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    Ontario’s Opposition is calling on the government to halt a deal with a gaming company that is facing money laundering allegations in British Columbia.

    The B.C. government has launched an independent expert’s review of the province’s policies in the gambling industry after concerns were raised about the possibility of money laundering at the River Rock Casino in Richmond, B.C.

    That casino is run by Great Canadian Gaming Corp., which the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. selected in August — along with Brookfield Business Partners LP — to run facilities at Woodbine, slots at Ajax Downs and the Great Blue Heron Casino in the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.

    Read more:

    Woodbine believes casino plans will mesh with proposal to build a new community in northwest Toronto

    Woodbine’s ‘city-within-a-city’ casino expansion expected to generate 2,500 jobs

    Ontario Progressive Conservative Vic Fedeli said Monday the province should halt the deal while it gathers all the facts about the situation in B.C.

    “I think our main impetus is to ensure integrity in the industry,” he said. “We’re asking them — halt right now while we gather the facts. I think that’s the prudent thing to be doing.”

    Premier Kathleen Wynne said OLG has strict anti-money laundering provisions, but Ontario is watching developments in B.C.

    “I think it raises questions, which is why the minister has spoken with OLG and we will be paying very close attention to it,” she said.

    Great Canadian Gaming said it has ensured that regulatory compliance procedures are strictly followed, and it is committed to preventing illegal activities at all of its locations.

    “Contrary to suggestions otherwise, to our knowledge our company is not under investigation in any jurisdiction,” chief operating officer Terrance Doyle said in a statement. “Our employees followed all procedures required of them by BC Lottery Corporation (BCLC), none of our employees are facing charges, nor we do not believe our company’s actions would give cause to initiate any investigation.”

    OLG noted that Great Canadian Gaming is not under a criminal or regulatory investigation in either province and is satisfied the company will operate the Greater Toronto Area facilities responsibly.

    Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa said it would be “totally inappropriate” for a minister such as himself to get involved and expressed confidence in OLG’s procurement process.

    “The Opposition are inferring criminality but that is not the case,” he said. “It’s a stretch to start to suggest that somehow the province of Ontario should retract from a legitimate operation and a legitimate contract because of some inference that happened two or three years ago that is being reviewed under due process.”

    B.C.’s attorney general has said he launched the probe after reading a report about the casino accepting $13.5 million in $20 bills in July 2015 that police said could be proceeds of crime involving Asian VIP clients.

    A July 2016 report commissioned by the province’s previous Liberal government said single cash buy-ins in excess of $500,000 with no known source of funds were accepted at River Rock. Law enforcement intelligence indicated the money may have been “direct proceeds of crime,” the report said.

    The head of Great Canadian Gaming said it initially detected suspicious activity at the casino in 2012 and that its ongoing monitoring and reporting to the B.C. Lottery Corp. was crucial to identifying the individuals allegedly involved.

    In Ontario, Great Canadian Gaming and Brookfield won the exclusive right to operate the Toronto-area facilities for a minimum of 22 years. OLG said in its procurement process that it was looking for up to 5,000 electronic games and up to 400 gaming tables for the Woodbine facility in northwest Toronto, and the city of Toronto has granted conditional approval for such a casino.

    The Woodbine, Ajax Downs and Great Blue Heron locations have a total of more than 4,000 slot machines, 60 table games and employ more than 2,200 people. Great Canadian Gaming would operate the facilities and hold a 49 per cent stake in the partnership.

    The company has 22 gaming properties including 14 casinos, four racetrack casinos, three community gaming centres, one commercial bingo hall and resort hotels in Richmond, B.C., and in Moncton, N.B.

    Ontario must halt Toronto casino deal amid B.C. money laundering probe, Tories sayOntario must halt Toronto casino deal amid B.C. money laundering probe, Tories say

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    This week, as we count down to the Star’s 125th anniversary, we revisit stories that have inspired readers and changed lives.

    WELLAND, Ont.—The first thing you notice about Jason Jones are his teeth. They radiate.

    “I keep hearing, ‘You’ve got a gorgeous smile.’ Well, thank you, it’s totally fake, but thank you,” he says with a mischievous grin. “They’re all fake. All of them. Every single one.”

    The admission, says Jones, almost always leads to the inevitable question for a 36-year-old with fake choppers.

    What happened?

    “Have you got 10 minutes? This will take a while.”

    Toronto Star readers first met Jones in 2007 as part of a Star series that examined the issues surrounding poverty and possible reforms.

    In a photo that dominated a Saturday front page, a smiling Jones stared out at the world, a bright-eyed, handsome man brimming with hope, except for one glaring, arresting detail.

    He had no teeth.

    Well, actually there were two decaying ones that stuck out hauntingly from his lower gums like a broken picket fence. He had the mouth of an old man. It was impossible not to stare back.

    Accompanying the image, under the headline “He’s 25, Gregarious, Driven, Disciplined. So why is he out of work?” reporter Moira Welsh told the story of how Jones’s teeth had rotted down to the jawbone, largely because he was poor and could never afford to correct dental issues that plagued him since childhood.

    The pain forced Jones to have his teeth removed, draining his wife’s $600 life savings. The oral surgeon left two bottom teeth as an eventual anchor for dentures but Jones was still in incredible agony — the remaining fragments felt like shards of glass poking through his gums.

    He needed another $2,150 to pay for the final two extractions, tooth posts and dentures, the price quoted to him at a low-cost clinic. Jones was hoping to get a job and save for the dental work, but even when an employer would ignore his toothless smile and hire him, the pain would eventually force him back into unemployment.

    Jones was trapped by his own poverty, subsisting by eating soft foods such as peanut butter sandwiches that he could “gum to death” or by “chewing” firmer items such as chicken with his fingers before putting it in his mouth.

    While Jones’s story was heart rending unto itself, it exemplified a vital issue for the working poor. They didn’t — and still don’t — have access to affordable dental care. There is no public dental insurance in the same way that there is universal health care.

    But on an individual level, Jones’s story remains a remarkable tale of how one man turned his life around once he was offered some help.

    Star readers were so moved by Jones’s plight, they reacted with an outpouring of job offers, financial assistance — even a hand-knit baby blanket. Jones’s wife, Candice, was expecting their first child at the time.

    Jones received more than a dozen job opportunities; offers to provide him with dentures numbered about four times that. More than 200 calls and emails came into the newsroom on the first day alone; caring Star readers just wanting to toss the young man a lifeline.

    “I still don’t understand. I am still trying to comprehend this,” Jones says now. “I don’t understand why people just wanted to reach out and help me. I’m just little old me.

    “People got angry, I guess, and said, ‘This is wrong, we need to help this guy.’ My reaction is why me? There are so many people (with similar issues.).”

    That generosity caused Jones’s life to “flip-flop,” he says.

    The one child on the way was eventually joined by four siblings. The “army” of blue-eyed, blond children now ranges from 6 months to 10 years old and the family lives in a house — they own both sides of a duplex — here in Niagara Region. Jones went from being chronically unemployed to having a unionized job and two cars in the driveway. He earns enough that Candice, who once worked in child care, can stay at home looking after their own gang.

    For Jones the changes began almost immediately after the story appeared.

    He combed through the offers of assistance and settled on Markham dentist Dr. Raj Singh, who volunteered his services for free, to further repair his mouth and fit him with dentures and implants to hold them in place. It was ultimately a $10,500 job.

    As for work, he found an apprenticeship offer from the Boilermakers Association of Ontario the most enticing — Jones always enjoyed working with his hands — and signed on. He was eventually certified and still works in the trade.

    It was Ed Frerotte, apprenticeship and training co-ordinator for the Boilermakers at the time, who reached out to Jones. He recalls being moved by the photo, taken by Star photographer Tony Bock, and how it put a face on poverty.

    “He seemed to be smiling anyway, even though he was down and out,” says Frerotte now. “He just seemed like someone we could help and someone who would appreciate it. This is the best story of the time I spent (heading the apprenticeship program), by far.”

    Looking back, Jones believes he “probably would be dead” if he didn’t get assistance. His family doctor had pointed to that as a possibility; poor dental health has the potential to damage much more than the mouth. Candice says she once had to take her husband to the hospital “because he was so sick and so dehydrated from not being able to eat or drink anything.

    “He was unconscious and on IV for hours and that was just from an infection in his mouth.”

    As for the bigger picture and the long-term impact of Jones baring his soul and toothless smile to the world, Ontario’s working poor are still waiting for affordable dental care a decade later.

    Jacquie Maund of the Association of Ontario Health Centres says Jones’s story did raise public and political awareness of the how a person’s life can be affected by declining oral health.

    That led to Healthy Smiles Ontario, a free dental care program for children younger than 18 from low-income families.

    But for impoverished adults, unless a person is on social assistance, “they have to rely on charity” just as Jones did, says Maund.

    “There are many, many desperate cases of people who, through no fault of their own, do not have access to any kind of oral health service,” she says. “That, unfortunately, has not improved since (the Star) did the story 10 years ago.”

    The College of Dental Hygienists estimates that between two and three million Ontarians did not see a dentist in the last year, mainly due to the cost. OHIP does not cover teeth and gums.

    “I think (Jones’s) story was really the impetus for the Liberal government to take more seriously the issue of access to oral health,” says Maund.

    She did anti-poverty advocacy work at the time and says the coverage played “a pivotal role” in the government initially committing $45 million to an oral health program for low-income people.

    “They subsequently realized that wasn’t enough for a full program to deal with both children and adults so they basically decided to focus on children because their poverty reduction strategy was focusing on children,” she said.

    Even that wasn’t perfect. Research by Maund in 2013 found many of the children who should have benefitted from the program did not because of the strict qualifying criteria. Some unspent money was then siphoned off to other initiatives, such as sport development and antismoking campaigns. Funding for the dental program dropped from the promised $45 million to $33 million.

    A streamlined Healthy Smiles was expanded and relaunched last year as a $100-million program offering free dental checkups, cleanings, fillings, X-rays and urgent oral health care for about 460,000 children in low-income families.

    In the 2014 budget, the Ontario government pledged to extend dental care to low-income adults by 2025.

    In mid-October, community health leaders gathered at Queen’s Park. Along with NDP health critic France Gélinas, they called on Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals to act more quickly.

    “People today with a toothache or mouth pain are forced to go to the emergency room . . . and all they’ll get is painkillers,” said Gélinas. “Those emergency room visits are not free. They cost Ontario $30 million a year but don’t address the problem.

