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    Legal Aid Ontario is defunding the African Canadian Legal Clinic.

    The decision affecting the legal aid clinic, which has served Toronto’s Black community for over 20 years, was announced Wednesday afternoon by the five-member clinic committee of LAO’s board of directors.

    At the same time, LAO’s president and CEO, David Field, said in a statement that the agency will immediately work with community members “to establish a new community-based organization to deliver legal aid services to Ontario’s Black community.”

    In the meantime, he said LAO will provide legal services through the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, lawyers in private practice, and LAO’s test case program.

    Finding that the ACLC “remains in fundamental breach of its statutory obligations” in the wake of external audits, the clinic committee will suspend funding at the end of September, or at a later date that can be agreed on by the clinic and LAO.

    The decision follows years of tension between the two organizations, with LAO saying it was concerned with the clinic’s ability to manage its finances and the ACLC claiming it was put under greater scrutiny than any other legal aid clinic in Ontario.

    Both sides pulled no punches Wednesday.

    “There has been a 23-year war,” ACLC executive director Margaret Parsons told the Star in an interview Wednesday. “When this clinic was announced, a firestorm erupted, Legal Aid Ontario went to the press to try to not get this clinic from being opened and the attorney general of the day had to literally give them their marching orders.”

    “The fix was in since day one, and there was nothing that we could do that was right.”

    Parsons, who claimed that the clinic first learned of LAO’s decision from a Star reporter calling for comment, said the clinic and its board will now consider their options.

    Read more: De-funding the African Canadian Legal Clinic would be excessive force and an abuse of power: James

    LAO spokesman Graeme Burk said the clinic committee had informed the ACLC’s outside lawyers of the decision, adding that LAO staff had no prior knowledge of the ruling.

    The decision comes in the wake of a 2013 audit that found that the clinic’s corporate credit card was being used for personal purchases and alleged that Parsons gave herself a $120,000 bonus over a four-year period with money that could only be used to pay for LAO-funded staff positions.

    “That is absolutely, categorically untrue, I have never, ever received that as a bonus, ever,” Parsons told the Star.

    Many documents related to the clinic committee’s decision, including the 2013 external audit by PwC, were posted to the Legal Aid Ontario website Wednesday. LAO provided the ACLC with nearly $670,000 in funding for 2016-17.

    “The battles we wage against racism are simply too important and too vital to allow personal excesses to discredit the work,” said lawyer Julian Falconer, who advised LAO staff on issues relating to the ACLC.

    “People need to judge for themselves,” Falconer said, referring to the audit reports. “It becomes clear that this executive director has to answer for very serious findings in the audit reports, and that is not about skin colour, that is about accountability.”

    The audit also found the clinic “appeared to be engaged in excessive spending on taxis, travel, and meal expenses,” and alleged that Parsons claimed over $150,000 in overtime, “well in excess of the maximum hours permitted under the ACLC’s policy.”

    Parsons told the Star she donated that amount back to the clinic.

    Among the expenses flagged by the auditors was a $754 diamond ring Parsons charged to the corporate credit card in 2007. According to the auditors’ report, Parsons said she repaid the amount to the clinic, but the auditors said they could find no evidence of that.

    Parsons told the Star she realized she mistakenly used the corporate card for the ring purchase and immediately repaid the clinic in cash, and that she offered to pay the amount back again when it was flagged during the audit.

    The clinic committee said Wednesday that the ACLC has still not fully complied with some of the eight remedial conditions that were imposed in fall 2014 following the auditors’ report, including allowing an LAO observer to attend all ACLC board meetings, that the clinic submit a financial restructuring plan for LAO’s approval, and that the clinic adopt policies in line with the auditors’ recommendations regarding meals, travel and the corporate credit card.

    “We have complied with every single one of them,” Parsons told the Star. “We have worked exceptionally hard to implement them and to comply,” she said, adding that LAO “were always hell bent on this course of action, and if the ACLC walked on water, they would have said we can’t swim.”

    LAO staff said they first became aware of financial concerns at the clinic in 2009 when they received copies of emails from the two lawyer members on ACLC’s board who said they were resigning in protest over concerns relating to “financial irregularities” and “gross misconduct and illegalities,” according to the clinic committee’s executive summary.

