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    Robust protections for vulnerable workers are critical to modernizing Ontario’s economy, advocates told government Friday at a packed committee hearing on its sweeping proposals for labour reform.

    If passed, the legislation introduced in May will be the most far reaching set of updates to existing laws in two decades — boosting the minimum wage from $11.40 to $15 an hour by 2019, and prohibiting pay discrimination against part-time and temporary employees doing the same work as their full time counterparts.

    But at the last in a set of province-wide public deputations, economists, labour activists and business leaders clashed over Bill 148’s implications.

    “(This reform) has the potential to bring labour legislation into the 21st century, and to improve the lives of millions of Ontarians,” said Sheila Block, an economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

    “The weight of economic evidence is behind the drafters and the supporters of this legislation.”

    Conversely, Ontario Chamber of Commerce policy director Ashley Challinor called discussions on the rise of precarious work “overstated” and warned the proposed reforms would be burdensome for businesses who create jobs and stimulate growth.

    “The pending legislation will create winners and losers; job loss, increased costs of consumer goods, and economic hardship. This does not demonstrate fairness,” she said.

    In addition to wage hikes, the new laws would introduce two paid emergency days for all workers in Ontario, penalties for employers who change workers’ schedules at the last minute, and increase holiday entitlement from two weeks to three.

    Chris Buckley, the president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, lauded those moves but said government needed to go further — including measures to make it easier for all workers to unionize and to increase the number of paid emergency days to seven.

    “This is a chance to get it right and improve conditions for workers across Ontario whether they are unionized workers or not,” he said.

    As previously highlighted by the Star, workers’ rights advocates have expressed concern that the bill does not go far enough to regulate temporary help agencies, which statistics show have increased by 20 per cent across the province over the past decade.

    Buckley said the proposed bill should also include just cause protection for non-unionized workers, and extend full coverage to so-called dependent contractors: self-employed people who are economically reliant on one company for work. Critics say that measure is crucial to protecting the growing number of people working in the gig economy.

    “There is a real concern with the ongoing bifurcation of good jobs and not-so-good jobs,” said Pedro Barata of United Way Toronto.

    “This is an issue that really impacts all of us and does not belong to one community alone.”

    The bill is expected to go to second reading in September. Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Premier Kathleen Wynne said the committee hearings would help fine-tune the legislation so it’s better for employees and employers.

    “We’ll be looking to those delegations and the information that was gathered to find good ideas to support small businesses. I am committed to helping business and I am committed to making sure that people are treated fairly,” the premier said.

    “Those things should not be in conflict with one another. In a country and a province as rich as we are we should be able to make sure that people can live, they can feed their families, they can look after themselves, and that they can find a decent job,” said Wynne.

    “We have said quite clearly that we are going to work with businesses — particularly small businesses — to make sure that we do everything we can to help with the phase-in. Exactly what those mechanisms will be, I can’t tell you at this point,” she added.

    Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers vice-president Gary Sands said small business already struggled to compete with corporate giants who, by virtue of their size and power, are able to cut costs by extracting concessions from suppliers.

    “Small- and medium-sized businesses do not have the clout of a Walmart,” he said.

    Research from the CCPA shows the overwhelming majority of minimum wage employers are larger businesses. According to a study by the United Way, around half of all jobs in the GTA are now precarious in some way.

    That, according to two medical professionals who testified at the hearings, is causing a distinct strain on the health care system.

    “Lower income is associated with a significant higher burden of disease and higher mortality,” said Hasan Sheikh, an emergency room doctor at St. Michael’s hospital in Toronto.

    Psychiatrist Michaela Beder called the legislation a “bold move to improve the health of Ontarians.”

    “What’s critical in terms of our research is that precarious employment is increasingly about all of us,” Barata said.

    “Increasingly we’re seeing that the face of precarious employment is the face of Ontario.”

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    The Ontario Provincial Police has charged Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs, a former police officer, with extortion and obstruction of justice in connection with an investigation into “allegations of criminal wrongdoing that include a municipal official and local resident.”

    Hobbs’ wife Marisa, 53, was also charged with extortion and obstructing justice.

    The OPP alleges that Hobbs, 65, his wife, and a third person, Mary Voss, 46, attempted to induce a prominent local lawyer “to purchase a house (for Voss), by threats, accusations, or menaces of disclosing criminal allegations to the police, thereby committing extortion,” court documents show.

    Hobbs’ lawyer Brian Greenspan said his client denies the charges. Mayor Hobbs told the Star in an email that he felt “Confident! Calm! We’ve had hundreds of well-wishers call, text and e-mail us today. Those that really know us believe in us.”

    The Star could not reach Voss for comment.

    Mayor Hobbs and his wife’s obstruction charges are both related to their alleged attempt to interfere with an investigation into an allegation of extortion reported to the RCMP, court documents show. Hobbs is now on a paid, indefinite leave, a city official said at a press conference. He has not been asked to resign.

    The charges are the latest in a breakneck series of criminal and civil allegations that not only saw the prominent lawyer, Sandy Zaitzeff, arrested on sexual assault charges late last year but have also drawn in the police chief.

    Zaitzeff is a well-known class-action litigator who built a reputation as a confident winner — the man who took on the RCMP. He has had a dramatic and public fall from prominence, including a YouTube video rant — that has increased scrutiny on a city already under pressure from a series of unrelated investigations.

    Only slivers of information about the cases have been made publicly available. The strange YouTube video has offered locals one of the only clues about the ongoing scandal.

    In the video, an emotional Zaitzeff, with his collection of clown dolls as a backdrop, pulls off his T-shirt, parades his bruised torso, alleges unnamed assailants tried to steal his fortune, expresses anguish over his dead son, then gets on his knees to propose marriage. Mayor Hobbs is seen in the video watching the rambling, cryptic monologue.

    After the video was posted to YouTube, Mayor Hobbs sued Zaitzeff for defamation, claiming the video somehow harmed his reputation and chances for re-election, and on the same day as that lawsuit Zaitzeff’s former law partner issued his own statement of claim which alleged Zaitzeff took his clients and threatened his life. That statement of claim has not yet been served on Mr. Zaitzeff, according to the former law partner, Chris Watkins, who told the Star he is “strongly considering never serving that claim.”

    Then, Thunder Bay police Chief J.P. Levesque was charged with breach of trust and obstruction of justice for allegedly disclosing confidential information about the mayor. Exactly what information was disclosed and to whom is not publicly known.

    An OPP spokesperson said the charges laid against Hobbs, his wife, and Voss stem from the same investigation into Levesque, but did not provide details. The officer who charged Levesque is the same officer who charged Hobbs.

    Zaitzeff’s lawyer Scott Hutchison has said he denies the allegations against him. Chief Levesque has told the Star he cannot comment on his case.

    Meanwhile, Mayor Hobbs and his wife have hired Greenspan and Naomi Lutes as their lawyers.

    “The Truth will get us through this,” Mayor Hobbs told the Star. “We have the best lawyer in Canada looking after us.‎ We will be cleared of these charges.”

    A statement from Greenspan’s office said the charges were “unjustified and will be vigorously defended.”

    Hobbs was arrested Thursday afternoon after he arrived at an OPP detachment with a lawyer, according to the OPP.

    He was released on a “promise to appear” in court and conditions that include no communication with a number of people and that he remain in Ontario, according to OPP Det. Supt. Dave Truax, who was the major case manager on both the Levesque and Hobbs cases.

    The three accused are scheduled to appear in court in Thunder Bay on Sept. 26.

    On Thursday night, councillors were hastily called to Thunder Bay City Hall for an emergency meeting. The charges against Hobbs were made public Friday morning, followed by a news conference.

    A city official said that a member of council can be away up to three months under city policy. After that, it will be in “council’s hands” to determine next steps, said Karen Lewis, spokesperson for the Thunder Bay City Council. “Council could extend the leave, the vacancy policy could kick in and then council has options around how to proceed around the vacancy policy,” she said, adding they could declare the seat vacant.

    Councillor Trevor Giertuga will serve as acting mayor for July and Linda Rydholm will take over for August, Lewis said.

    In a statement, Giertuga said council will work together to cover the mayor’s duties while he works through “this personal matter.”

    “We’re going to remain positive, we’re going to work to confront any problems or issues that come forward and just look forward to the future,” he told the Star after the news conference.

    Hobbs was first elected mayor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.

    Before municipal politics, he worked with the Thunder Bay Police for 34 years.

    Thunder Bay has been in crisis, with racial tensions running high since the deaths of several Indigenous youth in the spring. They were from remote reserves and were in the city to either go to high school or access mental health services.

    Among them was Tammy Keeash, a 17-year-old high school student from North Caribou Lake First Nation, who on May 6 of this year, failed to make curfew at her group home.

    That same night, Josiah Begg, a 14-year-old from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation vanished. He was in town with his father for Josiah’s medical appointments. Both teens were found dead in Thunder Bay waterways within two weeks of their disappearance.

    For years, many Indigenous people have complained about the level of racism they face daily in the city.

    During a recent eight-month long inquest into the deaths of seven other Indigenous high school students, who died between 2000 and 2011, many youth complained they were subjected to racial taunts, unprovoked assaults and had garbage thrown at them from passing cars.

    Of the seven students whose deaths were investigated during the inquest, five were found in the rivers and of those, three of the deaths were ruled undetermined by the coroner’s jury.

    Indigenous leaders have said they no longer trust the local police force, and they held a Queen’s Park news conference asking for the RCMP to be brought in to investigate the deaths of Keeash, Begg and the unexplained death of 41-year-old Stacy DeBungee, an Indigenous man found in the lake in October, 2015. Ontario’s chief coroner has announced that York Region police would be brought in to investigate Begg’s and Keeash’s deaths.

    The Thunder Bay Police have been under investigation for alleged systemic racism in how they handle all Indigenous death and disappearance cases since last November by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director — a civilian oversight body. Also under investigation is the Thunder Bay Police Services Board by their provincial oversight body.

    Most recently, Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit said it is investigating the death of an Indigenous man who died in Thunder Bay police custody Wednesday evening.

    Meanwhile, Zaitzeff has hired Marie Henein’s law firm, which represented former radio star Jian Ghomeshi, to deal with his considerable and lurid list of charges.