    “Why is this premier refusing to provide dental care to every vulnerable Ontarian who needs it now?”

    Health Minister Eric Hoskins said it’s “a costly exercise” but one the ministry is working with its partners on. He said the government is “absolutely committed” to the 2025 target.

    Maund said advocates pushing for health equity will try to make accessible dental care an issue in next year’s provincial election.

    “It’s not about having a nice smile, it’s about having a healthy mouth,” says Maund. “If you have an infection in your mouth because you have gum disease or you have rotting or decaying teeth, that affects your whole body, it affects your overall health. It puts you at higher risk for diabetes, for oral cancers, and it obviously makes it very hard to eat. Why is it that if I break my arm, I can go to the hospital and get it fixed but if I crack my tooth or I have an abscess on my tooth and I can’t afford to go to the dentist, there’s no help for me?”

    Jones recalls that, for him, the agony was so bad he once gripped one of his rotting teeth with pliers and thought about ripping it out.

    And exposed nerves caused searing pain in his mouth, he recalls. It was debilitating, and he “felt totally useless.”

    Then at the urging of his physician, the late Dr. Peter Charlebois, he went public.

    Candice says her normally outgoing husband was becoming a miserable person, “but since everything happened, he’s always had a huge confident smile on his face.” If he didn’t get help “I definitely don’t think that we would be anywhere close to where we are today, nor have the family that we have.”

    Jones said he still contacted by media to comment on oral health issues, and he hopes his story continues to serve as an example of what can happen when a person in need gets help.

    “Maybe it’ll persuade (people) to pressure their government a little more. Why don’t you help more people? Actually help them,” he says. “I was given the ability to better myself by one simple thing — fixing the problem.”

    Read more on the Star’s 125th anniversary in Saturday’s special Insight section and at

    A decade later, Jason Jones still smiling thanks to generosity of Star readersA decade later, Jason Jones still smiling thanks to generosity of Star readers

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    WASHINGTON—A former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians, special counsel Robert Mueller said Monday, while Trump’s former campaign manager and that official’s business partner pleaded not guilty to felony charges of conspiracy against the United States and other counts.

    The guilty plea by former adviser George Papadopoulos marked the first criminal case that cites interactions between Trump campaign associates and Russian intermediaries during the 2016 presidential campaign. The developments ushered Mueller’s sprawling investigation into a new phase with felony charges and possible prison sentences for key members of the Trump team.

    Read more:

    ‘NO COLLUSION,’ Trump tweets in response to charges against his former aides

    Here’s what’s in the indictment of Trump aides Paul Manafort and Rick Gates

    Former Trump adviser Papadopoulos pleads guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russians

    Court papers also revealed that Papadopoulos was told about the Russians possessing “dirt” on Democrat Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails” on April 26, 2016, well before it became public that the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails had been hacked.

    Papadopoulos has been co-operating with investigators, according to court papers, a potentially ominous sign for others in the Trump orbit who might be implicated by his statements.

    The separate charges against Manafort and Rick Gates contend the men acted as unregistered foreign agents for Ukrainian interests. The indictments also include other financial counts involving tens of millions of dollars routed through offshore accounts.

    Manafort’s indictment doesn’t reference the Trump campaign or make any allegations about co-ordination between the Kremlin and the president’s aides to influence the outcome of the election in Trump’s favour. The indictment does allege a criminal conspiracy was continuing through February of this year, after Trump had taken office.

    The indictment filed in federal court in Washington accuses both Manafort and Gates of funneling payments through foreign companies and bank accounts as part of their political work in Ukraine. The two men surrendered to federal authorities Monday, and were expected in court later in the day to face the charges brought by Mueller’s team.

    The indictment lays out 12 counts including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, acting as an unregistered foreign agent, making false statements and several charges related to failing to report foreign bank and financial accounts. The indictment alleges the men moved money through hidden bank accounts in Cyprus, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Seychelles.

    In total, more than $75 million flowed through the offshore accounts, according to the indictment. Manafort is accused of laundering more than $18 million.

    A spokesman for Manafort did not immediately return calls or text messages requesting comment. Manafort and Gates have previously denied any wrongdoing.

    During the daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders downplayed Papadopoulos’ role in the campaign, saying it was “extremely limited.”

    “He was not paid by the campaign,” Sanders said, adding later: “Any actions that he took would have been on his own.”

    She said the White House has had “indications” that Mueller’s investigation would conclude “soon.”

    The president quickly tweeted about the allegations against Manafort, saying the alleged crimes were “years ago,” and insisting there was “NO COLLUSION” between his campaign and Russia.

    He added, as he has a number of times recently, “Why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????”

    Manafort and Gates appeared in federal court in Washington and pleaded not guilty to all charges.

    Papadopoulos’ plea occurred on Oct. 5 and was unsealed Monday. In court papers, he admitted lying to FBI agents about the nature of his interactions with “foreign nationals” who he thought had close connections to senior Russian government officials. Those interactions included speaking with Russian intermediaries who were attempting to line up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and offering “dirt” on Clinton.

    The court filings don’t provide details on the emails or whom Papadopoulos may have told about the Russian government effort.

    The FBI interviewed Papadopoulos about his Russian connections on Jan. 27, a week after Trump’s inauguration. The interview predates Mueller’s appointment but was part of the FBI probe into Russian election interference that he has taken over.

    Papadopoulos was arrested over the summer at Dulles International Airport and has since met with the government “on numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions.”

    Manafort, 68, was fired as Trump’s campaign chairman in August 2016 after word surfaced that he had orchestrated a covert lobbying operation on behalf of pro-Russian interests in Ukraine. The indictment against Manafort and Gates was largely based on activities disclosed in August 2016 by The Associated Press, which reported that the pair had orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling political party.

    Citing internal emails, the AP noted that Gates personally directed the work of two prominent Washington lobbying firms, Mercury LLC and the Podesta Group. The indictment doesn’t refer to the companies by name.

    Specifically, the indictment accuses Manafort of using “his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income.” That included using offshore accounts to purchase multimillion-dollar properties in the U.S., some of which the government is seeking to seize.

    Mueller was appointed as special counsel in May to lead the Justice Department’s investigation into whether the Kremlin worked with associates of the Trump campaign to tip the presidential election.

    The appointment came one week after the firing of James Comey, who as FBI director led the investigation, and also followed the recusal months earlier of Attorney General Jeff Sessions from the probe.

    Manafort joined Trump’s campaign in March 2016 and oversaw the Republican National Convention delegate strategy. Trump pushed him out in August amid a stream of negative headlines about Manafort’s foreign consulting work.

    Trump’s middle son, Eric Trump, said in an interview at the time that his father was concerned that questions about Manafort’s past were taking attention away from the billionaire’s presidential bid.

    Manafort has been a subject of a long-standing FBI investigation into his dealings in Ukraine and work for the country’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych. That investigation was incorporated into Mueller’s broader probe. In July, his investigators raided one of Manafort’s homes in Virginia, searching for tax and international banking records.

    Previously, he denied any wrongdoing related to his Ukrainian work, saying through a spokesman that it “was totally open and appropriate.”

    Manafort also recently registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for parts of Ukrainian work that occurred in Washington. The filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act came retroactively, a tacit acknowledgment that he operated in Washington in violation of the federal transparency law. The indictment Monday accuses Manafort and Gates of making several false and misleading statements in that FARA filing.

    Mueller’s investigation has also reached into the White House, as he examines the circumstances of Comey’s firing. Investigators have requested extensive documents and have interviewed multiple current and former officials.

    Mueller’s grand jury has also heard testimony about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York attended by a Russian lawyer as well as Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

    In Gates, Mueller brings in not just Manafort’s chief deputy, but a key player from Trump’s campaign who survived Manafort’s ouster last summer. As of two weeks ago, Gates was still working for Tom Barrack, a Trump confidant, helping with the closeout of the inauguration committee’s campaign account.

    Manafort and Gates plead not guilty on Trump-Russia probe charges. Third aide pleads guilty to lying to FBIManafort and Gates plead not guilty on Trump-Russia probe charges. Third aide pleads guilty to lying to FBI

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    Equal pay provisions meant to prevent discrimination against temp agency, casual, and part-time workers have been quietly watered down — raising doubts that proposed legislation will “succeed in meeting its purpose,” workers’ rights advocates say.

    In a joint submission being made to the provincial government this week, a coalition of groups including Parkdale Community Legal Services argues that a recent revision to proposed labour legislation “directly undermines the intent of the equal pay provisions” and “preserves systemic inequalities between those in standard employment and those in precarious employment.”

    The proposed “Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act” was first unveiled in June and is expected to become law this year. It aims to ensure employers can no longer pay temporary, casual, and part-time workers less for doing the same job as permanent ones. The provincial government has touted the measure as a key way to promote the creation of stable jobs rather than precarious ones.

    But after the first round of committee hearings over the summer, an amendment was introduced that would allow employers to maintain pay differentials between temp and permanent employees through hours-based seniority. While other areas of the Employment Standards Act rely on start date to determine seniority, the new amendment would also allow seniority to be based on the number of hours worked.

    “It was determined during the first reading consultations that there is ambiguity on how to correctly interpret seniority provisions within the Employment Standards Act,” said Michael Speers, spokesperson for the Minister of Labour.

    “Bill 148 makes it clear that a seniority system includes a differentiation of pay based on the accumulated number of hours worked. This is consistent with the general interpretation of seniority, and does not change how the law is currently applied.”

    But the amendment will make it “almost impossible” for precarious workers to be able to ever access their right to equal pay, according to Mary Gellatly of Parkdale Community Legal Services, because by definition, temp, casual, and part-timers are unlikely to ever work as many hours as a full-time employee.

    “All employers have to do is set up a system of seniority based on hours of work to avoid complying with the equal pay provisions,” Gellatly said.

    In committee hearings this summer, some employer groups expressed concern over the original wording on equal pay measures.

    Karl Littler of the Retail Council of Canada told MPs that while his organization was supportive of some of the proposed updates to workplace laws, equal pay provisions “could conceivably be intrusive,” according to transcripts from the hearings.

    “We want to make sure that there is still reasonable room for employers to recognize seniority, to recognize merit and to recognize volume of production,” he said.

    Kim Patel, Employment Services director at St. Stephen’s Community House, said the amendments subsequently introduced effectively mean temp, casual and part-time workers are “never going to make it.”

