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TOPSTORIES

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    After three days of federal officials publicly acknowledging that employees of Canada’s spy service deserve better, government lawyers pushed back Friday on the specific allegations of harassment made by the five intelligence officers and analysts who first brought the issue to light.

    “No organization can ensure that its employees and managers will never act inappropriately. Organizations cannot be held to such a standard. Rather, organizations must be measured by whether they have procedures in place to address issues as they arise,” reads the government’s statement of defence, filed Friday in a $35-million lawsuit that alleges a toxic workplace inside the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

    CSIS maintains that the five plaintiffs had their complaints “addressed by the Service in a fair, reasonable and timely manner,” and should not be entitled to compensation.

    “If the plaintiffs have suffered any damages,” the 18-page statement reads, “the damages claimed are excessive and remote.”

    Read more:

    Judge slams Ottawa for delays over $35-million CSIS lawsuit alleging workplace Islamophobia, racism and homophobia

    Head of spy agency CSIS admits ‘retribution, favouritism, bullying’ in workplace

    Five CSIS employees are accusing the spy agency of Islamophobia, racism and homophobia in a $35-million lawsuit

    The lawsuit, filed in July, alleges the five intelligence officers and analysts encountered managers who openly espoused Islamophobic, racist and homophobic views and discriminated against Muslim, Black and gay employees.

    One of the complaints, “Alex,” alleged that he had faced years of homophobic harassment as an intelligence officer, often called a “fag” or “homo.” One email included in 54-page statement of claim alleges a manager wrote to Alex: “Careful your Muslim in-laws don’t behead you in your sleep for being homo.”

    Pseudonyms are used for both the complainants and managers who are cited in the lawsuit, since under Canada’s Security of Information Act, identifying a spy can be considered an offence. All five of the complainants are still CSIS employees, but are on medical leave.

    Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told the House of Commons earlier Friday that there must be “appropriate consequences” for harassment and discrimination at CSIS. “This behaviour is unacceptable.”

    He was responding to calls from NDP public safety critic Matthew Dube, for an investigation into the workplace conduct at the spy service.

    CSIS director David Vigneault publicly acknowledged Wednesday that his agency suffers from a workplace climate of “retribution, favouritism, bullying and other problems,” which he said is, “categorically unacceptable in a high-functioning, professional organization.”

    Vigneault’s statement was accompanied by an executive summary of a “workplace climate assessment” conducted at CSIS’s Toronto office, which uncovered low morale and a possible exodus of employees who said they felt “disillusioned and disheartened.”

    One employee described the Toronto office as “the region progress forgot.”

    “The issue here is that there’s clearly a cultural problem and one third-party report is not enough,” Dube said Friday, according to the Canadian Press. “What we’re asking the minister is to launch a full investigation into this type of discrimination, these allegations of homophobia and Islamophobia.”

    The defence statement filed Friday conceded some of the allegations, admitting that at the spy service’s Toronto office “inappropriate language was used by employees.”

    But addressing each of the five complainants, the statement refuted many of the individual allegations, or questioned the character of the complainants.

    “Alex socialized extensively with senior managers in the office and developed personal friendships with many such managers,” reads the statement, claiming he had been close to “Simon,” the manager who allegedly sent some of the questionable emails.

    The statement also claims that Alex’s internal complaint last year into the harassment resulted in “disciplinary sanction on the employee against whom Alex’s complaint of harassment was deemed founded.”

    Alex has alleged the only career that suffered after he complained publicly was his own.

    For “Bahira,” a Muslim intelligence officer with more than a decade of experience and who alleges she faced discrimination once she started to wear a hijab, the government claims that, “any scrutiny” or “direction given to Bahira over the course of her employment with the Service, was reasonable, justified and wholly consistent.”

    Last month, Federal Justice Simon Noël chastised the Department of Justice for not responding faster to the lawsuit, filing a statement of defence beyond the usual 30-day limit.

    “(T)here is a course of action to be followed and you are no different from any other parties in Canada,” Noël said told government lawyers in a teleconference call. “It is not because you are the Attorney General of Canada that you can act as if the Rules do no apply. This is not acceptable.”

    The Star reported on the call Tuesday after a transcript of the conversation was filed in federal court.

    According to the transcript of the Sept. 13 call with Noël, however, the government was attempting to “resolve the claim.”

    Toronto lawyer John Phillips, who represents the five plaintiffs, said in an emailed response Friday night that, “CSIS continues to blame the victims and refuse to accept responsibility for the harm and suffering the organization has caused.”

    “The CSIS director has had a chance to meet with these employees and has seen them in tears. He knows exactly what his organization has done to them,” he wrote. “It has crippled them and destroyed their careers. Yet CSIS continues to grind them because it can. In my view, it is a shameful response.”


    CSIS says harassment complainants don’t deserve $35 millionCSIS says harassment complainants don’t deserve $35 million

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    Over a month ago, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders emailed a group of Canadian doctors with questions about Canada’s health-care system. He wanted to know what it was like to be a doctor that didn’t ask their patients for money at the end of an appointment. He wanted to know what it was like for a patient to not worry about insurance.

    Sanders team collected this group and made videos of doctors answering these questions for a social media campaign advocating for a single-payer health-care system in the U.S., similar to Canada’s. The online conversation has made Dr. Danyaal Raza, a Toronto-based family doctor at St. Michael’s College, an internet sensation; 1.8 million people on Facebook have watched his comments.

    Raza, 34, a graduate of both University of Toronto and Harvard, has seen the differences between the two country’s systems first-hand. If you break your leg in the U.S., he explains, you can’t go to the hospital nearest to you, because it might not be part of your insurance company’s network.

    “As a Canadian that was so shocking, because if I fall off my bike, if I break my leg, it doesn’t matter if I’m in downtown Toronto, if I’m in Scarborough,” he said. “I would go to the closest hospital and my OHIP card would get me treatment there.”

    Cab drivers in Canada, for instance, do not have supplementary health insurance. They don’t have access to a lot of extended benefits such as pensions. They don’t have a stable, steady income.

    “But that doesn’t mean they can’t come to see me to get their medical checkups,” said Raza. “It doesn’t mean they can’t get their X-rays, their blood tests.

    “It’s not about having insurance or not having insurance,” said Raza. “It’s about the level of complexity that Americans have to deal with that, frankly, would be a shock to so many of us here.”

    Read more:

    U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence blasts ‘failings’ of Canadian health system

    Toronto doctor plays starring role in selling Bernie Sanders’ single-payer plan

    Republican health-care tactics could be used to enact universal coverage, Democrats say

    Raza is the chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare (CDM) — an organization that serves as a voice for Canadian doctors. Founded in 2006, the organization advocates for improvements to the country’s medical system; right now, the focus is universal drug coverage.

    The organization has become a strong partner in Sanders campaign; its founder, Danielle Martin, even appeared in front of a Senate discussion about the universal publicly funded health care Sanders is fighting for.

    Dr. Melanie Bechard, a pediatric resident and CDM board member who also made a video for Sanders, is happy to share her experiences as a Canadian physician if it can help both countries have a meaningful discussion about best health-care practices.

    A short while ago, a refugee family came to see Dr. Bechard at a pediatric outreach clinic. Back home, they had tried, repeatedly, to get their very sick child medical attention. Their child was “medically complex,” she says, and required a very long treatment.

    For privacy reasons Bechard can’t share this family’s identity, or the nature of the child’s illness. What she can share is how the family broke down in tears when she conveyed they didn’t need to pay thousands of dollars for a treatment that required numerous specialists. They were living at a shelter.

    “I was so grateful in that moment to be able to say that we could provide that care, that we could help this child,” said Bechard.

    Both Raza and Bechard are surprised at how viral their videos on Canadian health care have become. When their parents stumbled across them, or when nurses and hospital janitorial staff came up to talk to them — it’s a small level of notoriety that makes them hopeful.

    But, both Bechard and Raza are quick to recognize that Canada’s health-care system is not perfect.

    “There are certainly things we should celebrate,” said Raza, “But, at the same time we need to recognize we have gaps.” Both doctors list long wait times, financial barriers to prescription drugs, no dental coverage and limited health care access for marginalized population, including Indigenous and rural communities, as issues.

    Raza hopes Sanders is successful in implementing a strong single-payer system in the U.S., so Canadians can start looking inwards. In the meantime, he hopes the conversation keeps going.

    “Some days, we feel disempowered or ineffectual,” said Bechard. “It’s nice to have had a tiny, tiny impact.”


    Bernie Sanders brings Canadian doctors into U.S. health-care debateBernie Sanders brings Canadian doctors into U.S. health-care debate

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    WASHINGTON—Halloween came a little early at the White House as U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed the children of White House reporters into the Oval Office Friday for some early Halloween treats.

    More than a dozen costumed kids, including little witches and Princess Leias, a pint-sized Darth Vader, and a purple-haired unicorn gathered around the Resolute Desk, where the president handed out little boxes of White House Hershey’s Kisses.

    The president also dispensed plenty of compliments, congratulating the kids’ parents for doing a good job — at least of raising children, if not their coverage of the Trump White House.

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

    “I cannot believe the media produced such beautiful kids. How the media did this, I don’t know,” he said as he welcomed the kids to join him around his desk.

    Trump also joked with the kids about their parents’ professions. “You going to grow up to be like your parents?” he asked. “Don’t answer. That can only get me in trouble, that question,” he joked.

    Soon after, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders delivered a box full of candy, and the president started handing out the treats.

    “You have no weight problems, that’s the good news, right?” he said at one point. “So you take out whatever you need, OK? If you want some for your friends, take ‘em. We have plenty.”

    He also asked one little girl how the press treated her. “I’ll bet you get treated better by the press than anybody in the world, right?” he joked.

    Read more:

    White House stands by Trump’s insistence that his sex assault accusers are liars

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    The president will also be welcoming ghost and goblins to the South Lawn for trick-or-treating on the eve of Halloween on Monday.

    Families of school children from 20 schools in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia have been invited to the festivities, along with military families and community organizations.

    The president and first lady Melania Trump will be handing out presidential M&M’s and treats from the White House pastry kitchen, and the South Portico will be decorated in spider webs, according to the White House.

    Fog will fill the air and trick-or-treaters will see bats and pumpkins decorated with the profiles of presidents past.

    Federal agencies including NASA, the Secret Service and the National Park Service also will be handing out giveaways.


    Trump greets reporters’ kids for Halloween treats, comments on their looks, weightTrump greets reporters’ kids for Halloween treats, comments on their looks, weight

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    We’re still here. The NFL season is approaching the halfway point, the Patriots have broken the Atlanta Falcons again, star players are falling like great Toradol-coated leaves, and we’re still stuck on the conflict between players and owners, between protest and suppression. We’re still here.

    The latest example of this is the meticulously reported piece by Don Van Natta and Seth Wickersham of espn.com, who dug into the meetings between owners and players over protests during the anthem. You should read the whole thing yourself.

    But it contained a bomb. No, not the part where NFL executive vice-president of football operations Troy Vincent called San Francisco 49ers GM John Lynch and said if safety Eric Reid knelt that Sunday, he didn’t need to show up to meetings between owners and players. Reid started the protests against systemic racism and police mistreatment of African-Americans with Colin Kaepernick, over a year ago. Reid knelt, and attended the meeting.

    No, not the part where the owners still hate Kaepernick, though that still says so much. No, not the part where Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula said he was moved by Anquan Boldin’s story about a cousin who was shot and killed by police, but called Boldin “Antwan.” Boldin, by the way, is currently under contract to the Bills, after leaving early in his one-year deal to pursue activism.

    No, not the part where Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones pushed for a rule forcing players to stand for the anthem, and Washington owner Dan Snyder agreed by saying 96 per cent of Americans are for guys standing. No, not that.

