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    Over the past 19 years, the Canadian government has spent more than $150 million maintaining Pickering land it seized in the '70s — for an airport that’s never been built.

    And while $59.2 million of that sum is listed for site repairs and maintenance, a group of local advocates say they’ve watched as properties under federal management were left to rot and the tenants evicted before the buildings were demolished.

    “Many of those were perfectly livable houses if they had been maintained by the landlord as they should have been,” Mary Delaney, a resident of the land and chair of the anti-airport advocacy group Land over Landings, told the Star.

    The saga began in 1972, when the government of Pierre Trudeau expropriated 7,530 hectares of land in Markham, Pickering and Uxbridge to build an airport, to take pressure off what is now Pearson International airport.

    But after waves of fiery protest made national headlines, the plan was cancelled.

    The federal government kept control of the land, and to this day, politicians at all levels of government — municipal, provincial and federal — are wrestling with what to do and whether an airport will finally be built.

    In the meantime, according to information obtained via an Access to Information request and follow-up with the federal Ministry of Transport, the unplanned land is costing up to tens of millions per year, on top of unknown costs for the expropriation itself and maintenance pre-1998.

    Transport Canada spokesperson Julie Leroux said that the maintenance of properties on the land — a legal obligation for Transport Canada post-expropriation, as they rent out the homes left on the land — can rack up “considerable expenses.”

    The homes average 80 years of age, she added, saying it’s especially difficult to maintain properties in a privately serviced rural area. The land in question doesn’t have municipal sewers, operating on wells and septic systems.

    However, to Delaney, a $7.89 million cost for mould assessment and abatement from 1999 to 2010 raises questions about the quality of site maintenance at the time.

    “In those days, that was the big thing. The houses have mould,” she said. “Why, only right here, did all these houses have mould? … if they did, and some did, it’s because they weren’t being maintained properly.”

    She cited poorly maintained roofs, wells and eaves leading to the mould.

    Upkeep in recent years has been significantly better, she said, giving credit to Ajax (former Ajax-Pickering) MP Mark Holland for advocating the issue.

    In 2009, Holland released a damning statement about Transport Canada’s 2005 attempt to demolish a property on the Pickering lands under a mould claim. He wrote that, after his office pressured for a third-party assessment, no evidence of mould could be found on the property.

    “Transport Canada has a history of resorting to deceptive tactics when carrying out evictions and demolitions in order to avoid public backlash,” his statement reads.

    Speaking to the Star, Holland said there was “a real cost to the mismanagement of those lands,” noting that the price tag on maintenance got “exorbitantly high” as a result of poor oversight over properties.

    “It’s easy to say it was when I was in opposition, but look, it’s been happening a long time,” he said. “Whether or not it was planned negligence, or whether it was just negligence, the homes that were being maintained on those lands were allowed to get into a terrible state of repair.”

    Since 1999, $5.5 million has been spent on demolition.

    But, even as some tenants have left the land, the federal government is responsible for paying a sum of money to local municipalities in lieu of taxes. That money, since 1999, has totalled $36 million.

    Environmental assessment and abatement has cost an additional $26.3 million over the last 19 years, though environment-related costs have been significantly lower since 2011-2012 — the same year the government announced the creation of Rouge National Urban Park, later allotted some 21 square km of the expropriated space.

    Salaries for those working on the Pickering file have gone up over the years, going from a collective of around $200,000 a year in 1999 to approximately $900,000 collectively in 2016.

    Additional staff was assigned starting in 2011-12, Leroux said, to work on major Canadian government projects related to the site. These included planning for the Rouge National Urban Park, and policy and paperwork like zoning regulations, land use identifications and site orders.

    Since 1999, the salaries of those working on the Pickering project have cost the government $9.8 million. Other costs incurred over the years include $3 million in capital projects and $2 million in green space improvement.

    The final cost category, aviation forecast and planning, only cropped up in 2005-06 — racking up the smallest overall total at $1.6 million. Leroux says Transport Canada is committed to maintaining the lands in the most “fiscally prudent manner” possible as the debate over the land continues.

    But, as Land over Landings fundraises $85 thousand for their own agricultural study, Delaney says the millions the government has spent on the land without a concrete plan for the future is disappointing.

    “The waste here is at ground level,” she said.

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    After ruling that a Toronto police officer assaulted a drunk driving suspect and told him to urinate in the back seat of a police cruiser, a judge threw out an impaired driving charge this month.

    Const. Amanpreet Gill, a police officer for 15 years, showed a “lack of honesty” with the court about what happened that night, Ontario Court Justice Joseph Bovard said in his decision.

    “Officer Gill’s evidence about the incident and about what happened afterwards was vague and at times evasive,” Bovard said, finding that Gill assaulted Jong-Won Jung and thereby violated his charter rights.

    “An assault on a person in custody while handcuffed to a bench to try to persuade him to do something that he has no obligation to do is indeed a grievous breach of the person’s rights under Section 7 of the charter.”

    Jung was arrested at a RIDE stop after midnight on Feb. 28, 2016, after he failed a roadside breathalyzer test, according to the ruling. His girlfriend was in the car with him. His first breath test at the police station showed a level of 140 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood (the legal limit is 80), Bovard said.

    As a result of the charter breach, the breath test results were excluded as evidence and, since there was no other evidence, Bovard found Jung not guilty.

    Jung had one hand cuffed to a bench at 41 Division police station and was waiting for his second breath test at about 1 a.m. when Gill said Jung’s girlfriend was being disruptive at the front desk, according to the ruling.

    Gill testified he asked Jung to speak to her on the phone and calm her down. He said he put the phone to Jung’s ear but Jung pushed his hand away causing him to accidentally hit Jung with the phone receiver.

    Jung, however, testified Gill shoved him repeatedly, causing his head to hit the wall five or six times, and hit him in the head with the phone receiver six or seven times. His left collarbone was injured.

    He said Gill saw his rookie partner, Const. Corey Sinclair, coming to take Jung for his second breath test and stopped. Jung said the assault lasted 10 or 15 seconds.

    “I was in a state of shock,” he testified, according to Bovard’s ruling. “I mean, it’s not like I said anything to — to cause this. I wasn’t being repulsive, I wasn’t being violent. I tried to stay as compliant as I can. I mean, I’m handcuffed to a bench, in a police station, there’s nothing I can do. And the fact that this whole thing happened, it just — like I just didn’t know why.”

    Jung told the officer conducting the breath test he was subjected to “police brutality” and “almost punched,” according to the video from the breath test room.

    He said he wasn’t able to be clearer because he was in shock. He also mentioned the “police brutality” to Sinclair before he was released.

    Sinclair denied seeing an assault take place. Though he acknowledged Jung made allegations of “police brutality,” he did not follow up, he told the court.

    Jung said he did not complain again while at the station because he felt there was no point given the lack of response up to that point — a feeling Bovard said was entirely valid.

    “His account of the assault is completely plausible,” Bovard said. “I find that the conduct of the police further exacerbates the (charter breach) . . . . Officers Sinclair and Gill were not forthright with the court. None of the officers responded responsibly to Mr. Jung’s report that Officer Gill had assaulted him. They did nothing to follow up, investigate, or even report the allegation to their superiors.”

    A Toronto police spokesperson, Meaghan Gray, said the court’s decision is being reviewed by the internal Professional Standards Unit.

    Gill’s and Sinclair’s testimony also “lacked candour” when it came to what happened in the police cruiser until confronted with the in-car video, Bovard found.

    The video shows Jung saying he really needs to go to the washroom while waiting in the cruiser to enter the booking area at 41 Division. Gill responds by telling Jung to hold it and that he needed to be processed first.

    Then “Gill went further and demonstrated a belligerent and demeaning attitude toward Mr. Jung,” Bovard said. “He told him to urinate in the police cruiser.”

    Both officers said they arranged for Jung to use the washroom prior to the start of the booking process.

    Speaking generally about cases involving charter violations like this one, Jung’s lawyer, Heather Spencer, said video has been a game-changer.

    “One of the main concerns is cases slipping through the cracks where people plead guilty because they are not sure they will be believed over what the officers have to say,” she said. But the presence of video can make these cases less challenging, she says.

    Jung did not respond to a request for comment through his lawyer.

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    The Toronto Islands are bracing for another flood.

    This time it’ll be waves of visitors arriving at the city’s lake oasis, bringing the sweet waft of sunscreen and the laughter of summer fun.

    Toronto Island Park opens again Monday. Flooding had shuttered the islands since mid-May — it was so bad, carp were swimming over one submerged baseball diamond — but our island in the sun is open for business once again.

    “I’m expecting a bit of a crazy day on Monday,” says longtime Algonquin Island resident Linda Rosenbaum. “I think we’ve all been quite amazed at what a major event the closing of the island has been for Torontonians and how people are looking forward to coming back.”

    The ferries will begin chugging from the mainland at 6:30 a.m., the first off to Ward’s Island. At 8 a.m., escapees from the city’s summer’s heat can begin returning to Centre Island. Ferries have been running to Ward’s — a largely residential island — during the clean up but with limited access.