    “It’s very demoralizing for folks,” said Patel, who is part of a coalition of employment service providers now calling on the government to strengthen Bill 148’s provisions on fair scheduling, paid sick days, and access to full-time, stable jobs.

    In its current form, Bill 148 also does not make both employers and temp agencies liable when a temporary worker gets injured — a key financial incentive for companies to hire temps.

    A Star investigation this year revealed the growth of temp agency work across Ontario, and how employers use agencies to avoid responsibility for workplace accidents and cut costs.

    “Bill 148 should work to limit the use of temporary agencies to exceptional circumstances rather than support the growth of this business practice that creates such precarious work and vulnerability of workers,” the submission from Parkdale Community Legal Services says.

    A second round of committee hearings started this week. On Monday, Canadian Union of Public Employees president Fred Hahn said Bill 148’s equal pay provisions needed to be strengthened “to protect the most marginalized workers.”

    Currently, the bill would prevent employers from paying temp workers less for doing “substantially the same” work as permanent ones — borrowing from existing language that prohibits pay discrimination on the basis of sex.

    Gellatly said the language has not proved robust enough, adding that only 100 gender-based equal pay claims were made to the Ministry of Labour between 2008 and 2015 — and of those, only 22 were successful.

    Gellatly said Bill 148 should be changed to make equal pay measures broader, mandating that temps doing “substantially similar” work be paid the same as their permanent counterparts, to prevent job descriptions being fudged to maintain discriminatory wage rates.

    “Equal pay for equal work takes away the economic incentive for employers to use precarious forms of work,” she said. “But amendments are needed to ensure that people can actually access equal pay.”

    Diluted equal pay provisions a blow for temp and part-time workers, advocates sayDiluted equal pay provisions a blow for temp and part-time workers, advocates say

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    OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is taking the high road on a letter from his Conservative predecessor Stephen Harper that says the current federal government has been caught “napping on NAFTA.”

    Trudeau refused Monday to address the letter directly, citing his ongoing respect for the office of the prime minister and its previous occupants. Instead, he delivered a familiar sales pitch on the current government’s efforts to secure a better, more modern trade agreement.

    “We have continually made the extremely strong case to the Americans about how important trade with Canada is, how many good jobs in the U.S. depend on trade with Canada, and how we are very much of the view that we can improve and modernize NAFTA in a way that can benefit all three of our countries,” Trudeau told a news conference.

    “We will continue to work diligently to stand up for Canadian interests while remaining constructive and firm around the negotiating table.”

    Read more: Ex-PM Stephen Harper pens memo slamming Trudeau government over NAFTA talks

    Top Trump official says U.S. isn’t offering ‘anything’ to Canada in exchange for NAFTA demands

    Can Donald Trump actually kill NAFTA? You’re not the only one who’s unsure: Analysis

    Harper’s letter excoriated the Liberal government for what he described as a cavalier approach to U.S. President Donald Trump, whom the former prime minister is convinced is not bluffing when he threatens to abandon the trade pact.

    What’s more, Harper wrote, Canada has been too quick to reject American proposals, and has alienated the U.S. by insisting on negotiating alongside Mexico, and by promoting progressive priorities like labour, gender, Aboriginal and environmental issues.

    “I fear that the NAFTA renegotiation is going very badly,” Harper wrote in the Oct. 25 letter.

    “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.”

    Trudeau refused to acknowledge the contents of the letter directly.

    “I hold the office of prime minister in high regard, and because of that I hold former prime ministers in high regard, and will not make any comments on what he had to say.”

    Canadian government officials have already dismissed the letter as a “gift” to U.S. negotiators, insisting that capitulating to U.S. demands at the NAFTA table would be a tactical error.

    Trudeau won’t discuss Harper’s critical letter, says Canada still committed to NAFTATrudeau won’t discuss Harper’s critical letter, says Canada still committed to NAFTA

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    HAMILTON—Family members of two men who killed themselves while allegedly under supervision at hospitals in Hamilton are suing the facilities’ parent organization for negligence, claiming the deaths could have been prevented.

    A lawyer representing the families alleged on Monday that staff at St. Joseph’s West 5th Campus and St. Joseph’s Charlton Campus knew that the men — Brandon Taylor, 29, and Joel Verge, 42 — were at risk of trying to commit suicide and had been instructed to supervise them.

    “Hospitals are supposed to be safe havens for people in crisis,” Michael Smitiuch told a news conference. “Loved ones should be comfortable knowing that when their loved one is under constant or direct supervision that they’re safe.”

    Each family is suing St. Joseph’s Health System for $8.5 million in damages.

    In their statements of claim filed in court late last Friday, the families say the hospitals didn’t provide adequate supervision to the men, who they allege were left alone for periods of time with items they used in their suicides.

    “They provided, frankly, the very means to allow them to take their own lives,” Smitiuch alleged.

    “Had the hospitals simply done the job they were supposed to do, they wouldn’t have died when they did or the way they did.”

    Taylor was admitted to St. Joseph’s West 5th Campus in August 2016 after an overdose believed to be a suicide attempt, and was supposed to be checked on every 15 minutes, the statement of claim said.

    His mother had called the hospital on Aug. 18 to say she was worried about Taylor, and to warn them that her son was smart and could be deceptive, it said.

    Taylor was able to keep his cellphone with him, which was used to Google suicide methods leading up to his death, the statement said.

    Within hours of his mother’s call, Taylor was found unresponsive in his room and a day later, he was taken off life support.

    Verge, 42, was admitted to hospital in November 2016 and the lawsuit alleges he was supposed to be under constant supervision following a previous attempt to commit suicide.

    But Smitiuch alleged that Verge, too, was left alone long enough to kill himself.

    The allegations have not been proven in court and St. Joseph’s has not yet filed a statement of defence.

    The pair is among nine people who killed themselves in 2016 while being treated as in-patients, outpatients and while on day passes at St. Joseph’s Health System’s local division, according to an external review released in July 2017. Smitiuch said two more have died by suicide since January.

    The allegations contained in the statements of claim have not been proven in court and St. Joseph’s has not yet filed a statement of defence.

    David Higgins, president of the local division of St. Joseph’s Health System, said the hospital has already implemented many recommendations made in the external review, and it is committed to completing the rest.

    “We are deeply saddened by the pain and loss suffered by the families of Joel Verge and Brandon Taylor, Higgins said in a written statement. “Suicide is a tragedy and is profoundly distressing for all of those who are touched by it.”

    He declined to comment on the specific allegations made in the lawsuits.

    Taylor’s fiancée, Jennifer Smyth, said nothing has been the same since her partner’s death. They’d been together for almost a decade and were planning to marry in 2017.

    “I’ve had trouble sleeping and I wake up with nightmares,” she said. “Either it’s a good memory and you realize it was just a memory and you’re upset, or you dream about something upsetting. Either way, you just wake up upset.”

    Verge’s dad, Carl Verge, also said his son’s death has been very hard on the family.

    “It’s something you know is never going to go away,” he said.

    Families launch lawsuit after two men die by suicide at Hamilton hospitalFamilies launch lawsuit after two men die by suicide at Hamilton hospital

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    A Toronto police prosecutor has asked for a veteran cop from the guns and gangs unit to be demoted after the officer was caught bringing a small amount of cocaine into a Scarborough courthouse.

    Const. Kirk Blake has undoubtedly damaged the reputation of the Toronto Police Service with his “serious misconduct,” but the 17-year veteran has an otherwise unblemished career, Insp. Domenic Sinopoli told the tribunal.

    “There are very good prospects for rehabilitation,” Sinopoli said. “This officer deserves an opportunity to do better.”

    Sinopoli asked for Blake to be demoted from first- to second-class constable for one year and be subject to a number of conditions, including random drug testing.

    The demotion would send the message that Toronto police take Blake’s conduct seriously, while giving him the chance to return to “who he was before this event took place,” Sinopoli said.

    Blake pleaded guilty to professional misconduct after he was found to have brought a minimal amount of cocaine into a Scarborough courthouse in September 2016.

    The discovery of the drug came about after Blake left his wallet behind in the courthouse, where he had been doing some computer work in his capacity as a police officer.

    A Toronto police sergeant found the wallet and, when looking through to find identification, found a small clear plastic baggie containing a white powdery substance later determined to be cocaine.

    Toronto police’s Professional Standards launched an investigation and later charged Blake with possession of cocaine.

    According an agreed statement of facts read out at the hearing Monday, Blake was initially suspended by Toronto police but has since been reinstated in an administrative role.

    In June, the officer pleaded guilty in court to the criminal charge and was granted an absolute discharge. At that court appearance, Blake’s lawyer Gary Clewley told Ontario Court Justice Melvyn Green that Blake had developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stemming from a traumatic guns and gangs operation.

    Zoltan Hyacinth, 23, accidentally killed himself during a confrontation with Toronto police in 2013. Police had been attempting to arrest Hyacinth at a Burger King drive-through when he reached for his gun and fired three bullets, shooting himself in the head.

    It was a near fatal incident for Blake, too, Clewley told the court. When a mandatory coroner’s inquest was held two years later, Blake was made to “relive the event and, shortly after, PTSD took over,” the lawyer said.

    Green called Blake’s behaviour an “abuse of a professional trust.” The event was “frankly . . . shameful and one for which you feel considerable self admonishment — and rightly so,” Green said at the June court appearance.

    But the judge noted the very minimal amount of cocaine and acknowledged a 17-year career with no previous problems, as well as the “trauma that you’ve suffered through your work.”

    “The sense I have is that it was out of character,” Green said, granting the absolute discharge.

    At the tribunal Monday, Clewley stressed Blake’s “spectacular career” and agreed that a one-year demotion was the appropriate sentence.

    “He’s been a terrific cop and he will be again,” Clewley said.

    The police hearing officer, Insp. Richard Hegedus, reserved his decision on Blake’s sentence to later this year.

    Wendy Gillis can be reached at

    Toronto cop who brought cocaine to courthouse guilty of professional misconductToronto cop who brought cocaine to courthouse guilty of professional misconduct

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    MONTREAL—A former cop-turned politician, a vengeful anti-corruption police force and a mystery interview recorded by a politician fearing he will be jailed before he can go public with the findings of his own probe.

    This is no back-page detective-novel summary, but the contours of a real-life cloak-and-dagger drama playing out in Quebec that could climax in the provincial legislature this week.