    Zaitzeff, 68, is a self-proclaimed millionaire who has worked on some major class-action cases. He gained national attention as one of the main architects of a successful class action lawsuit filed by women against the RCMP, alleging workplace harassment. The Mounties established a $100-million fund to settle claims.

    Since Zaitzeff’s on-camera outbursts, he has been arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, including allegedly inviting a minor to touch his penis. In all, there are five complainants. Most of the assaults allegedly happened last fall, before and after the video was reportedly recorded.

    Zaitzeff faces four counts of assault; eight counts of sexual assault; and one count each of sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, mischief under $5,000 for allegedly damaging a door, breach of recognizance, unauthorized possession of a firearm and improper storage of a firearm, according to court documents.

    His licence to practise law has been suspended. Zaitzeff did not tell the Law Society of Upper Canada about his charges, the regulator said.

    As a condition of his bail, Zaitzeff had to give up his passport, cannot drink or buy liquor, and was ordered to attend the Bellwood addiction treatment centre in Toronto.

    “Sandy Zaitzeff has consistently asked the people of Thunder Bay to reserve judgment until all the evidence surrounding his case can be aired before the courts,” Hutchison, Zaitzeff’s lawyer, told the Star in an email. “Today is an important step towards that day.”

    Hutchison has previously said his client is “a respected lawyer, has battled the loss of his beloved son, addiction issues and health issues.”

    In June 2014, Zaitzeff’s son Sandy Zaitzeff Jr., then 33 years old, was on crutches, hobbled by a broken ankle, when he slipped and fell while getting a snack from the fridge, suffered a severe head injury and died instantly, an obituary said.

    Fourteen years earlier Zaitzeff’s wife, Marilyn, then 50, went missing, last seen reportedly leaving the family cottage and getting on her Sea-Doo around 9 p.m.

    Marilyn Zaitzeff was a physical fitness enthusiast who often rode her Sea-Doo, sometimes at night and sometimes without a life-jacket or wetsuit, according to the OPP.

    The next morning the Sea-Doo was found a kilometre away, overturned in the water not far from shore. The Sea-Doo was “undamaged, inspected to be mechanically sound and had a third of a tank of gas,” according to the OPP.

    While Marilyn is presumed drowned, OPP Det. Supt. Dave Truax told the Star: “This is an open missing person investigation where the individual has not been located.”

    With files from Julien Gignac

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    OTTAWA—The Liberal-dominated House of Commons trade committee has quashed a move to invite the prime minister and other high-ranking cabinet members to answer questions about Canada’s NAFTA renegotiation priorities, as calls continue for more transparency about how the government plans to handle upcoming talks on the deal.

    The committee, instead, approved a Liberal plan to hear from Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is the lead member of cabinet for NAFTA and Canada-U.S. relations. She is slated to attend a meeting on Aug. 14, two days before negotiations are set to begin in Washington.

    NDP MP Tracey Ramsey spearheaded the defeated motion to question Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with Freeland and the finance and international trade ministers. She said she is “not happy” with the result of Friday’s meeting, especially after Trudeau said this week that he would be willing to share Canada’s strategy on NAFTA with the opposition.

    “We’re not asking for the specifics on how they’re going to negotiate every item, but we can clearly see from the 18 pages of priorities with the U.S. that they’ve made public — we could do the exact same thing,” Ramsey said.

    She was referring to the document published by the American government Monday that outlined the country’s broad objectives in the renegotiation of the 23-year-old trade deal with Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. Unlike Canada, the U.S. is legally obliged to release its general objectives.

    These include a push to reduce its trade deficit, implement “buy American” provisions while gaining better market access for its companies in Canada and Mexico, and eliminate the agreement’s dispute resolution panel, which has previously ruled in Canada’s favour.

    “Why not go public with our priorities in the same transparent way that we see happening with our largest trading partner? I think, if we did, that it would provide a lot of security and comfort to Canadians who are feeling extremely nervous about this renegotiation,” Ramsey said.

    Conservative MP Randy Hoback, who also sits on the trade committee, said the opposition doesn’t want detailed strategy on negotiations, just a better idea of Canada’s objectives.

    “The business community wants some security and comfort in knowing what’s on the table and what’s not on the table,” he said.

    “Not knowing anything creates lots of rumours and panic.”

    Andrew Leslie, an Ottawa-area Liberal MP who is parliamentary secretary to the foreign affairs minister, also attended Friday’s meeting. He said afterwards that the government has already announced its broad goals with NAFTA, which include modernizing the agreement and creating “win-win-win conditions” for the member countries.

    “It is illogical to unmask and to lay down detailed objectives when we don’t have to,” Leslie said. “That’s giving up a negotiating advantage.”

    Lawrence Herman, trade counsel at Herman and Associates and a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute, said, in an interview Friday, that the U.S. has “taken over the trade agenda” and that Canada is just reacting to the announced priorities of the Donald Trump administration.

    “My sense is that that’s not a strategically good position to be in,” he said.

    “Canada should counter that and say there’s more to the talks than the U.S. unilateral set of objectives.”

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    Metrolinx has decided not to appeal a judge’s ruling that blocked the agency from terminating its troubled $770-million vehicle contract with Bombardier.

    The provincial transit agency filed a notice in May that reserved its right to appeal the decision, which Judge Glenn Hainey of the Superior Court of Justice delivered the month before.

    Friday wasthe deadline to move ahead with the case, and a spokesperson for the agency confirmed that Metrolinx has decided not to proceed.

    Instead, the agency is continuing to pursue a dispute resolution process with the Quebec-based rail manufacturer.

    “Metrolinx is concentrating on the dispute resolution with Bombardier . . . . We have decided to not continue with the appeal process,” wrote Anne Marie Aikins.

    She declined to provide an update on the dispute process, and it’s not clear when it will conclude.

    Metrolinx signed the deal for 182 light rail vehicles (LRVs) in 2010, with the intention of running the cars on the $5.3-billion Eglinton Crosstown and other Toronto-area LRT lines.

    Last October,Metrolinx attempted to terminate the contract, claiming Bombardier was in default. The first two prototype vehicles were supposed to be delivered in 2015, but Metrolinx still hasn’t received them, and the agency said Bombardier’s production woes risked delaying the opening of the Crosstown.

    The legal case was sparked in February when Bombardier filed an application for an injunction against the termination. The company argued that Metrolinx couldn’t unilaterally cancel the deal, and that, whether the company was in default should be decided through the dispute-resolution process written into the contract.

    The judge agreed.

    Bombardier maintains that it has not defaulted on the order.

    A spokesperson for the company didn’t immediately return a request for comment Friday afternoon.

    In May, the provincial transportation minister announced that Metrolinx had agreed to buy 61 LRVs from French-based company Alstom as a back-up for the Bombardier order.

    If the dispute-resolution process determines that Bombardier is in default, Metrolinx will deploy 44 of the Alstom vehicles on the Crosstown. The other 17 are slated for the Finch West LRT.

    Both lines are scheduled for completion in 2021.

    The Alstom deal cost $528 million, and was issued on a sole-source basis, which the minister said was necessary because of the tight timelines for opening the Crosstown.

    Siemens, a German-based rail manufacturer, has complained that the province violated its own procurement policies by not opening up the contract to a competitive bid.

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    “With hindsight being 20/20, yes, there probably could have been a better way to resolve it.”

    And, with that, in response to a question from a juror, Const. Brian Taylor concluded his testimony Friday at the coroner’s inquest into the death of Michael MacIsaac.

    Taylor, who has been with Durham regional police since 1999, shot and killed the 47-year-old naked man on an Ajax street Dec. 2, 2013, saying MacIsaac was advancing on him with a table leg.

    He was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit.

    During cross-examination Friday, Taylor’s lawyer, Bill MacKenzie, attempted to poke holes in the MacIsaac family’s belief that Taylor did not shout commands at MasIsaac before shooting him.

    A 911 call placed by a civilian, Ron Nino, at the scene when Taylor arrived does not capture Taylor shouting commands or MacIsaac saying “Come on, come on,” as Taylor said he did.

    The officer, testifying for the second and final day, reiterated his speculation that the call dropped and did not capture everything that was said.

    “I’m suggesting 911 called back and interfered with the call,” MacKenzie said to Taylor while on the stand. “The jury is left to speculate on Mr. Nino’s evidence.”

    The suggestion angered Michael’s family, sitting in the front row. They had the call analyzed by a forensic scientist who indicated in a report that “there are no definite signs of alterations or breaks found on this recording.”

    Nino , himself, did not say on the stand Wednesday that there were any issues with his call to 911. What he did say is that 911 kept calling back, after the shooting, when Nino was attempting to record video of the officers handcuffing MacIsaac.

    The SIU has never said if it listened to the call, or even obtained it.

    “I can understand why he’s desperate to go back to that, absolutely,” Michael MacIsaac’s sister, Joanne, told the Star about the questions around the 911 call. “But it is more ridiculous than it is desperate.”

    Earlier Friday, Taylor was questioned on his use of the term “excited delirium” as part of a broader range of questions on dealing with individuals in crisis.

    He had testified that he believed this may have been MacIsaac’s condition as he was heading to the scene and heard over the radio that the person may have mental health issues and was aggressive toward police.

    MacIsaac’s family said he did not have mental health issues, but they believe he was in crisis after suffering an epileptic seizure.

    The lawyer for the Empowerment Council, an advocacy group for people with “lived” experience of mental health and addiction issues, listed what are typically described as common characteristics of excited delirium: violent behaviour; imperviousness to pain, and superhuman strength.

    “But, do you know ‘excited delirium’ is extremely controversial, over whether it’s even a condition at all?” Empowerment Council lawyer Anita Szigeti asked Taylor. He replied, “yes.”

    Szigeti pointed out that organizations such as the World Health Organization and American Medical Association don’t even recognize it as a condition. She said those who believe it is a condition are basically just the “maker of Tasers” and law enforcement.

    She was “puzzled,” she said to Taylor, because, while he used the term “excited delirium” at the inquest, it does not appear anywhere in his notes of the shooting, nor in his interviews with the SIU or the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.

    “I’m going to suggest to you that you never thought about ‘excited delirium’ at all until long after the events when you shot Mr. MacIsaac,” she said.

    Taylor disagreed.

    As the officer, his lawyer and officials with the police union left the courtroom after his testimony, Joanne MacIsaac, sitting in the front row, glared at the man who killed her brother.