    Instead, it was the words spoken by Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, a big-time Donald Trump supporter, who followed Snyder’s alternative facts — a Marist poll conducted this week said 51 per cent of Americans didn’t think athletes should be forced to stand during the anthem — by saying, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”

    It was nearly a common turn of phrase. If he had said “asylum,” maybe it wouldn’t have exploded. But he said “prison.” Sometimes, in comfortable places, the people in charge give up the whole game.

    Because if you are an NFL player, here are the facts: You still don’t get guaranteed contracts. One third of all retired players sued the league in a class-action lawsuit over the handling of concussions, and the league settled while admitting one third of players will experience early neurological diseases. In a 2013 NFLPA survey, 78 per cent of players said they flatly didn’t trust team doctors, and another 15 per cent said they didn’t trust them very much at all. Players have no real leverage in fighting suspensions. Players get paid, used and thrown away.

    Add Jones threatening to bench Cowboys who protested during the anthem, and the way the owners have kept Kaepernick out of the league despite, say, the second-best interception percentage in NFL history after Aaron Rodgers, and you see some owners just don’t get what the players want. Some are clueless, some authoritarian, some arrogant, some petty. The players can explain face to face how Black citizens are oppressed and killed by law enforcement, how laws are not applied equally, how it has affected them personally. And no matter how well they do it, some owners will always get their names wrong, get the facts wrong. And like so many Americans, some will never even pretend to care.

    So McNair can apologize, but the damage is done. Star Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins skipped practice Friday, and Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reported it was in response to McNair’s comments. Sarah Barshop of ESPN reported the entire team wanted to do the same, and had to be talked out of it. The comments migrated to the NBA, and Golden State’s Draymond Green compared McNair to disgraced ex-Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Texans offensive lineman Duane Brown damned McNair more than anyone: he said, more than anything, that he was not surprised.

    So they’re still here. And it shouldn’t be a surprise, because America is still here.

    Goodell can surprise everybody by acting like a leader, and can even overrule the cackling nastiness of Jerry Jones, and the league can try to mend fences and stand with the players, even if only to placate them. And the whole thing can still be set off like a goddamned bomb. The NFL is trying to navigate something no less explosive and fraught than race itself and, like the country, some owners simply cannot be meaningfully reached. The players should realize: They have real power, if they continue to push.

    But it’s also possible the chasm cannot be bridged. Not just in the NFL, either.

    Last week this space went 7-7-1. As always, all lines could change.

    The Picks

    Minnesota (-9.5) at Cleveland

    Pick: Minnesota

    Atlanta (-6) at N.Y. Jets

    Pick: Jets

    Carolina (+1.5) at Tampa Bay

    Pick: Carolina

    San Francisco (+13) at Philadelphia

    Pick: San Francisco

    Chicago (+9) at New Orleans

    Pick: New Orleans

    L.A. Chargers (+7) at New England

    Pick: Chargers

    Oakland (+2.5) at Buffalo

    Pick: Oakland

    Indianapolis (+10.5) at Cincinnati

    Pick: Cincinnati

    Houston (+6) at Seattle

    Pick: Houston

    Dallas (-1.5) at Washington

    Pick: Dallas

    Pittsburgh (-3) at Detroit

    Pick: Detroit

    Denver (+7) at Kansas City

    Pick: Kansas City

    Byes: Tennessee, Jacksonville, N.Y. Giants, Green Bay, L.A. Rams, Arizona

    Last week: 7-7-1

    Season: 41-63-2


    Comments such as 'we can’t have the inmates running the prison' inflame NFL tensions: ArthurComments such as 'we can’t have the inmates running the prison' inflame NFL tensions: Arthur

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    Canadians and Americans are different. In this Trumpian moment of madness, what a pleasure it is to remember this.

    Though this classic The Beaverton headline gets it right — “Homegrown Canadian racists determined to compete with flashier American racists” — and though we are sodden, absolutely dripping, with American culture in all its crass cruelty and violence, we haven’t done too badly.

    Personable as individual Americans are — and I again invite lovely fed-up Democrats to apply for Canadian citizenship, we need your tired huddled masses, etc. — history and habit have made their nation singular.

    To those easily offended here, may I remind you that it is my job to trace the pattern in the carpet, not each individual tuft.

    The U.S. is — how can I put this tactfully? — childish, with all the charm and menace that entails. American adults dress like kids in baseball caps, sneakers and comfy pants, but add a semi-automatic rifle to the outfit and it’s... troubling.

    Their cuisine is childish too, with huge servings of fried food loaded with high-fructose corn syrup and trans fat. Even their implements are primitive. “Consider the plastic drinking straw. Why do we suck so much?” the Washington Post asked this week of citizens unable to drink from the rim of a glass.

    The reason must lie in the “shared psyche” of Americans, but what could it be, the Post wondered. “Laziness? Clumsiness? Germaphobia?” Infantilism went unmentioned. The drinking straw is the adult equivalent of a sippy cup.

    And why the Disney fetish? “Americans long for a closed society in which everything can be bought, where labourers are either hidden away or dressed up as non-humans so as not to be disconcerting. This place is called Disney World,” was the journalist Adam Gopnik’s explanation. But he is an adult.

    “A person doesn’t ‘visit’ Disney World; Disney World sucks you into its digestive tract,” the scriptwriter Adam Resnick says, but he is an angry adult, an intelligent American who will have no truck with candyland.

    For children have no taste, as every parent comes to realize. They like bright colours, plastic, blatancy, simplicity and repetition. How do adults endure it?

    The cruise industry offers daycare for grown-ups, crass all-you-can-eat vacations with all the adventure of a car seat. Have you ever been on an island and seen American tourists flood at you off a ship? It’s not the mercilessness of the crowd that scares you, it’s the smiling.

    Americans love to smile. I don’t think at this point they actually enjoy it, but it’s mandatory, a fallback, a state of facial repose. Don’t do it overseas. People passing you on the street think you’re an idiot, an American idiot grinning pointlessly at nothing.

    And what’s with the crying? American politicians have tears on tap. Prime Minister Trudeau cried about Gord Downie, which makes sense to me. The guy died. In Washington, men cry about their humble beginnings, the flag, the greatness of their nation. Silly men. They cry about clouds.

    I’ll give you something to cry about, voters must think. Or maybe their hearts are swelling in unison, their vision equally distorted by tender tears. I don’t mind Americans being told the purpose of life is pursuing happiness — good luck with that, my friends — but the accompanying sentimentality is fatal.

    I try not to use the word “patriarchy” for it has become over-generalized jargon, but the U.S. is indeed a fatherland, simultaneously “proud and servile,” as Alexis de Tocqueville put it in 1835 when he visited. Read that man, he’s a treat.

    The president is a father figure. Canadians find this weird. I hope nothing so bad ever happens to me that the PM thinks he should phone, god forbid a hugging situation.

    Dad is in the army. The military mindset is so baked into Americans that the president is seen as the commander-in-chief, although you’d think Trump’s bone spurs would have prevented that. Also he’ll be called “President” forever just as that lying John Kelly is still called “General” even though he retired.

    It bothers me to see such militarism linked to family life and toddlerhood.

    Does no one, upset by Trump’s foul attacks on “Gold Star” families, consider the awfulness of the phrase? Your child is dead. You get a gold star. If that is a euphemism for a blighted life without the child you gave birth to, it’s a tasteless, heartless one.

    The Americans have a talent for unpalatable euphemisms, like calling something a “challenge” when it is a massive intractable problem like opioids or Trump being a racist, geriatric, sex pest who could kill us all. Evasion is the enemy of the free speech so celebrated, so degraded.

    Back to my theme. This is how you talk to children. I note that Canadian media have picked up the habit of referring to “fallen” soldiers instead of dead ones, which makes war sound like a playground. This is part of the U.S. habit of demanding a happy ending to all stories, cheap sentiment being their particular poison.

    U.S. movies are aimed at childish audiences. They are quite literally cartoons — such movie franchises are worth gold — or computer-animation with renderings of extraordinary violence that never seem real, part of the reason the Sandy Hook child slaughter had no effect on U.S. gun laws. American culture is literal, with a poor grasp of irony and complication. It would be taboo to show photos of the dead victims but not taboo to have let them be shot.

    Canadians increasingly talk like Americans, which is inevitable as 325 million people drown out 37 million. But one of our best qualities is our understanding of the foreign, perhaps because so many of us come from elsewhere. We know that other nations exist and do things differently from us. It’s one reason we’re reluctant to wage war. Americans don’t even understand foreign as a concept. Like a child, the world revolves around them alone.

    American exceptionalism is an idea whose time has passed. But we never thought of Americans as an ideal in the first place; it’s why once upon a timemany of us left or fought. We wanted peace, order and good government. It’s a funny thing to be passionately attached to something so sensible, but that is our Canadian way.

    I wish Americans would grow up. Trump will either shock them into maturity or regression.

    hmallick@thestar.ca


    Americans should take a lesson from Canadians and just grow up: MallickAmericans should take a lesson from Canadians and just grow up: Mallick

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    WASHINGTON—Stephen Harper has come out against his successor’s handling of NAFTA negotiations with the United States, with the former prime minister declaring the negotiations in real peril in a memo titled, “Napping on NAFTA.”

    The memo was obtained by The Canadian Press and it criticizes the Trudeau government in several areas: For too quickly rejecting U.S. proposals, for insisting on negotiating alongside Mexico, and for promoting progressive priorities like labour, gender, Aboriginal and environmental issues.

    The former prime minister says he was worried by what he heard during a recent trip to Washington, where he discussed NAFTA at an event but did not publicly share his misgivings about the Trudeau government.

    Read more:

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    “I came back alarmed,” said the Oct. 25 letter signed by Harper, and sent to clients of his firm Harper & Associates.

    “I fear that the NAFTA renegotiation is going very badly. I also believe that President (Donald) Trump’s threat to terminate NAFTA is not a bluff ... I believe this threat is real. Therefore, Canada’s government needs to get its head around this reality: it does not matter whether current American proposals are worse than what we have now. What matters in evaluating them is whether it is worth having a trade agreement with the Americans or not.”

    The current government was not pleased by the letter.

    Officials in Ottawa accused the former prime minister of essentially negotiating in public — against the government of Canada. They called the release of the two-page note ill-timed and perplexing.

    “This is a gift to the Americans,” said one current Canadian official.

    “There’s nothing Wilbur Ross and Robert Lighthizer (from the trump administration) want to see more than prominent Canadians standing up to suggest making concessions to the Americans. Make no mistake: Wilbur Ross and Robert Lighthizer will be very happy with this letter.”

    The memo accuses the Canadian government of stubbornness on several fronts.

    First, it suggests Canada has been too quick in rejecting American proposals as a “red line,” or “poison pill.” He said such knee-jerk refusals are only a viable strategy if you truly believe Trump cannot cancel NAFTA — an assessment Harper does not share.

    Second, he suggests the government made a tactical error by co-operating too closely with Mexico. He says Trump campaigned on constant complaints about Mexico, not Canada, and Harper appears to suggest it was unwise of the Liberals to insist upon renegotiating a trilateral NAFTA: “How did we get ourselves in this position? ... The elephant is Mexico ... In fact, the U.S. is both irked and mystified by the Liberals’ unwavering devotion to Mexico.”

    Third, he criticizes the Liberals for pursuing their progressive trade policies in these talks: “Did anyone really think that the Liberals could somehow force the Trump administration into enacting their agenda — union power, climate change, Aboriginal claims, gender issues? But while the Canadian government was doing that, the Americans have been laying down their real demands.”

    Finally, he accuses the Liberals of bungling other disputes over lumber and airplanes. Harper says the Liberals passed up on a chance to renew the softwood lumber agreement in exchange for supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and he says their subsidies to Bombardier set the stage for huge tariffs today.