    The politician, a former Sûreté du Québec biker gang detective named Guy Ouellette, has shared the alleged findings of his own renegade corruption inquiry with a Montreal radio host. The contents, which have not been independently confirmed, could be explosive.

    According to the Journal de Montreal, Ouellette was probing complaints that two of the public institutions tasked with rooting out corrupt activities in Quebec—the police and the provincial securities regulator—are themselves engaged in improper behaviour.

    On Monday afternoon, the Quebec government said it would ask the province’s auditor general to look into the two agencies.

    “Confidence in our institutions is precious and extremely important and on a day like today that confidence can be severely tested. But in a context like this it is important keep a cool head and take the right decisions,” said Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux.

    The details of the affair have only come to light after Ouellette himself was arrested by investigators with Quebec’s anti-corruption squad, known as l’Unité permanente anticorruption, or UPAC, last week.

    The investigators were reportedly probing the leak of confidential information to the media that had to do with former Quebec premier Jean Charest and the finances of the provincial Liberal party. Speaking about the leak earlier this year, the head of the anti-corruption squad, Robert Lafrenière, vowed to bring to justice “the bandit” responsible for the leak.

    Ouellette was not charged with any crimes following his arrest last week, but UPAC said in a statement that the arrest was “necessary, among other reasons to secure pieces of evidence and to prevent the infractions from continuing or being repeated.”

    That police vigilance reportedly continued after Ouellette’s arrest and a search of his Quebec City apartment.

    Last Friday, the politician walked into the office of Montreal radio host Bernard Drainville, claiming that he had been under surveillance ever since his arrest and didn’t know where else to turn.

    After several hours in the company of Drainville, who is a former Parti Quebecois member of the Quebec legislature, Ouellette recorded his allegations for safe keeping, in case he did not get to repeat them in Quebec City on Tuesday.

    As an elected member speaking in the legislature, Ouellette would benefit from parliamentary immunity and be able to speak without fear of a libel or defamation lawsuit.

    “The events of this week have led me to think that UPAC will do everything to muzzle me, to silence a parliamentarian ... so that I cannot give my version or inform the population about all the intimidation tactics that are underway right now by this same unit,” he told Drainville, according to an excerpt of the interview that was played on the 98.5FM radio station Monday morning.

    Ouellette also denied that he was involved in the leak of confidential information about Charest. Instead, he said he was simply being punished for trying to stand up to a police force that has grown too powerful and is no longer accountable to its elected masters.

    “I never could have thought I could be framed like I was framed last Wednesday,” he said, referring to his arrest. “I never thought that could happen in 2017, particularly for an elected official who is only doing his work.”

    Ouellette was accompanied at the radio station by a former government analyst, Annie Trudel, who said that she has been providing him with information about a scheme that forces companies to pay exorbitant sums to consultants before they can obtain a mandatory permit that allows them to bid on public contracts.

    Quebec’s financial regulator, l’Autorité des marchés financiers, is the public body that issues or denies the permits to companies.

    A division of the anti-corruption police force conducts the background checks into companies seeking the permit to bid on contracts.

    Trudel told the Journal de Montreal that the permits are granted by Quebec’s financial regulator only after companies have paid money to private consultants to come into compliance with UPAC’s recommendations.

    In one instance, Trudel said a company had to pay $600,000 in fees to the consultants. In another case, the price tag for compliance was $1 million to meet the requirements for a permit.

    “If they don’t have their permission from the (financial regulator), they go bankrupt,” Trudel said of the companies. “If I look at the definition of corruption for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, it fits.”

    The Autorité des marchés financiers issued a statement Monday denying the allegations, which it called “false and totally gratuitous.”

    The securities regulator said it is up the companies alone to decide how to respond to the recommendations necessary to obtain a permit.

    “In no case and at no moment in the process does the AMF intervene to suggest that a business go with a particular consulting firm to help in its case.”

    I was framed for challenging corruption squad, Quebec politician saysI was framed for challenging corruption squad, Quebec politician says

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    The master list of 20 computers wiped in the McGuinty premier’s office ‎came from deputy chief of staff Laura Miller, her former executive assistant told the judge presiding over Miller’s deleted documents trial Monday.

    Alexandra Gair said she’s the person who signed Miller’s common-law spouse and computer consultant Peter Faist into the premier’s office to clear hard drives in February 2013 before Kathleen Wynne took power.

    Gair had the list of work stations and escorted Faist to desks in the premier’s offices in the main legislative building and across the street at the Whitney Block.

    “I was told to meet Pete, Peter, at one of the entrances,” Gair said at the criminal trial of Miller and former McGuinty chief of staff David Livingston.

    “Mr. Faist was there to clear the hard drives of the computers . . . not the shared drives.”

    Crown attorney Sarah Egan then asked Gair where she got the list of names for staff whose computers were to be cleared.

    “It would have come from Ms. Miller,” replied Gair, who no longer works at Queen’s Park.

    Faist testified Friday that he knew which work stations to go to because Gair had a list on a “yellow sticky note,” but said he didn’t know where that list originated.

    Miller and Livingston have pleaded not guilty to breach of trust, mischief in relation to data and misuse of a computer system.

    Court has heard Livingston sought a special password to clear desktops of personal information.

    At the time of the alleged offences, McGuinty had resigned with his minority government under legal orders from a legislative committee to reveal documents on the controversial cancellations of two gas-fired power plants in Oakville and Mississauga before the 2011 election.

    Under cross examination from Miller lawyer Scott Hutchison, Gair confirmed the premier’s office staff on the list were leaving their jobs as power transitioned to Wynne following a Liberal leadership convention.

    “People that were staying were not having their computers cleared,” Hutchison said.

    “That’s right,” Gair replied.

    Gair testified that in addition to escorting Faist from one computer to the next, she also ended up helping clear the hard drives of some desktops — a job that Faist was paid almost $10,000 to do.

    It was the last Friday before Wynne took office and there had been a snowstorm.

    “I was one of the only staff in the office that day . . . I remember taking a phone call and there were some emails from Peter and Laura,” said Gair, who made it clear she was not pleased with the additional work.

    “As a subordinate I was uncomfortable with the task,” she added, noting she had many other duties to perform and was trying to find a new job at the time.

    “As an EA you do what you’re told.”

    Gair said she does not know if Faist made any checks of files before they were wiped.

    “I can’t speak for Mr. Faist. I did not.”

    Faist was not charged but signed an investigative assistance agreement with Ontario Provincial Police that means his statements to investigators cannot be used against him.

    Gair also testified she found the government’s own IT service often left her “frustrated” and considered Faist level of knowledge “different.”

    The trial continues Tuesday.

    McGuinty was not a subject of the investigation and has co-operated with police.

    List of computers to be wiped came from premier McGuinty’s deputy chief of staff, court toldList of computers to be wiped came from premier McGuinty’s deputy chief of staff, court told

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    The wise political columnist gives his readers a break from politics now and then. Today's column is about something completely different:

    How my life insurance company scared me to death.

    No, it’s not a story of self-pleading (all is now solved and resolved.) It’s a cautionary tale for you, dear reader (and dear insurer) about how call centres wield so much power over us.

    Even on matters of life and death. And how corporate policies preclude the exercise of intelligent discretion, not merely out of compassion but common sense.

    The trail begins with a payment going astray. We had already remitted our annual premium through our bank (CIBC). But the insurance company (RBC Insurance) wasn’t buying it.

    Exhausted by the call centre runaround, I finally came up with my own workaround for this episode of double trouble: I made a double payment — a quintessentially Canadian double double — as “insurance” to keep my life insurance policy on life support until a final accounting could be made.

    The scary part came in a letter last month claiming the annual premium “remains outstanding,” including this blunt warning: “If payment is not received by October 6, 2017, your policy will lapse and satisfactory evidence of insurability may be necessary to reinstate your insurance protection.”

    Hmmm. The whole point of signing up a decade ago, when I had young children to worry about (and my own middle-aging body to think about) was precisely to avoid having to pass another medical exam all these years later. Back then I was the picture of good health, but I chose a costlier 20-year term because who knows when you’ll run out of medical luck?

    I phoned the dreaded call centre to provide proof of payment from my bank, including the reference number. But when I requested an extension on the deadline for terminating the policy — given that I could prove payment — the agent said it couldn’t be done.

    She promised to follow up within three days (I had to call again), but still no luck. A supervisor confirmed they would not extend the drop dead deadline for my life policy, and that there was still no trace of my money.

    They demanded more proof. As instructed, I marched off to get the teller’s receipt — containing the very same reference number — and emailed it in with declining confidence.

    That’s when I dreamed up doubling up on my annual premium. Ultimately, both payments showed up — the original one sent a month earlier, and the second one that I’d just sent — in time to keep my life insurance policy from dying.

    But how could this happen? It turns out that RBC Insurance has four separate categories for tellers (or online banking customers) to select when making a payment, including: Home and Auto; Group; and Individual.

    It appears that our own bank teller at CIBC sent our money to the first category, rather than the last one. CIBC spokesperson Caroline Van Hasselt told me they rarely hear about payments going astray despite high volumes, but they encourage customers to keep a record of all transactions and to contact the bank for help “and we will do our best to help make it right.”

    But in this case, there was a transaction trail — proof of where the money had gone. RBC Insurance told me people sometimes mix up the different categories, especially group versus individual life, but also home insurance.

    An innocent mistake, but surely it's all the same company, under the RBC umbrella? Not so, as I discovered when I put on my journalist’s hat to seek an explanation.

    Randy Singh, senior manager of customer care at RBC Insurance, told me his company also works with another company, Aviva General, which processes home and auto payments separately. That’s why “from time to time” a customer’s money goes unseen for a time by RBC.

    “Because we’ve seen this in the past, we do have a process whereby our life insurance policy accounting department... try to make it easy for our clients.” But in some cases, “it’s not very timely, so in other words, it’s a reconciliation at the end of the month — we’re taking a look at any payments made that should have come to RBC Life but were directed to Aviva.,” he explained.

    “So in this case, with a matter of a few days, and the clock is ticking, unfortunately, it did take a little bit more time... we did actually find the payment.”

    But there’s one thing that can’t be fixed after the fact: If you die when you’re temporarily uncovered, RBC won’t pay out any benefit even if the policy is later restored and the client paid in good faith, Singh confirmed.

    My situation was a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand had in its pocket at RBC Insurance. And my family would have been doubly unlucky (losing me and my life insurance) if I hadn’t doubled up on the premium just to be safe.