    “I was glad that he finally had to answer to someone, and he looked like he was sweating up on the stand. That made me happy,” she said. “I wanted to glare at him, because I was hoping he would look me in the eyes because I wanted him to know that this is not done yet.”

    The inquest continues Monday.

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    Premier Kathleen Wynne is defending Hydro One’s takeover of an American utility that owns a coal plant after years of Liberal boasting Ontario has banned the plants to cut pollution and greenhouse gases.

    She suggested the $6.7 billion purchase of Avista, based in Washington state, heralds the spreading of Ontario’s clean-energy push beyond the province’s borders.

    “As you all know, Ontario has shut down all of the coal-fired generation in the province. Hydro One has made a business decision to acquire a … company that has a small minority share in a coal plant,” Wynne said Friday in Ottawa.

    “Let me just say this: you won’t find another jurisdiction – pretty much around the world – that has gone as far in terms of renewable clean energy as Ontario so I see this as a real validation of our opportunity to take that influence elsewhere.”

    Avista owns a 15 per cent stake in two of the four units at the Colstrip plant in Montana – a major coal-mining state – and plans to use them for electricity production until 2035, said a spokeswoman for the company that also operates hydro-electric dams, natural gas and biomass generating plants and wind turbines.

    Colstrip is one of the top carbon-producing plants in the U.S. and has become a target of environmentalists and lawmakers in the fight against climate change.

    The Associated Press reported in January that two older units at the plant, dating to the 1970s and not owned by Avista, will be closed by 2022 under an agreement with environmental groups.

    Hydro One said in a statement Friday it will be “reviewing” Avista’s assets when the purchase, slated to close in mid-2018, is complete.

    But critics said Ontario, which sold a majority of shares in Hydro One to raise money for transportation infrastructure and now owns a 49 per cent stake, is taking a step backward with the deal.

    New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns blamed the Wynne government’s “fire sale” of Hydro One, which he said now operates on a profit motive to please shareholders.

    “No one should be surprised they’re doing stuff contrary to what Ontario has been doing,” said Tabuns (Toronto-Danforth).

    “It wouldn’t even be legal in Ontario,” he said of the Avista plant.

    Colstrip supplies about 9 per cent of the electricity to Avista customers. The company, headquartered in Spokane, serves Washington, Orgeon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

    Ontario “is in the coal business again,” said Progressive Conservative MPP Todd Smith (Prince Edward-Hastings).

    The Green Party said the deal undermines the government’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    “This is a bad move for Ontario and for our planet…keep in mind Montana borders British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, and air doesn’t respect national boundaries,” said Jose Etcheverry, the Green candidate in Markham-Stouffville for next June’s provincial election.

    “Hydro One has slapped us in the face by going shopping for a utility that owns one of the largest polluters in the U.S. northwest,” added Angela Bishoff of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance.

    Wynne told reporters she talked with Hydro One chief executive Mayo Schmidt about the deal on Thursday, raising her concerns.

    “I said: ‘You know, what about this?’ The fact is we have a coal-free electricity grid here in Ontario and … I expect that value system could be shared.”

    “I know that Hydro One will be reviewing all of the operations once the transaction is completed. But we are leading the way in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” she added.

    An article in Scientific American last year titled “Inside a Western Town That Refuses to Quit Coal” said the plant emits nearly 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, earning a spot among the top 20 carbon-producing power plants in the country.

    The power plant is one of the largest employers in Colstrip and is located near a coal mine, which supplies it with fuel.

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    A man who was found guilty of second-degree murder in a daytime shooting at Toronto’s landmark Eaton Centre mall was granted a new trial Friday after a judge found the jury that convicted him was improperly selected.

    The Court of Appeal for Ontario overturned Christopher Husbands’ convictions, saying the trial judge made an irreparable mistake by overruling a defence request regarding the method of jury selection.

    As a result, the three-member appeal panel said, the jury was improperly constituted and the verdict cannot stand.

    “In accordance with the current state of the law ... what occurred here cannot be salvaged,” Justice David Watt wrote on behalf of the panel.

    The June 2012 shooting at the Eaton Centre’s crowded food court sparked mayhem in the mall and sent hordes of panicked shoppers running for the exits.

    Husbands’ appeal focused largely on the manner in which jurors were chosen.

    As part of the selection process, prospective jurors may be questioned as to whether they believe they can remain impartial. Two people from the jury pool take on the role of “triers,” meaning they weigh the answer and determine whether there is sign of bias.

    Lawyers for both the Crown and the defence then decide whether to allow the person on the jury.

    Each newly appointed juror replaces one of the two triers so that the responsibility is shared, a process called “rotating triers.”

    At the request of the accused, the court can appoint two people who will assess all the prospective juror responses. These are called “static triers” and do not get to serve on the jury.

    Watt said Husbands’ lawyers made it clear they wanted rotating triers but the judge, Superior Court Justice Eugene Ewaschuk, imposed static triers.

    “Expressly and repeatedly, counsel wanted rotating triers. Yet the trial judge forged ahead, despite the entreaties of defence counsel, without any inquiries of the trial Crown about her position and seemingly oblivious to the confining language of the enabling legislation,” Watt wrote.

    At least one other case presided by Ewaschuk has seen its verdict overturned on appeal over the same issue.

    Lawyer Dirk Derstine, who represents Husbands, said Friday’s decision was not surprising.

    “There’s been a lot of cases which dealt with similar situations involving this judge which came to the same conclusion,” Derstine said. “He had a very real belief that what he was doing was legal and proper and the Court of Appeal has found on a number of occasions that it was not correct.”

    It could take more than a year before a new trial for Husbands gets underway, he said, noting that his client is “looking forward to getting a fair trial this time.”

    Husbands was acquitted more than two years ago of first-degree murder but was found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Nixon Nirmalendran, 22, and Ahmed Hassan, 24.

    He was also found guilty of five counts of aggravated assault and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

    Husbands, whose lawyers had put forward a defence of not criminally responsible due to post-traumatic stress disorder, was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 30 years.

    Since the first-degree murder acquittal was not challenged, Husbands’ new trial will be on charges of second-degree murder, as well as aggravated assault and criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

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    One step back for two steps forward — the homemade staircase built by a 73-year-old Etobicoke resident in Tom Riley Park has been taken down, but he says he’s been told it will be replaced by an official, city-made staircase for $10,000.

    The DIY staircase was built to solve a problem it seemed the city wouldn’t, at least at a reasonable cost. To access the Etobicoke park from Bloor St. W., people would have to make their way down a steep hill, something Adi Astl felt was too dangerous.

    “I’ve been watching people tumbling down the slope and hurting themselves,” Astl said Friday. “I said there’s got to be a better way.”

    But when he suggested the city build a staircase, the city came back with a price tag of $65,000 to $150,000 to build it. So Astl, a retired mechanic, took matters into his own hands and built a wooden staircase for $550.

    “It was crazy,” he said. “This is only eight steps, not 100 steps and wide like Taj Mahal. For me, I said I can build this thing for almost nothing. I took a chance.”

    But city inspectors quickly roped it off, declaring it unsafe because it wasn’t built to regulation standards.

    To Astl, the issue boiled down to “bureaucrats, bureaucrats, bureaucrats.”

    “A bureaucrat, you can’t fault his way because he’s told to go straight. Even when I would go left, he has to be told to go straight,” Astl said. “He’s not allowed to think on his own and say ‘maybe I should go left.’ The only way to change anything is you need to change the thinking at the top.”

    Some pointed out a number of flaws in the design of Astl’s staircase, such as a gap in its platform, the lack of a concrete foundation, its risers and railing sitting on mud or gravel, and an unstable handrail.

    After widespread media attention, city staff removed Astl’s steps Friday morning, but began working on new ones, which he’s been told will cost $10,000.

    Astl said he received a phone call Thursday evening from Mayor John Tory, thanking him for bringing the issue to the public’s attention. Tory tweeted a statement Friday that Astl’s “homemade steps have sent a message that I know city staff have heard loud and clear.”

    Tory called the initial cost estimate of the steps “absolutely ridiculous and out of whack with reality.”

    “I’m not happy that these kinds of outrageous project cost estimates are even possible,” he stated. “I’ll be working to identify what changes we can put in place to make sure this doesn’t continue to happen.”

    Astl said he’s been told the steps should be ready by next Friday.

    “These people in the park have been asking for stairs for 10 years,” said his wife Gail Rutherford. “It’s a long time. So now they’re being done in 10 days.”

    The ordeal has made Astl somewhat of a celebrity in his community, as he says people are thrilled his efforts led to change.

    “Everybody shakes hands, some people walk around and take selfies with me,” he laughs. “Everybody’s happy.”

    Tory stated that anything the city builds must be deemed safe and able to stand the test of time. He said the city must always look to solve problems using simple and cost-effective solutions.

    The new city-built stairs will be “safe, durable and reasonably priced,” Tory declared.

    “That was my goal,” Astl said. “I’m just a little guy. I just did something.”

    0 0

    Royal LePage CEO Phil Soper says that, like a lot of chief executives, he is prone to optimism.

    But that didn’t stop him from calling Toronto the least healthy housing market in the country when prices were galloping ahead in the double digits in the first quarter of the year, peaking at 33 per cent year over year in March.

    Soper says it’s not self-interest as a realtor that leads him to believe that Toronto’s slumped market will recover in the same way as Vancouver’s has. That market has lately rebounded after the B.C. government imposed a foreign buyers tax last summer, paving the way for Ontario to introduce a similar levy on non-resident transactions.

    Read more:

    Plunging GTA home sales lead to biggest national monthly decline since 2010

    More first-time home buyers putting purchases on hold after Ontario introduces new measures

    GTA home sales slump continuing in June

    But does the situation today resemble the last big Canadian housing correction in 2009? Is it a crash rather than a bump? Soper doesn’t think so.

    The last major national housing correction followed the global economic crisis in 2008. The conditions simply aren’t there this time for a major market meltdown in Canada, says Soper.

    “It’s very rare to see employment improving, the economy expanding — to see inflation under control and to see a significant collapse of the housing market,” he said.

    But he doesn’t deny there are unknowns — NAFTA, for example.

    “The most obvious external downside risk is the trade negotiations between Canada and the U.S.,” he said.