    The Liberals say that last point about softwood lumber is based on a falsehood.

    They say there was never a softwood settlement on the table, and that claims to the contrary are wrong. As for the progressive trade agenda, they point to recent polls showing that improved labour and environmental standards in NAFTA are exceptionally popular in the U.S., and they say some of these provisions could help win crucial ratification votes from Democrats to actually get an eventual deal through the U.S. Congress.

    “It is a bit sad,” said a second Canadian official, requesting anonymity.

    “He’s basically saying we need to make more concessions to the Americans, turn our backs on workers, turn our backs on softwood workers ... put thousands of aerospace workers out of work.”


    Stephen Harper slams Trudeau government over NAFTA talksStephen Harper slams Trudeau government over NAFTA talks

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    A couple of gal-pals on a shopping stroll in Bloor West Village. Hey, wouldn’t it be hilarious to send that bitch a nasty birthday text? LOL.

    Tap-tap-tap.

    “A year ago today was the first time I slept with Dellen.’’

    That poison dart was from Christine Noudga on Feb. 12, 2012, the day Laura Babcock turned 23.

    Babcock, no social media slouch, zinged right back.

    “That’s fine. I slept with him a couple of weeks ago.”

    Ba-da-bing.

    Maybe she did and maybe she didn’t.

    “Oh, they were sleeping together,” Karoline Shirinian assured court on Friday, plucking insider knowledge from her memory data bank of The Dating Files. “But he seemed to have no interest in pursuing a relationship with her.”

    Shirinian’s loyalties were clearly towards Noudga, her BFF. Though earlier Babcock had been her BFF.

    “First shocked, then upset,” she said, describing Noudga’s reaction to the unexpected tit-for-tat blowback.

    “It definitely changed from this is going to be funny to . . . whether there was any truth in it.”

    The inner lives of mean girls. Except these weren’t high school teenagers caught up in adolescent mischief. They were all savvy, well-educated women in their early 20s.

    Noudga had been dating — “if you can call it that,” Shirinian noted with a smirk — Dellen Millard for a year, since hooking up on the night of Babcock’s 22nd birthday, following a surprise party at Medieval Times thrown by Babcock’s then-boyfriend Shawn Lerner.

    Babcock had “dated” Millard in the distant past. Babcock and Shirinian, one-time close friends, were on the outs over some peeve or another, though they would subsequently — in the way of girls who blow hot and cold with each other — reconcile. Babcock was aware that Noudga was involved with Millard but didn’t seem annoyed by it until after her breakup with Lerner.

    Follow?

    In fact, Shirinian was inside the close circle of pals who were in contact with Babcock on the last weekend of her life — a Canada Day phone call when the former declined an invitation from the latter to meet up at Rib Fest at Centennial Park. Babcock, whose moods had been swinging wildly for months — one therapist had diagnosed her with borderline personality — was enthusiastic about her new-found gig working for an escort agency. Shirinian suspected Babcock wanted to boast about the men who were paying $250 an hour to spend time in her company. “She was looking to open up her own escort business. She had no embarrassment about what she was doing.”

    Shirinian didn’t want to hear anymore about it and passed on getting together. “I wasn’t interested in that type of business so I said no. That really wasn’t for me.”

    It is believed that Babcock was murdered on July 3 or 4, her body burned in an industrial incinerator. Her remains have never been found.

    Millard and co-accused Mark Smich have both pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.

    It is the prosecution’s theory that Babcock was the odd woman out in a romantic triangle with Millard and Noudga. The jury has been told of placating texts Millard sent to a disgruntled Noudga in April, allegedly about Babcock. “First I am going to hurt her. Then I’ll make her leave.” And: “I will remove her from our lives.”

    Could the flint for killing really have been sparked by a catty text banged off in a moment of idle spite?

    It is unknown whether Noudga will testify at the trial which has just concluded its first week. For now, a glimpse into these internecine relationships is being provided by Shirinian. She’ll be cross-examined Monday by Millard, who is acting as his own lawyer before Justice Michael Code.

    Shirinian reinforced what the jury has already heard — that Babcock’s behaviour had become increasingly erratic over the previous six months as she allegedly became more deeply involved with drugs; that she’d quarrelled with her parents over house-rules and many a night would not go home at all; and that she’d explode over small disagreements with friends, causing feuds.

    But Shirinian insisted Babcock had no wish to do herself harm. “She wasn’t suicidal. She was not going to kill herself, no, absolutely not.”

    Shirinian too had become friends with Millard, once attending a party he hosted inside his private plane’s hangar at Pearson, more often hanging out in the basement of his Maple Gate Court home, fitted with a bar and a bunch of X-boxes connected to TV consoles. Smich, best bro to Millard, would occasionally be there as well.

    Babcock and Noudga were reasonably tolerant of each other in those days, said Shirinian. “After Christine started seeing Dellen, sometimes Laura would be OK with it and sometimes she’d lash out, say mean things, send her nasty messages.” Post-Shawn breakup, tensions exacerbated.

    Oh sure, Shirinian was aware that Babcock was getting it on with Millard, or so Babcock claimed. Shirinian and Noudga would put their heads together to discuss whether Babcock was being truthful or just blowing smoke. “I would hear it from both sides,” she told Crown attorney Ken Lockhart. “Mainly I think she (Noudga) didn’t believe it.”

    Until that damned text got her seriously wondering.

    As all this interrelationship heaving and huffing was going on, Babcock was often couch-surfing, floating around town like a tumbleweed. A look-see into her tenuous day-to-day existence in those final months was provided by two earlier witnesses on Friday: An antidote to the meanness of girls in the kindness of strangers. As they tell it anyway.

    Jeff Wilson, a TV producer, told court he met Babcock, who aspired to become an actress, at his local watering hole in June or July, 2012. She bent his ear with woeful tales of her predicament. And presto, Wilson offered her a place to stay temporarily. “It was just until she got her stuff together, while she found some work and a place to live.”

    After two weeks, with Babcock apparently making no attempt to resolve her issues, Wilson said it was time to go.

    “It ended up in tears.”

    On cross-examination, Millard asked: “Did she ever tell you she was using your place to work as a prostitute, while you were out?”

    No, she hadn’t.

    “How did she compensate you for staying there?’’

    There was no compensation, Wilson insisted.

    Millard: “I’m going to suggest to you that she was trading sex for these things.”

    Wilson: “That’s not the case.”

    Court heard next from Dr. Sohail Khattak, a 53-year-old pediatrician who specializes in attention deficit disorder.

    Khattak met Babcock in, he thinks, early summer of 2012. He’d had dinner with a woman at the roof bar of the Park Hyatt, after which they retired to his room. The woman complained she’d had too much to drink and wanted to take a cab home but didn’t want to make the trip alone. So she called her friend, Laura Babcock, who showed up around 3 a.m.

    Subsequently, Khattak met Babcock alone on two more occasions.

    “She was a very intelligent girl going through some emotional times.”

    Khattak claimed he wanted to help — to the point of giving Babcock the security deposit — first and last month rent, plus another month out of generosity — she needed for an apartment and even offering to co-sign the lease.

    At their final meeting, again in his hotel room, Babcock announced that she’d found a place. Then she received a phone call. “She seemed disturbed” by it, said Khattak.

    Babcock left. He never saw or heard from her again.

    No, he’d never had sex with her, Khattak testified. No, he’d never seen her use drugs.

    But the final word on Day 5 of the trial goes to Karoline Shirinian.

    About that needling text the ladies sent to Babcock. What does she think of it now?

    “I would say it was unnecessary and kind of petty.”

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


    Laura Babcock's murder trial delves into the inner lives of mean girls: DiMannoLaura Babcock's murder trial delves into the inner lives of mean girls: DiManno

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    Since leaving the White House in January, former president Barack Obama has turned heads, images of him slipping into a Broadway play with his elder daughter, Malia, and kitesurfing with billionaire Richard Branson in the British Virgin Islands were shared on social media sites.

    His next stop: jury duty in Cook County, Illinois.

    Obama, a constitutional scholar who frequently invokes messages of civic engagement, plans to serve next month, the county’s chief judge told the Chicago Tribune on Friday. Obama owns homes in Washington, D.C., as well as Chicago. He’ll follow in the footsteps of presidential predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, both of whom appeared for jury selection after leaving the White House.

    Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans first shared the news with county commissioners during a budget hearing. He later told the Tribune that necessary precautions would be taken to accommodate security and scheduling needs. He did not specify the date or courthouse location Obama will report to in November.

    “He made it crystal-clear to me through his representative that he would carry out his public duty as a citizen and resident of this community,” Evans told the Tribune.

    A spokesman declined to comment on the former president’s private schedule.

    The Tribune reported that other high-profile figures, like Oprah Winfrey, have also reported for jury duty in Cook County. Jurors can be summoned for civil or criminal pools and can be called to any of the county’s courthouses.

    “Although it’s not a place where the public can earn a lot of money, it is highly appreciated,” Evans told the Tribune of Obama’s choice to serve. “It’s crucial that our society get the benefit of that kind of commitment.”

    Obama skipped jury duty at least once before when in 2010 he was pre-booked with the State of the Union. According to CBS News, the summons were sent to Obama’s former home on the South Side of Chicago, but the president told the county court that he wouldn’t be able to make it.

    Obama would not be the first former president to report for jury duty after leaving the Oval Office.

    In August 2015, more than six years after the end of his presidency, George W. Bush received his jury duty summon and reported to the George Allen Dallas County Civil Court building. Bush sat through the jury selection panel and, though not picked to serve as a juror, spent about three hours at the court and posed for photos with his fellow jury candidates.

    “If the former President can show up for jury duty what excuse do you have? #civicduty” tweeted a spectator.

    In March 2003, Bill Clinton became Prospective Juror No. 142 in federal court in Manhattan. The New York Times reported that Clinton, whose name was avoided in the court hearing, was eventually dismissed in the jury selection in a case involving a gang shooting in the Bronx.

    While serving as vice president, Joe Biden was called for jury duty in Delaware in January 2011. He too was not chosen as a juror.

    Even members of the judicial branch don’t always make the cut.

    In April 2015, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. reported for jury duty in Montgomery County, Maryland, and was being considered for a civil trial in a case involving a car crash. The Washington Post reported that Roberts answered questions about relatives — that his sister was a nurse and his brother-in-law was with Indiana State Police — but said nothing about his day job, which would be listed on a form.

    “Roberts was not selected, and left court without comment,” The Post reported.


    Former president Barack Obama to report for jury selection in IllinoisFormer president Barack Obama to report for jury selection in Illinois

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    What does living in poverty look like in the GTA today?

    Ask a panel of leaders from United Way anchor agencies around the GTA who deal with poverty on the front lines every day, as the Star recently did, and they don’t lack for descriptions.

    “It looks like a client who comes into a program who has walked four miles because they don’t have TTC fare,” says Axelle Janczur, the executive director of Access Alliance on College St. near Kensington Market. “It’s precarious employment . . . parents who have three or four or five jobs between them, and who are not home for their children.”

    “It looks like being kicked out of the home you’re renting. Not being able to qualify for a mortgage,” says Ginelle Skerritt, executive director of Warden Woods Community Centre in Scarborough. “Poverty, what it looks like at Warden Woods, is racialized. And we notice that the face of poverty is getting younger, with children and youth having the highest rates.”

    It is more spread out across the region than ever before, says Shari Lynn Ladanchuk, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Peel. “Our poverty rates are higher than the provincial and national average, although people still think there is no poverty in Peel region,” she says.