    RBC later mailed a refund for the backup payment. But there was no apology in the envelope, only on the phone when I persisted. That’s the beauty of the life insurance business.

    They only have to earn your business once when they sell you the policy. But they keep collecting, year after year, without ever worrying about losing you as a customer until you — or the policy — expires a decade or two later.

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

    How my life insurer scared me to death: CohnHow my life insurer scared me to death: Cohn

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    OTTAWA—The Opposition says a cloud of suspicion lies over the entire federal Liberal cabinet with revelations that a handful of ministers indirectly hold assets outside a blind trust just like Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused several demands by the Opposition to identify the ministers, retorting that critics are slinging mud because they cannot criticize the government’s economic track record.

    However, late Monday, a senior government official told the Star on background that number is two: Morneau and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

    “From my understanding, there is no minister who owns or controls a private corporation for the purpose of holding controlled assets, so being in the same position as Minister Morneau, without having separately a blind trust being in place,” said the official.

    However, Wilson-Raybould doesn’t have a blind trust, an arrangement whereby someone’s assets are managed by an independent body as a way to prevent a conflict of interest. Rather, she has an ethics “screen” to keep her hand out of matters that could pertain to a private management consulting company in which she held a “significant interest,” whose president is also her husband, Timothy Raybould.

    On Oct. 19 she said that she had just learned, following media inquiries, that her interest in that company was “divested” — sold — last April, unbeknownst to her.

    For Morneau’s part, after two weeks of dodging a direct answer to questions about whether he held any other indirectly controlled assets aside from Morneau Shepell shares, his office finally told the Star the answer is no.

    But the controversy is not waning.

    The House of Commons ethics committee voted Monday to study the Conflict of Interest Act and invite Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson to discuss her recommendations from 2013, when she proposed closing a loophole in the legislation that allows ministers to own publicly-traded securities without a blind trust if they are held indirectly.

    NDP ethics critic Nathan Cullen also wanted to invite Morneau to “explain decisions he has made” in relation to the Act, but the Liberal-controlled committee did not accept that portion of his motion.

    When asked if he would act on Dawson’s previous recommendation and change the law, Trudeau said late Monday he’s always “looking for ways” to raise the bar on accountability, openness and transparency, but he said the ethics commissioner is there to ensure that everyone follows the rules, and Canadians should have confidence in her.

    The Globe and Mail reported Monday that Dawson’s office confirmed fewer than five cabinet ministers currently hold controlled assets indirectly.

    Dawson’s office refused Monday to clarify further or to explain the rationale for keeping the number or their names secret.

    “We will only say that fewer than five ministers currently hold controlled assets indirectly and that they are not required to divest them (either by placing them in a blind trust or selling them in an arm’s length transaction),” said Dawson’s spokesperson Marie Danielle Vachon.

    The Star polled each member of Trudeau’s cabinet Monday, asking about the status of their personal financial holdings and whether they were one of the ministers identified by Dawson as controlling assets indirectly.

    Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr told reporters on Parliament Hill that he does not have indirect assets. Nor does Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, according to his office.

    Hardly any other ministers responded to the Star in detail and several — including International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne, Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef, Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan, Sports and Disabled Persons Minster Kent Hehr, Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture, and Carla Qualtrough, minister of public service and procurement — replied with the same response, word for word — a clear effort at message control.

    “What Canadians expect from me is to cooperate with the commissioner and her office, and follow all her recommendations and guidance. That is exactly what I have done and will continue to do — and the same applies to all members of parliament,” Government House Leader Bardish Chagger told the Star through a spokesperson, using a carbon-copy response that was used by several of her cabinet colleagues.

    Morneau responded to intense political pressure by promising to put his $20-million worth of Morneau Shepell shares in a blind trust, even though two years ago Dawson told him it was not required by the law. However, that process has just begun, and could take weeks.

    The New Democrats and Conservatives pressed Trudeau Monday to identify the other cabinet ministers they charged were using a “loophole” to maintain control of their investments.

    “It is incredibly important to know who these cabinet ministers are. Like the finance minister, they could be profiting from investments and stocks while making decisions that could impact the value of their own assets,” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said.

    “If the prime minister is so sure and so proud that they are following all the rules, why will he not just tell us who they are?” he said.

    Trudeau said his MPs “follow the rules” set out by Dawson, and the Liberals were following the same practices followed by the Conservative government they replaced.

    NDP MP Nathan Cullen called on Trudeau to be more forthcoming. “For a government that said they would be transparent, this is the opposite of transparency. This is some sort of shell game going on where you just have to guess at who might and who might not be in a conflict of interest,” Cullen said.

    All MPs are required under a code of ethics to confidentially declare to Dawson’s office all of their assets, including investments in publicly traded securities, valued at more than $10,000. Only summary declarations are made public.

    However ministers, other senior government officials such as deputy ministers, and cabinet appointees face stricter requirements under the Conflict of Interest Act which states “that any such assets, irrespective of their value, must be divested by either the establishment of a blind trust or by way of sale at arm’s length.” In other words, you can’t sell shares to a family member or friend.

    The only other — and best — shield against potential conflicts in Dawson’s view are “screens,” basically, a top ministerial aide or deputy minister keeps the minister out of discussions or written communications about areas in which he or she could face a potential conflict of interest.

    However there are doubts whether such a conflict screen worked for Morneau, as Dawson is looking into his involvement in tabling a pension reform bill, Bill C-27, which the Opposition says could benefit pension management company Morneau Shepell directly. The government says it was a law of “general application” to all companies.

    As a result of Dawson’s advice, Morneau continued for the past two years to indirectly hold a million shares in Morneau Shepell because they were controlled by a numbered corporation in Alberta he set up in 2005, that was in turn directed by an Ontario corporation he owned.

    Only under a firestorm of political criticism did he offer to follow the prime minister’s lead and put all those shares in a blind trust.

    According to the public registry for disclosure of ministers’ assets on the ethics commissioner’s website, Morneau will join four cabinet colleagues who already have their personal holdings in blind trusts.

    Federal ethics rules under attack after more Liberal ministers charged with using investment ‘loophole’Federal ethics rules under attack after more Liberal ministers charged with using investment ‘loophole’

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    Dellen Millard would have us believe he is an utter arsehole.

    Which doesn’t take much convincing, actually.

    But better that than a cold-blooded killer, as the 31-year-old stands co-accused — first-degree murder in the death of Laura Babcock, her remains burned in an industrial incinerator.

    The rich boy — court has heard about his several properties, from a condo in the Distillery District to a farm near Kitchener to the hangar at Pearson airport for his private plane (surrounded by Cadillacs and town cars and vintage vehicles) — presented himself in court on Monday as an unscrupulous playboy and spendthrift.

    “I used to have quite a bit of money, didn’t I?” he asked Karoline Shirinian, one-time best friend to Babcock and later aligning herself with a romantic rival, a young woman Millard had been dating for over a year at the time Babcock disappeared.

    “That’s what I heard,” Shirinian responded.

    And she’d heard quite a lot in those months before Babcock vanished just after Canada Day, 2012, from both women. Just as she’d seen — been a party to, on the girlfriend’s end, Christina Noudga — nasty emails zinging between the female principals, about who was sleeping with whom, notably Millard, and when.

    “It’s no secret I would sleep with other women when I was with Christina and I would tell her about it?”


    “I wasn’t too thoughtful when it came to Christina, I wasn’t too caring.” A statement, not a question.

    Kept coming around to that same point.

    “It was plainly apparent that I wasn’t thoughtful about Christina,” continued Millard, pointing out he’d only bought her a necklace and a pair of earrings during their relationship, never even attended her 21st birthday party.

    Shirinian: “Yes, and for some reason she still stuck around.”

    It was common knowledge, suggested Millard, that he was sleeping with at least two other women during his romantic liaison with Noudga, including a former fiancée who was still staying at one of his homes.

    Indeed, there was that time — at what Millard described as a “Jew party,” no further explanation provided — when Babcock had tried to hook her, Shirinian, up with him.

    The witness recalled it somewhat differently. “You made a pass at me. You said something that was inappropriate.”

    Millard: “Obviously nothing ever happened between us?”

    Shirinian, dripping with snark: “Obviously.”

    Since the witness admitted following news about Millard’s arrest and the many background stories written about his character afterwards, surely that coverage would have affected her opinion of him, would it not, he inquired.

    “No, I disliked you before you were arrested.”

    Shirinian agreed that Millard was aware of the bad blood between Babcock and Noudga, especially after Babcock broke up with her own boyfriend around Christmas, 2011. (Millard and Babcock had briefly dated a couple of years earlier.).

    “And I didn’t seem to care too much about it, did I?” asked Millard about the feud between girlfriend past and girlfriend present.

    “No,” Shirinian said.

    The clear implication in this line of questioning is that Millard would not have been angry over Babcock revealing to Noudga, in February of 2012, that she’d had sex with him just a couple of weeks previous. Certainly not furious enough to murder her.

    It is the prosecution’s theory that Millard committed the crime — with his close pal and co-accused Mark Smich — after Noudga complained that Babcock was tormenting her with that information. The jury has heard about texts Millard sent Noudgain April, 2012: “First I am going to hurt her. Then I’ll make her leave.” And: “I will remove her from our lives.”

    Yet he was a sybaritic single man, a lousy boyfriend in his own estimation, and didn’t give a toss about these simmering tensions.

    Millard asked all these questions in cross-examination because he is representing himself at the trial before Justice Michael Code. Both Millard and Smich, who does have a lawyer, have pleaded not guilty.

    It’s rare, one might say foolhardy, for a defendant to act as his own lawyer, particularly when the charge is murder. But Millard appears to be enjoying himself as the trial moved into a second week. He may not wear the robes — a charcoal jacket and jeans will have to suffice — but he’s certainly assumed all the mannerisms and posturing of a lawyer.

    He leans with his elbows against the lectern, pushes his professorial horn-rimmed glasses up his nose, practically salaams bending at the waist when the judge enters.

    And he speaks the pedantic lingo. Such as when he directed Shirinian to the statement she’d given to police during their investigation.

    “Just read the page silently to yourself and then I’ll ask you a couple of questions.”

    When the witness had done so, he remarked pleasantly: “You’re a quick reader!”

    At that point Millard was trying to elicit that 23-year-old Babcock — who’d been working for an escort agency in the months before she disappeared — “knew enough other sketchy people to get herself in trouble.”

