor John Tory’s executive committee on Tuesday says not all of the projects will be able to meet the federal government’s requirements. City staff have identified about $121.5 million in federal money that is “currently at risk” for not being spent within the fund’s guidelines.

    The report, which was authored by the city manager and the acting chief financial officer, also warns that 37 per cent of the funding is projected to be spent in the program’s final year, leaving just a 3 per cent cushion to avoid breaching Ottawa’s 40-per-cent limit.

    “As a result, there is limited contingency for slippage in project delivery,” the report says.

    Staff are recommending council ask Ottawa to extend the deadline for the fund by one year, to March 31, 2020, and to increase the portion of the program that can be spent in the final year to 70 per cent.

    If the federal government doesn’t agree to “additional program flexibility,” the city might have to remove some projects from the list, which would leave Toronto taxpayers on the hook for the entire cost of the work.

    A spokesperson for Mayor John Tory said while the city is spending the infrastructure money “in an efficient and responsible way,” ever since the program was announced “staff have warned that it would be difficult to roll out millions of dollars in projects in such a short timeframe.”

    “Staff have advised that the city should be asking the federal government for more flexibility with the timeline so we can make sure we deliver these projects. We don’t want to leave any money on the table and we’re confident the federal government doesn’t want to either,” said Don Peat.

    In an email, Brook Simpson, the press secretary to Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi, didn’t slam the door on the possibility of loosening the guidelines.

    Simpson said the minister has the power to grant extensions on individual projects “where there is a demonstrated need,” and noted other municipalities have also signalled they want a “program-wide extension.”

    “We will continue to work with our partners to respond to their needs and timelines under our existing programs,” Simpson said.

    As a backup plan, the report says, the TTC is negotiating with vendors to speed up the purchase of new buses. That could cut the amount of funding that risks going unspent to $84.8 million.

    Toronto may leave $121M unspent in federal transit fundingToronto may leave $121M unspent in federal transit funding

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    Citing an urgent need to address gender-based harassment, discrimination and bullying, a group of current and former police officers has established a national advocacy group to support female cops in a workplace where they say women are too often treated as outsiders.

    The National Women in Law Enforcement Association will represent a growing group of women officers alleging discrimination and harassment on the job — and who believe there is little recourse, according to organizers.

    “Women in policing, they’re in distress right now,” says Waterloo police Const. Angelina Rivers, who is part of a proposed class-action lawsuit against the Waterloo police board and its union alleging gender-based bullying, misconduct and more.

    “Women are leaving policing in droves, and there’s a reason for that,” she says.

    Recent research examining the experience of female officers in Canada has raised concerns about the persistence of an “old boys” club’ within policing, even as more women sign onto the force.

    In her study of female police officers in Ontario, Lesley Bikos, a former London, Ont. officer now pursuing her PhD studying police culture at Western University, found officers regularly subjected to verbal harassment — including being called “badge bunny” or a “tomboy” — and having to withstand hearing sexist jokes. Women officers also had to work harder to earn the respect automatically granted to their male counterparts and hesitated calling for backup out of fear of being called weak, Bikos found.

    Officers who become mothers, meanwhile, face another set of challenges, including being passed over for promotions because of a perception they won’t be as dedicated, according to research out of Wilfrid Laurier University.

    The new women’s policing advocacy group seeks to be both a support network for female police officers and group lobbying for change at the municipal, provincial and federal levels, according to its founders.

    Rivers said the group was born out of the realization that the ongoing proposed lawsuit against Waterloo police will take years to work its way through the courts. That’s time female officers be facing discrimination do not have, she said.

    The proposed lawsuit, which is seeking more than $165 million on behalf of past and present female Waterloo police officers, alleges a sexist workplace culture that subjects some female staff to verbal, physical and sexual harassment.

    None of the allegations have been tested in court.

    The Waterloo Police Services Board has said it would challenge the suit, calling it “inappropriate” and saying filing a complaint under Ontario’s Police Services Act would have been “the appropriate means to deal with the allegations.”

    When the lawsuit was launched earlier this year, Waterloo Police Chief Bryan Larkin said some of the allegations had only just been brought to the force, while others had been dealt with through an independent law firm’s investigation.

    Rivers said that among the most pressing concerns for the new group is the lack of remedy for female officers who have experienced anything from verbal harassment to unwanted sexual advances or more. Raising the alarm bells by going to a supervisor and lodging a complaint, she said, can result in retaliation that’s only damaging for the officer herself.

    In her own case, Rivers alleges male officers began spreading rumours that she was having an affair with a colleague. In response, she alleges, her immediate superior sent her sexually explicit texts, including requests for her to send naked pictures.

    When she complained, Rivers claims she was reassigned to an undesirable position. She is currently on leave from the force.

    The retaliation to speaking out can be worse than the original offence, says Const. Kim Prodaniuk, an officer with the Calgary Police Service who helped establish the national advocacy group.

    Prodaniuk says she got a reputation as a “bitch” after speaking out against what she said was gender-based discrimination from a supervisor.

    “It spread around the police service that . . . I can’t be trusted. Basically a lot of prison mentality that you’re a ‘rat.’ That had a whole bunch of consequences for me as a police officer,” she said in an interview Monday.

    That included not being able to find a police partner when she was working in a high-crime area because she wasn’t seen as “trustworthy,” Prodaniuk said. She is currently on leave from the force.

    The Calgary Police Service told its civilian oversight commission earlier this year it would take action in response to allegations of gender discrimination within the force, including a review of its hiring and promotion policies and the establishment of an independent whistle-blowing program.

    Jen Magnus, a former Calgary officer who also helped establish the group, publicly resigned in February at a Calgary police commission meeting after coming forward with allegations of workplace harassment and bullying. Magnus claims her complaints were minimized when she went to superiors, and the subsequent retaliation she faced discouraged others from speaking out.

    “It was clear to me that the culture wasn’t going to change with one sole voice complaining,” she said. “You need a national association like this for people to find that strength and find that voice.”