    The islands aren’t perfectly dry. Some pools of water remain where there were none before. And some patches of grass are quite soggy, definitely too wet for a picnic.

    But there are also large swaths of lush green lawn that look just as visitors remember from previous summers. Oddly, the sprinklers were turned up full blast near the Centre Island Boat House on Sunday.

    Olympic Island remains closed and there will be some other areas that are clearly marked as inaccessible due to groundwater.

    It’s taken a monumental effort to get the park ready again. The city used 27 pumps, including nine industrial-sized units, 24 hours a day to remove surface pooling. There are pumps still in operation on the islands. They also moved earth, used more than 45,000 sand bags — many of which are still visible — and dumped gravel in some areas in a race to get the park open by Monday’s self-imposed deadline.

    At peak flooding, water covered more than 40 per cent of the island’s surface as Lake Ontario recorded its highest water level in decades. Even now, the beaches appear as if much of the sand has been removed for the bags used to stem the push of lapping waves.

    The beach on Ward’s Island, for example, is about a quarter of what it once was.

    “Better get there early if you want a spot,” said Susan Roy, another longtime resident.

    Crews continued to work Sunday, raking landfill into wet spots along the roadway between Ward’s and Centre Islands.

    “We’re trying our best,” said one worker. “We’re trying to stay half a step ahead; there’s a lot to do still but it’s a huge difference already. We want the park to be beautiful. That’s why people come here.”

    Centreville Amusement Park will open at noon Monday but spokesperson Shawnda Walker said there will be no fanfare to mark the occasion.

    “People want to just get on those rides so we’re just going to open the grounds, get those rides going and, hopefully, there’ll be great crowds,” she said.

    While Centreville management has no idea how many people to expect, Walker senses a pent-up demand based on the volume of emails from the public — sometimes as many as 50 in a day — asking when the theme park would reopen.

    “We’re going to be prepared for a busy day,” she said.

    Not all the rides will be operational. Some of the track for the train remains underwater and will need to be replaced. It won’t run this summer. The docks for the swan ride and bumper boats are also submerged making boarding unsafe. Walker said there is still hope those rides will open before the summer is over. And the barns and pens at Far Enough Farm, a petting zoo, remain sodden so the animals are staying at farm in Schomberg.

    The shutdown has been understandably hard on island businesses. The Star earlier reported that Centreville has lost more than $6 million in revenue and ownership sold its iconic carousel for $3 million to offset some of that money. The 110-year carousel will be in operation for the remainder of the season.

    Brandon Sherman of The Otter Guy water taxi service says boat operators have been “hemorrhaging” carrying about 10 to 20 cent of the passengers that normally ride to the islands.

    “We have no idea what to expect (Monday) but we’re all hoping for good things,” he said.

    The flooding also prompted the owners of The Rectory Café, on Ward’s Island, not to continue their lease beyond this year. After a 14-year run, they are helping to identify a new ownership group to take over the restaurant.

    That the park is open now won’t be make up for lost revenue says Ken McAuliffe, one of the owners

    There is “a lot of built up demand” to return to the islands, he wrote in an email, but “unfortunately it will not be sufficient to counteract the loss of business over the last two and a half months for most of the Toronto Island businesses.”

    This summer, Rosenbaum and Roy started a business together — Walk Ward’s Island — taking visitors for guided tours. Rosenbaum concedes the timing might not have been the best.

    But beyond the impact on her new endeavour, she’s just excited visitors are about to return to the islands in big numbers.

    “It has been like a ghost town,” she says. “In some ways, it’s been quiet and peaceful and there’s never any lineups and we don’t have to jostle through crowds just trying to get home. But we miss people.

    “I was down at Centre (Island) where the formal gardens are and the Parks department has been pruning the gardens and the flower beds are absolutely beautiful. But it’s bizarre because there’s not one person looking at them. It’s so strange.

    “It’s so beautiful and there’s so much to see, it’s a shame people couldn’t come but it really was flooded. It was bad and it was dangerous. You wouldn’t be able to keep people safe. Now people will be safe.”

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    Kristyn Ferguson hates garlic mustard. That’s why she wants you to eat it.

    “It’d be great on gnocchi,” she says, pulling a plant from the forest ground. The leaves taste like garlic, and Ferguson swears they’re great in pesto.

    But while it makes for zesty pasta, this harmless-looking herb is actually a hostile invasive species that’s been menacing Ontario forests for years.

    This year, Nature Conservancy Canada has ramped up its fight against the “enemy” garlic mustard in Ontario’s Happy Valley Forest — which includes spreading the word that it’s “fairly delicious.”

    “I want to see people local foraging for garlic mustard,” said Ferguson, a program director with Nature Conservancy Canada.

    “In another prong in the effort to fight it, we‘re going to make people want to eat it.”

    Garlic mustard was brought over from Europe as a culinary herb in the 1800s. But the weed has become an aggressive intruder — it has no natural predators in Ontario, and its roots emit chemicals that hinder the growth of native plants.

    “Nothing’s feeding on it. It’s kind of having the time of its life out here,” said Ferguson, at the start of the trail. Left to its own devices, she said, the weed could take over a forest floor.

    She said garlic mustard covers a combined dozens of acres throughout the Happy Valley Forest, a lush woodland just 45 minutes north of downtown Toronto in King Township. It’s a threat to the native plant species in the area, said Ferguson, which has ramifications right up the food chain.

    This year Nature Conservancy Canada has enacted a “battle plan” for managing the plant — which includes a lot of good old-fashioned weeding.

    There were weekly “pull parties” in the forest this spring, where volunteers filled several garbage bags with garlic mustard. This is also the first year the conservancy has a permanent staff member in Happy Valley Park, largely dedicated to managing invasive species.

    Standing in a patch of garlic mustard, Ferguson pulls one up from its roots. It’s kind of addictive, she says, and in a few minutes she’s already filled a bag. Another staff member plans to whip up a batch of pesto that evening.

    “It wouldn’t be bad added to a sandwich in the place of lettuce,” she adds later.

    The knee-high plants sprout green leaves and tiny white flowers, and bear a pod filled with dark seeds. The leaves have garlicky smell when crushed, and are high in Vitamins A and C, according to the Government of Ontario’s website.

    Ferguson urges people to pull up garlic mustard by its roots when they see it, put it in a sealed bag, and toss it in the garbage — or in the pantry. Even removing one plant could mean stopping hundreds of seeds from spreading, she said.

    Nature Conservancy Canada helps protect more than 780 acres of the Happy Valley Forest, one of the biggest remaining deciduous forests on the Oak Ridges Moraine.

    On Saturday morning, a group of about 20 met for a free public hike through part of the forest, called the Goldie Feldman Nature Reserve. Dragonflies circled overhead, and the sun beamed through a towering deciduous canopy.

    In a few decades, parts of the forest will be “old growth,” filled with 200-year-old maples, beeches and oaks, and a rich undergrowth of fallen logs. These old growth forests are rare in Ontario, Ferguson said, and make incredible habitats.

    Ferguson led the enthusiastic pack of hikers, pointing out monstrous maples, monarch butterflies, and “disappearing streams” that bubble in and out of the ground.

    She shared tricks for identifying trees by their bark(red oak looks like burnt hotdogs; American beech trunks like an elephant leg) and we patted the soft needles of a baby pine. On the edge of a meadow, the group spied a 300-year-old sugar maple — it took three adults to fully hug the trunk.

    Naomi Loeb, who lives in downtown Toronto, had never heard of the Happy Valley Forest until this hike.

    “I think it’s really important people know there are areas like this so close to the city,” she said. “Most of the time all you hear about and experience is how congested it is, and how crowded it is.”

    Near the end of the trek, Ferguson spotted a large fallen log, covered in fungus and moss, and home to a plethora of bugs and animals. It’s these dead trees that make an old growth forest so rich and diverse, she says. Eventually, there’ll be many more here.

    “It almost ceases being a tree and becomes something else.”

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    Ten months after the death of their brother Anthony, the Divers family is still no closer to finding out if the Hamilton police officer who shot him will be charged.

    “The police and the (Special Investigations Unit) know what happened that night, but I’m his brother, and his two sisters, and we don’t have a clue, almost a year later, what happened on Sept. 30,” Divers’ brother, Edward, told the Star.

    The SIU, the independent agency that investigates police-involved deaths, serious injuries and allegations of sexual assault, has yet to produce a decision in the Divers case.

    Delay in SIU cases was recently addressed in a sweeping review of Ontario police oversight bodies, which recommended tighter timelines for completing investigations.

    The wait for the Divers family has been made worse, they said, by SIU investigators implying to them that a decision is forthcoming.

    One lead investigator told them in December that his report was on SIU director Tony Loparco’s desk, waiting for approval, the family said. But seven months later, still nothing.

    “They said in December they had a decision, and now they're stalling and stalling even more,” said one of Divers’ sisters, Leslie Wilson.

    The SIU did not respond to the Star’s request for comment for this article. A spokeswoman told the Star in December that the SIU attempts to conclude investigations as quickly as possible.