    “I talked to a client yesterday and I asked her what poverty meant to her, and she said poverty is exhausting,” says Elisha Laker, executive director of Family Services York Region. “She came from a family where there were mental health problems . . . she got into an arranged marriage at age 17, she had three kids. That marriage was a disaster with violence. She ended up staying in a motel with her kids because she had an older son so she couldn’t get into a shelter.” That woman is now a school teacher, Laker says. “But talk about the barriers and dilemmas she went through to get to the point she is today, they’re huge.”

    Huge. It’s a word that describes the scope of the situation in Canada’s biggest city, which is growing and changing at a world-beating rate, but remains Canada’s income inequality capital, with housing and rental prices reaching crisis levels of unaffordability, where the job market is increasingly a minefield of precarious part-time and temporary jobs.

    As the largest non-government supporter of social services in the region, the United Way has long confronted the task of trying to understand the huge problem of poverty — and finding new and better ways to deal with it.

    Daniele Zanotti, president and CEO of United Way Toronto and York Region, says the agency’s long record of influential research reports has reshaped its approach in recent years, focusing its work in particular neighbourhoods and opening hubs for service delivery, and sharpening its approach to helping youth.

    “But then last year we transformed how and who we fund,” Zanotti says, by developing “anchor partner” relationships with a list of multi-service agencies, including those represented at this roundtable discussion. “The anchor partners are really working with us on the front line on the community side, and on policy on poverty issues.”

    This includes “the poverty of the belly,” as Zanotti refers to the lack of basic needs such as food, housing and safety, and is also intended to address “poverty of belonging — the cost of not feeling included in a region that is increasingly polarized.”

    The anchor agencies say their approach is shaped by what they see. A young man who needed steel-toe boots for a new job led to the creation of a mini-micro loan program offering loans of $200 to $5,000 at Warden Woods. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Peel has changed its volunteer requirements to remove barriers for those with unconventional job schedules. Family Services York Region runs a high school mentorship program to connect students with incoming Grade 9s to create a “positive peer culture.” At Access Alliance, staff provides interpreters for those navigating the medical system.

    And at every step, says Janczur, the action comes with advocacy. Not just providing tokens, but negotiating with the TTC about the PRESTO card’s future. Not just providing food, but talking to food banks about eligibility for those without documentation.

    “We have to provide individual services, but we also have to address the systemic issues,” she says. “Because we can’t, on an individual basis, fix all the issues. Poverty is a systemic issue, and we have to be addressing the systemic challenges.”

    “I think this idea of ‘working with’ people defines the anchor agencies,” Zanotti says. “This ability to understand where people are at and work with them on the journey.” He says that in the past year, 70,000 people in Toronto and York Region have gotten involved through anchor agencies and hubs, working together on big things like Toronto’s anti-poverty strategy and small things like installing stoplights to make pedestrians safer.

    “We’ve launched a goal to engage 1 million people by 2025 in fighting local poverty. We’re not going to do it by agencies alone, we’re not going to fundraise our way out of it . . . And that means Jane or Jose citizen not only gives us dollars, but they roll up their sleeves and get involved in their community.”

    The others around the table nod and emphasize with that last part — because addressing poverty, they say, is not just about recruiting volunteer labour, it is about building a community for all of its members. It’s what’s needed when income polarization strikes at widespread and isolated neighbourhoods, when so many are detached from extended family and social networks that used to provide a safety net for their members.

    “There’s not a simple solution,” Laker says. “We are our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers. It’s really creating some kind of culture of support, or neighbourhoods of support.”

    Skerritt says this approach informs everything about Warden Woods. “We were looking at it, at some point, as very transactional, but somewhere along the line we learned it is an opportunity for our volunteers to belong, as well. It’s a developmental opportunity. It’s about them building a relationship with others in need in their community.”

    Skerritt tells of a young man who grew up in the highrise towers near Warden Woods in poverty, who for the past five years has run a financial mentoring group for youth in the area — learning about the stock market and raising money for charity.

    “He’s now quite wealthy, but he found his way back to the community,” Skerritt says. “It isn’t just our agency, it isn’t the government, it isn’t the United Way by itself. It’s really us all together can make a contribution. There’s a real exchange of caring. And a real exchange of ideas for our vision for this community.”


    Poverty in the GTA wears many facesPoverty in the GTA wears many faces

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    Jean Yip was a political spouse for a little over three years, right up until last month, when her husband, Liberal MP Arnold Chan, died far too young of cancer at age 50.

    Now Yip has decided to take the full plunge into political life, moving from the sidelines to centre stage. After talking it over with Chan during his final few months, Yip, 49, has decided she would like to be the next MP for Scarborough-Agincourt.

    “It feels right,” Yip said in an interview with me this week.

    Yip doesn’t think many people will be surprised. Right after “how are you?” it was the number one question asked of her during the visitation and funeral for her husband in late September, when hundreds of people were lining up to shake hands with the family.

    “People would say: ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’ and offer their condolences — then they’d wait two seconds and they’d say: ‘Are you running?’ ”

    Many of those people would be Scarborough residents who became accustomed to seeing Yip standing in for her ailing husband over the past year, doing a lot of the canvassing and riding duties Chan was simply too ill to handle as his health deteriorated. Initially diagnosed with a rare form of nasopharyngeal cancer months after becoming an MP in a 2014 byelection, Chan recovered long enough to be elected again in 2015, but succumbed in September to the cancer’s recurrence.

    His final speech to the House in June, in which he implored colleagues to throw away talking points and listen more to each other, was a remarkable moment in the Commons.

    Yip, who was in the spectator seats that day with the couple’s three teenaged sons, says Chan urged everyone to “carry on” after he died. So this is how she’s decided to carry on.

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, also a family friend, spoke at Chan’s funeral and sat beside Yip throughout the service. But she says they haven’t discussed this succession plan, either then or since. She has been consulting with lots of Liberal friends, including some sitting MPs.

    It will be up to Trudeau to declare a byelection date for Scarborough-Agincourt — and before then, a date for the Liberal nomination meeting.

    “No nomination date has been determined as of yet in Scarborough-Agincourt,” said Liberal party spokesperson Braeden Caley, when I asked him this week about the vacancy.

    It wouldn’t be the first time that a spouse has picked up the political torch for a departed MP. The most recent example would be Dona Cadman, who ran and won for the Conservatives in 2008, a few years after the death of her MP husband, Chuck Cadman.

    But being the spouse of the late MP doesn’t always guarantee victory, even in the nomination race. When Liberal MP Shaughnessy Cohen died in 1998, her husband, Jerry, was unsuccessful in his subsequent run for the Liberal nomination in that Windsor-area riding.

    In recent years, Yip’s main work has revolved around the family: working as a Sunday school teacher, a school-lunch supervisor and, of course, at Chan’s side after he became an MP.

    Apparently there are other Liberals interested in taking the seat that Chan once occupied.

    “The Liberal Party of Canada has been approached by a variety of talented potential candidates for Scarborough-Agincourt,” Caley said.

    “All possible supporters in this riding have been emailed to notify them about the vacancy and to encourage them to register new friends, family members and neighbours to participate in the upcoming nomination process.”

    Yip, who was married to Chan for 19 years — she joked that she always knew she came after his first love, politics — said she won’t be a carbon copy of her husband. Chan, who had served as the Liberals’ deputy house leader, had loved the parliamentary aspect of the job, all the procedure and the tradition.

    Yip said that she’s more interested in the constituency work, particularly some projects in Scarborough-Agincourt, such as the Bridletwone Community Hub, and housing issues in general. She was born in Scarborough and has worked and lived in or near the riding in the almost five decades since then. Thanks to her marriage and partnership with Chan, she now sees the riding through a more political lens.

    “I did represent him in the riding a lot, especially in the end,” Yip said. This past summer, as she and her son were knocking on doors, she learned a bit more about the size of shoes she aspires to fill.

    “People really appreciated his work and especially his speech of June 12,” Yip said. “So I guess when I hear the accolades, I feel reassured.”

    She’s pretty sure that Chan would approve of this step she’s taking. “He felt I could do this job and he was willing to support anything I decided.”

    sdelacourt@bell.net

    Correction, Oct. 28, 2017:This article was updated from a previous version that misstated the name of the Bridletowne Community Hub and incorrectly stated that Jean Yip had worked at Queen’s Park.


    Jean Yip to vie for late husband Arnold Chan's seatJean Yip to vie for late husband Arnold Chan's seat

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    Toronto City Hall’s council chamber was packed, mainly with angry cab drivers who felt mistreated by the city.

    Tempers boiled as insults flew from the public gallery, and police were in the room standing by in case things escalated.

    You’re a “flip-flopper,” hollered one driver, pointing at a woman who was sitting calmly as she gave her presentation.

    “Bipolar,” accused another, Behrouz Khamseh, chairman of lobby group Taxi Action.

    The woman on the receiving end was Tracey Cook.

    It was April 2016, and Cook, Toronto’s executive director of municipal licensing and standards, had just unveiled a list of reforms to allow renegade ride-sharing Uber to operate its business here.

    Previously, Cook had vehemently opposed Uber and led the charge in 2014 as the city sought an injunction against the company, saying the business was operating illegally in Toronto. That position was at odds with then mayor-elect John Tory, who said the service was “here to stay.”

    But Cook had since “turned a corner” on the issue, and during that raucous council meeting in 2016, she faced the wrath of cabbies who called her out for changing her mind.

    That clash was about Uber. But on another day, it could as easily be about Airbnb or pot dispensaries or food trucks or unlicensed group homes or noise complaints or dog parks. Cook has been at the centre of bitterly contested issues since taking the licensing job in 2012.

    With a staff of 470 working under her, the department enforces more than 30 bylaws. Cook also oversees the drafting of the bylaws and reports to city council on how best to enforce them.

    Cook knows that bylaws sometimes need to change with the times. As a result, she has had to learn how to cajole, wheel and deal and search for common ground between competing groups.

    “I love seeing regulation done right,” says Cook, a 51-year-old former cop. “I like when we can resolve community issues.”

    City Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, who has spent the last eight years on the licensing and standards committee, says Cook is everything a bureaucrat should be.

    “She is charming but doesn’t take crap from anybody,” he says. “She gives you her honest opinion and she has no hidden agenda. That’s really reassuring as a city councillor, because sometimes you do look at the professional staff and you wonder, are they giving me all the information? Are they skewing the information to one side and not the other because of their own personal beliefs?”

    He says Cook has a strong moral compass, and calls it as she sees it.

    As Cook recalls of the Uber decision: “I spent more time and lost more sleep trying to think through what do we need to change for the taxi industry so it can compete.”

    But in the centre of that storm, it was her tough exterior, burnished during nearly 19 years as a Toronto police officer, that got her through another working day.


    Tough situations are nothing new to Cook, who was raised in a tumultuous family home in Scarborough. “When I was a kid growing up, there was a lot of stuff,” she says, her voice cracking several times during an interview at her 16th-floor office at city hall.

    As an infant, Cook was placed in a foster home and adopted shortly afterward by Joyce and Douglas Cook, whom she considers her parents. After Tracey, the Cooks adopted another child, a boy the same age, who is not Tracey’s biological sibling.

    Doug and Joyce divorced when the kids were 6, and Tracey almost never saw her dad for the next 11 years.

    During that time her relationship with her mom became increasingly rocky.

    Her mother’s temper was severe and she flew into inexplicable rages, Cook recalls. “There were a number of times I had to call the police because my mother would get into it with my brother. Once she threw hot water on my brother.”

    Joyce also spent days in bed in dark funks.

    Cook’s brother abused drugs and alcohol and had multiple run-ins with the law. He now lives in a long-term-care facility due to a car accident and is under the supervision of the Public Guardian and Trustee.

    As a single mom, Joyce worked to pay the mortgage and feed the family — which grew to include Joyce’s disabled brother — and she often held several jobs at once.