    “A significant negative outcome on trade wouldn’t have immediate impact on our economy, but it would have immediate impact on consumer confidence.”

    Nor does Soper suggest that the recent Vancouver correction wasn’t serious.

    “People say it wasn’t that bad (in Vancouver) because prices were only down by a couple of percentage points,” he said. “But they were going up by 30 per cent, so the trend reversed itself by some 30 to 35 per cent in weeks.

    “It was a very significant change in the direction of that market and a significant downturn.”

    Royal LePage calculates that the Vancouver housing correction took about $750 million out of the economy in ancillary spending such as home renovations, furnishings and lawyers fees.

    In Ontario, the slowdown will continue for a while, says Lu Han at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

    “The (Toronto area) market still needs time to absorb how the buyers and sellers are going to react to the policy,” said Han, who’s the academic director for the Centre for Real Estate and Urban Economics.

    Toronto Real Estate Board’s mid-month numbers for July show sales down 39.3 per cent year over year in the first 14 days of the month. On Monday, the Canadian Real Estate Association said a 15 per cent drop in sales in June in the Toronto region led to the largest decline in national sales in seven years.

    Provincial Liberal government policy, along with tighter lending restrictions and rising interest rates makes consumers more anxious in the short-term, but are all designed to ease affordability challenges longer term, says Han.

    “The rising interest rate will increase the costs for borrowing, but the house price is going to be reduced in the longer run as a consequence of these policies. So, in that sense, it is going to make housing more affordable in the future,” she said.

    While some sellers and buyers may have been caught in the sudden turnaround of the market this spring, the pause in the market frenzy is welcome, says James McKellar, a professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University.

    “When I say this downturn is good news, I mean it begins to challenge some assumptions we’ve made that the house price will go up — that we can always afford more, that we can consume more,” he said.

    In the 1950s, Canadians consumed about 300 sq. ft. of space per person. Today it is about 1,000 sq.ft.

    The correction also gives governments some breathing room to reconsider the supply part of the equation, said McKellar.

    More people, including the growing number of tech and creative sector workers, want to live in cities. Governments need to re-think what living there looks like apart from condo towers.

    “On the one hand the province is saying 40 per cent of all growth must be directed into inner cities and, on the other hand, the city is saying we have to protect existing neighbourhoods. There’s a conflict at the policy level. We’re protecting these old neighbourhoods but we’re not re-generating them with new people,” he said.

    McKellar contends that the current scenario has come as a shock because most Canadians don’t remember or have never seen it before. (He calls the 2008 housing market “a slight downturn.”)

    “We haven’t had a downturn really since 1991. It took from 1991 until 2004 for house prices to recover. The problem is that most of us have thought the good times go forever. This is a good signal that gravity still exists,” he said.

    Toronto realtor John Pasalis doesn’t discount the role of the press and social media in the almost overnight drop in home sales. Headlines about crashes and bubbles make consumers anxious.

    “It probably pulled many buyers out of the market. In the past, when news wasn’t as timely and everyone relied on what friends were saying, it prolonged the run-up,” he said.

    Pasalis was among the first Toronto-area realtors to raise concerns about the sustainability of the double-digit increases in the Toronto market. But he’s adamant that the doomsayers suggesting that values will decline severely are wrong.

    “We’d have to have a massive depression,” he said.

    He thinks the market will remain soft through the fall, but says there are signs that buyers are starting to look again and get ready to dip back into the market.

    “The big unknown is what the listings are going to be like in the fall. I think we’re going to see a lot of new listings in the fall. A lot of the people who can’t sell now are going to re-list,” he said.

    “If listings increase more than buyers increase you’re still going to have a soft market,” said Pasalis.

    Whatever happens the rest of the year, Toronto housing is probably a safe bet, said Han.

    “Toronto is a very attractive destination. It offers great consumption amenities but also great job opportunities,” she said. “When people try to buy a house here they’re not just buying a physical house, they’re buying this location — they’re buying the whole package including the infrastructure in the city, the transportation here, all the culture, the amenities here.

    “That itself is a very strong fundamental that would sustain the house price growth here.”

    0 0

    Toronto Star readers have helped a female genital mutilation survivor raise the funds she needs to have reconstructive surgery in the United States.

    Last week, the Star published the story of Yasmin Mumed— a 23-year-old University of Guelph student who was subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) at the age of 6 in her village in Ethiopia. Since, dozens of people have helped her reach her fundraising goal of $6,650 through her GoFundMe page.

    The surgery itself is free, covered by a Las Vegas based organization, Clitoraid. The funds raised will be used to pay for transportation for Mumed and a support person. As well as prescription drugs and a hotel while she is recovering from the surgery.

    Mumed said this week she was touched by donations made by people she knew but had lost touch with, including an elementary school classmate who wrote on the GoFundMe page that she remembered Mumed’s “beautiful smile” and a high school drama teacher who Mumed said always “made me feel smart.”

    “You are even more amazing than I thought way back when you were in my class,” wrote her former teacher, Fiona McPhaden, on the page.

    Mumed added she was surprised by the many strangers who donated. “People were giving so much for someone they only knew through a story,” she said.

    Alongside a donation of $25, Megan Radford de Barrientos wrote: “I hope this surgery brings you hope and that your story encourages the government and the medical community in Canada to reassess their services to women who have gone through this, or girls who are at risk. Your courage is inspiring.”

    Female genital mutilation — also known as female genital cutting — varies from partial removal of the clitoris to its most severe form, a procedure known as infibulation, in which the clitoris and labia are excised and the vulva stitched together, leaving only a small opening.

    It has no health benefits for girls and women and can cause severe bleeding, problems with urination, and later cysts, infections, complications in childbirth and an increased risk of death for newborns, according to the World Health Organization. It can also deny women sexual pleasure.

    FGM affects more than 200 million women worldwide, according to UNICEF.

    Read more: ‘I just remember screaming’: Toronto FGM survivor recalls the day she was cut

    Mumed, who immigrated to Canada when she was 9 and grew up in Scarborough, is currently on a waitlist to have surgery with Dr. Marci Bowers, a California-based gynecologist who has performed more than 250 operations on women who have had FGM. The surgery removes the scar tissue from the clitoris and cuts ligaments around it, allowing it to descend, in the hopes of giving the woman back some sensation.

    Mumed’s clitoris and part of her labia was cut with a razor blade in a darkened room when she was just a child. She remembers a group of women holding down her arms and legs. The piercing pain. And then the blood.

    Having pushed the cutting out of her mind for many years, she didn’t remember what had happened to her until she became sexually active in her teens. She recently looked for support services in the Toronto area to help her live with the anxiety and confusion she was feeling because of the cutting, and to help her navigate day-to-day life, including dating. That’s when she found Dr. Bowers.

    The surgery has given Mumed hope. And, more importantly, she says, it has given her choice.

    “It’s something that was taken away from me without my consent,” she said of her cutting, adding that she is pursuing the surgery to have “that power back.”

    “I’ve made a decision over my body and I’m choosing to do it.”

    In addition to the donations, Mumed said she has been getting support from her friends and community, including women who, after reading her story, told her that they are now having conversations with their mothers, who have been cut, about FGM. Young men have called her to say that they are now thinking about the harmful effects FGM has on women, she said.

    She is happy to hear this, she says, because she did not make the difficult decision to speak publicly about such a sensitive topic because she wanted people to feel sorry for her. “I’m a warrior,” she says, smiling.

    She wanted to help empower young women like her, particularly Black Muslim women like her, to address FGM.

    “We can actually start talking to our moms, our grandparents, our cousins,” says Mumed. “This is how we stop it.”

    FGM is practised in 29 countries, mainly in Africa, the Middle East, India and other parts of Asia. It is seen by some as a rite of passage into womanhood or a condition of marriage. It occurs in both Islamic and Christian communities, but is largely a cultural tradition that dates back hundreds of years. In many areas, there is huge social pressure on families to have their daughters cut.

    An ongoing Star investigation has previously revealed that the federal government knows Canadian girls are being sent abroad to be subjected to FGM and is lagging far behind other developed countries in its efforts to prevent it. Experts say there is also a lack of support services in Canada available for women living with the physical and psychological effects of FGM, regardless of when and where it happened to them.

    In Ontario, some women have asked their doctors to reverse the most severe type of FGM. According to provincial records, in the past seven years Ontario has performed 308 “repairs of infibulations,” a surgery that creates a vaginal opening where it has been sewn mostly shut. There are currently no known procedures in Canada that replace tissue.

    Jayme Poisson can be reached at or (416) 814-2725

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    PETERBOROUGH—A driver has been charged after a dramatic video showed a 74-year-old cyclist viciously attacked on the side of the road with a club.

    Peterborough police said that just after 11 a.m. Tuesday, the cyclist was riding in the area of Erskine Ave. when an argument broke out between him and a truck driver.

    The driver climbed out of his truck and attacked the cyclist with a small club, police said.

    The video shows the cyclist on the ground with his attacker on top of him, striking him over and over in the head and torso. It shows the attacker stopping when witnesses approached and intervened.

    A truck sits beside them, with a bicycle crumpled on the street in front of the vehicle. The victim was seen bleeding profusely as he walked away.

    “I’m filming all of this,” the woman, who recorded the video, says as the driver gets back up and flicks blood off of his hands.

    The driver’s only defence was an adamant, and repeated, “I tried to walk away.”

    The driver then fled the scene in his truck.

    “Where am I bleeding?” the cyclist asks the woman recording.

    “Everywhere,” she replys.

    The woman asked for her name to be withheld when later contacted by Peterborough This Week.

    “The sound of the club hitting him was sickening,” the woman told the newspaper. “Blood was flying off it.”

    She said she didn’t witness what led to the encounter.

    “They were flailing their arms around and the guy walked back to his truck,” she said.

    She grabbed her phone to take a photo of the truck because she thought the cyclist might have been hit. Little did she know what the driver would do next.

    “He became enraged and you could see him snap in the truck,” she said.

    She continued recording and ran towards the men while yelling for the attacker to get off the bloodied man.

    When the woman and a handful of motorists came to the aid of the cyclist, the driver stopped, put the bloody club in his pocket and wiped blood from his own face.

    The woman helped the cyclist up from the ground and tried to stop the bleeding until paramedics arrived.