    Wendy Gillis can be reached at

    With files from The Canadian Press

    Canadian female police band together to change ‘intolerable’ working conditionsCanadian female police band together to change ‘intolerable’ working conditions

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    The tepid response from federal leaders to Quebec’s ill-conceived and offensive Bill 62 tells us three truths about Canadian politics.

    They are not comfortable truths.

    It tells us that all three major party leaders may harbour suspicions that the bill forcing face coverings to be removed while accessing public services may be more popular both inside and outside Quebec than what might be expected.

    They may be right. This has all the trappings of a Donald Trump presidential run or a Brexit referendum in that the louder the protestations and the deeper the indignation of the mainstream pundits, editorial boards and the elite, the more popular the candidate or the legislation.

    Secondly, it tells us that the further from power one is, the easier it is to be the champion of rights and liberties.

    And thirdly, because it is Quebec, we know that any federal intervention is seen as a political third rail, which would not be the case if, say, a government in Manitoba or Nova Scotia had passed such legislation.

    This is particularly true when the Quebec premier is a federalist.

    No one wants to poke the hibernating PQ bear, everyone is leery of meddling in provincial jurisdiction, particularly when you have opposition parties who believe Premier Philippe Couillard’s absurd bill does not go far enough.

    Here’s another reason for federal leaders to bide their time and give answers by rote — the bill is almost certain to be challenged in court and will likely wend its way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

    Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could ask the court for an opinion on the constitutionality of the face-veil law, political prudence will mean he will wait for the court challenge to be generated from inside Quebec.

    This prudence, however, presumes that Canadians are sympathetic to political gyrations. They deserve full-throated condemnation.

    Trudeau, of course, is not alone. We have not heard anything remotely powerful from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer or NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, either.

    The prime minister’s indignation over measures which infringe on Canadians’ rights and liberties was hot from his perch as leader of the third party but has significantly cooled now that he exercises power.

    In August 2013, responding to the Parti Québécois charter of values, Trudeau wrote in a Globe and Mail op-ed: “Church and state must be separate. But by what logic should we restrict the freedom of some Quebeckers to express their religious beliefs? Simply because they are not shared by the majority? This is a dangerous road, not just for religious minorities within Quebec, but for all minorities, everywhere.’’

    Early in the election year, 2015, Trudeau delivered a speech at McGill University in opposition to then-prime minister Stephen Harper’s anti-terror legislation.

    He said those who have argued that expanding liberty in this country would compromise our traditional values were wrong, “because working to gain freedom for our fellow citizens is a bedrock traditional value in this country. It is in large measure what it means to be Canadian.’’

    Last week, campaigning in Monday’s Lac-Saint-Jean by-election, Trudeau said he would study the “implications” of the bill. He said no government should tell a woman what or what not to wear, but he stayed far away from any federal intervention.

    Scheer has a more politically advantageous issue to talk about, the government’s climb down on small business tax reforms and Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s stock holdings.

    His is the most milquetoast of Bill 62 responses.

    “Ultimately, this will be up to Quebecers to pass judgment on. It is a provincial law from the provincial legislature,’’ he told a Kitchener radio interviewer.

    “We’ll see what happens in the courts.’’

    Singh has the distance of the third party when he tells the CBC “it’s important we don’t pick and choose when it comes to human rights, we stand up for the rights of all people, all communities, all the time.’’

    But for the NDP, the niqab has become kryptonite.

    Former leader Tom Mulcair’s opposition to Harper’s bid to ban the niqab from citizenship ceremonies cost him dearly in Quebec in 2015 and Bill 62 already roiled the NDP leadership race won by Singh — a man whose head covering could become a challenge for him in Quebec.

    This is what we have in late 2017 — three men weighing political calculations in Quebec.

    It’s great news if you’re big on provincial rights, not so great if you were looking for someone to take on a racist piece of legislation.

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

    Trudeau, Scheer and Singh do the math in Quebec and none champion an anti-racist stance: Tim HarperTrudeau, Scheer and Singh do the math in Quebec and none champion an anti-racist stance: Tim Harper

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    This is part of an occasional series on zero-waste initiatives.

    Imagine, producing only a jar’s worth of trash every year. To many, that seems an out-of-reach goal.

    But for Bea Johnson and her family of four, fitting all 365 days’ worth of garbage into a single glass jar is simply the end result of having a zero-waste home.

    “It’s a life based on experiences instead of things,” says Johnson, who grew up in France and now lives with her husband and two teenage sons in California. “By going zero-waste, you make room in your life for what matters most to you.”

    The path to waste-free living started in 2008, when Johnson and her family moved into an apartment while waiting for the right family home to become available in downtown San Francisco. They put 80 per cent of their belongings in storage and found, at the end of their apartment stay, they didn’t need them or miss them. So, Johnson says, they let go of their excess stuff and embarked on their zero-waste lifestyle.

    Since then, she has honed her waste-free skills and shares tips and inspiration on her blog and in her book — both called Zero Waste Home— and during speaking engagements that have taken her to 30 countries.

    Read more:

    Etobicoke condo adds organic-only garbage chute

    Green Halloween makes holiday waste vanish

    Scarborough condo leading way toward ‘zero waste’

    Johnson, who is in Toronto on Thursday to talk about the waste-free movement, spoke to the Star about how a zero-waste home is easier, healthier and cheaper than you might think.

    You sealed your most recent annual jar of trash on Oct. 15. You have it nearby; can you describe some of its contents?

    Every year, we have the bristles of our toothbrushes. We buy compostable toothbrushes, but the bristles are not compostable. I see some photo paper — it’s not recyclable — because my husband recently went through his memory box and let some photos go. I have caulking from the back of our sink that we replaced because it gets mouldy over time. Every year, we have fruit and veggie stickers. We can eliminate those if we shop at a farmers market, but sometimes we can’t go. We also have the foam pad of my son’s earphones, the gasket of a jar. Every year, we have the backing from our licence plate sticker, which is not recyclable; the backing of every sticker goes into the jar.

    And for everything else that you no longer need in your life, you are able to use your five Rs — Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot — rather than relegate those items to the trash. All the Rs must be used together, but is there one that’s most important for a zero-waste lifestyle?