    Despite the turmoil at home, Cook loved school and was a good student at David and Mary Thomson Collegiate. She played soccer and was involved in other activities at the Scarborough school. She wanted to help people and likes rules, she says. So after Grade 12, she applied to be a cadet with the Toronto police.

    Though she was estranged from her father, she was following in his footsteps. He was a Toronto cop.

    And as fate would have it, his job led to a reunion with his son and daughter shortly after Cook applied to the police service.

    Her brother landed in trouble and had to appear in court, where his father was a sergeant on duty. The two reconnected, and soon after, so did Tracey with her dad.

    Cook told her father she had applied to be a cadet, and he suggested she move in with him and his new wife while going through the hiring process. He wanted her in a more stable home while she was applying to join the force.

    She took his advice, and on June 4, 1984, Cook was hired as a cadet, a program, since disbanded, in which civilians trained to be police officers.

    “I’m 18 years old, in a cadet uniform, serving summonses in Regent Park in an unmarked (Dodge) Omni,” she recalls fondly.

    She went through her training at police college in Toronto, and in 1987 was sworn in as a constable.

    Her 18 and a half years on the job would include investigating youth crime, child sexual abuse and gangs, and eventually working as a detective on fraud cases.

    Early on, she had to go undercover on street corners as a prostitute during downtown “john sweeps.”

    “I was the world’s worst hooker,” she recalls with a big laugh. “I was so not good at it. I didn’t make a lot of arrests.”

    During these early days on the force, Cook was also coping with problems at her mom’s home, which Cook had purchased after her mother had trouble carrying the mortgage.

    Cook remembers an incident from her mid-20s. She was living upstairs while her mother and uncle shared the basement.

    It was a long weekend, around 11 p.m., and her brother showed up at the front door, high on crack.

    “He wanted to barge his way in — I knew that wouldn’t be good,” Cook recalls.

    She stopped him at the door. Meanwhile, a neighbour came over to intervene. He got into a full-scale brawl with Cook’s brother, who he didn’t know. Cook, dressed in her pajamas, got caught in the fray.

    Police were called. Her brother was arrested at the scene. The neighbour was bleeding from punches to the face. Cook also got hit.

    Joyce went to Scarborough to bail her son out. Upon her return, she verbally attacked her daughter.

    “I was cutting the grass,” Cook remembers. “She just started on me that it was all my fault.”

    Her mother told her words to the effect of “you turned a simple issue into a street brawl — how dare you. I’ve been sitting on a hard bench all day in court.”

    Years later, in 1999, as Joyce lay dying in hospital from liver cancer, Cook would come to understand her mother’s behaviour. After speaking to her mom’s friends and doctors, she concluded her mom suffered from a mental disorder.


    Despite the wounds she carried deep inside, Cook was thriving in her career.

    In 2002, a few years after her mom died, Cook had left behind the world of policing to become director of security in Canada for Coca-Cola. She did that for seven years, followed by a stint as a vice-president of Securitas Security Services.

    She would later see a posting on the City of Toronto’s website for the licensing position and decided to apply. Senior city managers liked her mix of experience in law enforcement and private sector management. She started in January 2012.

    Cook now admits that when she began she wasn’t familiar with all the responsibilities of the job.

    One of her first big challenges was food carts.

    The city sought to amend its bylaws to allow for more and more varied food trucks and carts while balancing the interests of established restaurants. But when the restaurant industry wanted no food truck within 250 metres of a restaurant, “I said ‘that’s not happening,’ ” Cook recalls.

    Reforms in 2014 required that no food truck operate within 50 metres of an open restaurant. The next year that dropped to 30 metres.

    But she did have a blind spot when it came to dealing with another file — Uber, particularly UberX, a ride-hailing service she admits she “never saw coming” when it launched in Toronto in September 2014.

    “The day UberX launched, I said, what the hell is this? . . . I don’t think at that point I’d ever heard a damn thing” about it, she says, chuckling at herself.

    Her “awakening” on Uber came in the spring of 2015 during a session she attended at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce where the topic of the “sharing economy” was discussed.

    “I’m like ‘the sharing what?’” Cook says. But “I started to see what was happening. Airbnb was bubbling up … and I realized the mayor (Tory) wasn’t wrong. He clearly knew what was going on, what was coming. I think that’s where I turned a corner and said we have to look at this differently.”

    The city still pursued its injunction against Uber, arguing it was a taxi company violating city bylaws. Uber won in Superior Court in 2015, when a judge ruled there was no evidence the company was a taxi broker that violated Toronto’s rules.

    Uber had argued it is a technology-based communications service linking passengers and drivers, therefore not subject to the bylaws.

    Uber and the city later agreed to play ball, and Cook came to council last year with her reforms. UberX was licensed in the city on Aug. 16, 2016.

    Looking back, Cook says she doesn’t condone the fact that Uber was initially “flouting” the city’s rules but now understands the company’s strategy. “They pushed the envelope to have the dialogue and (the public) embraced it hard.”

    She believes “a pretty decent balance” has been struck. “We had to remove some of the overregulation,” she says.

    The changes include rules ending the requirement for taxi drivers to take city-run training programs, the addition of 30 cents for UberX trips, and regular inspections for both Uber and taxis.

    Currently 49,585 UberX drivers are licensed by the city, compared to 5,500 taxis, and 17,500 individuals licensed to drive taxis or limos.

    Since her awakening of sorts on the sharing economy, Cook has been speaking at tech conferences recently, about government’s role in embracing innovation, balanced with responsibilities to the public.

    Still, her critics in the taxi industry remain.

    “She has disappointed the cab industry big time,” says Sajid Mughal, president of the iTaxiworkers Association of Ontario, a lobby group representing Toronto’s cab drivers.

    Khamseh, the chairman of Taxi Action who called her bipolar last year in council chambers, says he still holds that view given her about-face.

    “She did everything she could to accommodate Uber to stay here.”


    Cook’s detractors notwithstanding, Josie Scioli, a deputy city manager for Toronto, says that since taking over as head of licensing, Cook has “been able to win a lot of hearts” at the city.

    It’s because she’s a team builder, breaks down “silos” in different departments, and is very focused, Scioli says. The two have co-operated closely and become work friends.

    “Tracey never feels sorry for herself, believes anything is possible and advocates for everybody. Her (upbringing) may have been difficult, but those steps were important,” says Scioli, who calls Cook a “great leader for the city.”

    Toronto police Insp. Joanna Beaven-Desjardins, who leads 42 Division and has been close with Cook since they did their police training together in 1987, says Cook’s blend of law-enforcement knowledge and the skills she learned in private security make her an ideal fit in her role.

    “The relationships she builds are really helping the Toronto police and the City of Toronto,” says Beaven-Desjardins.

    Beaven-Desjardins cites an anti-human trafficking project launched about 18 months ago when Beaven-Desjardins was commanding Toronto’s sex crimes unit. One area the unit tackled was unlicensed holistic spas and illegal massage parlours.

    Beaven-Desjardins’ unit and Cook’s licensing team brought together police, bylaw officers and community services for victims of the sex trade, and educated everyone on the laws and how to get help for victims.

    Last year, Beaven-Desjardins launched a similar project at 42 Division and brought Cook and her team in to help.

    “She’s a genuine, generous, caring person. She puts herself last in everything,” Beaven-Desjardins says. “Everything she’s accomplished she’s had to work for.”

    Cook now earns $220,000 a year, and lives with her husband, Frank, in a comfortable house in Don Mills. Frank has four adult children from a previous relationship — Cook has no children of her own — and the couple enjoys hanging out with their six grandchildren, all boys. In her spare time, she’s pursuing an executive MBA through Queen’s.

    The next potential clash on the horizon for Cook is licensing and standards for Airbnb expected in mid-November. The city is trying to balance the desire of homeowners to make some rental income with the needs of other homeowners and residents who don’t want to “live next door to a hotel,” Cook says.

    Key to this discussion is concern about Airbnb’s impact on the availability of long-term rental housing in Toronto, and the city’s “significant affordable housing shortage,” Cook says.

    In addition, marijuana and its legalization next year has kept her team busy. Her department has been chasing after illegal storefront operators — unnecessarily so, some critics say.

    It’s all part of a job she loves. It’s a complex and sometimes thankless task, but as verbal abuse on that emotional April day at city council reminded her, “it’s never boring.”


    This  woman may have the toughest job in TorontoThis woman may have the toughest job in Toronto

    This  woman may have the toughest job in TorontoThis woman may have the toughest job in Toronto

    This  woman may have the toughest job in TorontoThis woman may have the toughest job in Toronto

    This  woman may have the toughest job in TorontoThis woman may have the toughest job in Toronto

    This  woman may have the toughest job in TorontoThis woman may have the toughest job in Toronto

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    The leaves are still turning colour — rather late this year — but in a matter of weeks, we will be turning to the weather gurus asking, “Will it be a white Christmas?”

    Whether those who celebrate Christmas — the world’s most celebrated festival — do so for religious or spiritual reasons, or cultural ones, there is a common thread that weaves through them all, and that is the spirit of giving. Giving of love, giving of themselves and, yes, giving of things, too. It’s with children that the motivation to give is at its purest — we give with expectation of nothing in return.

    In many parts of the world, including this one, there is one giver-in-chief: Santa Claus.

    Is he real, my kids pester me throughout the year. Santa exists if you believe he does, he doesn’t if you believe he doesn’t — that’s the line I use with them, and I’m sticking to it.

    How quickly they’ve gone from strewing carrots and sparkles on the lawn for Rudolph, to checking if the stones by the fireplace were displaced Christmas Day, to asking, “Is Santa’s workshop in Costco?” Thank goodness for NORAD’s online Santa tracker — visuals still carry weight.

    Santa has one job, it’s true, but it’s a big one and, sometimes, he needs a bit of help.

    For more than a century, Father Christmas’s deliveries to millions of children in Toronto have borne the watermark of your generosity.

    As we kick off the 2017 Santa Claus Fund, let’s think of the children in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Pickering and Ajax, habituated to making do, used to going without, who will wonder if Santa will remember them this year. Hopefully, thousands will find he did, and that, too, will be thanks to you.

    “It is a sad fact that in 2017 child poverty remains a serious problem in the Greater Toronto Area,” said John Boynton, president of Torstar and publisher of the Star. “The need to help bring a bit of joy to these children is as great as ever. I urge our readers and residents across the GTA, who have been extremely generous in the past, to help. It’s a great way to be part of a community, part of a neighbourhood, and to see that no child goes wanting at Christmas.”

    In this city, Canada’s child poverty capital, about one in three kids live in a state of impoverishment.

    Perhaps Santa is on your own naughty list, if you think what he represents is not Christmas but the commercialization of it. Sure. That’s an excellent reason to not spend more money on people who have everything, but to share with those who have little.

    Perhaps the old man isn’t really part of your culture. I get that. He wasn’t part of mine, either, while I was growing up. But poverty hurts children of all faiths, and giving doesn’t discriminate: the children receiving the gifts come from a variety of backgrounds. As a Nigerian proverb goes, “It is the heart that does the giving; the fingers only let go.”

    Back in 1906, the Star’s original publisher, Joseph E. Atkinson, himself no stranger to childhood poverty, launched the Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund, appealing to readers, “. . . whatever contributions made may be expended in bringing pleasure to little hearts where pleasure is most seldom felt.” Readers raised $150 and more than 300 children received warm woollen stockings, candies, nuts — believe it or not, this was once OK — raisins, biscuits, oranges, crackers, toys, games, dolls and squeaking animals.