    “The SIU has been in regular contact with two of Mr. Divers’ siblings. All communications have been prompt, courteous, professional and as transparent as possible given the limitations during an ongoing SIU investigation,” Monica Hudon said at the time.

    Divers, 36, was shot and killed around midnight Sept. 30 by a Hamilton police officer, who was responding to a call about a man who had committed an assault and was reportedly armed with a gun, according to the SIU.

    “There was an interaction and the officer discharged his firearm,” said a brief news release issued by the SIU last fall.

    The family said they believe, based on an eyewitness who they spoke to, that Divers was not armed that night. Two eyewitnesses interviewed by the Hamilton Spectator also said they did not see a weapon.

    Divers, who had mental health issues, was clearly in crisis, his family says.

    The family has been persistent in their attempts to get answers as to what happened that night. They call the SIU weekly, and in June two investigators came to speak with them in person, yet had no final decision to share.

    “It was almost like giving us false hope,” said Divers’ eldest sister, Yvonne Alexander.

    She has so far been unsuccessful in reaching Loparco, the SIU director, despite her many phone calls, she said.

    “Is this guy like God? He doesn’t even talk to you.”

    The family said the uncertainty has exacerbated their grief. Birthdays are hardly celebrated, and they only really marked Christmas for the sake of the children.

    “Are we going to get justice for Tony?” Alexander asks. “Ten months of my life seems like 10 years of my life . . . I can’t enjoy anything, because 24/7 my brother is on my mind.

    “We want a decision, to start the new normal without our brother . . . How can I grieve? I don’t even know what the hell happened to my brother, so I that I could put facts together and grieve my loss.”

    The SIU has long faced criticism not only from affected families, but from police associations as well, for taking too long with probes.

    The final report from a sweeping review of police oversight bodies, made public in April, by Justice Michael Tulloch recommended that the SIU aim to conclude investigations and report the results to the public within 120 days.

    If the SIU is unable to complete a probe in 120 days, it should report its status to the public, and then every 60 days thereafter, Tulloch said.

    A spokeswoman for the Ministry of the Attorney General told the Star on Friday that the government is currently working on new police oversight legislation and that Tulloch’s recommendations, “including those about public outreach and timelines, are under active consideration as part of the ongoing work to be ready to introduce legislation in the fall.”

    The SIU has already publicly stated that it would need additional resources to meet Tulloch’s recommended timelines.

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    The first night that Nicola Simpson spent in an emergency shelter she was in a state of complete and utter disbelief, alone and facing a new life in Canada.

    “I was numb. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I was upset, I was filled with anger,” said Simpson, now 38, who spent the better part of 2011 at a facility in North York for women who have experienced or are fleeing violence.

    Those feelings, she says, didn’t last for long because of how she was welcomed and treated by staff at the 30-bed facility.

    “They don’t spoon-feed you . . . they push you. They are going to make sure you don’t fall into the gutter, or feel like a victim,” said Simpson, an aspiring lawyer, who now has housing and a string of academic degrees.

    “When you are at such a dark place in your life, when you have lost everything, being a part of something is very important.”

    The North York Women’s Shelter was shut down in May, resulting in the layoff of close to 30 full and part-time staff and clients being relocated to other shelters across the province.

    The plan is to raze and replace it with a fully accessible structure, still with 30 beds but eight times the size and designed to offer services that weren’t previously available, including on-site medical care. The new shelter is expected to be completed in spring 2019.

    Former staff told the Star the shutdown was unnecessarily abrupt and they are seriously concerned about what they see as a gap in services in the region, as well as the relocation of vulnerable women in an already crowded system.

    Executive director Mohini Datta-Ray said the shutdown was part of an expedited process tied to a rare and badly needed funding opportunity, but the full closure, layoffs, and relocation were not done without first exploring if other options were possible. There wasn’t time or the funding needed to find and secure a temporary space and make it safe, she said.

    After 33 years in operation, and serving more than 11,000 women on a 24-hour rotation, they jumped at the chance to get $8.8 million for a rebuild. Datta-Ray acknowledged they had to make fast and tough choices, but ones they feel are best for the women they serve.

    “We were cramped, tired and it wasn’t a safe space anymore for women and staff,” said Datta-Ray. “At a certain point the building starts to crumble,”

    It won’t mean a loss of services, she said, because the physical shelter didn’t offer direct services, just beds. They had to lay off staff in their own office and more than half their funding left with the women who moved out, which in the final weeks was six or seven.

    “The funding goes with the beds,” said Datta-Ray. The facilities where the women went “didn’t have the capacity to make a new position because of one or two beds coming online.”

    The laid-off staff, 13 full-time and 16 part-time or relief workers, were given employment counselling and an extension of their union recall rights, so if construction goes longer than expected they are still entitled to those jobs, she said.

    Datta-Ray said she hopes that ultimately some of the staff who served the women at the old shelter will come back.

    “Some of them have more than a decade of experience, working at North York in particular, but the shelter system in general and we are hoping their vision will really inform what we are building.”

    A spokesperson with the Ministry of Community and Social Services said the money was part of a broader financial commitment to improve services for violence against women (VAW) shelters. In 2015 and 2016, more than 95 facilities served 10,770 women and 6,920 children and were operating at 83 per cent capacity.

    “The beds in operation at North York Women’s Shelter have been absorbed by their partners and all women who were receiving service from (the shelter) are continuing to receive service without disruption,” said Takiyah Tannis, in an email.

    Former staff do not agree.

    “How can they say there are no disruption in services when we are missing for two years?” asked Amy Clements, who worked there for 14 years.

    The Star met with Clements and four former staff members. They described a deeply loving and supportive community environment, where chaos and compassion intertwined and staff and clients worked together to help women and children heal and get on with their lives.

    In that building, on top of making sure everybody was fed, bedded, safe and secure, they helped connect women with legal support, crisis counselling and all manner of applications, including and especially housing.

    Former clients, they said, are reaching out in confusion and still seeking their help with ongoing issues, largely because of the trust they built up in that community. Kids who used the shelter, they say, also had to switch schools with just weeks left in the term.

    “There is no reason why we couldn’t have reached out to community partners and organized office space. There are so many different ways to have done it,” said Clements.

    Former client Simpson is still in touch with staff and said she couldn’t list everything they did for her, because so much was above a basic job description.

    Simpson also wonders why an office couldn’t have been set up to help clients struggling with the change. “It is not the same as a shelter, but at least the gap can be filled and the need is there.”

    Simpson was born in Jamaica, where, as a lesbian she faced homophobic violence. “Even though it was difficult for me to stay in the closet, it was about survival,” she said.

    She chose Canada as a safe haven, moving here in 2010. Things did not go as planned and she ended up in the shelter, on a visitor’s visa and with few future prospects, but staff didn’t let her stay down for long.

    She became a licensed paralegal and has an undergraduate degree in legal studies from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and hopes one day to practise human rights and disabilities law.

    Her first try to get into law school was unsuccessful, so this fall she begins a Master of Arts in Criminology and Social Justice at Ryerson University.

    Her backup plan is to train as a forensic psychologist, so she can work with people who have experienced domestic violence and give back some of what she was offered in North York.

    “I don’t know how I would have survived, if I had not been in that shelter.”

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    All eastbound collector lanes have reopened on Hwy. 401 after a fatal tractor trailer collision on Monday morning.

    The express lanes remain closed at midday in both directions from Allen Rd. to Avenue Rd., but are expected be reopened by the afternoon rush hour.

    Toronto Fire Services say that callers reported an “explosion” and fire across all lanes at 5:15 a.m. The collision occurred on the eastbound express approaching Yonge St., according to the OPP.

    When Toronto fire arrived on scene after being delayed by heavy traffic, they found a tractor trailer carrying paint “fully engulfed” in flames.

    Paramedics confirmed that the driver of that tractor trailer was killed in the collision. Although Toronto fire is not sure exactly how many vehicles were involved, paramedics treated the male driver of another vehicle for a minor shoulder injury.

    Toronto fire was able to have the blaze under control in around five minutes.

    But cleanup may take a lot longer than that, Toronto fire Capt. David Eckerman says.

    The truck had 50-gallon drums of paint and paint thinners on a flatbed, he said, and the paint spread across the lanes in the accident.

    Eckerman says Toronto fire will “be there for a while.”

    In a tweet Monday morning, the TTC said it was “experiencing extended travel times on several west end bus routes” due to the collision. It asked commuters to plan for extra travel time.

    With files from Fakiha Baig

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    Premier Kathleen Wynne has tinkered with her cabinet, promoting Etobicoke-Lakeshore MPP Peter Milczyn after Glen Murray’s surprise resignation.

    As first disclosed by the Star, Murray stepped down as minister of environment and climate change on Monday.

    He will be succeeded by Chris Ballard, whose duties as housing minister will be now be handled by Milczyn, a well-regarded former Toronto councillor first elected in 2014.

    In a statement from Calgary, Murray said he would resign as Toronto-Centre MPP on Sept. 1 four days before becoming executive director of the Alberta-based Pembina Institute, a 33-year-old environmental think-tank.