    Further, while Babcock and Shirinian had often hung around his place, drinking and smoking weed, the witness hadn’t actually seen much of Smich in his company, isn’t that correct?

    Not so much, in that last year, Shirinian acknowledged.

    Millard — apparently trying to put distance between himself and Smich — implied that the co-accused wasn’t a best buddy, as court has heard, and that his “wingman” in those days was a completely different fellow.

    Repeatedly, Millard used “prostitute” and “prostitution” when referring to Babcock’s money-making exploits, and Shirinian just as repeatedly corrected him with “escorting.”

    “There’s a lot of things about that line of work that a lot of people would find embarrassing . . . dangerous,” suggested Millard. “She was reckless in the way she got into this line of work, wasn’t she?”

    Shirinian: “She was over-trusting.”

    With some objections from Crown attorney Jill Cameron, Millard also crept up on hearsay rumours that Babcock had been seen alive after July 3-4, when the prosecution believes she was killed. “Did you tell police that you think Laura is still out there?”

    He reframed the question. “Is there any basis for believing Miss Babcock is still alive?”

    Shirinian: “I have none whatsoever.”

    The next witness, Megan Orr, was emotional and tearful from the moment she took the stand.

    Orr testified that she’d become tight friends with Babcock in the last year of the victim’s life and had been privy to the love triangle. “I know she had a lot of emotional issues going on but I understood her. She was bubbly, she was outgoing, she was amazing.”

    Babcock, she said, was getting her marijuana from Millard and the two were exchanging “dirty-talking” texts.

    Millard: “Dirty? Lewd? Sexual?”

    Orr: “If you say so.”

    She also recalled an incident where Babcock told her she’d had sex with Millard in the parking lot of Sherway Gardens mall.

    They “disconnected” in March, 2012, to the extent that Babcock “unfriended” her on Facebook, because “I didn’t agree with the lifestyle she was living at the moment, the escorting and the drug use.”

    But before the rupture — and they subsequently reconciled — Orr had seen the catty text messages exchanged between Babcock and Noudga. When Babcock told Millard’s girlfriend she’d recently had sex with him, Noudga responded with a “rude text,” said Orr.

    “Did you miss your meds today? You’re a crazy psycho b----, you had him, you lost him, give it up.”

    The trial continues.

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

    Accused killer Dellen Millard appears to be getting comfortable acting as his own lawyer: DiMannoAccused killer Dellen Millard appears to be getting comfortable acting as his own lawyer: DiManno

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    DETROIT—Bobby Hines stepped forward, smiling as he embraced the sister of the man he was convicted of killing.

    Locked up for 28 years, he’d long wanted to meet Valencia Warren-Gibbs, to talk with her about that night in 1989 when her older brother, James, was shot after Hines and two others confronted him in a feud over drugs.

    At 15, Hines had been condemned to life in prison without parole. Now he was out, a 43-year-old man navigating life in a city he left behind as an eighth-grader. Slowly, he was checking off things he needed to do: He’d already found work, enjoyed a meal in an actual restaurant and learned how to take photos with his new cellphone.

    And on this Sunday, 20 days into his freedom, he’d come to sit down with his victim’s sister and take responsibility for his role in Warren’s death.

    “You know why?” he told her, tapping a forefinger on a table for emphasis. “I’m never going to forget what I did.”

    He would not forget but he could make amends, move on and do his best to make the most of his extraordinary second chance. After nearly three decades behind bars, he was learning what it meant to be Bobby Hines again — older, hopefully wiser, and a stranger to the world of 2017.

    Day 1

    “We made it,” Hines declared, almost inaudibly, as if he’d just crossed an imaginary finish line.

    He walked out of prison at 9 a.m. promptly one September morning, arm-in-arm with his sister, Myra, who beamed, laughed and rested her head on her brother’s shoulder as they approached an SUV waiting to whisk him away.

    More than 10,000 days had passed behind bars, but to hear him tell it, Hines had refused to believe he’d die on the inside.

    “God ain’t going to let that happen,” he’d say, ever confident that one day he would find his way to freedom.

    His release came after the U.S. Supreme Court last year extended a ban on mandatory life without parole for juvenile offenders to those already in prison, ushering in a wave of new sentences and the release of dozens of inmates in states from Michigan to Pennsylvania, Arkansas and beyond.

    Other former teen offenders still are waiting for a chance at resentencing in states and counties that have been slow to address the court ruling, an earlier Associated Press investigation found. In Michigan, prosecutors are seeking new no-parole sentences for nearly two-thirds of 363 juvenile lifers. Those cases are on hold until the Michigan Supreme Court, which heard arguments this month, determines whether judges or juries should decide the fate of those inmates.

    Hines, one of at least 99 Michigan lifers already resentenced, wasn’t the gunman. But prosecutors branded him the ringleader in the shooting of James Warren, arguing he’d provoked two other teens, saying something like, “Pop him” or “Let him have it,” when the trio confronted him.

    When Hines left prison on Sept. 12, he faced the same hurdles as other released lifers: He had no money, no job history and no experience as an adult in society — a world he was told he’d never inhabit again. For some, walking out after 30, 40, even 50 years feels a bit like time travel.

    On Day 1, Hines insisted that wasn’t true for him.

    “I’m not overwhelmed,” he said repeatedly to his sister, lawyer and anyone else within earshot. “It’s not as hard as I thought it would be. ... I did 28 years, but I don’t even feel like I’ve been in an institution.”

    He was a small kid, just five-foot-three, when he suddenly found himself trading a middle school ID for an inmate number. Prison was such a brutal environment, he said, he called it the Serengeti, after the African plains teeming with wildlife where survival of the fittest is the rule. In his first decade he got in several fights. Then older inmates became surrogate fathers, teaching him how to behave and keep his cell clean.

    “After awhile,” he said, “you start to adapt ... to depend on incarceration more and more.”

    Eventually, he earned his high school equivalency diploma, took a preparatory business college course and completed a slew of self-help and training programs.

    In June, after he became parole-eligible, Hines was transferred to the Macomb Correctional Facility north of Detroit to join other juvenile lifers who have new sentences and will eventually be released. Prison officials assembled these inmates in one place as they expand existing programs to help them learn about finances, technology and other aspects of daily life. Those with parole dates have access to educational and job training programs that were previously unavailable to them.

    “We’re trying to do a little more because this is such a unique situation,” said Chris Gautz, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections. These inmates had expected to die in prison, he said. “We want to set them up in a way they’re not likely to come back.”

    Most of the juvenile lifers released so far across the U.S. have been out of prison a year or less. Corrections officials in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Louisiana, which together had nearly 1,200 of these inmates, said that, to date, none has violated parole or committed another crime.

    Last winter, Hines began meeting with a volunteer from Project Reentry, a program within the state appellate defender’s office in which graduate social work students help juvenile lifers gear up for release. One student met with Hines, visited his sister to plan his living arrangements and took photos of Myra’s home as part of a comprehensive post-release plan presented to the resentencing judge.

    Hines also had candid conversations with his lawyer, Valerie Newman, a state appellate defender who has secured the release of about a half-dozen juvenile lifers in Michigan in the last year. Her advice to Hines, as it has been with others: Take it slowly.

    “You have to think of yourself as a small child,” she said. “You’re learning to walk; you have to take baby steps. Everything has to be done in small increments, and you have to be good to yourself. There’s a big tendency to get very frustrated. There’s a huge learning curve.”

    Newman expects Hines will do well because of his sister’s support, his willingness to learn new things and his appreciation of his freedom.

    “He carries so much guilt for what happened and what he did,” she said. “A lot of clients feel enormous remorse for what they did, but they learn to come to terms with it. They just want to give back.”

    ‘Detroit used to be so beautiful’

    As he stared out of the SUV window on a busy highway, Hines was surprised by the many small cars and couldn’t help but think of prison.

    “I’m used to living in institutions. You ride in big vans and buses. ... I’ll get used to it,” he vowed to himself. “I get used to everything.”

    When his sister pointed to a shuttered train station that she speculated could be renovated to its former Beaux Arts splendour, Hines teased: “You know, Myra, when you do 28 years in prison, any building is nice.”

    But when he saw parts of 7 Mile Rd. pocked with boarded-up stores and weed-filled lots, he lamented the decline of neighbourhoods he remembered from more prosperous days. “Detroit used to be so beautiful,” he said, his voice trailing off.

    “This neighbourhood has been gone for 25 years, Bob,” his sister replied quietly. She’s her brother’s main support system. Their mother, who’d lobbied for reforms in sentencing laws, didn’t live to see this day, nor did their father. Hines’ twin half-siblings grew into their late 20s without ever meeting him.

    Clutching a dog-eared, pocket-sized red address book bound by a rubber band, Hines pointed out childhood landmarks cemented in his brain: The church he attended with his grandmother. The field where his father, a firefighter, played in a baseball league. The park where he fell off the monkey bars as a toddler, ending with a dash to the emergency room.

    Every place he stopped, there was a new first to experience.

    His first meeting with his parole officer, who established the rules: He must visit every first and third Friday, pay $240 a year for parole supervision and $1,033 in restitution — for the funeral of his victim.

    His first meal, at Royal Barbecue, where he pored over a five-page menu, thrilled he didn’t have to gobble his food down in 10 minutes. He settled on fried chicken, baked beans and coleslaw.

    The restaurant owner greeted Hines. “Welcome back,” he said, shaking his hand. He later slipped Hines an envelope containing $100.

    As he left, Hines rose, bowed his head and pointed a finger toward the sky. “Thank God,” he muttered.

    Getting out, he said, is like being born again. “If you were to die and you were to go to hell and see all of the destruction and fighting and killing down there and God were to breathe life back into you and you were given a second chance — that’s what this is.”

    The last stop for the day was his sister’s tidy green frame home in northwest Detroit at the end of a quiet, almost rural-looking street with a thicket of woods bordering her backyard. Across the street are community gardens where the locals, including Myra, grow vegetables sold in open-air markets.

    Hines carried his life’s belongings — one box and a plastic bag of records and documents — into her house, where he was nuzzled by his sister’s blind Pekingese, Sasha. He then retreated to a picnic table in the yard with his most cherished possessions: the poems and essays he wrote in prison to keep himself sane.