    This year, the goal is to raise $1.7 million and buy presents for 45,000 children. Their gift boxes will combine practical stuff with fun: a sweatshirt, socks, toque and warm gloves, a book, a toothbrushing kit, cookies and a toy. It could be a snakes and ladders game or a crystal growing kit, depending on the age of the recipient. (The gifts are not separated by gender.) Every single dollar raised goes toward the cost of the gifts.

    In 1906, the gifts were packed at Little Trinity Anglican Church and delivered by horse-drawn sleighs to missions across the city. Nowadays, it’s an army of hundreds of volunteers who pack the gifts in a warehouse and drop them off on foot, by car, by bus, by train.

    That the Santa Claus Fund, now in its 112th year, has weathered world wars, major depressions, recessions and turmoil is a testament to the mettle of Star readers who give and keep on giving.

    Time and again, the extended Toronto Star family has used this noble tradition to demonstrate that we are in this together.

    Let’s do it again. Let’s help everybody feel they belong.

    If you have been touched by the Santa Claus Fund or have a story to tell, please email santaclausfund@thestar.ca. Click here to donate now.


    45,000 children relying on Star readers’ goodwill this Christmas45,000 children relying on Star readers’ goodwill this Christmas45,000 children relying on Star readers’ goodwill this Christmas45,000 children relying on Star readers’ goodwill this Christmas

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    DAKAR, SENEGAL—Sitting on the floor and dressed in black, the 15-year-old held her baby as panicked tears welled in her eyes. Her husband, two decades her senior, could kill her if he found out she was telling her story, she said.

    She was married at age 13 in the West African nation of Guinea because her parents feared she could harm her marriage prospects by having premarital sex. At the time, she said, she had not even developed breasts.

    “I was given to a man that I didn’t choose before my body was even ready to have sex,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “I couldn’t even move for a week afterward because I was swollen and bleeding.”

    Child marriage remains deeply entrenched in West and Central Africa, home to six of the 10 countries with the highest rates in the world. Rights groups and political and religious leaders from across the region gathered in Senegal this past week to seek ways to curb the practice.

    Outspoken survivors of child marriage urged them on.

    More than half of girls in Guinea are married before age 18. While the country recently banned marriage for those under that age, observers say the practice remains widespread. Some girls enter arranged marriages during times of insecurity or when families are under economic strain.

    “This is a complex issue driven by poverty, cultural norms and families trying to do the best for their children,” said Save The Children International CEO Helle Thorning-Schmidt. “But until we break the cycle where the only way a girl can give her family honour is to marry and have children, then we will not change this.”

    Child marriage affects nearly 15 million girls around the globe. The rate is as high as 76 per cent in Niger; in Chad and Central African Republic it is 68 per cent. Mali and Burkina Faso have rates above 50 per cent, according to data from Save the Children and Girls Not Brides.

    Experts say education for girls is key to providing them with opportunities beyond marriage, and to improving regional prosperity.

    Musu Bakoto Sawo, now a 27-year-old lawyer and human rights advocate from Gambia, was married at age 14. She was 21 when she became a widow and inherited nothing.

    She said education is the only reason she has thrived, calling it “the only way I could go against the system.”

    Even for those who avoid an early marriage, social consequences can be immense.

    Fatoumata, 14, called it “the nightmare of my life” when her family said she was to marry her 39-year-old cousin. She fled that night in her pyjamas to stay with a friend’s family.

    “My father said if I refused this marriage I was no longer his child,” she said. “He threatened my mother too . . . she has suffered because of me.” She gave only her first name for fear of reprisals.

    Some young women may embrace early marriages, seeing them as protection from insecurity in conflict-ridden areas, said Zuwaira Bello of the advocacy group Girl Child Concerns. The group operates in northern Nigeria, where the Boko Haram extremist insurgency is known for kidnapping young women and forcing them into marriages.

    Involving former child brides in community activism will help discourage child marriages that seek protection from unrest, Bello said.

    Some young women who escaped forced marriages now spread the word against the practice.

    Leila, who asked that her last name not be used to protect her family, said her uncle in Niger forced her to marry a man at age 14 because he owed a debt he couldn’t repay. A year later, she was pregnant.

    She said her husband beat her for refusing sex. After a second pregnancy, she was able to escape, get a divorce and return to her studies.

    Through tears, she urged other young brides to remain hopeful. “I would say to them to be patient and remain courageous,” she said.


    As African nations tackle child marriage, young survivors speak outAs African nations tackle child marriage, young survivors speak out

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    HOUSTON—Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel is facing possible punishment after making a racist gesture during the World Series.

    Gurriel said he didn’t intend to offend Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish when he pulled on the corners of his eyes after homering against him during Houston’s 5-3 win in Game 3 on Friday night.

    “I didn’t try to offend nobody,” Gurriel said in Spanish through a translator. “I was commenting to my family that I didn’t have any luck against Japanese pitchers here in the United States.”

    Gurriel, a 33-year-old from Cuba, made the gesture shortly after homering to start Houston’s four-run second inning. While sitting in the dugout, Gurriel put his fingers to the side of his eyes and said “chinito” — a derogatory Spanish term that translates literally to “little Chinese.”

    Read more: Dodgers’ Darvish left spinning as Astros take series lead

    Darvish was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Iranian father.

    A person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press the league intends to speak with Gurriel. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the league had not publicly addressed the matter. Gurriel may be punished, including a possible suspension during the World Series.

    The league has recently suspended players caught using slurs. Toronto’s Kevin Pillar and Oakland’s Matt Joyce were each banned for two games this season after making homophobic comments.

    Gurriel said the derogatory term is used commonly in Cuba to refer to Asian people. He said he knows the Japanese are offended by it because he played in Japan in 2014.

    “In the moment, I didn’t want to offend him or nobody in Japan because I have a lot of respect for them and I played in Japan,” he said, adding that, “I didn’t mean to do it.”

    Darvish played professionally in Japan from 2005-11 before joining the Texas Rangers in 2012. He was traded to the Dodgers at this year’s July 31 trade deadline. He was angry about what happened.

    “Acting like that, you just disrespect all the people around the world,” he said in Japanese through a translator.

    Gurriel hopes to speak with Darvish about what happened.

    “Yes, of course. I want to talk to him because I have nothing against him,” he said. “I think he’s one of the best pitchers in Japan, and I never had success against him. ... If he felt offended, I want to apologize to him.”

    Gurriel spent 15 years in the Cuban professional league and played in Japan for a year before signing with the Astros last season. Gurriel homered and doubled in Game 3 and is batting .346 in the post-season.

    “I know he’s remorseful,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said.

    Some of Darvish’s former teammates with the Rangers called out Gurriel for his actions on Twitter. Pitcher Jake Diekman used an emoji to call the gesture trash, and outfielder Ryan Rua said “really hope that gesture from Gurriel wasn't directed toward Yu ... no place for that.”

    Darvish hopes the incident can be a learning experience.

    “Nobody’s perfect and everybody is different and then ... we just ... have to learn from it,” he said. “And then he made a mistake and then we’re just going to learn from it. We are all human beings. That’s what I’m saying, so just learn from it and we’ve got to go forward, move forward.”


    Astros’ Yuli Gurriel may be punished for racist gesture made toward LA’s Yu DarvishAstros’ Yuli Gurriel may be punished for racist gesture made toward LA’s Yu Darvish

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    COBOURG—An elderly married couple is dead following a shooting at the Northumberland Hills Hospital (NHH) emergency department late Friday evening.

    The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) confirmed the couple died following a police involved shooting inside the emergency room in the Northumberland Hills Hospital in Cobourg.

    The incident began after the married couple in their 70s were admitted to the emergency department for unknown aliments, said Jon Ansell, the lead SIU investigator on the incident. The couple were side by side on gurneys alone in what Ansell describes as a triage room.

    “Just after 11 o’clock p.m. a shot was heard from the triage room,” said Ansell.

    The nurses entered the room and found a 76-year-old woman had sustained a head wound, said Ansell.

    Cobourg police responded very quickly encountered the 70-year-old man. Two police officers discharged their firearms and the man was pronounced dead on scene.

    The woman succumbed to her injuries despite efforts from hospital staff to revive her, said Ansell.

    The incident was confined to one room, said Ansell. The man did not fire his weapon in any other areas of the hospital, he said. Aside from the couple, no other staff, patients or visitors were affected physically by the shooting.

    “It was a terrifying situation for the emergency staff...two occasions having shots fired right in your work area. In that regard it would have been a very traumatic thing for anybody in that area at the time,” said Ansell.

    A man in the emergency department at the time of the incident told the Northumberland News he heard a shot and then five or six shots. He heard people screaming and then the man hid under a table.

    Ansell said he could not confirm how many shots were fired.

    “We have an awful lot of ballistic work to do yet to determine how many shots were fired,” he said.

    The couple are from within an hour the Cobourg area, Ansell said. The names will not be released until the next of kin are notified.

    The OPP will be handling the investigation into the death of the woman and the SIU the investigation into the death of the man.

    The SIU is urging anyone who may have information about this investigation to contact the lead investigator at 1-800-787-8529. The Unit is also urging anyone who may have any video evidence related to this incident to upload that video through the SIU website.

    The SIU is an arm’s length agency that investigates reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.

    Due to the incident, and the related police investigation, patients to the NHH Emergency Department were re-directed to other area hospitals.

    “Our staff and physicians are trained to deal with weapon-related situations,” said Linda Davis, President and CEO. “While we hope that we never need to use this training, it proved very beneficial tonight. I want to thank our staff and our local police services for their fast and professional response. NHH’s Employee Assistance Provider is on site providing support to staff. Due to the ongoing investigation we are unable to comment on the specifics of what occurred in our Emergency Department last night. What I can tell you is that the scene is secure and all current patients, caregivers, staff and police personnel are safe.”

    Around 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 28 the emergency department resumed regular service.

    “We were able to go off ambulance re-direct, we did that about 15 minutes ago,” she said shortly after 9 a.m. “Which means we will be able to resume our normal service throughout our (emergency department).”

    Davis said staff and physicians working during the incident have had a chance to receive counselling and support.

    “We have staff who have been trained and are aware of these situations,” she said. “It’s always difficult when it occurs, so we have certainly been able to provide support for our staff.”

    The hospital’s employee assistance program was brought in overnight to counsel staff, she said.

    “It’s counsellors who are used to dealing with critical incidents and helping staff verbalize concerns and feelings post-incident,” she said. “That was provided to all staff and physicians who were in through the night.”

    She added counsellors will return later tonight for further support.

    — With files from Todd McEwen


    Police shoot man after 70-year-old kills wife inside Cobourg hospital ERPolice shoot man after 70-year-old kills wife inside Cobourg hospital ERPolice shoot man after 70-year-old kills wife inside Cobourg hospital ERPolice shoot man after 70-year-old kills wife inside Cobourg hospital ER

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    A husband and wife enslave a homeless couple, routinely subjecting them to beatings and verbal abuse. They take their newborn baby and claim him as their own. The woman manages to leave after four years, abandoning her son, but her former partner remains captive for more than two decades, sleeping in a dirty basement, eating dog food, his teeth rotting.

    These are just some of the allegations made over the last several weeks in an extraordinary trial playing out in a downtown Toronto courtroom.

    The sordid tale began in the late 1980s, after the couple found a man scrounging for food in a dumpster. They befriended him and his common-law wife, helping them find a home. That friendship, the prosecution alleges, turned to something much darker as the husband and his wife took advantage of the vulnerable couple, stealing their government disability cheques. They then allegedly took the couple’s first-born son, lying on hospital records so he would appear to be theirs.

    For more than two decades, the boy’s biological dad lived in the basement like a prisoner, where he was often beaten, sometimes so badly he recalls filling the toilet bowl with blood that poured from his nose, according to his testimony in court.

    “They threatened me to be there,” the man told court.