    “More than ever, the world needs Canada to lead the fight against climate change. With its national team of experts and its proven ability to craft solutions with industry, government, and communities, the Pembina Institute is essential to finding the way forward,” he said.

    Also involved in Monday’s mini-shuffle was Community Safety Minister Marie-France Lalonde, whose other portfolio at Francophone Affairs has grown into a standalone ministry.

    Murray, 59, also a former mayor of Winnipeg, has been an outspoken minister, overseeing the government’s five-year, $8.3 billion plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

    Wynne hailed her colleague who, like her, is a pioneer as one of the first openly gay elected officials in Canada.

    “Glen’s work battling climate change is another passion that is leading him now down a new path. After spending decades in community and public service, I understand and respect that decision, made with the support of his partner, Rick,” the premier said.

    “I will be always be grateful for the unwavering support Glen has shown me.”

    His resignation will not trigger a byelection in what is seen as a safe Liberal seat both provincially and federally, where it is held by Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

    Under Ontario law, a byelection must be called within six months of a vacancy unless a province-wide election is imminent.

    Voters are headed to the polls on June 7, 2018, so there was concern about Elections Ontario spending an estimated $500,000 on a byelection.

    “We’re not having a byelection because there are significant costs associated with one and we’re moving into an election period and I think the cost associated with a byelection doesn’t justify having one,” said Wynne.

    The premier, who could easily have called a snap byelection for this summer, denied she was ducking voters at the same time as two high-profile court trials involving Liberals begin in September.

    “As I said, the people of Toronto Centre … will be served by a community office and by this government as they have been.”

    Ballard, the Newmarket-Aurora MPP first elected in 2014, said he planned to follow in Murray’s activist footsteps.

    “The file is critical and so important, we can’t turn the heat down on this one, quite frankly,” said the new environment and climate change minister.

    “Glen Murray has been a fantastic minister in this role.”

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    The Ontario Civil Liberties Association (OCLA) is asking the Attorney General of Ontario to reverse his decision to charge a Mississauga resident with a hate crime.

    The organization has launched an online petition intended for Yasir Naqvi regarding the charge against Kevin Johnston of wilful promotion of hatred.

    “The Ontario Civil Liberties Association believes that the proceedings against Mr. Johnston are systemically political in nature and should not be consuming public, police, and judicial resources,” says the petition, which was launched last week.

    “We believe that the proceedings are harmful to Canadian society, in addition to being unacceptably unjust towards a citizen.”

    Read more: Peel police charge Mississauga man with hate crime

    Johnston, a former Mississauga mayoral candidate and outspoken online personality, was charged by Peel police on July 24 after they received approval from the attorney general's office, a requirement for that particular charge.

    Police would not elaborate on the specifics of the charge, but the promotion of hatred was allegedly toward to the Peel Muslim community.

    A police news release stated that the charge against the 45-year-old is from a “lengthy investigation into numerous incidents reported to police” and “concerns information published on various social media sites.”

    Johnston told The Mississauga News that he's aware of the petition and supports it.

    “I think it's fantastic — I think that it's the same type of petition I would do for anybody else (who's) being hosed like myself … and everybody else who's going to be silenced when all they're doing is speaking their minds based on fact,” Johnston said over the phone.

    Asked to respond to an excerpt from the petition that noted the situation was “systemically political,” he responded: “This is entirely politically motivated. This has nothing to do with anything other than hurt feelings and politics. There is no danger to society because I pose no danger to society.”

    Emilie Smith, a spokesperson with ministry of the attorney general, said Peel police's formal request to charge Johnston was granted on July 21.

    Smith would not comment further on the “specific matter” as it before the court.

    However, Smith said, “Comments and actions that promote hate are deeply offensive and will not be tolerated in our society.”

    Johnston has stirred up quite a bit of controversy — most recently, his protesting of Muslim prayer in Peel District School Board this year. His criticism of the religious practice in schools, and the board's handling of the matter, contributed to him being banned from all Peel board properties.

    OCLA researcher Denis Rancourt became aware of Johnston's charge through recent media reports. He feels that the charge itself that Johnston is facing — Section 319(2) of the criminal code — is an “obscene law.”

    “Democratic societies should not have … criminal code provisions where the state is not ever having to prove actual harm, physical or psychological, to any actual person that they bring forth as a person that was harmed,” he said.

    “There isn't even a harm to talk about; it's all at the emotional level and harm against the public at large.”

    The petition suggests that instead of potentially jailing an individual for unpopular opinions, the government should allow these matters to be resolved through public debate.

    Smith noted that very careful consideration goes into each individual case under Section 319(2) before a charge is laid such as permission from the Attorney General.

    “This requirement offers a safeguard for free expression and can be seen as Parliament's recognition of the important, competing values, which are at stake in such prosecutions,” Smith said.

    She added that there must also be reasonable prospect of conviction and public interest before permission to lay the charge in question is given.

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    A Polish couple on the first public ferry to Centre Island this season had most of Toronto’s green waterlogged gem to themselves.

    “It’s very nice, we want to rent bikes,” said Malwina Kempsaa as she and Rafal Kruszewski surveyed empty beaches and trails just after 8 a.m. Monday.

    The first sparse but excited crowd disembarked on a makeshift plywood ramp, built to cope with flooding that kept much of the islands closed until now, followed by ferryloads full of daytrippers, bikes and dogs.

    Centreville amusement park and all beaches are now open. Signs of historic flooding abound, however, with some Centreville attractions including the railroad remaining closed, fencing around parts of some beaches and sandbags, chugging pumps and big pools of standing water.

    Mayor John Tory took the first ferry and was greeted by Algonquin Island resident Halina Bregman.

    She told him she was dismayed to see “young men” jump fences and trample flood-damaged shoreline between Algonquin and Snake islands to snap photos showing the harbour and CN Tower.

    “We need more supervision of some of the sensitive areas,” Bregman said, with Tory promising to ask parks staff to keep an eye on such spots and urging the public to respect emergency fencing and signs.

    Bill Beasley, president of Centreville operator Beasley Enterprises, told Tory and reporters he is happy to finally open after much uncertainty.

    Parts of the railroad are still underwater, meaning the little train won’t run this year. High lake levels mean the bumper boats and swan rides aren’t open yet. Damage to the farm area will keep animals away although the pony rides are starting soon.

    But antique cars, the carousel that has been sold, a new $2 million overhead chair lift and about 20 other attractions and eateries will greet visitors as they finally arrive for the final five weeks of summer and weekends into the fall, Beasley said.

    Closure due to flooding cost his family business more than $8 million in sales and more than $1 million in profits, he said ruefully, adding that the losses followed two very good years.

    “We’re definitely going to be here for another 10 years at least, we’ll get through it,” he said.

    More than half the students who couldn’t start summer jobs at Centreville will be on the job, with another 100 hired at a recent job fair.

    Tory said the city has forgiven some fees for flood-struck businesses and will aim to help make them “thrive and be healthy” by getting people to the islands.

    Flooding is also hitting taxpayers in the pocketbook. City staff estimate high-water costs of about $4.9 million until the end of July. The mayor warned of other “considerable additional expenditures” to finish repairs and to make the islands more resistant to future flooding.

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    The countdown to Major League Baseball’s trade deadline is on and with just a few hours remaining until the 4 p.m. ET cut off, the Blue Jays’ roster remains in tact.

    Toronto’s front office has said the club expects to be involved in at least some business by this evening and the rumour mill is swirling, especially when it comes to some of the Blue Jays’ pitchers.

    Lefty Francisco Liriano was reportedly Toronto’s first move of the day, headed to American League leader the Houston Astros to play a part in its bullpen.’s Astros’ beat reporter Brian McTaggart reported outfielder Nori Aoki and a prospect will are set to join the Blue Jays in return.

    Here are players being talked about as the window comes to a close:

    Joe Smith

    The right-handed reliever came in at No. 6 on’s list of the top 25 deadline day trade candidates. In his four outings since returning from more than a month on the disabled list, Smith has allowed only one run off two hits, good for a 2.25 ERA. The 33-year-old veteran is currently averaging 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings, a career-high, and his $3-million salary wouldn’t be hard to swallow.

    The most recent report concerning the reliever, from St. Louis Cardinals beat writer Derrick Goold at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, has Toronto watching the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate the Memphis Redbirds. That could fit the Blue Jays’ desire to acquire young, controllable talent for its 2018 team and, with St. Louis in the market for a reliever, Smith could be the guy. While Smith has made it clear he hopes to finish out the season in Toronto, his free-agent status come season’s end won’t help his cause.

    Marco Estrada

    After starting this season as one of the most reliable parts of Toronto’s rotation, Estrada — who is set to start against the Chicago White Sox on Monday night — has slumped considerably since a May 27 win over the Texas Rangers. It was the last time the right-hander went six innings; at the time, he owned a 3.15 ERA. That number is now 5.43. Estrada put on an improved performance in his most recent outing on July 26, allowing just two runs over five frames, but he still lamented that not feeling like himself in the 3-2 Blue Jays win. With free agency looming, Estrada is a top candidate for Toronto to get off its book if interest remains.