    He thumbed through the stack of paper until he spotted a title, “100 Tools for the Thoughtful Thinker,” Hines’ musings about life, including his role in Warren’s death. According to court records, Warren, 21, took the jacket of a young man who owed him money for drugs. That man then enlisted Hines and others to confront Warren. Hines, who rejected a 20- to 40-year plea, was the last of the three involved in the shooting to be freed.

    Hines doesn’t excuse his past.

    “As a young man, I knew that I had hit rock bottom when I chose to be involved in the taking of another man’s life,” he wrote. “I had the mindset of ... destroying myself and my community. ... I’ve learned that when you take a person’s life ... there is no real true way for you to make that death right with their family members. They will forever be scarred.”

    He then read from a poem he wrote about time, a topic that fascinates him after so many years away.

    “Time,” he said, “is losing 27 of your damndest years. Time is prison. Time is patience. Time is concrete and steel. ... Time is fire and wrath. Time is Mr. James Warren that I killed on a block.”

    He sat back to absorb his words, then explained that over time, he’d grown more aware of the pain he’d caused.

    “The biggest thing in prison ... is to be able to face what you did,” he said. “Once you’re able to face your fears of what you did, then and only then you can move on and be a better person.” It took him 10 years, he said, to realize his error. “I’m angry at myself for allowing my ignorance to lead me down that road.”

    Hines said he was touched by Warren’s sister, Valencia, and their father, Henry, who spoke in support of his release at his March resentencing hearing, saying he’d been punished enough. The judge imposed a 27- to 60-year sentence, paving the way for Hines to win parole.

    Warren-Gibbs was aware of Hines’ release date, and on that day she thought of her brother, James. She was jealous that Hines would be going home to his sister. “I wish it was my brother that I could see,” she said. “I felt guilty. I felt selfish to feel that way.”

    But she was happy, too, and eager to see Hines have an opportunity to rebuild his life. “To me,” she said, “forgiveness is up there with oxygen.”

    Hines understands the family’s loss left a hole in their hearts.

    “If they need me anytime, I’ll be there for them 100 per cent, you know, because they lost a loved one and I’m free,” he said.

    “Let me take that spot. Let me give back.”

    ‘If you need a brother, you got me.’

    Nearly three weeks later, Hines and Warren-Gibbs sat at a table, sowing the seeds of a most unusual friendship.

    Over about three hours at Hines’ lawyer’s office, the two talked about their families, Hines’ reunion with a childhood girlfriend and his new job at an industrial waste company where his sister works. They laughed at times, but spoke, too, of the tragedy that had landed him in prison.

    “Everything you do in this world, you’ve got to pay for,” Hines told her. “You can’t get away with putting things in the universe and not thinking they’re not going to come back and get you.”

    Hines maintained he never urged anyone to shoot Warren, but said he regrets his inaction. “Had I been wise enough ... I could have stopped it.”

    Warren-Gibbs told Hines she’d written him several letters over the years, but never felt comfortable enough to send them. Occasionally, she looked online at his inmate profile, hoping one day his face wouldn’t appear, signalling his release.

    “I wish I could have done more to help,” she said. “I only want the best for you.”

    As the talk turned to the future, Warren-Gibbs spoke of a new bond — “We’re connected,” she proclaimed with a smile — and told Hines she’d like it if he became something of a surrogate brother.

    “If you need a brother, you got me,” he replied. “Anytime you need me, call me.”

    The two exchanged phone numbers, posed for photos they immediately emailed to one another and promised to stay in touch.

    Then they said their goodbyes, hugging tightly. Warren-Gibbs whispered, “Welcome home,” as a tear rolled down her cheek.

    EPILOGUE: Warren-Gibbs recently told the AP she and Hines talk or text every day. He even sent her a photo of his first paycheque, and she plans to have him over for a family dinner. “It really feels,” she said, “like brother and sister.”

    He got life without parole at 15. He just left prison at 43He got life without parole at 15. He just left prison at 43

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    WASHINGTON—Two top officials from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign were charged Monday with serious crimes: allegedly laundering more than $20 million from a pro-Russia Ukrainian political party they illegally failed to reveal they were representing.

    And that wasn’t the worst news of Trump’s worst day in office.

    The sensational indictments of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and deputy Rick Gates would have represented a major problem for the “America First” White House no matter what special counsel Robert Mueller did next.

    But what Mueller did was throw a haymaker that destroyed Trump’s feeble early attempt at a self-defence, showed that his investigation has penetrated deep into the campaign’s dealings with Russia, and strongly suggested far more damage to come — possibly on the very allegation Trump has most strenuously insisted is phoney.

    “The investigation’s going right for the jugular: collusion,” said Nick Akerman, a partner at law firm Dorsey and Whitney and former assistant prosecutor on the Watergate scandal. “They’re going right to the heart of the thing, not wasting any time. And they’re going for the people that know the most, and they’re going right to the top.”

    There was still nothing close to a smoking gun on the president himself. By noon, though, you could see the smouldering wreckage of Trump’s frequent claim that Mueller’s investigation was a “witch hunt.” The probe was indisputably real, and what remains of the president’s reputation, at least, was not going to survive unscathed.

    Fox News pundits tried valiantly to go on the offensive, using the news to call for Mueller’s firing. But Trump remained largely quiet through the day, saying nothing for hours after tweeting“there is NO COLLUSION!”

    For once, the administration with a counterpunch for every would-be knockout seemed stunned into silence.

    “Any hope the White House may have had that the Mueller investigation might be fading away vanished this morning. Things are only going to get worse from here,” analysts Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes wrote on their website Lawfare.

    Read more:

    ‘NO COLLUSION,’ Trump tweets in response to charges against his former aides

    Manafort and Gates face decades in prison, millions in fines. Here’s what’s in their indictment

    Former Trump adviser Papadopoulos pleads guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russians

    Just two hours after Manafort and Gates turned themselves in at an FBI office in Washington — both later pleaded not guilty — Mueller disclosed that he had secured a guilty plea from George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the campaign who admitted to lying to the FBI.

    Lying to the FBI, that is, about his dealings with Russia. Dealings with Russia related to Hillary Clinton’s stolen emails.

    The story outlined in the prosecutors’ “statement of offence,” which Papadopoulos signed, provided the most direct evidence unveiled to date of an attempt by someone in the Trump campaign to work with Russia.

    It was also the first evidence that someone in the campaign knew of the hacked Clinton emails three months before they were released. Perhaps worst of all for Trump, the statement revealed that Papadopoulos has become a “proactive co-operator” in the investigation: Mueller’s team turned him into a witness after arresting him at a Washington-area airport in July.

    It is not clear how much Papadopoulos knows. Manafort, however, likely knows a whole lot, and the charges against him raised the possibility of country-shaking co-operation to come.

    The charges were not directly related to Manafort’s work on the Trump campaign. Legal experts, however, said they might have been laid in an attempt to put pressure on Manafort to cough up what he knows about the president and the president’s family.

    The charges — 12 felony counts, including conspiracy to launder money; failing to register as a foreign agent; failing to report foreign accounts; and making false statements — carry the possibility of decades in prison. Giving themselves additional leverage, prosecutors said they are seeking to seize four of Manafort’s homes.

    Manafort, a veteran political hired gun who has worked for a series of unsavoury foreign officials, is not viewed as personally loyal to Trump. Trump had forced him out of the campaign five months into his tenure — though Gates was allowed to stay and then join the inauguration committee — after media reports about his dealings with the pro-Russia former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych.

    “It’s got to be troubling to the president and his associates that someone who served as his campaign manager, and who may have insights into a continuing investigation, finds himself indicted and substantially exposed. The possibility of co-operation — if there is anything Manafort can provide — has to be concerning,” said Dan Petalas, a lawyer at Garvey Schubert Barer who formerly worked in the Justice Department section tasked with public corruption.

    Manafort is accused of laundering $18 million (U.S.) in improper Ukrainian payments to fund a “lavish” lifestyle, including fancy houses, clothing, cars and rugs. Gates is accused of laundering $3 million.

    The Papadopoulos saga reads more like a spy novel than Manafort’s corporate-style scandal. According to the agreed statement of facts, Papadopoulos met with both a Russian woman he had thought was Putin’s niece, though she was not, and a Russia-linked professor who told him Russia had “thousands of emails” worth of “dirt” on Trump’s opponent. Then Papadopoulos attempted to set up an “off the record” meeting between the campaign and Putin’s office.

    Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the Russians appeared to be trying to execute a “classic” intelligence operation.

    Papadopoulos’s guilty plea, for lying in order to mislead the FBI about the nature and importance of the contacts with Russia, is the first conviction secured by Mueller since he was appointed special counsel in May. Trump, who effectively got Mueller appointed by firing FBI director James Comey, has derided the probe as biased and misguided, arguing, implausibly, that the real scandal is over Clinton’s own dealings with Russia.

    Trump aides had a line of spin ready in response to the Manafort and Gates indictments: they were being charged, the White House noted, for crimes unrelated to the campaign. But they could not say the same about Papadopoulos.

    Instead, press secretary Sarah Sanders argued that Papadopoulos was an irrelevant junior aide, “somebody on a volunteer committee” who never acted in an “official capacity.”

    Sanders also sought to minimize the campaign role of Manafort, saying he was hired to handle Trump’s delegate-wrangling at the 2016 Republican convention and then “dismissed not too long after that.” This is correct — except it omits that Manafort was named campaign chief in between.

    Donald Trump just had his worst day in office — and he has more trouble coming: AnalysisDonald Trump just had his worst day in office — and he has more trouble coming: Analysis

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    Charlotte Sterk’s days are so busy, the Burlington woman must consult a calendar before committing to appointments.

    There are regular bridge dates with friends. Volunteer shifts at Joseph Brant Hospital and a local seniors community centre. Outings to attend opera — live performances from The Met in New York, via Cineplex theatre screens.

    Three mornings a week, the 88-year-old hits her neighbourhood gym. Weight machines first. Then a swim, whirlpool, shower, sauna before driving home in her SUV.

    And every day, just as she has done for nearly 50 years, the energetic grandmother picks up the newspaper at her front door, reading every page before embarking on her busy day.

    “As long as I can remember, we’ve had the Star,” said Sterk, one of the Star’s longest home-delivery subscribers.

    “I like to read the news. I sit here in the morning and I go through the whole newspaper.”

    Sterk, one of the Star’s most loyal subscribers, was first contacted by a Star circulation manager to ask if her personal information could be shared with a reporter as part of the Star’s 125th anniversary coverage. Sterk gave her permission and agreed to be interviewed.