    “They said, if you ever try to leave, that we’d put you in a mental institution. And I didn’t want that so I didn’t leave.”

    He finally did leave, though, in 2012, when he was told to get into a waiting car and convinced to leave by the boy who at the time knew him as Tim, the man who lived in his basement.

    It was not until a recent paternity test that the boy, now 28 years old, learned there is a 90-per-cent chance that Tim is his biological father.

    The alleged captors, Gary Willett Sr. and his wife, Maria, are facing multiple charges. Willett Sr. is charged with forcible confinement and assault of the man to whom he allegedly didn’t provide the necessaries of life for nearly 25 years, as well as theft over $5,000 and abduction of a child under the age of 14.

    Willett Sr.’s case is ongoing. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges he is facing and lawyers for the prosecution and defence will be submitting their closing statements in the coming weeks.

    His wife, Maria Willett, is facing similar charges, as well as being accused of the assault of some children in her care. (The Willetts had as many as eight children living with them at points during the last two decades.)

    She is not being tried alongside her husband. According to her lawyer, Daniel Kayfetz, she is currently being examined by a court-appointed specialist to determine if she is medically fit to stand trial. “Anything that’s said about her has not been tested by cross-examination or by presentation of defence evidence,” Kayfetz said when reached by the Star.

    Testifying in court earlier this month, Willett Sr. said he could not control the once-homeless man he had only ever tried to help. That man, he said, was an independent adult who made his own decisions and willingly gave up his son.

    While defending his client, Willett Sr.’s lawyer, Sam Goldstein, gave examples of his client taking the children to specialist appointments and providing them with healthy meals. The allegations, Goldstein argued, are retaliation from the children for perceived childhood wrongs.

    The story came to a dramatic climax just three years ago, when a 24-year-old woman got a 4 a.m. phone call.


    The Star has reviewed weeks of court testimony in the trial of Gary Willett Sr. and the following chronology is based on witness accounts as well as evidence filed with the courts and additional interviews with six family members.

    The name of the man the Willetts allegedly abused for years is Tim Goldrick. The name of the woman, his ex-partner, is Barbara Bennett. Both are now 56. They both have unspecified intellectual disabilities. Bennett told the Star she is a “slow learner” and was in a special education program as a child. Goldrick agreed on the stand that he’s had “intellectual issues” in his life.

    Both testified at the trial.

    The Willetts’ alleged crimes against Goldrick and Bennett began in the late ’80s and migrated from basement apartments in downtown Toronto and East York, to a delivery room at Toronto East General Hospital, to crowded homes in Etobicoke.

    The first time Goldrick met the Willetts, he was searching in the garbage for food behind their apartment building in downtown Toronto, where Willett Sr. worked as a superintendent.

    The Willetts offered him and Bennett food, he said. Then, a place to stay.

    At the time, Goldrick and Bennett were romantic partners and homeless. The couple, who both grew up in Oakville, received monthly cheques from Ontario’s Disability Support Program.

    The Willetts had been married for about one year. Willett Sr., now 50, told court he was held back in school because of reading and spelling difficulties and dropped out in Grade 8.

    He met his wife, Maria, who has a Grade 3 education, when he was 16. She is 11 years his senior and already had two children from previous relationships. The Willetts, too, received monthly disability cheques, Willett Sr. testified.

    The Willetts found Goldrick and Bennett a basement apartment in their building, Goldrick said on the stand.

    Testifying in his defence, Willett Sr. said he helped Bennett and Goldrick in those early months of their relationship. Goldrick continued to pick through dumpsters, and his clothes would “really smell bad.” They were threatened by their landlord with eviction. When he and Maria moved to a building in the city’s east end, Willett Sr. said he found a unit there for the couple.

    That year, Bennett got pregnant with Goldrick’s baby. And on Sept. 2, 1989, she went to Toronto East General Hospital to deliver.

    There, Maria Willett filled out all the relevant paperwork. She gave her own health card to Bennett and told her to use it, according to Bennett’s testimony. Willett Sr. testified that his wife was never at the hospital.

    The baby’s birth certificate lists Gary Willett Sr. and Maria Willett as his parents. The couple named him Gary Willett Jr. — and today he is known as Junior.

    Bennett told the prosecutor in the case that she felt “not very good” about using Maria Willett’s health card but that she didn’t tell the Willetts that.

    “I figured if I didn’t (use Maria’s card) I’d probably get hit,” she said, adding, “At that time, I didn’t know if it was wrong or not.”

    At one point during her testimony, her voice barely audible at points, Bennett suggested that going home with her baby while Maria took over as his parent wasn’t a terrible arrangement.

    “We were all living together . . . It’s not like I was away at a totally different address that they’d be going to. I’d still be there,” she said.

    Willett Sr. testified Goldrick and Bennett came up to his apartment and asked him and his wife to take the baby.

    The Willetts were familiar with how adoption worked — they’d adopted two other children around the same time. But when it came to Willett Jr. they presented the child as theirs.

    Maria’s sister-in-law had questions about the sudden appearance of the Willetts’ newborn. In court she recalled a conversation she had with her husband at the time:

    “I said, OK, this does not make sense. Because where is Barb’s baby? Where is Barb’s baby? She was the one pregnant,” she remembers saying.

    But she didn’t press the issue, worried that it would be rude to ask.


    Shortly after Gary Willett Jr.’s birth, the Willetts moved twice with Goldrick and Bennett to two different houses in North York.

    According to the prosecution’s opening statement, some physical abuse began prior to moving into the second North York home. But the brunt of the emotional, physical and verbal abuse began there.

    During her time on the stand, Bennett recalled being slapped and hit, particularly if she didn’t clean the house properly or if the kids made a mess.

    “I would get hit and get told to do it again. Clean it up. Clean up the mess,” she said, adding, “I would get slapped. In the face . . . Three or four (slaps) depending on how mad she was.”

    Maria Willett’s sister-in-law said Bennett was treated like “a slave.” Willett Jr. later added that Goldrick was treated like a “slave-type maid” during his many years with the family.

    Bennett became pregnant again in 1993. This time, a brother of Willett Sr.’s was the father, according to a family tree filed as an exhibit in court.

    She gave birth to a baby girl. The baby girl was named Billie-Jean and she kept her as her own.

    When Billie-Jean was only a few months old, Bennett decided she had to leave the house.

    When asked by the prosecution why she left, Bennett said it was because she was getting hit all the time and that the Willetts were smoking hash.

    “(Billie-Jean) was a baby and I didn’t want her around it,” she said, adding that she was able to leave the situation with the help of her own mother.

    Bennett left with Billie-Jean, leaving Willett Jr., her toddler son, behind. She would not see or speak to him again for more than 20 years.

    Until they met again in the parking lot of a Toronto police station.


    Following the departure of Bennett and Billie-Jean, the Willetts moved again, to a bungalow in Etobicoke.

    At this house, Gary Willett Sr. put up seven cameras outside and inside. One captured the fridge.

    During the trial, Willett Sr. admitted that he would watch the camera footage from a basement office.

    For the next 12 years, Goldrick lived in a tiny space in the basement of the home: a hallway between rooms with a single box spring mattress. A police officer testifying at the trial described the entire house as “very cluttered and dirty.”

    The prosecutor in the case said Goldrick was allowed to leave the home only to complete tasks like buying groceries or shovelling the snow in the winter. He had to give them all of the roughly $900 he received a month.

    Sometimes he was kicked, hit and punched in the ribs, chest and head for reasons he did not understand.

    “Sometimes, while I was sleeping, Gary (Sr.) would come in and hit me for no reason, and I’d wake up and I wondered why he did this. But I never found out why,” Goldrick said on the stand, adding that he would also be beaten for taking food without permission.

    He testified that he wasn’t allowed to go into the fridge to get food, and ate dog food “quite a few times” because of it. When he was living with the Willetts, he said, he weighed 106 pounds. He currently weighs 230 pounds. He is six foot two.

    When the beatings happened, they could last up to 10 minutes, said Goldrick, recalling being hunched over a toilet while it filled with blood that poured from his nose.

    Gary Willett Jr. recalled an incident growing up when he saw Goldrick coughing up blood but Goldrick told him not to tell anyone. Willett Jr. also testified that Willett Sr. hit him.

    During his testimony, Willett Sr. again said the facts were more complicated. He testified that he used Goldrick’s disability cheque to pay rent and provide food. And that he left Goldrick with some extra money.

    He said that when Goldrick ate dog food he told him it was “unhealthy” and added “he was a grown adult.” He admitted to calling him “stupid,” “dumb” and “retard,” but said that Goldrick would curse back. He said he never hit or confined him.

    After Goldrick left the home in 2012, he went to the dentist. He was missing teeth in his top and bottom arches, with others broken, riddled with cavities and infections. He had severe bone loss, exposing more than 50 per cent of his teeth’s roots, according to the dentist’s testimony.

    On the stand, Gary Jr. also recounted his own memories for those years. The many hurdles and challenges that he faced growing up were also addressed in court.

    He saw multiple doctors, who prescribed him Ritalin and other drugs. He attended a centre for behavioural issues and was assessed by the Toronto District School Board for whether he should be placed in special education programs.

    Gary Jr. was suspended multiple times and attended substance abuse counselling. He did not graduate from high school.

    For a few years after leaving school, Willett Jr. lived away from the Willett home, mostly in Sudbury.

    When he came back in 2012, he lasted only a few weeks.

    There was a fight and he left for good, he said. After that, he began to reach out to family members, who told him they suspected that Goldrick could be his father.

    “(The Willetts) denied it, and handed me a baby book, and said I was theirs,” Willett Jr. said on the stand.

    Over the course of the next year, Gary Jr. grappled with the possibility that his life was a lie.

    Then one day, while driving with a childhood friend, he spotted Goldrick walking on the sidewalk. Aware of the horrible conditions that Goldrick was returning to, they stopped the car.

    “And we said, ‘Listen, Tim, if you want out and you want a better life, then you come with us now,’” Willett Jr. said on the stand.

    Goldrick was scared. He started shaking. He didn’t know what to do.

    “I just told him, ‘Tim, this is the time,’” the friend testified.

    “And I told him, like, ‘I need to go. I’m in the middle of Islington Road with my four-ways on. It’s either now or never.’ And he got in the car.”


    It was 4 in the morning on a Wednesday in 2014 when Billie-Jean Bennett heard the phone ring.

    A man on the other end of the line introduced himself as one of Maria Willett’s biological sons. He told her about the brother she never knew existed.

    Billie-Jean recounted the moment to the Star in an interview.

    It had been two years since Goldrick left the Willetts and in that time Maria’s son had pieced together what happened.

    He wanted Billie-Jean’s mother, Barbara Bennett, after more than two decades, to come forward with what happened.

    Billie-Jean was shocked. She knew nothing about what her mother went through. She didn’t know who her biological father was, let alone that she had a big brother.

    “When I first heard it at four in the morning, I didn’t quite believe it. I had to hear it out of my mom’s mouth,” she said.

    Billie-Jean, now 24, has a strong bond with her mother. She spoke about her kindness, her devotion and her famous chicken melts — made with English muffins, chicken, peas and tomatoes.

    “My mom was always there for me,” she said.

    Mere weeks after receiving the early-morning phone call, Billie-Jean graduated from college. Around that time she and her mother met Gary Willett Jr. in a Toronto police parking lot, after more than two decades apart. Barbara Bennett was there to give a statement to police.

    The revelations have been shocking for Billie-Jean, but she says ultimately she is glad she knows the truth.

    As for Willett Jr., the news has been devastating.

    “This has wrecked my life,” he said in an interview with the Star, adding Willett Sr. was never a father figure and Maria was never a loving mother.

    “They said ‘I love you’ every night, but if you hit me, if you continuously slap me, I don’t believe it,” Willett Jr. said.