    J.A. Happ

    The veteran left-hander — a 20-game winner in 2016 and midway through a three-year contract worth $36 million US — was reportedly drawing interest from the Milwaukee Brewers two weeks ago. At the time, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported the price would be sky-high, with Happ signed at a reasonable price for next season and few quality starters expected to hit the free-agent market this year. A move seemed unlikely then, with the Blue Jays believing Happ could be an important piece if the team wanted to contend in 2018. But things have changed slightly as the deadline looms, with Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reporting over the weekend that Toronto is now willing to listen to offers on the lefty starter. Still, the price will be high and it is not believed that the Blue Jays are shopping Happ hard.

    Jose Bautista

    The veteran slugger has the ability to veto any trade given he has 10-and-5 rights (10 years in the league and five with his current club). Still, a move might benefit Bautista, who could very well be a free agent come fall. His best chance to remain with the Blue Jays is a $17-million mutual option in 2018, which Toronto has given no indication whether or not it will pick up. Jerry Crasnick of and Joel Sherman of the New York Post have both reported the Blue Jays have received some feelers on Bautista, despite being in the midst of his worst season as a Blue Jays player, slashing .186/.292/.325 since June 1. He has been linked with the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox, though it’s unlikely he will be moved before the deadline, according to Baseball Prospectus Toronto.

    Steve Pearce

    It was quite the week for Toronto’s outfielder, who wrote his name into the Blue Jays history books with not one but two walk-off grand slams. Pearce has become the hitter Toronto hoped he would be since returning from a calf strain in mid-June, batting .313 with six home runs and 22 RBIs. But he has struggled in the outfield so far this season, left field becoming a particularly noticeable hole in Toronto’s lineup. The 34-year-old veteran doesn’t exactly fit the bill when it comes to the younger, controlled core the Blue Jays are going for in 2018, so if his recent offensive output intrigues buyers, Pearce could be an unexpected move.

    Read more: Pearce walk-off slam saves Blue Jays, stuns Angels

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    WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump has decided to remove Anthony Scaramucci from his position as communications director, three people close to the decision said Monday, relieving him just days after Scaramucci unloaded a crude verbal tirade against other senior members of the president’s senior staff.

    Scaramucci’s abrupt removal came just 10 days after the wealthy New York financier was brought on to the West Wing staff, a move that convulsed an already chaotic White House and led to the departures of Sean Spicer, the former press secretary, and Reince Priebus, the president’s first chief of staff.

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

    The decision to remove Scaramucci, who had boasted about reporting directly to the president not the chief of staff, John Kelly, came at Kelly’s request, the sources said. Kelly made clear to members of the White House staff at a meeting Monday morning that he is in charge.

    It was not clear whether Scaramucci will remain employed at the White House in another position or will leave altogether.

    Read more:

    Divorce report caps Anthony Scaramucci’s explosive week in the Trump White House

    Trump’s six-month stall sparks a White House shakeup

    Do you censor the F-bombs? How editors handled Anthony Scaramucci’s expletive-laced rant

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    “Loaded down with bills, squaws become popular as sweethearts.”

    Let that sink in for a moment. How does that make you feel?

    Uncomfortable? Ashamed? Angry? Imagine seeing your grandmother or your daughter called a name like that in Canada’s largest-circulation newspaper.

    Last January, I was looking for historical articles that I could use to attract readers to my Facebook page, Nipissing First Nation Voices. I purchased a three-month pass to search the online archives of the Toronto Star. I chose the paper because of its reputation for stories that brought the plight of Indigenous people to its front pages.

    Read more: Media’s Indigenous coverage has always been slanted. And it’s still scant, says writer Hayden King

    The results, at first, were excellent.

    There were stories of two amazing swimmers from my community: Liza Commanda and Betty Goulais. Commanda competed in the Canadian National Exhibition’s 10-mile race in 1932. Goulais swam across Lake Nipissing in 1956.

    I also discovered two more community heroes. In the 1930s, two men from the community took the provincial Game & Fish Act and our treaty rights all the way to the Ontario Supreme Court. One of them turned out to be my grandfather.

    But I also found much darker material.

    When I entered the search word “Indian,” the archive responded with an astounding 300,000 hits.

    The first article I found was from 1909 — a story about the Dokis First Nation getting a long-awaited logging rights settlement payment. Right there in the sub-head was that word — “squaw.”

    I begin a methodical search, year by year. I was overwhelmed by what I found. Tens of stories quickly grew to hundreds of stories and then to thousands of stories containing racist, condescending, patronizing and outright unbelievable language — words like warpath, red-man, red-skin, scalping and Eskimo — all in reference to Indigenous people.

    I have experienced and witnessed racism and injustice toward Indigenous people in my daily life and in my career in local, provincial and federal governments. But sifting through the archive’s stories and the language used was an eye-opening experience.

    For example, a group of community members upset with programs and policies were described as being “on the warpath.” This gave the public the idea that we were nothing more than a hostile and uncompromising warring people who always sought resolution through violent methods.

    In a number of Second World War photos, Indigenous soldiers were highlighted as troops on the warpath against the “Japs” and Nazis, ready to “scalp the enemy.” This sent a message that our fighting men were using a barbaric practice, which was never Indigenous to begin with, and — more perplexingly — that the Canadian army somehow condoned torture.

    Reading the mountain of articles, it became clear to me that the foundation of today’s racism can be found in the mainstream press of the past. In the 1930s and ’40s, language that depicted the Indigenous community as savage, unruly, drunk and lazy, reinforced the racist attitudes in the social system. Parents read these stories and shared them at the dinner table with their kids who in turn grew up and brought their prejudices into the governments and boardrooms of the 1950s and ’60s.

    And so, when Indian Affairs failed to meet its commitments to Indigenous communities, the press didn’t take up the cause. Few reporters investigated the bureaucratic mess of nepotism, favouritism and corruption. Indian agents took care of themselves instead of the people they were meant to serve.

    Meanwhile, Indigenous people were starving and dying from disease.

    When articles did cover these conditions, government denials were printed uncritically in follow-up articles that contained little context from the reporters’ original stories.

    As I examined the articles, I couldn’t help but notice glaring examples of further indignities that were either ignored or dismissed.

    Residential schools were known for their ill treatment of students and priests were being singled out for bad behaviour, and yet, in the papers, the churches perpetuated the belief that First Nations students were ill-equipped to make it in a white man’s world.

    Early stories on the high number of imprisoned Indigenous men and women should have set off alarms for the justice system, but it would be decades before we saw any of the committed social justice reporting that pressed governments for action.

    Meanwhile the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women was growing in the shadows, alongside police “starlight tours” and racial profiling. And still, the stereotypes of drunken, lazy, savage Indians to blame for their own misfortune continued.

    A common theme I also found was that Indigenous perspectives were repeatedly left out of stories.

    As early as the 1950s, reports out of Kenora suggested the Reed Paper Co. was poisoning the Wabigoon River system. The paper mill was 130 kilometres upstream from the White Dog and Grassy Narrows First Nations, which relied on those waters to feed their communities. For decades, the government ignored the problem, and the Star printed outright denials from the government that anyone had been poisoned. Even today the river continues to make people sick while the government only recently committed serious money to cleaning up the pollution.

    Decades later — first at Oka, Que., and later at Ipperwash Provincial Park, near Sarnia, Ont. — Indigenous protesters set up barricades to protect land they rightly believed to be theirs. They were besieged by heavily armed police and soldiers. Both standoffs ultimately ended with bloodshed and death.

    But in news coverage of all these disputes, the Indigenous perspective and oral history were repeatedly downplayed and treated as less trustworthy than the narrative of the colonizers.

    What does this mean to Canadians? For one thing, it means your money was wasted.

    That river continues to poison people to this day. The cleanup, which the Ontario government finally agreed to, will take roughly 10 years and at least $85 million more of your tax dollars.

    By refusing to listen to Indigenous people, the government paid $13.3 million for the Ipperwash inquiry and a final settlement of $95 million to the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation before they gave the land back.

    This could all have been avoided if Canadians — and Canadian reporters, responsible in part for crafting these narratives — paid greater heed to what Indigenous people had been saying all along.

    Among all the racial slurs and offensive headlines, I did find stories of success and triumph.

    I discovered that story about my maternal grandfather, Joe Commanda, and his fight against the provincial Fish & Game Act. Commanda and fellow community leader John Fisher took their opposition to the act to the Ontario Supreme Court, helping to preserve our community’s access to traditional food sources.

    It was good to see my grandfather represented as a rebel and a hero.

    Another story painted him as a famed Indigenous guide in the rescue of two American tourists from Philadelphia. He, along with other community members Philip and Bernie Commanda, Mike Penasse and George St. Denis, engineered the rescue.

    Two stories featured my paternal grandfather, Ernest Couchie, who by 1921 was already a successful businessman serving the North as a taxidermist.

    There were also stories about our legendary Chief Simon (Semo) Commanda, who lived to be 110, and Leda McLeod — a longtime education advocate who fought the local school board for representation for Indigenous students.