    What’s very important is to follow them in order. The more you refuse, the less you have to reduce, the more you reduce, the less you have to reuse, etc. For us, zero-waste lifestyle is not all about recycling or composting, though that’s important. It’s actually about preventing waste from coming into our home in the first place. The first thing you can do to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle is to simply learn to say no. Today, in this consumerist society, we are the targets of many things. Every time we accept them, we are creating a demand to create more. By refusing these things, not only do we stop the demand for more to be created, but also we stop them from coming into your home and creating a trash problem.

    You’ve spoken all over the world and you insist that almost anybody can do this. But I’m sure not everyone is convinced. What is the most common protest you hear from skeptics and what is your advice to overcome it?

    There are a lot of misconceptions associated with this lifestyle. Ten years ago, if I had heard about a zero-waste family, I would have thought these people must be hippies, living in the woods, that this must be a stay-at-home mom with way too much time on her hands. This is not at all the truth. People also think this will cost a lot more and take too much time. But what we have found is the zero-waste lifestyle creates the opposite. It’s not just good for the environment, it’s also good for our health because we’ve been able to eliminate all toxic products from our life; we clean with white vinegar, on my face I use food items. This lifestyle is also saving us a huge amount of money. My husband made the calculation and found we are saving 40 per cent on our overall budget. More importantly, we found it has been saving us a huge amount of time.

    I can understand how adults can get behind this. What about your kids, do they find it more difficult to be zero-waste than you or your husband?

    My kids do not even notice. Kids actually have very simple needs. It’s the parents that complicate those needs. It’s the parents who consume for the household, who have the choice to either not consume or consume differently by buying food unpackaged or buying the necessities second-hand. Growing up zero-waste is like growing up with a certain diet or certain religion; you don’t question it, you take it for granted. You might only question it when you become an adult and you have to make those decisions yourself.

    So much of this goal is tied up with geography and opportunity. Here in Toronto, for example, there are food deserts, where people are forced to do the bulk of their shopping at convenience stores. Or in some parts of rural Ontario, recycling is limited. What are people who live in these places to do?

    If you think about the five Rs, they are applicable anywhere in the world. Zero-waste is not just about buying your food unpackaged. It’s about learning to say no to the things you don’t need. Anywhere in the world you can say no to the things that are handed out to you. The second rule is to reduce what you actually need. Of course, we need a roof over our head, a few pieces of furniture and some clothing. But it’s important to learn to let go; to let go of the things you don’t fully use or need to make them available to others. You can do that anywhere in the world. The third rule is to reuse. For us, that is swapping anything that is disposable for a reusable alternative. For example, using old t-shirts instead of paper towels or using reusable containers to buy your foods unpackaged.

    You’ve been living this lifestyle now for nine years. Do you and your family get closer and closer to zero-waste each year?

    I would say our trash output has been the same since 2010. We’re not producing less trash, we’re not producing more. It varies between a pint-size jar of trash to a quart-size jar a year. For us, zero-waste is completely normal and automatic. What was difficult (in the beginning) was to find a system that worked for us. At first, I got a little bit too wrapped up in homemaking; I made my own cheese, my own butter, my own soy milk until I realized that these were not solutions I could see myself doing for the rest of my life with two full-time jobs and a family of four at home. So we let go of those extremes and it took us two years to find a system that worked for us. What becomes easier over time is to learn to say no.

    This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

    Three tricky trash problems solved by Bea Johnson

    Toilet paper comes wrapped in plastic, which often can’t be recycled. What’s the zero-waste solution?

    I found that I can buy toilet paper from restaurant or hotel supply stores. It’s wrapped in paper, not plastic. Now this is a place that is not near me so when I go, I buy enough toilet paper to last me a really long time.

    Other bathroom things also seem tricky, such as menstrual products or condoms. What do you do with those?

    I now use a menstrual cup and there are also reusable napkins. I personally like the cup. It’s one of those items I wish I had known about earlier because now I realize I wasted a lot of money and lot of trash space with (menstrual products) in the past. As for condoms, we don’t use them. My kids are not sexually active yet and my husband and I don’t use them. However, this is something I am concerned about because I know my kids will become sexually active soon and it would be embarrassing if our jar of trash was filled with condom packaging. That said, there are reusable condoms.

    What about shoes? Even if you are in the habit of re-soling your shoes, there comes a time, despite your best efforts, when they wear out. What do you do?

    In the 10 years that we’ve lived this lifestyle, I’ve only had one problem like this. I had one pair of boots that I had re-soled, re-soled, re-soled by an awesome cobbler. Maybe three years ago, I made a hole in the toe and my cobbler said they were not repairable any more. So I thought, who would be interested in this material? I found, on Etsy, a woman who buys second-hand boots in order to make purses and different items. I contacted her and donated the boots.

    Bea Johnson is speaking in Toronto on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Church of the Holy Trinity. For tickets, go to

    This family only produced enough waste in a year to fill this jarThis family only produced enough waste in a year to fill this jar

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    It’s been five years since the series finale of Gossip Girl— a salacious CW television series, based on books by Cecily von Ziegesar. Now, in midtown Toronto, the spirit of the teen drama is getting an unlikely revival.

    Miss Informed is a gossip site, and a social labyrinth for an adolescent world. It gives an outlandish glimpse into the lives of teenagers identified only by first names and initials — though one post indicated that last names were once used, as well.

    “Who am I?” an introductory page reads.

    “Well, I’m one of you, but I’m also only your new favorite source for the latest gossip on the social scene at the Midtown Toronto high schools, as well as it’s parties, gossip, stories, and finally, it’s hottest couples and people.”

    One post asks readers for more information about a fight between two girls, alluding that it may have been over romantic jealousy. The comments range from corrections on what school the teens attend to a play-by-play of one girl being flung away “like a tissue.”

    Notes of friends becoming mortal enemies follow. Other posts are warmer, pronouncing the “hottest couple” or a pair in a “lovely relationship.”

    But the site’s quippy gossip and snarky observations went awry one warm Saturday night in mid-September.