    In 1974, the Star began keeping computerized records of home subscribers. Many, like Sterk and her family, were already receiving home delivery, six days at first (there was no home Sunday delivery then), then later, seven days a week.

    In 1974, it would have cost about $3.67 per month to have the Star delivered daily to your door. Now, rates will vary depending on what news package readers desire.

    For current seven-day home-delivery service, depending on geographic location and opt-in products (Starweek, New York Times Supplements and That’s Puzzling), prices can run more than $70 per month.

    Sterk recalls she and her late husband, Rudy, received Star home delivery in the 1960s, pushing her connection to the newspaper closer to half a century — even as the Sterks began a new life in Canada.

    They couple left their home in southern Holland in 1954 and immigrated to the GTA. For most of their time in Canada, the Sterks lived in Etobicoke, Mississauga then Burlington.

    Rudy Sterk, who passed away 10 years ago, was a chemical engineer who worked for the provincial government. Charlotte Sterk worked in retail clothing.

    As a young couple, the Sterks adopted two babies in the 1960s — a girl and a boy — then they had a daughter of their own. Even with a full house, Sterk recalled there was always time to read the morning edition of the Star.

    Sterk said she enjoys her morning routine as it informs and entertains her.

    “The first thing I do is pick up the paper and sit and read the whole paper and do the crossword puzzles,” Sterk said, noting she also likes the Jumble.

    One of her favourite reads: columnist Rosie DiManno.

    “She does everything,” Sterk said, referring to DiManno’s breadth of opinion writing, ranging from sports to courts and politics to breaking news.

    “When this (shooting massacre) happened in Las Vegas, she had quite a big column on it. I like everything she writes.”

    Sterk said she also gets her news from the dinnertime edition of television broadcasts but isn’t glued to the set.

    “I don’t really watch TV during the day. I have things to do. I don’t want to sit down and watch TV.”

    Vibrant as she is, Sterk — who has a laptop — said she is a print-only newshound: She doesn’t read the Star online because “I’m not that computer literate.”

    “I do Skype and I do emails and I play games,” she said, laughing.

    Read more on the Star’s 125th anniversary in Saturday’s special Insight section and

    She has started each day by reading the Star — for half a centuryShe has started each day by reading the Star — for half a century

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    A coalition of transit, environmental and health advocacy groups is calling on Metrolinx to improve its governance practices as the agency conducts public consultations on its new $45-billion regional transportation plan.

    Twelve groups including Environmental Defence Canada, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the David Suzuki Foundation and Transport Action Ontario have co-signed a letter to Metrolinx denouncing what the organizations say is the agency’s “lack of evidence-based decision making.”

    Citing the controversial Scarborough subway extension as well as the approval two proposed new GO Transit stations that weren’t supported by internal reports, the coalition is calling for Metrolinx to “restore confidence in transit planning” by changing its governance structure.

    Read more:

    Push to see value-for-money analysis of Scarborough subway rejected

    New Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster pledges transparency in transit decisions

    Metrolinx needs an overhaul, not just an auditor general probe: Opinion

    Metrolinx is an arms-length agency of the provincial government in charge of regional transportation, and its board is made up of unelected officials appointed on the recommendation of the transportation minister.

    The groups want that modified so that at least half of the board members are elected officials from municipalities in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

    “It is time to make decision-making more transparent and accountable,” said Peter Miasek, a spokesperson for Transport Action Ontario, a non-governmental advocacy group.

    The coalition is also recommending Metrolinx endorse revenue tools to raise money for the transportation plan, prioritize low-carbon mobility options and better align land use and transportation policies to discourage urban sprawl.

    Tim Gray, the executive director of Environmental Defence Canada, said though the groups are from disparate backgrounds, they came together because “regional transportation is so determinative . . . on what happens to the environment, but also human health and overall prosperity of the city.”

    As the Star has previously reported, the ministry of transportation pressured Metrolinx into approving the Kirby and Lawrence East GO Transit stops even though a report the agency commissioned recommended that neither be considered for at least 10 years

    Toronto city council was responsible for approving the one-stop $3.35-billion Scarborough subway extension. But the project is being built with the help of provincial funding, and Miasek charged that Metrolinx “enabled” council’s decision by “not standing up” to the city.

    Anne Marie Aikins, a spokesperson for Metrolinx, said the agency “welcome(s) the feedback received by this group of experts,” but she declined to comment on the details of the recommendations.

    In the wake of the controversy surrounding the two GO stations, Metrolinx has pledged to enhance its accountability policies. The agency has said that from now on it will publish business cases for transit projects before board votes, and will also post notices and minutes of closed-door board meetings.

    A report on formal changes to the agency’s governance is expected to go before the board in December.

    Metrolinx released the latest draft of its regional transportation plan in September, and has been holding public consultations across the GTHA for the past month. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday evening at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

    The plan lays out a blueprint for transportation projects across the region for the next 25 years, by which time the population of the GTHA is expected to reach 10.1 million. To keep pace with that growth, the document envisions the construction of more than 1,500 kilometres of rapid-transit infrastructure over the next two-and-a-half decades.

    Transit, health groups call for Metrolinx reformTransit, health groups call for Metrolinx reform

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    A woman in her 50s is dead after a T-bone crash near York University on Tuesday night.

    Toronto Paramedic Services said they were called to Steeles Ave. W and Keele St. at around 10:30 p.m. At least two vehicles had crashed.

    The woman was pronounced dead on scene, paramedics said.

    Another occupant, a man in his 50s, was taken to hospital in serious condition after sustaining neck and back injuries.

    The cause of the crash isn’t yet clear.

    Woman dead after car crash in North YorkWoman dead after car crash in North York

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    The province has approved a Toronto Fire Service request to order the closure of an unlicensed group home in the city’s east end after firefighters raced to the two-storey residence Monday.

    Previous inspection orders requiring the owner and operator of the group home to upgrade the fire safety measures had not occurred, and additional charges will now be laid, Deputy Fire Chief Jim Jessop said Tuesday.

    “There’s been no attempt, candidly, I would use the word willful neglect, to comply with the fire code,” Jessop said.

    Firefighters responding to the call at 108 Fawcett Trail on Monday morning ripped up drywall to douse flames and cleared smoke from the building. Six people living at the home, either elderly or suffering from mental health issues, fled uninjured.

    Last year, the Ontario Provincial Police conducted an investigation into unlicensed group homes in Toronto, including the home at 108 Fawcett — part of a chain operated by Winston Manning and Phyllis Jackson.

    The seven-month probe concluded the homes were overcrowded, unsanitary and in “deplorable” condition, but provincial health officials determined closing them would displace vulnerable people with nowhere else to go.

    The health and safety issues continue and have fallen to the city.

    Fire officials have tried various enforcement measures and are now taking the next step to close the entire building “until we get some reassurance that they’ll convert it back to a single family house or they’re going to comply with the requirements of the (Ontario) fire code,” Jessop said.

    Convictions under the code can result in fines of up to $100,000 or up to a year in prison.

    Officials are monitoring Manning’s other properties, Jessop added.

    Manning told the Star on Tuesday he moved the Fawcett Trail tenants to his other buildings scattered around Scarborough. He rents the homes and collects disability, pension and other income sources, but says he often doesn’t get paid and is doing the work as a calling.

    Monday’s fire “had nothing to do with the fire code violations,” he added, but was caused by one of the residents stuffing newspapers into a heating vent.

    “I’ve been calling police constantly to have him removed or take him to the hospital and have him reassessed, get his medication adjusted.”

    Manning insisted the building had been brought up to meet the Ontario Fire Code standards and all that remained was to install “fire-rated doors on the bedroom.”

    But he admitted the work managing several homes can be overwhelming and “all I can do so much at once. I’m working hard.”

    A man who identified himself as the husband of property owner Dhanna Kanhai said Tuesday he did “not want to discuss this with a newspaper.”

    Unlicensed Toronto group home ordered shut after fireUnlicensed Toronto group home ordered shut after fireUnlicensed Toronto group home ordered shut after fireUnlicensed Toronto group home ordered shut after fire

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    A 52-year-old woman is dead after an apartment fire in Whitby on Tuesday night.

    Durham Regional Police Service said the blaze started around 7 p.m. at the building on Ash St. Only the affected and adjacent apartment units were damaged.

    The woman was rushed to a local hospital where she later died.

    Police said the fire does not appear to be suspicious at this time.

    Investigators with the Office of the Fire Marshal, which looks into fires that cause serious injury or death, have been called to the scene.

    Whitby apartment fire leaves 52-year-old woman deadWhitby apartment fire leaves 52-year-old woman dead

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    The local teen gossip site dubbed as Toronto’s Gossip Girl has been taken down, a month after a Rosedale park party went awry.

    In a series of tweets last week, the author of Miss Informed, a two-month-old website described as a source for the latest gossip on the social scene for high schools in midtown Toronto, is blaming the media for “trampling all over this parade” and the seniors who showed up to the party.

    “I just wish it could have been left alone by media as something special just for us students, but at least we have the memory of this time,” said the author in one of the tweets.

    The gossip site became the subject of scrutiny after a Rosedale park party named the “Rosedale Jam” went awry in September.

    Multiple emergency calls came from the area around the park for reports of stabbings, assaults and robberies. It was compounded by medical calls for unconscious and intoxicated teens.

    All victims involved were between 15 and 16 years old. The suspects were approximately eight to 10 boys and girls in their late teens.

    Police said hundreds arrived in the party after receiving information across social media.

    Multiple parties over a number of weeks followed the same pattern, and police believe the suspects attend for the sole purpose of carrying out robberies and other criminal activity.

    In one of the tweets, the author blamed seniors and their older friends for what happened during the Rosedale Jam.

    “We probably wouldn’t have to leave if it weren’t for those seriously DUMB seniors (+ older friends) who thought drugs and stabbing was OK,” the author said in one of the tweets.

    A town-hall style event was held last week in the Rosedale neighbourhood following the series of park parties. Toronto police issued warnings about the risks of social media for teens.

    The author of the site, who remained anonymous, thanked its followers in the final tweet saying, “Thank you ALL for an incredible TWO MONTHS — running MIF has been an amazing experience and I am happy to have been able to do it.”

    Toronto’s Gossip Girl website, Miss Informed, taken downToronto’s Gossip Girl website, Miss Informed, taken down

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