    “I didn’t know how bad it was because there was so much blood,” she said. “It was pouring down his face and he couldn’t see out of his eyes.”

    Additional witnesses tried to keep the driver in the area until police arrived but he drove off in his truck. The woman is afraid of what would have happened to the man if no one was around.

    “He attacked a senior man and drove away,” she said.

    The witness said she’s getting tired of people doing horrible things and getting away with them.

    “It is getting harder and harder to see that every day,” she said. “They have zero repercussions”

    Police made an arrest about an hour later. The cyclist was treated and released from Peterborough Regional Hospital. Police said the two men did not know each other.

    David Fox, 65, has been charged with aggravated assault and assault with a weapon. He was released from custody and scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 24.

    With files from Alexandra Jones

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    WASHINGTON—White House press secretary Sean Spicer abruptly resigned his position Friday, ending a rocky six-month tenure that made his news briefings defending President Donald Trump must-see TV. He said Trump’s White House “could benefit from a clean slate.”

    Spicer quit in protest over the hiring of a new White House communications director, New York financier Anthony Scaramucci, objecting to what Spicer considered his lack of qualifications and to the direction of the press operation, according to people familiar with the situation.

    Trump offered Scaramucci the job at 10 a.m. The president requested that Spicer stay on, but Spicer told Trump that he believed the appointment was a major mistake, according to person with direct knowledge of the exchange.

    Read more: Meet Anthony Scaramucci, the fierce Trump loyalist who sparked Sean Spicer’s resignation

    As his first act on the job, Scaramucci announced that Sarah Huckabee Sanders would be the new press secretary. She had been Spicer’s deputy.

    The shakeup on the communications team comes as Trump is suffering from dismal approval ratings and struggling to advance his agenda. The president has been frustrated by all the attention devoted to investigations of allegations of his election campaign’s connections to Russia.

    Trump, who watches the press briefings closely and believes he is his own best spokesman, in a statement saluted Spicer’s “great ratings” on TV and said he was “grateful for Sean’s work on behalf of my administration and the American people.”

    Scaramucci, in a briefing room appearance after his appointment was made official, flashed the television skills that Trump has long valued: He praised Trump’s political instincts and competitiveness, cracked a few self-deprecating jokes and battled with reporters who categorized the West Wing as dysfunctional, saying “there is a disconnect” between the media and the way the public sees the president.

    Spicer said during a brief phone conversation with The Associated Press that he felt it would be best for Scaramucci to build his own operation “and chart a new way forward.” He tweeted that it had been an “honour” and “privilege” to serve Trump and that he would remain in his post through August.

    His decision to quit was sudden and took advisers inside and outside the White House by surprise, according to the people with knowledge of the decision. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the personnel matter publicly.

    Spicer’s daily press briefings had become must-watch television until recent weeks when he took on a more behind-the-scenes role. Sanders had largely taken over the briefings, turning them into off-camera events.

    Scaramucci did not commit to putting the briefings back on camera full-time. He also made clear that he would continue the West Wing’s plan to push back against media reports it doesn’t like — and would do a better job of selling its victories.

    “The president is a winner. And we’re going to do a lot of winning,” Scaramucci said.

    Spicer had long sought the strategic communications job for himself and had been managing that role along with his press secretary duties for nearly two months.

    Spicer spent several years leading communications at the Republican National Committee before helping Trump’s campaign in the general election. He is close to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, the former RNC chair, and several of the lower-ranking aides in the White House communications shop.

    Priebus told The Associated Press that he supports Scaramucci “100 per cent,” despite reportedly trying to prevent the financier from getting multiple administration positions.

    “We go back a long, long way and are very good friends,” Priebus said of Scaramucci. “All good here.”

    Spicer also complimented Scaramucci, a New York financier and frequent defender of the president who was a staple at Trump Tower during the president’s transition, saying “It’ll be great, he’s a tough guy.”

    Scaramucci is expected to play a visible role as one of Trump’s defenders on television. But Spicer and other officials questioned his hiring as communications director ahead of the president’s push to overhaul the tax system and other policy issues.

    Spicer and other press staffers had been feeling that they finally had the press shop operating effectively, aside from matters related to the Russia investigation, said one of the people familiar with the situation.

    Scaramucci’s hire was a surprise. He had been told by the administration that he would be nominated as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an intergovernmental economic organization that includes the world’s better-off countries.

    Spicer’s tenure got off to a rocky start. On Trump’s first full day in office, he lambasted journalists over coverage of the crowd size at the inauguration and stormed out of the briefing room without answering questions.

    Spicer, who often displayed a fiery demeanour in tense on-camera exchanges with reporters, became part of culture in the way few people in his job have, particularly through an indelible impersonation by Melissa McCarthy on NBC’s Saturday Night Live.

    She portrayed Spicer as a hostile figure who tore through the briefing room on a portable podium, willing to attack the press.

    A Roman Catholic, Spicer was dealt a blow when Trump excluded him from a group of White House staffers and Trump family members who got to meet Pope Francis when Trump visited the Vatican during his first foreign trip in May.

    Spicer remained loyal to Trump but frequently battled perceptions that he was not plugged in to what the president was thinking, and had to worry that Trump was watching and critiquing his performance from the Oval Office.

    The resignation comes a day after Mark Corallo, the spokesman for the president’s outside legal team, left his post. And in a separate move, former White House aide Katie Walsh is returning to the RNC, spokesman Ryan Mahoney said. Walsh will serve as an adviser on data and digital issues, and the appointment is unrelated to the White House personnel changes, he said.

    With files from The New York Times

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    Talking to John Bil will change the way you look at seafood. The co-owner of Honest Weight seafood restaurant and shop in The Junction got his start shucking and sorting oysters at an oyster farm nearly three decades ago. Since then, he has become the go-to seafood guy for some of Canada’s top restaurants such as Joe Beef, La Banane and Cabane à Sucre, the sister restaurant of Au Pied de Cochon.

    Bil champions B.C. spot prawns, gulf shrimp and Ontario-raised shrimp over the cheaper black tiger variety that are harvested overseas often under questionable environmental and labour practices. He recommends mussels to his regular customers because they’re both affordable and sustainable.

    The 49-year-old is putting his knowledge into a book, equipping seafood lovers with information on fishing practices, advancements in aquaculture and what it’s like to work in the fishing industry.

    “It’s a passion project, whether it’s because I feel like I have limited time or it’s something I can leave behind, not to sound morbid,” he says from his home in the St. Clair Ave. W. area.

    His lifelong goal is educating people on consuming sustainable seafood, but he’s not sure if he’ll be around much longer to continue his mission. Bil has Stage 4 melanoma, the most advanced stage of skin cancer, and it has spread to other organs and tissue.

    These days, the former competitive cyclist and marathon runner can’t bike as far or run as fast as he’d like; part of his lungs have been removed along with two feet of intestine. There are days when he can’t get out of bed, when he has no desire to eat.

    He needs another surgery to remove yet another tumour from his intestine. Over the last year, he has stepped back from his restaurant letting co-owner Victoria Bazan take over most of the management duties.

    But Bil has outlived his original prognosis by a year, and has no plans to stop satisfyinghis of obsession championing the best seafood.

    The go-to guy

    The Toronto native grew up around farms, but never worked on one, although he always wanted to. After shucking oysters for two years at the Toronto dining institution Rodney’s Oyster House, in 1992 he drove to Prince Edward Island and got a job at an oyster farm cleaning mollusks in a cold and wet industrial building.

    “I realized how important seafood is to those towns and the fabric of the Maritimes,” he says. “We can buy super cheap products from other countries, but then those towns that rely on the lobster or mussel plant wouldn’t exist. It became so important to promote these products.”

    Five years later he was selling oysters — driving to Boston, New York, Toronto and Montreal to meet with chefs. During one trip to Montreal in 2000, Bil befriended Dave McMillan and Fred Morin, two chefs who five years later would enlist Bil to help open Joe Beef, now considered one of Canada’s best restaurants.

    “Canada is one of the best places in the world to eat seafood and he’s one of the reasons why,” says McMillan, recalling how Bil would drive for hours to meet with a farmer to try some obscure species of oyster before bringing it to the restaurant. While Joe Beef was getting ready to open, Bil lived in Morin’s parents’ basement.

    Morin later introduced Bil to Au Pied de Cochon’s celebrated chef Martin Picard and Bil was soon working the seafood bar at Picard’s offshoot restaurant Cabane à Sucre, a rural sugar shack an hour’s drive south of Montreal. Not wanting to make the long commute, Bil cleared a shelf in a closet at the restaurant and turned it into a bed, unbeknownst to Picard.

    Bil’s accommodations were upgraded in 2010 at his next endeavour: The Michelin-starred M. Wells Steakhouse in New York City, co-owned by Hugue Dufour, a former chef at Picard’s restaurants. While the place was coming together, Bil lived in an Airstream trailer parked behind the restaurant. By now, Bil had a reputation among his chef friends as the guy who’d swoop in to do the odd jobs necessary to open a restaurant when time and money were running out.

    A week before M. Wells was to open, Dufour was down with the flu so Bil took to overseeing the construction of a trout tank, rigging up the filter system and transferring 80 live trout from the hatchery in Long Island back to the restaurant in Queens. He spent the night adjusting the water pump and filter to make sure the fish stayed alive.

    Bil returned to P.E.I. to open Ship to Shore, a seasonal seafood restaurant that En Route magazine named one of the best new restaurants of 2009 for highlighting the best of what the Maritimes has to offer.

    Keep on shucking

    It was during an oyster off-season visit in Toronto in 2013 that he noticed a bump on his back.

    “I went to a clinic and two weeks later I got a call from Sunnybrook (Hospital) that it was cancerous,” he says. The cancer has spread to his lymph nodes. After a round of chemotherapy, the cancer was later found in his lungs.

    He stayed in Toronto for treatment, but he didn’t slow down. He opened Honest Weight with Bazan in January 2015. Diners loved it for its simple preparation of seafood — pan-seared, raw or steamed — that showcased the fishes’ flavours.

    It was here that Bil met his wife, Sheila Flaherty, a wine importer he knew through the food industry. She came to the newly opened restaurant with a congratulatory bottle of wine as a gesture of good will. In return, he asked her out.