    Emergency calls poured in on Sept. 16 from the area around Rosedale Park. Stabbings, assaults and robberies were compounded by medical calls for unconscious and intoxicated teens. Police reported hundreds had arrived after receiving information across social media.

    All reported incidents involved victims between 15 and 16-years-old, and the suspects were approximately eight to 10 boys and girls in their late teens, wearing hoodies with bandanas covering their faces.

    Multiple parties in a number of weeks followed the same pattern, and police believe the suspects attend for the sole purpose of carrying out robberies and other criminal activity. They also have evidence leading them to believe there have been several unreported incidents of a similar nature.

    Staff Sgt. James Hogan of Toronto Police’s 53 Division says the Rosedale Park party was certainly aided by social media — but it wasn’t caused by it.

    “I certainly went to lots of parties in forests and fields without social media when I was younger. It’s not a new phenomenon; it’s just a different way of organizing it,” he explained.

    Hogan will be a panelist at a Tuesday night town-hall style event, run by the North Rosedale and neighbouring residents associations. The purpose of the evening, at Rosedale United Church, is to discuss Midtown teenagers’ use of social media and their safety in a digital age, given recent events.

    Police will also provide an update on their criminal investigation.

    Lewis Redford, president of the North Rosedale Residents Association, called Miss Informed “sort of a dark site I guess you’d call it — something a lot of adults and school supervisors weren’t really aware of.”

    On Friday, the author of Miss Informed posted a statement addressing several potential concerns, including the “Rosedale Jam” party. The author began by saying they didn’t take responsibility for what happened, but that they’d be altering their posts in future.

    “I have made the decision not to post about parties, but instead to SMS blast them only to the group of confirmed subscribers who are actually students in the grades invited,” the anonymous author wrote.

    “The last thing I want is a disaster.”

    They also wrote that they maintained a set of morals around the gossip they shared (using the example that they wouldn’t share a tip outing someone’s sexual orientation), that there was a site feature to request a post be taken down, and that “believe it or not, most people ask me to post about them.”

    Tracking the owner of the site leads to multiple stops: a listed phone number was previously used to advertise escort services in Vaughan, as recently as June 2016. The site itself is registered with a company based in Panama.

    The site focuses on five schools: North Toronto Collegiate Institute, Northern Secondary School, Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute, Rosedale Heights School of the Arts, Forest Hill Collegiate Institute and “BHHS,” which may be an acronym for Branksome Hall.

    Toronto District School Board said they’re aware of the gossip site, but don’t have control over the content posted to it.

    “It’s important to note that content posted online that has a negative impact on the climate of a school can result in possible disciplinary action in cases where the poster’s identity is known,” spokesperson Ryan Bird wrote.

    “In this specific case, the identity of the poster is not known by staff.”

    And though the meeting was spurred by the public-park parties in September, Hogan says that’s just the starting point.

    “It’s actually a much broader discussion. We get that that’s just a useful catalyst. It’s a much broader discussion about social media, and young people, and the implications of it.”

    Toronto’s Gossip Girl website scrutinized after ‘Rosedale Jam’ park party stabbingToronto’s Gossip Girl website scrutinized after ‘Rosedale Jam’ park party stabbing

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    After 26 years, Roger Fowler finally has hope.

    The retired General Electric worker, who believes his cancer was caused by the two decades he spent working among toxic chemicals in the company’s Peterborough plant, received a call late last week and was told his WSIB claim is expected to go ahead.

    But the roller-coaster ride he’s been on since the 1990s — his claim turned down, rejected again on appeal, then informed he would get a review, only to be told no because of the previous rejection — means the 71-year-old is still wary.

    “After what I’ve been through, you can’t trust anybody until you see it in writing, or somebody calls me and says ‘you are in,’ ” Fowler said in a telephone interview. “I’m worried in a hopeful way. I’m really nervous.”

    Fowler, who worked at the plant for 22 years, is among hundreds of former employees between 1945 and 2000 who say their cancer or serious illness was a result of exposure to thousands of chemicals at the site.

    Their claims for compensation were earlier dismissed by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. But in recent months, new research has found they were exposed to the toxic substances at unsafe levels — and about 40 of those chemicals have been linked to cancer — so the board decided to reconsider some 250 cases that had previously been denied.

    The WSIB has since looked at 16 of those cases, and so far 10 of them have been overturned, and six denials upheld. The rest of the 250 claimants have been told to expect letters in the mail this week as the reviews get underway.

    “It’s taken awhile to get to this point, but I think we’re doing it the right way because we are now going to see an orderly progression,” Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said.

    In the past, he added, “there were no claims being dealt with … when you look at how far this dates back, now that the WSIB is starting to move through the process in an orderly way … if they can keep this pace” all should be dealt with by the end of the year or early spring.

    Last week, Fowler was part of a group that came to Queen’s Park to say the Ministry of Labour was dragging its feet and failing to make good on promises, such as $2 million in funding for a specialized team based in Peterborough to help workers with their WSIB claims.

    In 2016, the Star chronicled the “lethal legacy” of the Peterborough plant and, earlier this year, a study by the Unifor union found an “epidemic” of workplace illnesses for those who worked at the plant up until 2000, when it was decontaminated.

    The GE Peterborough plant was the area’s largest employer, and made diesel locomotive engines, nuclear reactor fuel cells and hydro generators, as well as appliances and other items. Over its 125-year history, the plant has employed tens of thousands of workers, and GE has said health and safety has always been the company’s “No. 1 priority.”

    The WSIB says that since 1993, about 80 per cent of some 2,400 GE claims were allowed, though critics have said the number of approved cancer claims is just one-quarter. Given the new findings, the WSIB is now looking at more than 250 rejected claims and urging workers who haven’t yet put in a claim to come forward.

    The WSIB says it has received more than 60 calls in the past month, and 30 new claims are now being processed.

    “New scientific research and information from the community is helping to shed new light on the substances people were exposed to,” said Aaron Lazarus of the WSIB. “We are working to thoroughly review each claim as quickly as possible so that people have answers and the benefits they may be entitled to.”

    The additional cases that have come forward may be reviewed under a different, expedited process, Flynn has said, and advocates have been urging automatic approval.