    Willett Sr. denied hitting the children.

    “I don’t know if I will be able to reconcile with my kids over this, and that’s the saddest part of it all.”

    Today, Gary Jr. lives with Goldrick, his biological dad, in an Etobicoke apartment. Weightlifting equipment sits in the dining room and a corn snake was curled up in a tank in the living room near a leather sectional. He works in demolition.

    Despite the DNA test on Goldrick, Willett Jr. says he hasn’t come to terms with his parentage. He no longer speaks to his biological mother, Bennett, he said, because he wants answers and she isn’t giving them.

    “I think about why it happened, why is my life like this?” he said. “How is someone stolen as a child and everything is OK? Not once did my real mother go looking for me.”

    Goldrick, meanwhile, says he’s happy to have clean clothes and a few nice possessions, such as his stereo and a red mountain bike.

    “I can go out now and make money. I’ve got a newspaper job that I do. I deliver the flyers. I can do that and it makes me feel good to know I can do stuff like this.”

    But a quarter-century of alleged abuse has taken its toll.

    “I take pills for the shakes and nighttime pills for sleep,” Goldrick said.

    “I have nightmares because of this.”

    With files from Jayme Poisson, Alanna Rizza, Bryann Aguilar, Ainslie Cruickshank, Annie Arnone, Fakiha Baig, Jenna Moon and Emma McIntosh


    He named the baby Gary, after himself. He allegedly kept the biological father enslaved in the basementHe named the baby Gary, after himself. He allegedly kept the biological father enslaved in the basement

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    MOGADISHU, SOMALIA—A suicide truck bomb exploded outside a popular hotel in Somalia’s capital on Saturday, killing at least 23 people and wounding more than 30, and gunfire continued as security forces pursued other attackers inside the building, police said. Two more blasts were heard, one when an attacker detonated a suicide vest.

    Speaking to The Associated Press by telephone from the scene, Capt. Mohamed Hussein said 30 people, including a government minister, were rescued from the Nasa-Hablod hotel as heavy gunfire continued in the standoff between extremists and security forces. Three of the five attackers were killed, Hussein said. The others hurled grenades and cut off the building’s electricity as night fell.

    Saturday’s blasts came two weeks after more than 350 people were killed in a massive truck bombing on a busy Mogadishu street in the country’s worst-ever attack.

    Read more:

    Death toll from Somalia bombing rises to 358 as ‘state of war’ planned against extremist group

    Al-Shabab, Africa’s deadliest Islamic extremist group, quickly claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack and said its fighters were inside the hotel.

    Among the dead were a mother and three children, including a baby, all shot in the head, Hussein said. Other victims included a senior Somali police colonel, a former lawmaker and a former government minister. Footage from the scene showed twisted vehicles and nearby buildings with only walls left standing.

    Mohamed Dek Haji said he survived the bombing as he walked beside a parked car that was largely destroyed by the explosion. He said he saw at least three armed men in military uniforms running toward the hotel after the bombing at its gate.

    “I think they were al-Shabab fighters who were trying to storm the hotel,” he said, lying on a hospital bed. He suffered small injuries on his shoulder and skull from flying glass.

    Witnesses in some previous attacks have said al-Shabab fighters disguised themselves by wearing military uniforms.

    Security officials say Saturday’s bomber had pretended his truck had broken down outside the gate. Police Col. Mohamed Abdullahi says the bomber stopped outside the heavily fortified hotel and pretended to repair the truck before finally turning it around and detonating.

    Al-Shabab often targets high-profile areas of Mogadishu. It has not commented on the massive attack two weeks ago; experts have said the death toll was so high that the group hesitated to further anger Somali citizens as its pursues its insurgency.

    Since the blast two weeks ago, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has visited regional countries to seek more support for the fight against the extremist group, vowing a “state of war.” He also faces the challenge of pulling together regional powers inside his long-fractured country, where the federal government is only now trying to assert itself beyond Mogadishu and other major cities.

    A 22,000-strong multinational African Union force in Somalia is expected to withdraw its forces and hand over the country’s security to the Somali military by the end of 2020. U.S. military officials and others in recent months have expressed concern that Somali forces are not yet ready.

    The U.S. military also has stepped up military efforts against al-Shabab this year in Somalia, carrying out nearly 20 drone strikes, as the global war on extremism moves deeper in the African continent.


    23 dead, more than 30 wounded in Mogadishu hotel explosion23 dead, more than 30 wounded in Mogadishu hotel explosion

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    CALGARY—WestJet says computer problems have caused delays for dozens of its flights.

    The Calgary-based airline said Saturday on social media that “a significant IT outage” has affected numerous systems, including check-in and reservations systems and its contact centre.

    By the afternoon, it said it was making progress in partially restoring some systems, but that phone lines in its contact centre and operations control centre were still affected.

    WestJet says approximately 50 to 60 flights have been delayed anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.

    It says further delays are expected and cancellations are a possibility.

    The airline is asking passengers to check their flight status online before heading to the airport.


    WestJet warns of possible flight cancellations after IT issues cause delaysWestJet warns of possible flight cancellations after IT issues cause delays

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    A B.C. court has approved a class-action lawsuit against Mac’s Convenience Stores and three immigration consulting firms by migrant workers who say they paid thousands of dollars for jobs in Canada that did not materialize.

    The four lead plaintiffs — two each from Nepal and the Philippines — allege that Mac’s and the consulting firms had promised them jobs but failed to deliver, and that the consulting companies “unlawfully” collected recruitment fees from them.

    Mac’s and the consulting firms say the job positions were not guaranteed and the fees were not for job placement but for assistance with the immigration and settlement process.

    The court’s decision let the lawsuit proceed “is significant as it means that workers recruited abroad to work in Canada and who have paid recruitment fees, or whose contracts of employment have not been honoured by Canadian employers, or who have otherwise had their rights infringed, have an effective means of seeking redress,” said Charles Gordon, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs.

    “Acting individually, legal action is not feasible for such workers. By allowing them to act collectively as a class, the court has provided them a means of seeking justice.”

    All three immigration companies named in the lawsuit — Overseas Immigration Services, Overseas Career and Consulting Services (OCCS), and Trident Immigration — are alleged by the claimants to be controlled by Surrey, B.C. man Kuldeep Bansal, a licensed consultant with the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council.

    According to the statement of claim, the lead plaintiffs were all recruited in job fairs held in Dubai and paid around $8,000 in fees in exchange for the promise of a job in Canada.

    Typically, they paid $2,000 in cash in Dubai to get the process started and then the balance of payment after they received an employment offer from Mac’s and a positive labour market assessment approval for their visa to Canada, according to the claim.

    Under Canadian laws, employers are permitted to hire third-party representatives to recruit foreign workers but they must pay for all fees associated with the service and cannot download the costs to workers. Recruiters are also prohibited from charging workers fees for job placement.

    Two of the workers’ contracts with Mac’s included a term that said Mac’s would assume the cost of transportation from the Middle East to Alberta and back to their home countries, according to the lawsuit.

    The lead plaintiffs say they received a visa to Canada and were issued work permits upon arrival. However, they say there was no job for them at Mac’s when they got here.

    None of the allegations have been proven in court. No statement of defence has yet been filed by Mac’s or the consulting firms.

    Counsel for the consulting firms didn’t responded to the Star’s request for comment for this article. Mac’s declined to comment.

    According to the B.C. court decision’s summary of the defendants’ submission, Mac’s started using Overseas Career and Consulting Services, a licensed employment agency in B.C., in 2012 to assist in recruiting foreign workers in parts of Western Canada. It agreed to pay the employment agency a success fee for every worker that was hired.

    In its submission, Mac’s said it never authorized any party, including OCCS, to charge or collect any payments from migrant workers, directly or indirectly. Neither has Mac’s ever collected or received any such payment from workers, it said.

    The company said its labour needs were changing constantly and it only executed employment contracts when positions were available. There was always a possibility that the position would no longer be available by the time the temporary foreign worker candidates’ visas, work permits, and travel arrangements could be finalized.

    Mac’s also said it understood OCCS did not charge candidates fees for securing jobs, but did charge them fees relating to assisting them with processing immigration documents and navigating the immigration process, which Mac’s said it had no involvement in.

    The consulting firms said in their court submission that they did not collect any fees for job recruitment but for immigration and settlement services for the workers.

    In June, a parliamentary standing committee recommended an overhaul of the regulations of immigration consultants, but the Liberal government has yet to act on the recommendations, said NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan.

    “The current system we have is broken,” said Kwan. “It is time to take action.”


    B.C. court approves migrant workers' class-action lawsuit against Mac’s Convenience StoresB.C. court approves migrant workers' class-action lawsuit against Mac’s Convenience Stores

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    CALGARY—Former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney has won the leadership of Alberta’s United Conservative Party.

    The longtime Calgary MP, who held high-ranking positions in the government of Stephen Harper, beat former Wildrose leader Brian Jean and lawyer Doug Schweitzer on the first ballot.

    He took 61.1 per cent of the vote, over Jean at 31.5 per cent and Schweitzer at 7.3 per cent.

    “It’s another miracle on the Prairies,” Kenney told a cheering crowd after the result was announced.

    “Tonight we are one stop closer to renewing the Alberta advantage and getting our province back on track. Tonight we are one step closer to re-igniting our economy so that Alberta is once again that land of opportunity.

    “We are one step closer to a government focused on prosperity so that we have the means to be a compassionate and generous society.”

    Read more:

    Jason Kenney launches campaign for leadership of Alberta’s UCP

    Flawed strategy of making Alberta great again: Gillian Steward

    Members of both parties voted 95 per cent in favour of a merger.

    Kenney now leads an Opposition caucus of 27 members.

    He does not hold a seat in the legislature. He must now wait for a spot to open up in a byelection or in the next general election.

    Kenney spent the past two decades in politics. In Ottawa, he worked under Harper as the minister for immigration, employment and defence.

    The 49-year-old left federal politics last year and announced in July 2016 that Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose party must unite to end vote-splitting and form an effective conservative coalition to defeat Rachel Notley’s NDP.

    The Wildrose took root more than a decade ago from conservatives disaffected with what they viewed as top-down leadership by the governing PCs along with a failure to protect private property rights and keep spending in check.

    The parties have been fighting for the soul of grassroots conservatives ever since, with both sides losing floor crossers to the other.

    Jean eventually signed on to talks to join forces and the two sides merged in July.

    Next up is a founding convention to establish governing policies and principles. Constituency associations have already been working on amalgamation and the plan is to have a full slate of candidates ready for the next election, with is set by legislation to occur in the spring of 2019.

    The leadership campaign was marked by some friction.

    Jean and Schweitzer outlined detailed plans to reduce Alberta’s debtload while keeping the rebounding economy from stalling. Kenney avoided specifics on economics. He said he supports a free-enterprise compass heading, but would let rank-and-file members set policy at the founding convention.

    On social issues, Kenney was criticized for suggesting he would allow parents to be told if their child joined a gay-straight alliance at school. Critics said that could out a child before he or she is ready and put them at risk of harm.

    Schweitzer pushed Kenney and the party to embrace a more progressive stance on social issues. He has said it’s critical to capture younger voters and remove an effective wedge issue for the NDP.

    Kenney had criticized Jean for poor management of caucus funding, which forced staffers to be laid off. Jean dismissed that complaint and said Kenney supporters were spreading misinformation on his policy positions.

    Shortly after online voting started on Thursday, the Jean and Schweitzer camps voiced concerns over the electronic voting security.

    The leadership election committee reviewed the process on Friday and said no security breaches were found.


    Jason Kenney wins Alberta conservative party leadershipJason Kenney wins Alberta conservative party leadership

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