    The clinic committee said the ACLC was not co-operative with LAO staff as they tried to seek answers.

    Members of a committee that advises the LAO board on the provision of legal services to the Black community said they were disappointed, but not overly concerned over the decision to defund the ACLC, pointing out that LAO has promised to immediately fund other organizations to assist Black people with legal services.

    “It’s unfortunate because there is a great need within the community for these services,” said committee member Zanana Akande, the first Black woman elected to the Ontario legislature. “I’m disappointed. I’m saddened that LAO has come to the point where that extraordinary step needed to be taken.”

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    No one’s laughing at Donald Trump anymore.

    Joke’s over. But why did it take so painfully long — and a civil rights disaster— for a toxic presidency to stop being even remotely funny?

    Trump’s buffoonery provided endless material for mockery on late night TV. But while his critics chortled, he had the last laugh on election night.

    Now, his demagoguery is no laughing matter. And it’s long past time for my American friends to stop snickering from the sidelines.

    In all seriousness, I appreciate political satire. Humour pricks the balloons of powerful politicians who take themselves too seriously.

    But years of TV laugh tracks have turned politics into a gong show. And a reality television star who had been auditioning for the role was waiting in the wings.

    The joke went too far. Will voters continue to laugh at the spectacle, or finally get serious about the tragedy being played out before their eyes?

    Humour exacts a price if it divides people instead of uniting them: When you’re laughing at roughly half the American people, you’re lining up against them — and making enemies of them in a culture war without end.

    All those skits on Saturday Night Live were on point, but ultimately unpersuasive. The Late Show With Stephen Colbert is supposed to be edgy, but tends to drive a wedge. The Daily Show’s humour is acidic, but it’s not activist.

    In the right therapeutic dose, hilarity is an antidote to absurdity. But Americans have overdosed on humour for too long, addicted to an incapacitating drug that anaesthetizes them from the pain of racism, inequality, and alienation.

    Laughing isn’t the answer anymore, because Trumpism isn’t all that funny — as even Jimmy Fallon discovered the other night. Give the Tonight Show host belated credit for his heartfelt monologue about the fallout from Charlottesville (even if he was trying to restore his lost credibility after famously tussling Trump’s hair in mid-campaign).

    Chortling is too easy. The harder challenge is change — winning elections and influencing people.

    More precisely, it’s not about changing presidents but changing the minds (and hopefully hearts) of the very voters who enabled and empowered him. Sitting back and laughing at Trump and his highly motivated base only forges a closer bond between them.

    The danger of mockery is that it suggests superiority over the stupidity of Trump’s supporters: We get it, we’re all in on the joke because we’re on the same wavelength — and so much wiser than the ones we’re laughing at.

    But if the other side is so dumb, why are they the ones in power?

    The answer is that they understand the power of political engagement. Instead of just laughing, highly motivated people of faith, affluence, or anger are too busy praying, fundraising and agitating.

    It’s impossible to spend two weeks in America, as I just did with American friends, without sharing their sense of despair. We’ve been there, which is why we have no right to feel superior.

    Torontonians went through a similar cycle of political chaos when Rob Ford was mayor. He too played buffoon on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show while we laughed about his not so funny addictions and predilections.

    Bad as they both turned out to be, Trump wasn’t a surprise. Unlike Ford — whose weaknesses weren’t widely understood by many voters — Americans knew what they were getting with Trump.

    They watched him in nationally televised prime time debates, they heard his racist and misogynist rhetoric, yet still they made him president. The problem isn’t so much Trump as the American people who put him there, and the opportunistic apparatchiks who keep him there.

    There’s nothing funny to be found in that political divide. Laughter alone isn’t a response, it’s a cop-out — akin to the Facebook fragmentation of online “likes,” or favouriting a Barack Obama tweet of a Nelson Mandela quotation.

    Twitter and Facebook define “engagement” as someone clicking on a link, which must be laughable for serious political activists. Clicking is akin to chortling — makes you feel better, but offers only the illusion of involvement.

    The truth about politics — whether in America or anywhere — is that clicks don’t count as votes, and elections aren’t won with laughs. If politics is just a joke, it will only desensitize and immobilize voters.