    Last Thursday during Question Period, NDP MPP Cindy Forster (Welland) asked why the workers and their families haven’t yet received compensation. She noted that while the WSIB has been rejecting claims, it has continued to give businesses a cut in premiums.

    What the workers have gone through is tragic, added NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. “A lot of their colleagues have passed away over the years with terrible cancers and illnesses — it’s just horrifying.”

    She said the government needs to act much faster.

    “What they shouldn’t do is keep stringing them along,” she added. “What they shouldn’t do is give them false hope and make false promises and I think that’s why they are so frustrated — they really did believe that the government was going to step up to the plate and get the WSIB to proactively get these claims resolved and start ensuring that those who are left are able to get the compensation they deserve from the toxic exposures in the workplace.”

    GE Peterborough workers’ cancer cases get second lookGE Peterborough workers’ cancer cases get second lookGE Peterborough workers’ cancer cases get second lookGE Peterborough workers’ cancer cases get second lookGE Peterborough workers’ cancer cases get second lookGE Peterborough workers’ cancer cases get second lookGE Peterborough workers’ cancer cases get second lookGE Peterborough workers’ cancer cases get second look

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    OTTAWA—Caitlan Coleman, the 31-year-old American woman who gave birth to her three children while held hostage by the Haqqani network, says she is breaking her silence to dispute statements made about her family’s captivity and the day they were rescued.

    “Right now everybody’s shunting blame and making claims. Pakistan says, no they were never in Pakistan, until the end. The U.S. says, no they were always in Pakistan; it was Pakistan’s responsibility. But neither of those are true,” she told the Star.

    During her first interview Monday since being rescued 12 days ago, Coleman added crucial details about the kidnapping case that has captured international attention and led to widespread speculation.

    While she said she is not ready to speak publicly about all aspects of her captivity, she is certain they were held in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and claims made by Islamabad and Washington, that they were rescued Oct. 11 after crossing the border are false. “We were not crossing into Pakistan that day. We had been in Pakistan for more than a year at that point.”

    Read more:

    After a lifetime in captivity, the children of Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman begin to heal

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

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

    Coleman was kidnapped with her husband, Joshua Boyle, a Canadian, in October 2012 in Afghanistan. They were held for five years by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network before their dramatic rescue by Pakistani forces. She was pregnant when she was taken captive.

    Until reaching out to the Star, Coleman has shunned publicity, with the exception of Saturday night emails to her hometown paper about her memories of growing up in Pennsylvania. “Good friends and great times are not forgotten, even now,” she wrote to the York Daily Record.

    Her 34-year-old husband, however, began speaking just hours after landing in Toronto, telling journalists at the airport that his wife had been raped and one of his daughters murdered.

    His statement confirmed what the couple had darkly alluded to in letters and “proof-of-life” videos the captors released. Coleman said she had been “defiled” in front of her children and Boyle wrote vaguely of a terminated pregnancy.

    Coleman said Monday that the forced abortion was in retaliation for Boyle’s refusal of Haqqani network efforts to recruit him. “They were very angry because Joshua had been asked to join them, to work for them, and he said no,” she said. “They killed her by dosing the food. They put massive doses of estrogen in the food.”

    High levels of estrogen in a pregnancy can force a miscarriage and Coleman says once she lost her baby, whom the couple named “Martyr,” the kidnappers boasted about what they had done.

    The Taliban last week issued a statement refuting the claim, saying she miscarried naturally.

    Coleman said they kept her other two pregnancies secret, and Boyle delivered both her youngest son and daughter by flashlight as she quietly laboured in pain.

    Coleman spoke to the Star Monday alone on the grounds of Ottawa’s Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, as her husband cared for their sons, who are 4 and 2.

    All three of her children, including her months-old daughter, who slept in her lap for part of the interview, have been undergoing tests at the hospital and still adapting to a life free from captivity, which includes trips to a playground on the property. Coleman was also receiving medical attention but said she had been recovering.

    She said she’s aware of criticism on social media and elsewhere calling both her and Boyle reckless for travelling in Afghanistan while she was pregnant and then getting pregnant three more times while captive.

    “It was a decision we made. We did think about it and talk about it and it’s difficult to explain all the reasons, but, for me, a large part was the fact that it has always been important to me to have a large family,” she said. “This took our life away from us — this captivity with no end in sight. And so I felt that it was our best choice at that time. We didn’t know if we would have that opportunity when we came back. We didn’t know how long it would be. It was already unprecedented, so we couldn’t say, ‘Oh we’ll only be here a year or six months.’ ”

    During the interview, she at times laughed at the ridiculousness of a memory — at other times she grew quiet or simply said, “No comment.” She has continued to wear a hijab since returning to Canada but declined Monday to speak about whether she has converted to Islam.

    The couple’s willingness to talk so early after their harrowing ordeal is part of what makes this story unique, along with the fact that Boyle was once married to Zaynab Khadr, the sister of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr. Canadian Colin Rutherford, who was released in January 2016 after five years in captivity, has still not spoken publicly about his captivity. Amanda Lindhout, who spent 460 days held hostage in Somalia before her release in 2009, would eventually write a bestselling book and give talks about her survival. But she was hospitalized and underwent intense therapy — which she continues today — for many years before speaking openly.

    But Coleman said she hoped by speaking out she could help temper the politicking that is shaping the narrative of their kidnapping and rescue.

    Pakistan’s army issued a statement hours after the young family was freed and safe in Islamabad that claimed they were alerted by U.S. agencies that the kidnappers were crossing from Afghanistan, at the Kurram Agency border, into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in northwestern Pakistan.

    The next day, U.S. President Donald Trump hailed the rescue as “a positive moment for our country’s relationship with Pakistan.”

    “The Pakistani government’s co-operation is a sign that it is honouring America’s wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region,” he said in a statement.

    For some, the rescue was hailed as deft diplomacy and a direct line drawn from Trump’s hardline stance with Pakistan this summer, when he threatened that Islamabad had “much to lose” if it failed to co-operate on security issues in neighbouring Afghanistan.

    Coleman said they were moved quickly from Afghanistan to Pakistan after being kidnapped and the first six or seven months were among the most difficult.