    My own family appeared in the Star in May 1961 after my parents, who had had 11 boys in a row, gave birth to our first sister, Mary Lynn.

    But growing up on a First Nation, I experienced first-hand some of the racism of the times.

    In my community, many hard-working people struggled with all kinds of demons brought on by the horrors of residential school. Most of the parents had attended the residential school in Spanish, Ont. Drinking was prevalent, and it was tough to see people who were hell-bent on self-destruction. I, too, fell into the world of alcoholism, but eventually, at age 21, I beat addiction.

    In 1967 on New Year’s Day, the Star reported on the murder of our Chief Ted Commanda during a fight over leadership of the reserve. This was a rude awakening for the community, which had already been brought low by the cumulative and all-encompassing efforts of government intervention. The Indian Act was never meant to protect us but to destroy us. Decades of oppression, the residential schools, our isolation from the economy, poor diets, disease and total dysfunction had created a community of very little hope.

    In the years following Chief Commanda’s murder, the ill-advised White Paper proposal by then-Indian Affairs Minister Jean Chrétien, which called for the total repeal of the Indian Act, would come and go. However, renewal would begin in our community as the federal government finally started to recognize that self-governance, not assimilation, was the key. And a slew of Ontario bureaucrats from the Department of Social and Family Services resigned their positions in protest over the government’s treatment of Indigenous people.

    Young people started graduating in larger numbers. Today, Nipissing First Nation has college and university graduates, masters and doctorates, physicians and lawyers, all working to make our community a better place. Strong leadership has resulted in the creation of a new civic centre, a women’s shelter, a high school and an industrial park. We have settled two land claims for $124 million that have brought us a degree of independence.

    After years and years of failing paternalistic practices, our community shed the anchor of the Indian agents who always worked against us. We organized bigger and stronger alliances such as the Union of Ontario Indians. And today, we have many First Nations striving and contributing to the economy.

    In the press, against this backdrop of recovery, newspapers like the Toronto Star began to commit to investigative reporting on Indigenous issues, informing the public in a way that eliminated the condescending words and racial remarks of the past.

    There is still much to do. We need more Indigenous people holding the pens, writing the stories and contributing to how our communities are represented in the press.

    Thankfully we live in a country where a newspaper that played a part in the systemic racism now plays a part in the truth and reconciliation.

    Les Couchi is a retired government worker with more than three decades of experience at the local, provincial and federal level. He is a member of the Nipissing First Nation and resides in North Bay.

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    When Joyce Anna Scott died in May, she died a tenant of a home she’d spent half her life trying to buy back from the government. Now, her kids are making a last-ditch effort to keep the four-hectare farm they grew up on.

    Sitting in the house Monday, Joyce and John Scott’s daughters combed through a lifetime of photographs, paintings, statues and teacups.

    As of Sept. 1, everything has to be moved.

    Despite living there since 1958, the house hasn’t belonged to their parents for 44 years. It was expropriated by the federal government as part of the Pickering Airport and North Pickering Community development project.

    Though an airport was never built, the land is still federally owned — so, the family explained, the government is taking it back unless daughters Laura Alderson and Melissa Preston can argue their case next week. The family hasn’t been told what will happen to the house after September.

    The sisters argue that the home’s land was transferred to the Ontario Land Corporation in October 1979 without what they say was a promise of an opportunity to repurchase it. It was then transferred again in 2004 to the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

    A conservation authority spokesperson told the Star that nobody was available Monday to comment.

    “In an attempt to restore equity, fairness and finally make right the past, we would like to have our family home at 14 Pickering Town Line returned to us,” the sisters wrote to the conservation authority on July 4.

    A date was set for Aug. 11, when the sisters will plead their case to the authority’s executive committee.

    The first piece of evidence they’re pointing to is a pamphlet dropped in the 1970s from the Ontario government, which said if the government didn’t end up needing their home, “you will be offered the chance to recover ownership at the same price you were paid initially.”

    That second is a letter from Minister of Industry and Tourism Claude F. Bennett, saying that any homes that were compatible with their plans for redevelopment “which is scheduled for completion by the end of 1974,” would be available for re-purchase by the owners at their original price.

    In March 1989, the Scotts wrote to the Ministry of Government Services and asked to buy their home back. No airport had been built, they argued.

    “Fully 16 years after their expropriation for a project that never happened, a reply was sent on April 6th, 1989 from the ministry advising that while our parents had expressed interest in purchasing the property, they had not yet declared it surplus,” the sisters wrote in their letter this month to the conservation authority.

    “How is it possible that in June of 2017, fully 44 years after we entered into what we thought were honest, fair and equitable dealings with the provincial government, we are still waiting?,” the sisters asked.

    Joyce’s lawyer Stephen D’Agostino advised the siblings to send a letter to the authority pleading their case.

    “If land is expropriated for a purpose and that purpose is no longer being pursued by the authority, the authority is required, subject to some requirements of the expropriations act, to offer that land back,” D’Agostino said.

    But, while a final decision is on the horizon, there’s been no indication whether the Scott’s children will be successful. Either way, they say they had to make an attempt.

    “With the passing of my parents, we thought, you know what? It seems to us to be such an unfair thing,” Preston said. “If there’s any possibility, this was my parents’ legacy, right? And we thought, ‘well, why don’t we just try?’ ”

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    Large pillars made of discarded concrete slabs towered above three young people forming a semicircle around loudspeakers blaring hip-hop.

    While impressive, it wasn’t what we were looking for. It took more than an hour of riding through tall grass, prickly plants and unkempt roads by bicycle last week to find the bizarre-looking structures at the Leslie Spit.

    A video circulated on social media earlier in the day, depicting a large villa-like formation made of heavy cinder blocks and bricks, complete with porches, benches and walkways leading down to the lake. The young people were suspicious when first approached but became enthusiastic when the Star explained its mission to find that formation and the person behind it.

    “His name is Robert,” said Ben Walters, who said he saw the builder multiple times this year, but didn’t know his last name.

    “He’s an older guy, white dude, said he worked construction. Oddball would be the first adjective that comes to mind. He’s the legend of the Spit.”

    Walters, 20, helped locate the sought-after site, flashing pictures on his phone of Robert and his creations along the way.

    “It was massive, it was beautiful, unbelievable,” he said. “There was a central column made of cinder blocks, almost like a sharp cone. Around it were curvy walls made of bricks.”

    Similar, but smaller, shrines at the Spit were first reported in the Star in 2010 but nobody back then knew who put them up either.

    Along the eastern shore, a few hundred metres east of the first structure, debris lay strewn across the ground, a typical sight at the Leslie Spit, a landfill reclaimed by nature in east Toronto. But it was clear what happened: The complex had been reduced to rubble — all of it.

    It was razed because it posed a risk to visitors, as it was erected on uneven ground, said Jen Brailsford, a communications officer at PortsToronto, in a written statement.

    “Although beautiful, the structures were built without our knowledge in a publicly accessibly area, which is often frequented by visitors of all ages whose safety is our top priority,” she said. “One sculpture was approximately 20-feet high (about two storeys or a little more than six metres) and there was no mortar between bricks to provide stability.”

    The smaller scale pillars that still stand were spared because they didn’t present the same risk, she added.

    Walters said he believed the structures were built single-handedly.

    “(Robert) had this little cart attached to his bike,” he said. “He must have moved thousands of pounds of concrete. The guy’s just out here all the time.”

    The builder has proven to be enigmatic himself: Attempts to reach the man referred to as Robert were unsuccessful, despite visiting the site four times, leaving a handwritten letter at the remaining formation and scouring through social media.

    Alan Page, an avid 63-year-old walker, has met Robert twice, but didn’t ask many personal details because he didn’t want to pry, he said.

    “He was tall, wiry, a little bowlegged, certainly weather-beaten,” Page said.

    Page found the site by pure happenstance. And on one occasion, Robert divulged some of his methods. He would use the horizon as a level, or push sand beneath the blocks to make them sit straight, Page said, positioning the concrete in such a way so as to climb them like scaffolding.

    “He worked very late at night, up until 2 a.m.,” he said, adding that Robert told him he commonly encountered coyotes lingering in the brush nearby. “He showed me this Coleman lantern that he used, and he certainly worked through the winter, too. It’s still really hard for me to imagine how he did it. Weeks and weeks of effort.”

    Page said he withheld publicizing his findings on social media, lest the structure be demolished if discovered by too many people. It was only a matter of time before it was, however, he said.

    “I only shared it with friends because I had a feeling that if it became well-known, that yes, this would happen, inevitably. Maybe we’ll find some more at a different location eventually.”

    Julien Gignac can be reached at

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    “Now you know more about me than most of my patients.”

    These were the last words spoken in person by Georgetown family physician Dr. Nigel Mark Phipps to Patient A as she fled his office after he showed her photos of himself naked, the woman testified Monday.

    The patient, whose identity is covered by a publication ban, is one of eight, along with three female employees, who are part of the discipline case against Phipps at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. All say they were shown naked or seminaked photos of the doctor, who has been practising since 1985.