    Politics depends on participation. It’s about idealism and activism, not apps and gags.

    That means being informed and getting involved, donating time or money, and above all voting. It’s about tuning into the issues, not just TV skits. And screening the candidates on a ballot, not merely scrolling through a feed on Facebook.

    Yes, levity preserves sanity. But if hilarity serves only to release pent-up frustration, without any relief from a political crisis, it’s not helping anyone.

    And just as tears are not enough, jokes won’t change a thing.

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

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    The disclaimer is always about a few bad apples.

    That handful of wormy cops who are (rarely) charged with criminal offences, almost uniformly acquitted — second-degree murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, sexual assault and assault among the trials I’ve personally covered over these past few decades which have resulted in not guilty verdicts — or brought up on Police Act disciplinary charges.

    More like a bushel and a peck, I’d say.

    In the past fortnight alone, we’ve had at least 10 officers from Toronto — with drifts to Durham Region — before the courts and police tribunals or charged or acquitted for lack objective evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.

    The doubt, like the tie, invariably goes to cops.

    I choose to believe that most cops are professional in their job and decent human beings in their contacts with the public. Indeed, I’ve experienced it myself as someone charged with assault. It is not an easy vocation and day-after-day exposure to the worst among us doubtless calcifies the heart. But choosing to believe the best of law enforcement gets ever harder when the evidence before my eyes is so discouraging.

    Cops who drink’n’dine out on the perks of their badge.

    Cops who troll, in their off-hours, the underbelly world of vice and sleaze.

    Cops who lie and plant evidence and perjure themselves on the witness stand.

    Cops who allegedly beat up civilians and then lay charges of obstruct police.

    Cops who allegedly mock a young woman with Down syndrome.

    The violations range from the severe to the picayune, although nothing is picayune when the courts exact consequences from those who run afoul of the law. In one instance, which has received no publicity, a police officer charged a 19-year-old boy I know intimately with smoking — smoking— outside a restaurant in a Downsview strip mall. When the youth was unable to identify himself — which he had the right not to do; there was no allegation of a suspect being sought for a crime — he was arrested, taken to the station and subjected to a search which turned up a flick knife and small quantity of marijuana. Charges included possession of a restricted weapon, resulting from what very likely may have been an illegal search under the circumstances. The young man pleaded guilty earlier this month and is now burdened with a criminal record.

    Since when do Toronto cops charge for smoking, unless they’ve got a burr up their butt? That’s a job for bylaw enforcement officers and, thus far this year, they’ve laid precisely two tickets for non-compliance with the municipal regulation.

    Read more:

    Toronto, Durham police accused of covering up Dafonte Miller assault case

    Two police probes into beating of Dafonte Miller fall short: Editorial

    If Toronto police are serious about restoring our faith they need to root out the bad-apple cops: Keenan

    My point is that cops have too much discretional authority and they wield it like the bullies too many of them are.

    Bad apples? When compared proportionately with the civilian population, are they more or less criminal, more or less discreditable, more or less likely to catch a break from colleagues, courts and the justice system?

    Social media has made it more difficult these days for cops to keep their own unruly behaviour off the radar. Every smartphone is a surveillance camera. Yet that evidence, brought into a courtroom or a police tribunal or a coroner’s inquest, can be freeze-frame parsed into incoherency by deft cop lawyers, the kind you and I could probably not afford.

    And what do we, the public, have to shield against police brutality, whether it happens on a deserted street at three o’clock in the morning or in broad daylight on the lawns of the legislature by cops who’ve removed their identifying badge numbers?

    We have the Criminal Code, of course, except police officers are extensions of it because they do the charging and the investigating, even when another police force is brought in. We have the near toothless Special Investigations Unit, generally staffed by ex-cops. We have Internal Affairs and Professional Standards Units that sometimes — as in the case of parking enforcement officer who brought sex assault charges against three Toronto constables — conduct stunningly sloppy investigations.

    We have civilian oversight agencies such as the Office of the Independent Police Review Director which too often tosses complaints back to police chiefs for investigation and determination of charges.

    And we have endless reviews, task forces, internal and external audits, hundreds of recommendations that amount to a hill of beans.