    “It’s a very unconventional first date when someone tells you they have Stage 4 melanoma,” she says. “But it wasn’t a reason not to pursue someone I had a big crush on. Who knows what’s going to happen to any of us? So we went on the second, third and fourth dates, and we got married last October.”

    Flaherty describes Bil as someone who pushes the restaurant industry, whether it’s providing a memorable dining experience or improving working conditions in an industry notorious for low wages.

    His servers and cooks already make above the current minimum wage and tips are pooled to get rid of the wage discrepancy between the front and back-of-house, resulting in the average wage being $20 to $25 an hour. He and Bazan also reimburse employees for dental work.

    “This goes back to treating people who make your food well whether they’re cooks or farmers,” he says. “You have to care for both.”

    In return, the restaurant industry has rallied around him. Last summer, as part of the Luminato arts festival, he and Morin turned the control room of the abandoned Hearn Generating Station in Toronto’s Port Lands into Le Le Pavillon, a luxurious French restaurant. To build a fully-functioning restaurant on the second floor of an abandoned power plant that had no kitchen, running water, or even a staircase to safely climb up was a logistical nightmare, but once everything was built to code — as McMillan puts it — “For two weeks it was the best restaurant in Canada.”

    Diners literally ran into the Hearn to put their name on the restaurant’s wait-list, which was booked in minutes. Restaurant industry heavyweights such as The Black Hoof owner Jen Agg, Niagara College chef Michael Olson, and Montreal’s Nora Gray owners Ryan Gray and Emma Cardarelli worked as cooks and hosts. Just as Bil was there for his friends when they needed him, the restaurant community remains loyal to him.

    McMillan has flown into town to be with a recuperating Bil at his home. When Bil was recovering from surgery at Sunnybook Health Science Centre last winter, Morin drove from Montreal to cook a steak dinner over a charcoal grill on the back of his truck in the hospital parking lot. Not to be outdone, the owners of Edulis, Tobey Nemeth and Michael Caballo, sent lunch — truffle soup and prunes soaked in Armagnac — to the hospital’s oncology wing.

    “The nurses were so puzzled at the sight,” Bil recalls. “It really made it easier to get through the day and it’s impossible to thank people like that.”

    The day after this interview, Bil and Flaherty were off to the Catskill Mountains for their long-overdue honeymoon — with a stop in Montreal to visit McMillan and Morin.

    Bil has accepted that he likely won’t be around in the next two or three years, but continues to work on his book, help chefs with pop-ups around the city and build his decades-long reputation for upping the quality of seafood in Canada.

    “Having opened Honest Weight and having done Le Pavillon, I think the takeaway won’t be that I have cancer,” he says. “I hope the story is about what I’ve done, not what I have.”

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    U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out Saturday morning at a new Washington Post report of previously undisclosed alleged contacts between allies of his campaign and Russian government officials, calling the disclosures “illegal leaks” as he continues to try to shift the public focus to what he has said is a partisan attempt to undermine his presidency.

    “A new INTELLIGENCE LEAK from the Amazon Washington Post, this time against A.G. Jeff Sessions.These illegal leaks, like Comey’s, must stop!”

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 22, 2017

    The Washington Post reported late Friday that U.S. intelligence officials had collected information that Russia’s ambassador to the United States had told superiors that he had discussed campaign-related matters and policies important to Moscow last year with Jeff Sessions, then a senator who had endorsed Trump.

    Sessions, who is now attorney general, had initially failed to disclose his meetings with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during his confirmation process; when they were made public in news reports, he insisted he had met with Kislyak only in his capacity as a senator and had not discussed campaign issues. But U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted communications that showed Kislyak indicated he had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.

    Trump has denounced what he has called illegal leaks in the ongoing FBI investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russian officials. U.S. intelligence agencies have said Moscow meddled in the campaign, stealing thousands of emails and other documents from Democratic Party officials and releasing them publicly to embarrass Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and to assist Trump. Trump has said repeatedly that he did not collude with Russian officials and called accounts of the meetings between his campaign and Russian operatives a partisan attack by Democrats to avenge their loss in the election. But he and some of his top aides have hired private criminal defense lawyers to deal with the probe.

    In his tweet, Trump was referring to former FBI director James Comey, whom the president fired over his handling of the Russia probe. Comey later testified to Congress that he had felt pressure from Trump over the investigation and, after he was dismissed, released memos of his encounters with Trump to the media. The public disclosures helped lead to a special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, taking over the investigation. (Trump’s tweet also refers to Amazon, the online retailer led by Jeffrey P. Bezos, who also owns The Post.)

    A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on what she called a “wholly uncorroborated intelligence intercept” and reiterated that Sessions had not discuss interference in the election. Trump has been angered by Sessions’ role in the Russia probe after the attorney general recused himself. The president told The New York Times this week that he would not have named Sessions to the post if he had known he would do so.

    Trump also alluded to another Post report this week that he has inquired of his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself. Trump aides said the president is merely curious about his powers and the limits of Mueller’s investigation.

    “While all agree the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us. FAKE NEWS”

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 22, 2017

    As he has before, Trump also reiterated on Twitter his view that Clinton’s campaign should be under greater scrutiny and he contended that his son, Donald Trump Jr., “openly” disclosed emails concerning a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign -- even though Trump Jr. did so after The New York Times obtained the emails and was preparing to publish a story on them.

    And in another tweet, Trump attacked the Times for reports that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose death in a Russian airstrike had been speculated last month, is still alive, according to Pentagon officials. It is not clear why the president holds the Times responsible.

    Trump is scheduled to participate Saturday in a commissioning ceremony for the USS Gerald Ford in Norfolk. His tweets came a day after Sean Spicer resigned as press secretary in the wake of Trump’s hiring of New York financier Anthony Scaramucci as his communications director. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was promoted to the press secretary role.

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    SOUTHPORT, ENGLAND—Branden Grace set the new standard for scoring in the majors Saturday with a 62 in the British Open, the lowest score ever recorded in 442 major championships.

    Grace pounced on a serene day that was ideal for scoring at Royal Birkdale. He moved to 8-under par for the round with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 17th, and then wrapped up the record with a beautiful lag from behind the 18th green to 2 feet.

    From the time Johnny Miller shot his famous 63 in the final round at Oakmont to win the 1973 U.S. Open, a 63 was posted in the majors 30 more times, most recently by Justin Thomas in the U.S. Open last month at Erin Hills.

    No one ever got lower until Grace.

    “Look at that number! That is sweet,” Miller said from the broadcast booth at Royal Birkdale.

    Grace went out in 29 and seemed to stall until a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-3 14th put him at 7 under with two par 5s ahead of him. He missed an opportunity on the 15th hole, but drilled his tee shot on the 17th and easily hit the green for his two-putt birdie.

    “A special day,” Grace said.

    With his name in the record book, still to be determined was whether he had a chance to add his name to the claret jug. Grace, who made the cut by one shot, finished at 4-under 206. He was two shots behind Jordan Spieth, who was on the range still warming up.

    And there were plenty of low scores offered on this day at Royal Birkdale.

    Grace was oblivious to all of it, falling into a steady diet of fairways and greens, and making enough putts.

    “I had no idea whatsoever that was the lowest,” Grace said. “I was so in the zone, playing so well. I was just trying to finish the round without a bogey. Sometimes it helps not knowing these things.”

    And it helped playing with Jason Dufner and his dry sense of humour. Dufner shot a 66.

    “It’s kind of neat to be a part of history,” Dufner said. “It’s a great experience for him. It was semi-cool for me.”

    Dufner was among those who had a chance to first break the 63 barrier. He had a 10-foot birdie putt for 62 in the second round of the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill that he left short.

    Grace’s record score came one year after Phil Mickelson almost became the first to shoot 62 until his birdie putt on the 18th at Royal Troon in the first round swirled around the edge of the cup.

    Tiger Woods had a vicious lip-out in his bid for 62 in the second round of the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills. And then there was Jack Nicklaus in the first round of Baltusrol for the 1980 U.S. Open. He missed a 3-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole and had to settle for a 63.

    Grace’s record score came 44 years after Miller was the first to shoot 63 in a major. Miller’s record was 33 years after Lloyd Mangrum was the first to shoot 64 in a major, at the 1940 Masters.

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    As the sun set on C. W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute, a tearful crowd mourned a life cut short, sharing hugs and lighting candles in memory of Jeremiah Perry, the 15-year-old boy who died too soon.

    Around 100 classmates, school staff and community members joined his parents and siblings at the Friday night vigil on the grounds of the school where Perry had been a Grade 9 student.

    His family gathered at the front of the crowd, embracing and lighting candles to remember the young teenager who died on what was supposed to be a harmless outdoor class trip.

    “Jeremiah’s life was too short,” said Jocelyn Anderson, Perry’s aunt, speaking through tears on behalf of the family. “Our family is short one of our beloved children.”

    Perry went missing on a Toronto District School Board canoe trip on July 4. He had been with other students when he slipped underwater and did not resurface. He was found deceased the next day in Big Trout Lake.

    Friday’s vigil for Perry was a quiet and emotional affair for the student who had been excited for a class trip into Algonquin yet, according to his father, did not know how to swim.

    Abdul Shakur was Perry’s science teacher, after he arrived at C.W. Jefferys late in the semester as a new immigrant from Guyana. Shakur is also from Guyana and formed a special bond with Perry, spending hours tutoring him and helping him get his marks up.

    Perry struggled when he first came to his class, Shakur said. He was a polite and loving boy, but he lacked self confidence and struggled with school. But in a few short months, the science teacher watched Perry blossom — socially and academically.

    “He had an indomitable spirit to learn,” said Shakur, noting how Perry started socializing as he marks went up, and before long he was joking with the other kids in class, self confidence skyrocketing.

    “In the end he was on equal footing with the rest of the class. It’s just very sad to know that in the end, he just disappeared from your life. “

    A few days before the July class trip to Algonquin Park, Shakur saw Perry wandering the halls at school, trying to find out his marks.

    “I told him, you passed!” Shakur said. “He was so excited, he gave me one of the biggest bear hugs.”

    It would be the last time the teacher would ever see Perry.

    As classmates and family lit candles at the end of Friday’s service, flames flickered in the gentle breeze.

    “Some of us are struggling to keep the flame alive,” Jocelyn Anderson said. “But that’s life. It’s fragile.”