    At the first day of his discipline hearing Monday, the five-member discipline panel heard that Phipps will admit to showing four photos of himself in various stages of undress to patients and staff and that his conduct was disgraceful, dishonourable or unprofessional. He denies the college allegation that his conduct would be considered sexual abuse of patients.

    College lawyer Elisabeth Widner told the panel the photos — “selfies, as they are termed” — are as follows: one where he's naked with his penis visible, one of Phipps' naked buttocks, one where he's naked from the groin up, but where the genitals are not visible, and a fourth showing him naked with a towel over his arm.

    The first three photos were attached to an agreed statement of facts describing them. Phipps admitted he deleted the fourth photo from his cellphone.

    One photo that Patient B said she saw brought to mind an image of the band Red Hot Chili Peppers, famous for performing naked with nothing but socks covering their penises. But upon further reflection, said Patient B, who also testified Monday, it's possible the doctor was naked in the photo, and that she got the image conflated because he may have been wearing black socks on his feet.

    Widner said Phipps would typically show the photos to the women while recounting “a supposedly amusing story” about going on a golf trip with his friends and how they had come across the photos on his phone, which he had said were meant as a joke for his wife.

    “Their reactions range from shock to anger to acceptance to rationalization of their physician's conduct,” Widner said of the patients, some of whom testified Monday.

    Widner told the panel she does expect Phipps will contest allegations that he showed patients other photos than the four already admitted, that he told some patients not to tell the college, that he made sexualized comments — “words to indicate that he was well endowed,” Widner said — and that he had an erection in at least two patient encounters.

    The defence is not expected to present its case until October because an unspecified medical condition makes it difficult for Phipps to testify, Widner said. He is also on a medical leave of absence from work.

    The doctor mostly kept his head down during testimony from his patients, some of whom have remained his patients along with their family members. Patient A is not one of them. She said she burst into tears in her car after Phipps showed her the photos in the examination room, and later texted him to say she never wanted to see him again.

    “I really liked him, I trusted him. I did not have an issue with Dr. Phipps at all,” Patient A said of the nearly two decades she spent as his patient.

    But at her last appointment with Phipps, Patient A said he recounted his “amusing story” mentioned by Widner in her opening statement, and showed her three photos of himself, including pictures where you could see his penis and buttocks.

    “I was completely shocked, upset, uncomfortable. I didn't understand what had happened, I hadn't experienced that type of scenario before,” Patient A testified.

    She remained adamant under cross-examination by Phipps' lawyer, Jenny Stephenson, that the photos she saw are different than the ones the doctor admits showing to patients and which Patient A was asked to look at Monday.

    “I can assure you 100 per cent that the photos I saw today . . . are not the pictures” she saw in Phipps' examination room, Patient A testified.

    “The penis I recall seeing was in a downward position as well, but slightly more engorged.”

    The discipline hearing continues Tuesday.

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    As the clock wound down on Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline, the Blue Jays’ wheeling and dealing got hot.

    Reliever Joe Smith, who started the day at No. 6 on’s list of the top 25 deadline day trade candidates, was moved to the Cleveland Indians ahead the 4 p.m. ET deadline.

    The Blue Jays announced the deal just before the deadline and received a pair of minor-leaguers in exchange for Smith: 23-year-old left-hander Thomas Pannone and 19-year-old second baseman Samad Taylor. Neither player is among Cleveland’s Top 30 prospects, according to

    Pannone and Taylor were the second and third minor-leaguers the Blue Jays brought into the organization on Monday after sending lefty Francisco Liriano and cash to the Houston Astros for outfielder Nori Aoki and prospect Teoscar Hernandez.

    Read more: Blue Jays that could be on the move as MLB trade deadline looms

    Both Smith and Liriano had long been mentioned as a trade chips for the Blue Jays.

    Smith told reporters in Chicago — where the Blue Jays will kick off a three-game series against the White Sox on Monday night — that he arrived at the ballpark at 12:30 p.m. in an attempt to keep his mind off such rumours. It was less stressful than hanging around the hotel, said Smith, who had heard rumours about interest from the Milwaukee Brewers.

    While the veteran reliever said he is sad to be leaving Toronto, he is delighted to return to Cleveland, where he spent parts of five seasons early in his career. The trade also means Smith will be within an hour of his mother, Lee, who suffers from Huntington’s Disease.

    Smith’s wife Allie LaForce, a sideline reporter for CBS and TNT, posted a pair of tweets sharing her excitement at news that the couple is headed home.

    “God is always amazing. Today He blew my mind. So thankful to get to go home,” she wrote in one.

    In four outings since returning from the disabled list, Smith has allowed only two hits and one run. The 33-year-old veteran, who is set to become a free agent at year’s end, is currently averaging 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings, a career-high. His reasonable $3-million salary was a key selling point for interested clubs.

    Meanwhile, Liriano, a starter in Toronto, is expected to give the AL-best Astros a lefty option out of the bullpen. It won’t be long before he faces his former team: the Blue Jays travel to Houston on Friday for a three-game series.

    Aoki, 35, has spent the bulk of his 71 games this season in left field. He is signed through 2017 on a one-year, $5.5-million contract, his final year of arbitration eligibility coming in 2018 before free agency hits in 2019.

    He doesn’t fit the young, controllable road map general Ross Atkins laid out for the Blue Jays ahead of the deadline, but Hernandez does. The 24-year-old won’t be arbitration eligible until 2020, reaching free agency in 2023. After 42 games in the big leagues, Hernandez is widely regarded as major-league ready. So far this year, he is slashing .279/.369/.485 with an .854 OPS for Houston’s Triple-A affiliate, the Fresno Grizzlies.

    This is not the first time Hernandez and Liriano have come up in the same conversation; the youngster made his MLB debut against the lefty in August 2016, hitting his first home run in that game.

    Liriano has struggled at times this season and is currently nursing a 5.88 ERA, but a quality start against the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday afternoon may have increased his market value.

    The lefty came out of the pen on two occasions for the Blue Jays during last year’s regular season, coughing up three runs off three hits in two frames. Liriano has held lefty hitters to a .230 average this year. put Liriano — and fellow Toronto starter Marco Estrada — at No. 17 on its list of top trade candidates, saying that while teams destined for post-season play are unlikely to add either to their starting staff, “more marginal contenders could roll the dice on the talented hurlers.”

    The Blue Jays were also reportedly in talks to move another starter, likely either J.A. Happ or Marco Estrada, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, but nothing came to fruition by the 4 p.m. cutoff.

    — With files from Rosie DiManno

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    The family of a man who has been missing since Friday is appealing to the public for help locating him.

    Domingos Martins, 83, was last seen on July 28 at around 4:30 p.m. in the Lawrence Ave. W. and Jane St. area.

    His family said they are worried about him because he needs his medication for Alzheimer’s disease.

    “We are asking the public to please check your sheds, check the backyard, bushes, surrounding parks and green spaces because that’s where he’d gravitate too,” said Martins’ daughter-in-law Samantha Martins in a news conference Monday.

    She said Martins, who only speaks Portuguese, also goes by the name “Bronco.”

    Police have received several leads regarding Martins possible location but nothing has come up.

    Martins is described as five-foot-four, 180 to 200 pounds, bald, and has difficulty walking. He was last scene wearing a black shirt with “Martins” written on it.

    Anyone with information is asked to contact police or Crime Stoppers.

    0 0

    On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, U.S. President Donald Trump’s advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump’s oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril.

    The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged.

    But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed.

    Read more:

    Trump campaign was eager to accept campaign help from Russian government, emails show

    Russia urges U.S. to show ‘political will’ to fix ties as it cuts U.S. diplomatic staff

    Donald Trump Jr. farce makes Russia story more ridiculous, more serious: Analysis

    Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared a story, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”

    The claims were later shown to be misleading.

    Over the next three days, multiple accounts of the meeting were provided to the media as public pressure mounted, with Trump Jr. ultimately acknowledging that he had accepted the meeting after receiving an email promising damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.

    The extent of the president’s personal intervention in his son’s response, the details of which have not previously been reported, adds to a series of actions that Trump has taken that some advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy.

    As Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigates potential obstruction of justice as part of his broader probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, these advisers worry that the president’s direct involvement leaves him needlessly vulnerable to allegations of a coverup.

    “This was ... unnecessary,” said one of the president’s advisers, who, like most other people interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. “Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead. Somebody can argue the president is saying he doesn’t want you to say the whole truth.”

    Trump has already come under criticism for steps he has taken to challenge and undercut the Russia probe.

    He fired FBI Director James Comey on May 9 after a private meeting in which Comey said the president asked him if he could end the investigation of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.

    Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats told associates that Trump asked him in March if he could intervene with Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on Flynn. In addition, Trump has repeatedly criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the FBI’s Russian investigation — a decision that was one factor leading to the appointment of Mueller. And he has privately discussed his power to issue pardons, including for himself, and explored potential avenues for undercutting Mueller’s work.