    Cops have learned the lesson well: There are few consequences for brutish behaviour. Chances are you’ll get away with it, even if subjected to the mild unpleasantness of being public identified on a charge sheet. Even then, your salary will continue to be paid and you won’t be fired by your chief because that’s a legal mosh-pit.

    On Wednesday, lawyer Julian Falconer called for both a systematic review by the OIPRD to look at “underlying causes” of the alleged mishandling of a complaint by both Toronto Police Service and Durham Regional Police Service — concealing of an alleged crime to avoid SIU involvement — and a wider probe of how the SIU is being prevented from executing its mandate. Falconer has asked that the matter not be referred back to the TPS, the DRPS or any other police service for investigation. Which leaves I don’t know what, given the current complaint structure.

    Falconer has been down this road before with complainants, a road that has wound its way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which vouchsafed the statutory obligation for police officers to co-operate fully with the SIU in their investigations.

    I’ve lost count of the number of times this was shown not to have happened — and I don’t mean just subject officers, who are constitutionally protected against self-incrimination and therefore aren’t compelled to make a statement or submit to questioning. (A matter which seriously deserves a second-think by the Supremes.)

    “Here I sit in 2017 facing the same issue,” Falconer told a press conference. “Why do police have the power to charge with obstruct justice those who interfere in an investigation but SIU investigators do not. And the answer is that there is every reality that it will be enormously career-limiting for a director of SIU to even contemplate laying an obstruct justice charge. This has to change.”

    Falconer represents a 19-year-old Black male, Dafonte Miller, who was beaten with a metal pipe last December in Whitby — extensive injuries suffered, including permanent loss of vision in one eye, broken orbital bone, broken nose, fractured wrist — allegedly by two brothers, one of whom was an off-duty Toronto cop. And further, Falconer maintains, that their father, himself a Toronto cop with Professional Standards, was complicit in concealing his sons’ alleged crimes by having communication with the Durham investigators. He sets out, in his formally filed complaint, “clear steps that were taken in protecting these two thugs.”

    The investigation, as it unfolded that night, certainly appears shabby, with the brothers’ version of events — that they’d been attacked by Miller, with a pipe — accepted as de facto truth, with no follow-through on how Miller came by all those serious injuries. Nor was the SIU informed of the incident — as is required when a member of the public suffers serious injury or death in an incident involving police — until four months later.

    The interim upshot: All charges against Miller were withdrawn. The SIU has charged Michael and Christian Theriault with aggravated assault, assault with a weapon and public mischief for misleading investigators. Nothing against their father, Det. John Theriault.

    Not good enough, argues Falconer.

    “We have to equip our SIU investigators with the same powers of other police officers. We have to create consequences for the police when they undermine an investigation the way in my opinion this investigation was deliberately undermined. There are no incentives for them to comply with the law.

    “Think of the exposure for John Theriault’s two sons had the right thing been done that night and SIU been brought in right away. All of the incentives operate in the opposite direction. There is no law they’re breaking when they undermine an SIU investigation but if they get nailed they face severe consequences. The incentives go in the wrong direction.

    “It’s high time that we make sure that it’s safe for our SIU directors to lay the appropriate charges. Public mischief won’t do it.”

    With the confluence of so many recent events involving on-duty and off-duty cops, the crisis of confidence in policing has become acute.

    But it’s no longer just a handful of activists and journalists decrying police delinquency and monkey-business.

    The public is demanding: What the hell?

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

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    WASHINGTON—The first day of NAFTA talks, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said, was just about “setting the table.”

    Well, the host welcomed his guests by smashing some dishes.

    U.S. President Donald Trump’s top trade official opened the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations on Wednesday with aggressive criticism of the deal, declaring that it has “fundamentally failed many, many Americans” and promising to seek “major” change rather than marginal tweaks.

    U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s opening statement stood in sharp contrast to the friendly language of Freeland, who called NAFTA an “engine of job-creation and economic growth,” and Mexican Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, who said the agreement had fostered continental harmony.

    “We cannot ignore the huge trade deficits, the lost manufacturing jobs, the businesses that have closed or moved,” Lighthizer said at a hotel in Washington.