    “They first took us out of Afghanistan; it was several days’ drive. They took us to Miran Shah, in Pakistan, where we were kept for more than a year,” she said, adding that Boyle understood some Farsi, which helped them understand at times where they were. “It was very bad. My husband and I were separated at that time. He wasn’t allowed to see Najaeshi or spend any time with us.”

    They named their oldest son Najaeshi Jonah.

    “Then we were moved to the north of Miran Shah, to the house of a man who said he was called Mahmoud. He was very nice to Najaeshi and would provide us with amenities we wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said. “He would take Najaeshi out to get him sunlight and nobody else did that at any other point.”

    In 2014 and 2015, the family was moved often. It was during this time, Coleman says, she had the forced abortion and was raped. “We had a pen they didn’t know about and we were taking little scraps of paper and trying to hand out notes to anyone and everyone that wasn’t one of the guards or commanders involved in killing Martyr,” she said. “But then they took us, separated us, and beat us and that was when the assault on me happened because they wanted us to stop.”

    From there, she says, they were moved to Spin Ghar, just over the border in Afghanistan, southeast of Kabul. They were often drugged for the transport and put in the trunk of a vehicle.

    “They were always saying you’ll go free in one week or two weeks and this was one of the times they said, ‘We’re going to this new place and one day, two day, maybe a week, you go free, you’re released.’ ”

    They gave the houses nicknames, so the Spin Ghar home became “House of One Day.” They were there for months.

    “Then they built a custom-built house for us. It was still close, in Spin Ghar. It was not good, not bad. It had problems, but no big problems … After that, we just stayed in a house for a short time, a day or two, because they were clearly running from something. One of them we called Dar el Fake Osama because one of their small commanders came but he was yelling that he was Osama bin Laden and we had to do everything he said,” Coleman said, shaking her head. “It was so bizarre.”

    In a place they called the Cat Hotel, as they believed it was a hotel, they could see the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was there that Coleman says the kidnappers acquired a “jingle truck,” one of the brightly painted trucks adorned with bells that are ubiquitous on Pakistan’s roads. They were taken back into Pakistan in an area between Kohat and Bannu, she said.

    They spent their final months there in what they called “Dar el Musa” (House of Musa). “Outside every day they were doing some training, or something was going on, and some guy was shouting and we laughed because whoever Musa was, he was not doing a good job,” she said. “He was always yelling, ‘No, no, no, Musa Musa.’ ”

    She said they were held mainly in that house from about November 2016 until just two days before the rescue, when they were transferred to “the Mud House,” where the windows were covered with wet, packed dirt.

    On Oct. 11, Coleman said, she was put in the trunk of the kidnappers’ car, after which some sort of car chase and gun battle broke out before they were freed.

    “Our first fear — why we were not poking our heads up and yelling for help — was our fear that it was another gang trying to kidnap us. Possibly just part of the Haqqani network fighting with another part. They’re all just bandits,” she said.

    “You’re a prisoner for so long, you’re so suspicious, I was still thinking we don’t know these people, we don’t know where they’re taking us.”

    When she finally realized they were Pakistani forces and she was free, she doesn’t remember breaking down, or exactly how she reacted.

    “I think I was mostly just in shock.”

    In first sit-down interview, Caitlan Coleman tells of forced abortion, disputes official account of her rescue in PakistanIn first sit-down interview, Caitlan Coleman tells of forced abortion, disputes official account of her rescue in Pakistan

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    “Dad, here’s Dellen.”

    From that winter day, maybe seven or eight years ago when his daughter introduced him to her date, standing in the doorway of their home, Clayton Babcock had never spoken to the young man again.

    Until Monday morning, in a downtown courtroom, with Babcock in the witness stand, recalling a daughter he last saw alive in June, 2012. No one has seen or heard from Laura Babcock in the past five years.

    The thin fellow asking the questions — lank brown hair, jeans resting on his bony hips, bookish spectacles — is Dellen Millard, on trial for first-degree murder in Laura’s presumed death.

    Read more:

    Laura Babcock killed for being odd woman out in love triangle, court hears

    What happened to Laura Babcock? Mystery leaves family in ‘a horrible situation’

    Laura Babcock: Can it be first-degree murder without a body?

    He is representing himself. Thus Millard could cross-examine Clayton Babcock, first witness called in a trial which is expected to last a couple of months. Just as if he were a real lawyer, afforded all the courtesies of the court and the witness compelled to answer, whatever thoughts may have been running through his mind, whatever he was feeling in his gut.

    “Are you nervous, sir?” Millard, who’s pleaded not guilty, asked, to begin the tense exchange.

    Yes, he was.

    Millard: “Do you find this difficult?”

    Babcock, tersely: “Getting better at it.”

    Millard: “This can’t be easy for you, being asked questions by me, considering I’m the accused. Does this make it extra difficult?”

    Babcock: “No.”

    But how could it not be? So much time has passed since Babcock’s last conversation with Laura, on the phone, June 30, 2012. Parents never stop grieving the loss of a child, though, made all the worse when there’s no body to lay to rest.

    She was 23 years old.

    And this man is accused of having done ghastly things to her.

    The prosecution maintains that Millard and co-accused Mark Smich killed Laura on July 3 or 4, 2012, mere days after she left her beloved Maltese dog, Lacey, and an envelope stuffed with about $1,000 at her parents’ home while they were attending a family function. While she was still nominally living at home, Laura had for months been “couch-surfing”, crashing with friends, unwilling to abide by her parents’ rules, but popping in and out.

    A few weeks later, according to the Crown’s narrative, the two defendants disposed of Laura’s body in an incinerator intended for animal carcasses, dubbed by its manufacturer “The Eliminator.”

    In her opening address to the jury Monday, Crown attorney Jill Cameron quoted from a July 23, 2012 text message Millard sent to Smich: “The BBQ is ready for meat.”

    Twenty days earlier, Millard had set a reminder in his iPhone calendar: “Barn smell check.”

    It is believed Laura Babcock was cremated inside a hangar at Millard’s rural property near Kitchener.