    Although misleading the public or the press is not a crime, advisers to Trump and his family told the Washington Post that they fear any indication that Trump was seeking to hide information about contacts between his campaign and Russians almost inevitably would draw additional scrutiny from Mueller.

    Trump, they say, is increasingly acting as his own lawyer, strategist and publicist, often disregarding the recommendations of the professionals he has hired.

    “He refuses to sit still,” the presidential adviser said. “He doesn’t think he’s in any legal jeopardy, so he really views this as a political problem he is going to solve by himself.”

    Trump has said that the Russia probe is “the greatest witch hunt in political history,” calling it an elaborate hoax created by Democrats to explain Clinton losing an election she should have won.

    Because Trump believes he is innocent, some advisers explained, he therefore does not think he is at any legal risk for a coverup. In his mind, they said, there is nothing to conceal.

    The White House directed all questions for this story to the president’s legal team.

    One of Trump’s attorneys, Jay Sekulow, declined to discuss the specifics of the president’s actions and his role in crafting his son’s statement about the Russian contact. Sekulow issued a one-sentence statement in response to a list of detailed questions from the Post.

    “Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate and not pertinent,” Sekulow’s statement read.

    Trump Jr. did not respond to requests for comment. His lawyer, Alan Futerfas, told the Post that he and his client “were fully prepared and absolutely prepared to make a fulsome statement” about the meeting, what led up to it and what was discussed.

    Asked about Trump intervening, Futerfas said, “I have no evidence to support that theory.” He described the process of drafting a statement as “a communal situation that involved communications people and various lawyers.”

    Peter Zeidenberg, the deputy special prosecutor who investigated the George W. Bush administration’s leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity, said Mueller will have to dig into the crafting of Trump Jr.’s statement aboard Air Force One.

    Prosecutors typically assume that any misleading statement is an effort to throw investigators off the track, Zeidenberg said.

    “The thing that really strikes me about this is the stupidity of involving the president,” Zeidenberg said. “They are still treating this like a family-run business and they have a PR problem ... What they don’t seem to understand is this is a criminal investigation involving all of them.”

    The debate about how to deal with the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting began weeks before any news organizations began to ask questions about it.

    Kushner’s legal team first learned about the meeting when doing research to respond to congressional requests for information. Congressional investigators wanted to know about any contacts the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser had with Russian officials or business people.

    Kushner’s lawyers came across what they immediately recognized would eventually become a problematic story. A string of emails showed Kushner attended a meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in the midst of the campaign — one he had failed to disclose. Trump Jr. had arranged it and then-campaign chairperson Paul Manafort had also attended.

    To compound what was, at best, a public relations fiasco, the emails, which had not yet surfaced publicly, showed Trump Jr. responding to the prospect of negative information on Clinton from Russia: “I love it.”

    Lawyers and advisers for Trump, his son and son-in-law gamed out various strategies for disclosing the information to try to minimize the fallout of these new links between the Trump family and Russia, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

    Hope Hicks, the White House director of strategic communications and one of the president’s most trusted and loyal aides, and Josh Raffel, a White House spokesperson who works closely with Kushner and Ivanka Trump, huddled with Kushner’s lawyers, and they advocated for a more transparent approach, according to people with knowledge of the conversations.

    In one scenario, these people said, Kushner’s team talked about sharing everything, including the contents of the emails, with a mainstream news organization.

    Hicks and Raffel declined to comment. Kushner lawyer Abbe Lowell also declined to comment.

    The president’s outside legal team, led by Marc Kasowitz, had suggested that the details be given to Circa, an online news organization the Kasowitz team thought would be friendly to Trump. Circa had inquired in previous days about the meeting, according to people familiar with the discussions.

    The president’s legal team planned to cast the June 2016 meeting as a potential setup by Democratic operatives hoping to entrap Trump Jr. and, by extension, the presumptive Republican nominee, according to people familiar with discussions.

    Kasowitz declined to comment for this article, as did a Circa spokesperson.

    Circumstances changed when the New York Times began asking about the Trump Tower meeting, though advisers believed the paper knew few of the details. While the president, Kushner and Ivanka Trump were attending the G-20 summit, the Times asked for White House comment on the impetus and reason for the meeting.

    During breaks away from the summit, Kushner and Ivanka Trump gathered with Hicks and Raffel to discuss Kushner’s response to the inquiry, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. Kushner’s legal team joined at times by phone.

    Hicks also spoke by phone with Trump Jr. Again, say people familiar with the conversations, Kushner’s team concluded that the best strategy would be to err on the side of transparency, because they believed the complete story would eventually emerge.

    The discussions among President Trump’s advisers consumed much of the day, and continued as they prepared to board Air Force One that evening for the flight home.

    But before everyone boarded the plane, Trump had overruled the consensus, according to people with knowledge of the events.

    It remains unclear exactly how much the president knew at the time of the flight about Trump Jr.’s meeting.

    The president directed that Trump Jr.’s statement to the Times describe the meeting as unimportant. He wanted the statement to say that the meeting had been initiated by the Russian lawyer and primarily was about her pet issue — the adoption of Russian children.

    Air Force One took off from Germany shortly after 6 p.m., about noon in Washington. In a forward cabin, Trump was busy working on his son’s statement, according to people with knowledge of events. The president dictated the statement to Hicks, who served as a go-between with Trump Jr., who was not on the plane, sharing edits between the two men, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.

    In the early afternoon, Eastern time, Trump Jr.’s team put out the statement to the Times. It was four sentences long, describing the encounter as a “short, introductory meeting.”

    “We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up,” the statement read.

    Trump Jr. went on to say, “I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”

    Over the next hour, word spread through emails and calls to other Trump family advisers and lawyers about the statement that Trump Jr. had sent to The Times.

    Some lawyers for the president and for Kushner were surprised and frustrated, advisers later learned. According to people briefed on the dispute, some lawyers tried to reach Futerfas and their clients and began asking why the president had been involved.

    Also on the flight, Kushner worked with his team — including one of his lawyers, who called into the plane.

    His lawyers have said that Kushner’s initial omission of the meeting was an error, but that in an effort to be fully transparent, he had updated his government filing to include “this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr.” Kushner’s legal team referred all questions about the meeting itself to Trump Jr.

    The Times’ story revealing the existence of the June 2016 meeting went online around 4 p.m. Eastern time. Roughly four hours later, Air Force One touched down at Joint Base Andrews. Trump’s family members and advisers departed the plane, and they knew the problem they had once hoped to contain would soon grow bigger.

    0 0

    So much for fun at the ol’ ballpark.

    In his latest misadventure at a major league ball game, Chris Christie found himself at the epicentre of bizarre headlines once again Sunday afternoon. The New Jersey governor followed up the boofest he received from Mets fans earlier this month when he caught a foul ball by confronting a Chicago Cubs fan who was heckling him at Milwaukee’s Miller Park.

    “You’re a big shot,” Christie tells the fan.

    Christie’s presence at the Brewers-Cubs game can be explained by the fact that his son, Andrew, works in the Brewers’ baseball operations department. It’s less easy to explain the give-and-take with the fan.

    He was proceeding down steps with a bowl of nachos when the Cubs fan Brad Joseph expressed the opinion “that he sucked,” Joseph told WISN reporter Ben Hutchinson, who happens to be his cousin and caught the end of the conversation on video.

    “When he initially was going up the stairs I yelled his name. He was already quite a bit past me, and 30 feet away I yelled his name and told him that he sucked ... I called him a hypocrite because I thought it needed to be said,” Joseph told Hutchinson. “He then turned around and walked all the way back toward me and got up in my face for what seemed like a long time, but was probably only about 30 seconds or a minute.”

    According to Joseph, Christie’s knee made contact with him and he asked Joseph if he wanted to “start something.”

    “(He) was yelling at me. First he told me, ‘Why don’t you have another beer?’ which I thought was a decent comeback, and I thought that was kind of funny,” Joseph said. “Then he started calling me a tough guy.”

    Christie has been getting an earful from more than just baseball fans of late. According to a July poll by Monmouth University, Christie’s approval rating had fallen to 15 per cent after his infamous July 4 “Beachgate” incident in which the Newark Star-Ledger published photos of the governor with his family enjoying a beach closed to the public amid a statewide government shutdown.

    Read more:

    New Jersey Gov. Christie ends government shutdown, but beach pictures leave mark

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie invites scorn after closing public beach — and then using it with family

    “That’s the way it goes,” Christie said at the time. “Run for governor, and you can have the residence.”

    Part of being a public official means listening to the public, even if the feedback is unpleasant.

    “He is a public official and this is America,” Joseph said, “and I think we have the right to say what you believe as long as it’s not crude or profane.”

    Whatever Christie is hearing now, just wait until — or if — he gets a sports-talk radio job. On WFAN earlier this month, a caller (Mike from Montclair) crushed him over Beachgate. “Governor, next time you want to sit on a beach that is closed to the entire world except you, you put your fat [butt] in a car and go to one that’s open to all your constituents.”

    Luckily, Christie is seldom at a loss for a response.

    “You know, Mike, I love getting calls from Communists in Montclair,” he retorted.

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