    Freeland shrugged off Lighthizer’s words, saying Canada was prepared for “moments of rhetoric” during the talks. And trade experts were divided on whether Lighthizer’s public aggressiveness suggested the actual negotiating would be contentious.

    Lighthizer’s audience for the statement was not Canadian or Mexican negotiators but Trump himself, said Bob Fisher, a U.S. negotiator in the original NAFTA talks and now managing director of Hills and Co.

    “There are public statements and there are private negotiations. And most negotiators will tell you, you don’t negotiate in public, you negotiate in private. The dynamics between the two can be very different,” Fisher said.

    Mickey Kantor, U.S. commerce secretary and trade representative under Bill Clinton, said Trump’s team “has a tendency to say things that are either not correct or political positioning.”

    “I’m not saying that’s what Bob Lighthizer was doing. All I’m saying is you can take all of this with a grain of salt and sit down at the table,” Kantor said in an interview.

    But Lawrence Herman, a trade lawyer in Canada, said the administration was signalling that Canada is in for some “very tough and I think unsettling discussions with our American friends.”

    “When you open with a rather aggressive and somewhat unyielding demand, it’s somewhat hard to then walk away from those without appearing to have made concessions. And I don’t think the Trump administration is amenable to making many concessions,” Herman said in an interview.

    Freeland, who met with her two counterparts jointly and one one one, emphasized that the talks had not proceeded into the detailed “weeds” on any issue. She declined to discuss Lighthizer’s manner behind closed doors.

    “Our discussions at the table are private, and it’s important to be able to have private discussions,” she said at a news conference at the Canadian Embassy.

    The launch of the high-stakes negotiations was a major moment for the economies of the three countries and personally for Trump, who campaigned on a promise to transform or terminate the 23-year-old deal.

    But it was overshadowed in the U.S. by the continuing fallout from Trump’s inflammatory response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday. Freeland condemned the racists in remarks before a meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then again at the embassy.

    Trump did not speak or tweet about the negotiations. And they were not treated by the U.S. media as even the top Trump-related economic news: Trump’s primary advisory council of big-business chief executives decided on Wednesday to disband.

    There was broad agreement from the three countries that NAFTA needs to be updated for the modern digital economy. Beyond that, there were substantial differences – not only on policy but on the actual state of the trade relationship.

    Lighthizer, channelling Trump, railed Wednesday about trade deficits, suggesting they would be a major focus for him. Freeland said Canada-U.S. trade is “almost perfectly” balanced — and, echoing the views of most economists, said deficits are not a good method for measuring whether a trade relationship is working.

    “Canada is and always has been a trading nation. Our approach stems from one essential insight: we pursue trade, free and fair, knowing it is not a zero-sum game,” she said.

    There was one early substantive disagreement, on the subject of auto manufacturing.

    As Canada and Mexico expected, Lighthizer raised the issue of “rules of origin.” Trump’s administration would like to raise the percentage of cars and auto parts that must to be manufactured in North America for the product to be exempted from tariffs.

    But Lighthizer went beyond North America content requirements in his opening statement, floating the idea of introducing a U.S.-specific minimum. Freeland and Villarreal later said they opposed a national-origin rule.

    “Obviously, it will not be the best practice to introduce that type of rigidity,” Villarreal said.

    Jerry Dias, president of the Unifor union, which represents Canadian auto workers, said Lighthizer was probably just “loading up” his Day One list of demands, a common bargaining tactic. Dias said he was confident the U.S. would not punish Canada’s auto industry.

    “Ultimately, they will say unequivocally: When it comes to auto, the problem’s not Canada; the problem’s Mexico,” he said.

    Other remarks from the three officials hinted at further challenges to come. Lighthizer said the U.S. wants a system for resolving NAFTA disputes that respects its “sovereignty.” Canada, conversely, wants to preserve the independent “Chapter 19” tribunal system that exists outside of U.S. courts.

    The three countries are ambitiously attempting to conclude negotiations by the beginning of 2018, mindful of the mid-2018 Mexican elections. The first round of negotiations will run until Sunday; the second and third rounds will be held in Mexico and Canada.

    This round will run from Wednesday to Sunday.

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    CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—An Australian senator provoked an angry backlash from lawmakers by wearing a burka in Parliament on Thursday as part of her campaign for a national ban on Islamic face covers.