    The jury was shown photos of Smich standing in front of “The Eliminator” and of an object wrapped in a long blue tarp — taken on Millard’s phone July 4 — the inference that Laura’s 5-foot-10 body was contained within.

    During the opening, the jury also watched a short segment from a video (not yet introduced into evidence) which court was told was made in September of 2012, depicting Smich performing a rap song. But the lyrics, said Cameron, had been composed July 23 on an iPad which had recently been loaned to Laura by an ex-boyfriend.

    The lyrics:

    The bitch started off all skin and bone,

    Now the bitch lay on some ashy stone.

    Last time I saw her’s outside the home

    And if you go swimming you can’t find her phone.

    Smich — who at one point Monday asked for a break because he was feeling ill — has also pleaded not guilty. He has his own defence lawyer.

    Millard and Smich had been best friends.

    Not that motive is necessary but the prosecution has a theory for why Laura Babcock vanished: She was allegedly the odd-woman out in a three-way love triangle, had told his current girlfriend she was still sleeping with Millard — many years after they’d first briefly dated — and the other woman, Christina Noudga, was upset about it.

    “First I am going to hurt her. Then I’ll make her leave,” Millard texted Noudga in April, two months before Laura disappeared. “I will remove her from our lives.”

    He asked another friend to keep tabs on Laura. Then he sent a message to his mechanic. “Soon I’m gonna want you to put together a homemade incinerator.” By May 25, it was ready for a test run. From Smich to Millard, via text: “We gotta bring something with bones in it.”

    Turns out the jerry-rigged thing allegedly didn’t work to their satisfaction. So Millard instructed his mechanic to buy a commercial version, paying $15,000 for it.

    There were so many dreadful details coming fast and furious on Day 1 of the trial that the core of it — a murdered woman — was almost obscured.

    Clayton Babcock tried his best to put some flesh on the bones — bones which have never been found.

    Laura, he said, was a bubbly young woman who had graduated from the University of Toronto and had ambitions of becoming an actress. Theirs was a happy family, he insisted, playing games together, taking trips; Laura and her dad even watched Say Yes to the Dress together.”

    Until things began to fall apart in 2011. She began rebelling against what he considered modest restrictions and, simultaneously, indications of mental health issues arose. “We couldn’t figure it out. She seemed agitated, couldn’t sit still.”

    Laura saw several therapists. “Nobody could pinpoint what was wrong with her. But you could tell she was not herself.”

    His daughter started spending nights away, claiming she was at her sorority house or with girlfriends. “She would never be gone for any length of time without letting us know where she was.”

    Laura’s peripatetic habits by 2012 — and a claim to her parents in late June that she was likely going away on a trip — was why the family waited for about a week before reporting her missing to police, her father explained.

    What Clayton Babcock didn’t know — and court heard Monday — was that Laura had begun working for an escort agency after breaking up with a yearlong boyfriend over the Christmas holiday in 2011. She seems to have been partying hard and doing drugs, running with the wrong crowd.

    The disintegration — like her manic mood swings — happened rapidly.

    On cross-examination, Millard attempted to allege figment of a happy home, picking up on the witness’s evidence that the Babcocks had their locks changed during the period when Laura was coming and going.

    “It wasn’t done to keep Laura out,” countered Babcock, noting that his daughter knew where the spare key was kept.

    Millard pivoted. “You’ve met me before?”

    Babcock: “Yes. You seemed decent. You stood there not much dissimilar to now. And then you left.”

    Millard: “Did she ever tell you she worked as a prostitute?”

    No, she had not.

    Millard: “You said she had a bubbly personality?”

    Babcock, glaring: “Would you say she didn’t?”

    Justice Michael Code directed Babcock to just answer Millard’s questions. He also admonished Millard for repetitive questions.

    Millard: “Did you ever hit her, abuse her in any way?”

    Babcock: “No I didn’t. It just wasn’t in my nature. Hitting my daughter is repugnant.”

    Millard suggested that Babcock was there to “give us a happy perfect image of the family in your home.”

    The witness acknowledged there were stresses, especially as his daughter’s personality shifted and she cast about for a cause.

    “I was really happy with our family. It was a good family. I was blessed for 53 years. And then this happened. So, I’m not as happy now.”

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

    Dreadful details come fast and furious on Day 1 of trial into Laura Babcock’s murder: DiMannoDreadful details come fast and furious on Day 1 of trial into Laura Babcock’s murder: DiManno

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    The Ontario government has come to the rescue of overwhelmed hospitals with more money and beds — just as flu season is starting and pressure on the sector is growing even greater.

    Health Minister Eric Hoskins announced Monday that $100 million is being spent to open 1,235 hospital beds throughout the province. In Toronto, the plan includes reopening and repurposing two shuttered hospital sites: the University Health Network’s former Hillcrest site and Humber River Hospital’s former Finch site.

    The 1,235 new hospital beds are the equivalent of six medium-sized hospitals.

    Read more:

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

    Health minister pledges more help to ease hospital overcrowding

    Will Finch Ave. site of old Humber River hospital reopen?

    “That will have a tremendous impact,” Hoskins said, noting that hospitals today are accepting more patients who are staying longer, particularly those who are vulnerable and aging.

    The Finch site of Humber River is being turned into a 150-bed rehabilitation facility, renamed the Reactivation Care Centre.

    Among the services to be provided at the Hillcrest site are some offered by community agencies, aimed at keeping patients out of long-term care and helping them return home, where they would rather be.

    Hoskins said some of the new beds will open in as soon as two weeks while all of the initiatives will roll out by the end of the calendar year.

    An additional $40 million is being spent on home care to prevent people from being admitted to hospital in the first place and to care for others after they have been discharged.

    Much of the announcement is aimed at moving “alternate-level-of-care patients” out of the hospital. They are typically seniors who no longer require acute hospital care and are waiting for long-term care, rehabilitation care or home care.

    For example, the ministry is helping to fund 207 affordable housing units for seniors who require additional community supports when after being discharged.

    Anthony Dale, president of the Ontario Hospital Association, welcomed the announcement.