    A funeral service for Perry will be held on Monday morning at Revivaltime Tabernacle church, said Joshua Anderson, Perry’s father. The service will be open to the public. Perry will be buried at Beachwood Cemetery afterward.

    The Office of the Chief Coroner and Ontario Provincial Police are investigating Perry’s death. The TDSB is also looking into what happened to determine if all the proper safety procedures were followed.

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    WASHINGTON—Laughably dishonest, relentlessly combative and impossible to not watch, Sean Spicer was the perfect spokesperson for Donald Trump.

    And now he’s taking his props and going home.

    Six months and one day into his tenure as the president’s chief public propagandist, the White House press secretary famously skewered on Saturday Night Live resigned Friday after a long string of self-inflicted and Trump-inflicted humiliations.

    Spicer had become an improbable celebrity, an afternoon sensation whose televised briefings produced almost no useful information but drew more viewers than General Hospital. Trump, a television obsessive who often watched The Spicer Show himself, bragged about Spicer’s ratings as if they were evidence of his own popularity.

    They were not.

    Viewers were tuning in for the political equivalent of the four-alarm-fire coverage on the local newscast, and other aides knew the briefings were going badly even if the president didn’t. When new communications director Anthony Scaramucci and new press secretary Sarah Sanders took the podium after Spicer’s resignation, it was the first on-camera briefing in three weeks.

    In truth, Spicer was always an odd hire for Trump: stammering for a president who cherishes smooth; rumpled where the president prefers suave; a loyal party man for an outsider president suspicious of his party.

    What he did have was a willingness to lie. All the time. About virtually everything.

    Read more:Donald Trump said 414 false things in his first six months. Here’s what we’ve learned

    Spicer’s first post-inauguration briefing set the tone for the rest. Slamming the news media for alleged unfairness, he declared that Trump’s inauguration had drawn the largest crowd of all time, “period.” It was not even close.

    The performance was aimed, as many of Spicer’s future deceitful performances were, at an audience of one. Spicer often appeared to be striving to please Trump rather than serve any particular strategic goal.

    Spicer could be helpful and charming to reporters in private. Republicans who know him sympathized with his plight: trying to explain and defend the words and acts of a president prone to the inexplicable and incomprehensible.

    Hs attempts at spin were regularly undermined by Trump himself. After Spicer insisted that Trump’s policy on travellers from seven (later six) Muslim countries was “not a travel ban,” Trump tweeted: “I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!”

    Spicer frequently appeared out of the decision-making loop, time and again telling questioners that he would have to get back to them. At times, he attempted to subtly indicate that he did not personally share Trump’s inaccurate views.

    “He has been, was, and will be again well-respected in this town. He took on a role that redefines impossible. In the dictionary, ‘impossible’: the definition’s going to be ‘spokesman for Donald Trump,’ ” Rich Galen, former press secretary for prominent Republican legislators Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich, said in an interview.

    But nobody was forcing Spicer to stick around to do Trump’s dissembling.

    “Being Donald Trump’s press secretary is probably an impossible job but Sean’s willingness to lie and debase himself and the office was particularly noteworthy,” Dan Pfeiffer, who was Obama’s White House communications director, said in a message to the Star. “He chose to lie and undermine the traditional role of the media, so he has no one to blame but himself.”

    Press secretaries have always sparred with reporters. Under Spicer, the usual chiding gave way to an all-out assault. Spicer depicted obvious questions as bias, reporting of verifiable facts as “shameful.”

    Much of Trump’s base appeared to delight in the lambasting. But Spicer’s words alarmed democratic watchdogs who worried about the consequences of such broad disparagement of the press. His diatribes were so outlandish that he became SNL gold for Melissa McCarthy, who played him as a raging, puppet-wielding imbecile.

    Trump, Politico reported, was bothered — less that his spokesperson was being depicted as an inept liar than that his spokesman was being played by a woman.

    Even as he professed continued support in public, Trump was reportedly cruel to Spicer in private. Spicer, a Catholic, let it be known that he badly wanted to meet the Pope during Trump’s May visit to the Vatican. Trump left Spicer off the list.

    Spicer suffered through, though he moved to a less visible role in June. His final straw, according to the New York Times, was Trump’s Friday decision to hire Scaramucci, a well-coiffed, well-dressed financier with almost no political experience, as communications director.

    Scaramucci, a regular guest on Fox News, delivered a hyperbolic first performance on Friday in which he declared his “love” for Trump and hailed the president’s “karma.”

    At one point, Scaramucci was asked whether he believed Trump’s lie that three million people voted illegally in the 2016 election.

    “If the president says it,” Scaramucci said, “there’s probably some level of truth to that.”

    “Let me do more homework on that, and I’ll get back to you,” he added, and it was like Sean Spicer never left.

    0 0

    What kind of a city tells young people to leave?

    Toronto, apparently.

    Radio host Matt Gurney received a considerable amount of scorn after he wrote a column last week suggesting young people should consider leaving Toronto because it’s too expensive to live here. His was a response to a blog post by a millennial who said she was moving “north” because she was priced out of the Toronto market.

    Gurney is not a heartless goon, and as he explained subsequently on Twitter, the column came out of place of frustration and pessimism around the lack of political action on affordable housing and public transit, issues he’s written about in the past. His was a realist’s take, but to many it was shocking and infuriating.

    I’m frustrated too, but where I fundamentally disagree is telling people to leave the city as an option. If all of Canada suddenly became too expensive, would we tell folks to leave? Rich, poor or somewhere in between, we have the right to live anywhere in Canada. That’s enshrined in the Charter. What if we extend that right to cities too?

    Today many of our cities have become near city-states, juggernauts of economy and culture that attract people to them. Many of us here in Toronto are economic migrants too; some of the journeys here were relatively easy — just up the 401 from Windsor for me — and others fraught with all manner of risk and peril.

    Over at TVO, John McGrath wrote a response to Gurney’s column and pointed out the GTA would actually be losing people if it wasn’t for international immigration, as more people leave the region than arrive from the rest of Canada. Though the housing crisis is most acute in big cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, other cities, Halifax, Calgary and Ottawa for example, experience similar problems of high home prices and rents. Friends and relatives in Windsor are even complaining of “Toronto style” bidding wars. This is increasingly a Canadian problem.

    Of course other Canadian cities are worth living in, with robust cultures and economies, but there are still an awful lot of reasons, jobs or otherwise, that draw people to Toronto. Should millennials or anybody else seeking a job in a particular industry here be penalized because this is the system and structure they’ve been given? It seems like an economic bait and switch: here’s the carrot you need to thrive, but the restaurant’s cover charge is too expensive to get in.

    One of Toronto’s slogans is “You belong here.” Just a Mel Lastman-era bumper sticker to some, but there’s considerable philosophical and political thought that supports such a notion. In his influential 1968 book Le droit à la ville (or “Right to the City”) French philosopher Henri Lefebvre recognized just how urban-centric modern life had become. To fully participate in it everyone must have a right to it, all of it including the culture, economy, public spaces and the very “life rhythms” cities provide. He examined the structures that made that participation unequal.

    More recently, urban theorist and geographer David Harvey has expanded on the notion of Right to the City: it isn’t just the right to be in the city, but the right to transform the city itself and reshape the processes of urbanization. Further, since cities are where so much opportunity lay, it’s a human right.

    Both Lefebvre and Harvey present radical (to some) ideas from the left of the spectrum, but even if you don’t buy into their arguments, it’s just dumb to ignore the fact that people are forced to leave your city because of economics. If people, even those with “good” jobs, feel they must leave, then you’re driving away talent and creating a brain drain. Only a completely foolish city would tell its young people to leave instead of tackling the problem. Mayors around the world are actively trying to do this.

    Last week London’s mayor Sadiq Khan announced a $2.9 billion (Cdn) deal to build affordable homes, some rental, some shared ownership. It’s part of his commitment to build 90,000 new homes in London. Across Europe and beyond, much higher percentages of urban populations, both working and middle classes, live in some form of social housing, giving them a foothold in expensive cities. It isn’t stigmatized the way it is here, perhaps a reason why we’re so slow to create a national housing policy.

    Building more housing is a way out of this, making sure a large amount of it is truly affordable, but in his column McGrath mentioned another Toronto truth that gets at the root of the kind of pessimism many feel here. “If you don’t currently own a house in Toronto, preferably a detached one, the city’s political class doesn’t care about you and doesn’t even really want you,” he wrote. “They rail against nearly every new tower; even timid attempts to make tower-induced density work better, like the King streetcar pilot council approved last week, are watered down so as not to offend home-owning motorists.”

    This truth was made explicitly clear to me last week at a screening of Citizen Jane at the Revue Cinema, the documentary on urban activist and thinker Jane Jacobs. Though ostensibly filled with progressive-minded, Jane Jacobs fans, during the Q & A session after the film the sneering at the new residential buildings along the Mimico waterfront came fast and easy.

    “A slum in the making,” an epithet tossed at so many housing clusters, was used, almost wishing for failure. The new buildings in Mimico certainly aren’t what we would call affordable housing, but they’re a lot cheaper than the single family houses we venerate so much and they give thousands of people the chance to live near the lake. Yet, we sneer at and resist apartment housing across the city, even when it’s a rental building rather than a condo.

    Anti-housing sentiment isn’t a right or left thing, it’s a Toronto thing. Everybody can find some way to justify why they’re against new housing going into their neighbourhood. Make no mistake, if Toronto rolled out a genuine affordable housing plan, this city’s anti-housing sentiment would target it.

    You belong here? Maybe. Maybe not.

    Shawn Micallef writes every Saturday about where and how we live in the GTA. Wander the streets with him on Twitter @shawnmicallef

    0 0

    “People need to slow down,” Brenda Excell said quietly outside a downtown Toronto courtroom. “Just slow down.”

    Excell had just heard Mitchell Irwin, 21, plead guilty to dangerous driving causing death for killing her son Adam Excell as he was biking on the night of June 13, 2015.

    In her victim impact statement, six pages long interspersed with photographs, Brenda painted a vivid portrait of the grief she and her family have lived with since losing Excell, 26, a passionate and adventurous outdoorsman, photographer and cyclist.

    “He was so slight,” she wrote in the statement, read to court by the Crown. “He didn’t stand a chance against a 2,000-pound car travelling 80 km/h. I picture it clearly in my mind.”