    Pauline Hanson, leader of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigration One Nation minor party, sat wearing the black head-to-ankle garment for more than 10 minutes before taking it off as she rose to explain that she wanted such outfits banned on national security grounds.

    “There has been a large majority of Australians (who) wish to see the banning of the burka,” said Hanson, an outspoken fan of U.S. President Donald Trump, as senators objected.

    Read more: Anti-Muslim Australian MP Hanson demands halt to immigration

    Attorney-General George Brandis drew applause when he said his government would not ban the burka, and chastised Hanson for what he described as a “stunt” that offended Australia’s Muslim minority.

    “To ridicule that community, to drive it into a corner, to mock its religious garments is an appalling thing to do and I would ask you to reflect on what you have done,” Brandis said.

    Opposition Senate leader Penny Wong told Hanson: “It is one thing to wear religious dress as a sincere act of faith; it is another to wear it as a stunt here in the Senate.”

    Sam Dastyari, an opposition senator and an Iranian-born Muslim, said: “We have seen the stunt of all stunts in this chamber by Sen. Hanson.”

    “The close to 500,000 Muslim Australians do not deserve to be targeted, do not deserve to be marginalized, do not deserve to be ridiculed, do not deserve to have their faith made some political point by the desperate leader of a desperate political party,” Dastyari said.

    Senate President Stephen Parry said Hanson’s identity had been confirmed before she entered the chamber. He also said he would not dictate the standards of dress for the chamber.

    Parliament House briefly segregated women wearing burkas and niqabs in 2014. The department that runs Parliament House said that “persons with facial coverings” would no longer be allowed in the building’s open public galleries. Instead, they were to be directed to galleries usually reserved for noisy schoolchildren, where they could sit behind soundproof glass.

    The policy was branded a “burka ban” and was widely condemned as a segregation of Muslim women, as well as a potential breach of anti-discrimination laws.

    Officials relented, allowing people wearing face coverings in all public areas of Parliament House after the coverings were removed temporarily at the building’s front door so that staff can check the visitor’s identity.

    The reason behind the segregation was never explained, but it seems to have been triggered by a rumour on Sydney talk radio that men dressed in burkas were planning an anti-Muslim demonstration in Parliament House.

    0 0

    NEW YORK—Even before U.S. President Donald Trump began speaking at Trump Tower on Tuesday afternoon, America’s most prominent CEOs knew they had a problem. 

    In the days following the racially charged violence in Virginia, where white supremacists marched with swastikas and a young woman was run down by an alleged Nazi sympathizer, alarmed executives began reaching out to Stephen Schwarzman, the billionaire leader of the Blackstone Group LP and a key figure in Trump’s business brain trust. 

    What followed was a frantic 48 hours of high-level debate and cold calculation among some of the nation’s most prominent CEOs — from Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase & Co. to Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo Inc. — that ended abruptly Wednesday with a remarkable rebuke to the president.

    Read more:

    Trump increasingly isolated as business panels dismantled over Charlottesville remarks

    Exodus of firms fleeing president will soon include Trump Hotels: Mochama

    The complete transcript of Donald Trump’s stunning Tuesday remarks on racist violence in Charlottesville

    Schwarzman, one of the administration’s business ambassadors, listened over the phone this week as one CEO after another expressed dismay over Trump’s response to the deadly events in Charlottesville — and then over his full-throated attack on a prominent Black executive, Kenneth Frazier of Merck & Co., who, unlike many CEOs, had refused to remain silent.

    A conference call on Wednesday morning cemented the decision: The CEOs would disband a White House forum that Trump, the first CEO president, assembled to showcase his supposed rapport with big business.

    This account of the struggle to contain the controversy is based on interviews with numerous people with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to discuss the talks.

    As the violence unfolded in Charlottesville over the weekend, uneasiness among the executives began to build, especially after the president made a statement on Saturday saying “many sides” were to blame for the chaos. But by Monday Trump condemned white supremacists, calming the waters for a time.

    The quiet was short-lived. Speaking at a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan on Tuesday, the president told reporters that “both sides” were to blame for the violence in Virginia, going back on the statement he’d made just 24 hours earlier.