    “Today’s announcement of a surge strategy will help address the unusual capacity challenge that hospitals and the wider health-care system is facing, in the short term,” he said, adding that it will allow for greater flexibility in dealing with what is expected to be a tough flu season.

    Because Australia has had a worse-than-normal flu season, it is expected that North America will also.

    “This winter, ongoing, extremely close collaboration and hospitals, government and the home and community sectors is essential – perhaps more than ever,” Dale continued, echoing Hoskins’s call for Ontarians to get a flu shot.

    This past year has been a particularly tough one for hospitals. They were forced to open beds in“unconventional spaces” such as meeting rooms to handle the large volume.

    Many of the province’s 143 hospitals were well over 100 per cent full last winter, and for some, the demand has not subsided.

    “While it is normal to see an increase in patient volumes in winter months, it is uncommon, if not unheard of, during the summer,” Dale said.

    Hoskins’s announcement comes just days after the release of Health Quality Ontario’s annual report, Measuring Up 2017, which highlighted “hospital capacity” as a significant problem in the province.

    The organization, which monitors the performance of Ontario’s health system, noted that patients spent on average 90 minutes longer in the ER this past year before being admitted to inpatient beds.

    It also warned that wait times are increasing for hip-and-knee replacement surgery.

    In question period on Monday, New Democrat MPP Gilles Bisson (Timmins—James Bay) said the government has underfunded hospitals for too long. He accused the government of taking steps now only because there is a crisis and because an election is coming next year.

    The Ontario Health Coalition said the government’s plan is only a “temporary band-aid” solution.

    “Ontario needs a long-term plan to rebuild capacity in our public hospitals to meet population need,” said coalition executive director Natalie Mehra.

    Ontario has been cutting hospital beds for decades to the point that it has the fewest beds in Canada per 1,000 population, and among the fewest in the developed world, she said.

    The coalition charges that the province is shrinking the publicly funded hospital sector while expanding health-care privatization.

    With files by Robert Benzie

    Hospitals getting more beds, more fundingHospitals getting more beds, more funding

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    OTTAWA—Opposition critics are hammering Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s decision to retain shares in Morneau Shepell, the big pension firm he used to run, saying he faced a “minefield” of potential conflicts.

    Those may have included the Liberal government’s decision to financially back Bombardier last winter to the tune of $372.5 million in interest-free loans for its CSeries and Global 7000 aircraft programs.

    Morneau Shepell, which bills itself as Canada’s largest administrator of retirement and benefits plans, administers “some” group insurance and pension benefits for Bombardier, a knowledgeable source who declined to speak on the record told the Star. The contract has been in place for over a decade and there has been no substantial change since the 2015 election, the source said.

    Read more:

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

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    Neither Morneau Shepell nor Bombardier would discuss their contract, but Morneau Shepell’s copyright stamp is on the website portal for Bombardier employees to access information about their benefits.

    However, it is unclear whether Morneau participated in any of the government discussions around Ottawa’s repayable contribution for Bombardier or whether a so-called conflict-of-interest “screen” set up at the urging of the federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson prevented Morneau from participating in those decisions.

    Dawson advised Morneau his chief of staff should act as his “screen” and advise when the minister cannot participate in discussions due to potential conflicts.

    Morneau’s office declined to answer directly whether Morneau participated in Bombardier discussions, and will only say the conflict-of-interest “screens” Dawson recommended “are in place and have been applied several times over the course of the last two years.”

    Dan Lauzon, communications director for Morneau, said “the screen protects against conflicts arising from dealings specifically with or related to Morneau Shepell, and each instance is reported directly to the Ethics commissioner.”

    Morneau said last Thursday he remembered “at least two times” being taken out of meetings, and was unaware of any requirement to report the recusals. There are no formal reports of “recusals” by Morneau published on Dawson’s website but the commissioner said Friday she only publishes instances when the screen fails to work in advance, and a minister has to step out of — or recuse from — a meeting or discussion.

    Morneau Shepell has worked with a range of clients in the public and private sectors. A news release from 2012 says the company had recently inked contracts to perform disability management services for Canada Post, provide pension administration technology to the Alberta government, and deliver pension administration services for small and mid-size clients through TD Bank.

    The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which has been critical of the Trudeau government’s proposed tax changes for private corporations, offers its 109,000 members access to voluntary retirement savings plans designed by Morneau Shepell. CFIB spokesperson Andy Radia said the organization also has a workplace safety program with Morneau Shepell with “several thousand” participants in Quebec.

    The Toronto Sun reported Friday Morneau Shepell similarly administers insurance and benefits for Bank of Canada employees — an institution Morneau indirectly has influence over because he appoints people to its board. However, in that case the bank had signed off last February on a four-year extension of the contract with Morneau Shepell.

    Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said in an interview it is “extremely troubling” Morneau continues to hold shares “in a company with some vast tentacles in the Canadian economy.”

    “He is the most powerful financial decision maker in the government. He controls $300 billion of expenditures. He is the shareholder of the Bank of Canada, sells bonds to banks and other financial institutions and is one of the people in the government who approves massive subsidies to businesses like Bombardier, for example. These vast powers mean he should have no vested interest in any individual publicly traded company.”

    NDP ethics critic Nathan Cullen said in an interview Morneau ought to have recused himself from any dealings or conversations about government support for Bombardier.

    “If Bombardier is getting a forgivable loan, it’s going to help Bombardier out; if Morneau Shepell’s working for Bombardier, then it’s helping Morneau Shepell out.”

    Cullen said even if it is unknown whether Morneau participated in any conversations about Bombardier, it shows the finance minister’s poor judgment at the outset to keep his interests in a company “that has dealings right across the government of Canada.”

    Cullen said it amounted to Morneau “making the decision that he was going to be dodging a conflict-of-interest minefield every day.”

    The NDP has also put forward a motion in the House of Commons calling on Morneau to apologize for misleading Canadians about how his private assets were handled.

    With a file from Jenna Moon

    Morneau Shepell ties to Bombardier flag ‘minefield’ for finance minister: Opposition criticsMorneau Shepell ties to Bombardier flag ‘minefield’ for finance minister: Opposition critics

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