    Irwin listened to the many emotional statements of Excell’s family and friends in tears with his head collapsed onto a desk.

    He was 19 at when the crash happened two years ago at the intersection of Avenue Rd. and Davenport.

    A ghost bike now marks the spot.

    According to an agreed statement of facts, at 11:20 p.m. Excell was making a left turn onto Davenport during an amber light after oncoming northbound traffic had stopped. Mitchell, however, was weaving around other vehicles and sped northbound into the intersection, slamming into Excell. At the point of collision he was going 87 km/h in a 50km/h zone, according to a collision reconstruction report.

    Excell was thrown a “significant distance” and suffered major head trauma and passed away at the hospital.

    Mitchell didn’t stop, according to the agreed statement of facts. Instead he kept driving with a seriously damaged windshield, stopping, at one point, to remove a case of beer from his car, before driving to his home in Keswick, Ont., about an hour away from the intersection where the crash took place.

    He surrendered to police the following day.

    In his statement, he said he was downtown with friends that night and that he was the designated driver, according to the agreed statement of facts.

    He was initially charged with criminal negligence causing death, dangerous driving causing death and failing to remain at the scene of an accident causing death.

    On Friday, he pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death, failing to remain and violating bail conditions by communicating with two friends who were in the car at the time (discovered through photos posted on social media) and by drinking alcohol.

    In a letter read to the court by his lawyer Leo Kinahan, Mitchell told Excell’s friends and family that there are no excuses for what he did.

    “Nor do I expect your forgiveness, as I am having difficulty coming to grips with what occurred that evening and the devastation it has brought on so many people,” he said. “I need you to know how terribly sorry I am for my actions that evening.”

    Excell had just returned from his first solo camping trip in Pennsylvania on the day he was killed, court heard in a statement from his father Andrew Excell.

    “Losing someone so close, who lived fully, wondering forever the adventurous path their life would have taken, adds to the loss,” he said.

    Their close-knit family has been “forever changed, shattered, grief-stricken,” Excell’s cousin Sarah Hodgson told court, describing how fearful she is for children on the roads.

    “People just think it’s not going to happen to them,” she said afterwards of careless and dangerous drivers. “That it’s just going to happen to somebody else . . . . People don’t learn.”

    People become numb to stories such as this, Brenda Excell said. “Another one. But when it’s your family, it’s not another one. It’s devastated hundreds of people.”

    The case resumes Monday, when Mitchell is expected to be sentenced.

    0 0

    When Philip Alafe entered the Brantford police station at 6:50 p.m. on July 3, 2015, after being arrested, he told the booking officer he had mental health issues — depression and anxiety — as well as sickle cell anemia, a disease that leaves him in excruciating pain without his medications.

    He said he was not suicidal; the booking officer described him to the court as sober and passive.

    But after Staff Sgt. Cheney Venn took away Alafe’s blanket, mattress and, following a violent struggle, his thin, police-issued white jumpsuit, leaving him cold, naked and in pain for three hours, he tied his socks together in an attempt to fashion a noose.

    “They were just treating me worse than an animal,” said Alafe, 27, in a recent interview. “I got stripped of everything . . . I just didn’t want to live anymore . . . I thought I was going to be in that situation forever.”

    He finally got his jumpsuit back, four and a half hours after it was taken away.

    After seeing the surveillance videos of Alafe’s holding cell, which were made court exhibits and documented the “cruel and unusual treatment,” Ontario Court Justice Ken Lenz found Alafe’s rights under sections 7 and 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been violated. The judge stayed the charges Alafe faced: dangerous driving and assault with a weapon for allegedly driving his vehicle at others.

    Lenz’s scathing ruling issued in April condemned the behaviour of Venn, whom the judge found repeatedly violated police policies on the treatment of people in custody and people with mental health concerns.

    Lenz described Alafe’s treatment as “egregious” and “clearly degrading to human dignity.”

    “There was in this case nothing the defendant could do to stop his mistreatment even when he did behave as requested for extensive periods of time,” the judge said.

    Venn, a police officer for 23 years, testified that removing blankets, mattresses and clothing was considered common practice in similar situations.

    But, Lenz noted, Brantford police policy states that a blanket should not be provided only if there is a history of suicidal tendencies, the prisoner is exhibiting destructive behaviour and, in the opinion of the officer in charge, to provide a blanket may be harmful to the prisoner, any person, or the facility.

    The policy says nothing about removing mattresses, and states that clothing may only be removed if the prisoner is suicidal, Lenz said in his ruling.

    Venn admitted during cross-examination by Alafe’s lawyer Josh Tuttle that he was not concerned Alafe would self-harm until the sock incident, which came three hours after Alafe had been left naked in the cell, Lenz said.

    “Frankly, looking at it on an overall basis, Officer Venn was bullying someone in his control because he could,” Lenz said. “This looks more like punishment than an attempt to elicit good behaviour.”

    Without the cell videos, Lenz said, he would likely have simply believed the officer’s testimony.

    “That it’s a difficult job is no excuse for the type of behaviour that took place that night,” Lenz said. “The defendant said he felt he was treated like an animal, and he was, and that he no longer trusts the police, a perception I’m beginning to share.”

    Brantford chief of police Geoffrey Nelson has ordered an investigation into potential professional misconduct. That investigation remains ongoing, according to a media release sent in response to questions from the Star.

    “Accordingly, no further comment will be made at this time,” the release said. Venn did not respond to direct requests for comment. He remains on regular duties.

    A review of Brantford Police Service policy and training practices related to prisoner care and handling is also being undertaken, according to the release, with the findings to be presented to the Police Services Board.

    When the Star sought access to the video exhibits at the heart of the court ruling, a lawyer for the Brantford Police Service argued that the faces of all police officers in the booking and cell videos should be obscured, citing concerns about the reputation of the officers and the ongoing internal investigation.

    Lenz ordered the Star to obscure the faces of only the officers in the booking video since their conduct was not at issue in the case. However, the public is entitled to see for themselves the behaviour of the officers in the cell videos, he said.

    Alafe was arrested in Mississauga on the afternoon of July 3, 2015, on an outstanding warrant, and transported by OPP officers to the Brantford police station. He arrived at 6:50 p.m. His urine-soaked pants and underwear had been removed.

    Alafe was given medication for his sickle cell anemia and put in a holding cell at 7:23 p.m., the videos show. He remained well-behaved until about 11 p.m., when he started trying to attract the attention of an officer to get more medication or medical attention. Venn testified officers cannot hear any audio from the room where the cell surveillance videos are monitored.

    Venn’s shift started at 10:30 p.m., and his first interaction with Alafe was at 11:21 p.m., when Venn aggressively yelled at Alafe and told him to stop throwing wet toilet paper at the camera.

    “Your toilet paper will go, your mattress will go and so will your blanket. It’ll be a very frigging cold night,” he said.

    Alafe continued being what the judge said was “a pain in the neck” by throwing wet toilet paper in his cell, but was not harming anyone. Venn returned to the cell and took away Alafe’s mattress and blanket. He gave Alafe one of his pills (Alafe had asked for more, as his prescription allows for two or three as needed) and told him he’d get his things back if he behaved.

    Venn came back to the cell twice more in the next three hours, warning Alafe not to tie his jumpsuit to the bars of the cell and taking his T-shirt away when he tied it to the bars.

    Venn testified he was concerned about clothing being on the bars concealing Alafe in case he wanted to self-harm and said Alafe was warned several times not to put anything on the bars.

    At 3:01 a.m., there was a struggle that was “terrible to watch,” Lenz said in his ruling, as Venn forcefully took the jumpsuit away from Alafe using three punches. Alafe was left naked in the cell apart from his socks.

    “I just didn’t feel that he was going to be compliant with my requests,” Venn testified in response to a question about why he did not return the blanket, mattress or jumpsuit when Alafe was behaving. “He hadn’t been all night and I didn’t see at that time where anything was going to change.”

    Lenz found there were several times when Alafe was behaving and Venn could have returned the items, but he chose not to.

    He also criticized Venn for deciding Alafe did not need medical attention without making any inquiries, or even Googling “sickle cell anemia.”

    Venn told the court he thought “Mr. Alafe was attempting to get out of the cells in order to go to a more comfortable setting, that being a hospital or mental health (ward).”

    In response to questions from Lenz, Venn testified that he knew Alafe had mental health issues as noted on the booking form, but never tried to find out what exactly that meant.

    He also told the court that he never found out anything about sickle cell anemia, its symptoms and what could happen if medication was not taken.

    A letter filed with the court by Alafe’s doctor said the disease causes abnormal red blood cells, which frequently block circulation to bones and joints, leading to tissue death, significant inflammation, severe pain and possibly permanent organ damage. These episodes are made worse by cold, dehydration and stress.

    Alafe’s condition affects his hip joint in particular, his doctor wrote. He is on a regimen of strong painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxants.

    “Without these medications, even for a short period of time, his pain becomes unbearable,” the doctor wrote.

    Lenz found it bizarre that Venn chose not to use his crisis intervention, which emphasizes dialogue and de-escalation. “If anything there was escalation and there was little or no type of reasonable dialogue as between the defendant and the officer,” Lenz said.

    Venn’s interactions with Alafe were in stark contrast to the officers on the next shift, who came to take Alafe for fingerprinting at 7:30 a.m.

    “It’s mutual respect,” one officer said in a calm voice, giving Alafe a jumpsuit and promising he would get his mattress back. “I’m not going to disrespect you and I don’t want you to disrespect me either.”

    Once Alafe’s mattress and blanket were returned, he went to sleep.

    Lenz noted in his ruling that Alafe has no criminal record and no history of anti-social behaviour.

    In an interview, Alafe said he continues to deal with issues stemming from that night, which he calls the worst of his life.

    He admits his misbehaving and attempts to provoke the officers into coming to his cell were “not the most mature,” but says he was tired, cold, hungry and just trying to get their attention so he could ask for his medication and blanket.

    “They say you are innocent until proven guilty, but they had already convicted me and sentenced me for the rest of my life,” he said.

    Alafe is from Nigeria and arrived in Canada in 2010 after his father died. He is currently applying for refugee status.

    “I believe if I didn’t have the videos, no one would have believed me,” he said.

    “People don’t believe it happens . . . especially in Canada.”

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