    The reversal stunned and angered the strategy forum executives. After a flurry of phone calls late Tuesday and into Wednesday, a loose consensus was reached that the forum should disband. A group call was arranged for Wednesday morning. 

    Several members who spoke to each other earlier went into the call saying that if the group wasn’t dissolved, they were going to drop out. Among those pushing for a bold statement were International Business Machines Corp. CEO Ginni Rometty, Dimon, Nooyi and General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra. Nobody from the administration participated.

    After the 11:30 a.m. call, Schwarzman was in touch with top White House aide Jared Kushner to inform him of the group’s decision: The controversy had become too much of a distraction. The president tweeted at 1:14 p.m. Wednesday afternoon that he was ending the forum and a parallel manufacturing council “rather than put pressure on the businesspeople” serving on them.

    Figuring out how to handle the ever-shifting rhetoric of an unpredictable president is a challenge like few others businesses have faced in recent years. 

    Early on, America’s largest companies were eager to work with a new president promising to ease regulatory constraints and cut and simplify taxes. Trump showed a fondness for loudly calling out companies on Twitter, but most absorbed the punches and promised to hire more people in the U.S. while touting plans to build more factories and other facilities.

    But the events in Charlottesville appear to have raised the political costs of working with the president. 

    “Within companies, there’s a high level of alert on the public outrage,” said Ben Wikler, the Washington director of, a progressive advocacy group. “The cost to corporate brands rises each day that they continue to align themselves with Trump.”

    Trump has shown a willingness to turn on Republicans over the controversy. On Thursday, he tweeted criticism of GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, whom he called “publicity seeking” for criticizing his remarks on the violence. And he attacked Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, offering support for his primary opponent in a coming election.

    Merck chief Frazier’s resignation from Trump’s manufacturing council on Monday marked the first crack in the councils after the bloody weekend in Charlottesville. 

    Trump was fast to fire back at Frazier, chiding him on Twitter over high drug prices. But investors shrugged — Merck’s shares briefly ran in front of a modestly rising market before sliding back to the pack — and for most of Monday, the other executives on the business panels kept quiet. It wasn’t until late that evening that Intel Corp. CEO Brian Krzanich and Under Armour Inc. chief Kevin Plank emerged to say that they too were stepping back.

    Trump had another Twitter outburst over Frazier’s decision Tuesday morning, before the new conference, calling executives who quit “grandstanders,” while claiming others were eager to sign on.

    While the strategy group was weighing its future in private, one executive after another began to pull out of Trump’s manufacturing council, condemning the president’s statement on white supremacists.

    Following Trump’s comments Tuesday, General Electric Co.’s leadership decided the company wouldn’t be associated with the council any longer, despite chairman Jeffrey Immelt saying a day earlier that he would remain. 

    Immelt and John Flannery, who took over as CEO Aug. 1, received “valuable input” from leaders inside and outside the company, including representatives of GE’s affinity groups, according to a note Flannery sent Wednesday to employees. The executives also spoke with other companies “to discuss the possibility of disbanding the committees,” Flannery said.

    3M Co. chief executive Inge Thulin, who announced his decision to quit shortly before the councils were disbanded, was pressed by Skiftet, a Swedish progressive grassroots organization, to exit Trump’s manufacturing council after the president “failed to properly condemn right-wing extremists and Nazis,” according to the group.

    PepsiCo and Nooyi were pushed to leave the council by a German group, Campact, which posted a video calling for her to step down on Facebook. PepsiCo declined to comment on others resigning from the councils, the president’s press conference Tuesday or a Twitter movement created to pressure Nooyi to step down.

    Johnson & Johnson’s Alex Gorsky had been among the last to weigh in publicly, saying before Trump’s Tuesday news conference that he planned to remain on the manufacturing council “as a way to present the values of our credo as crucial public policy is discussed and developed.”

    But by early Wednesday, Gorsky called Trump’s comments equating white supremacists with the people protesting against them “unacceptable,” and resigned from the manufacturing committee. The group had already been disbanded by the time Gorsky’s statement went out, though J&J said that his decision to quit preceded that move.

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    OTTAWA—Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he’ll do no further interviews with online news outlet The Rebel until it changes its editorial direction.

    Scheer is linking his decision to the Rebel’s coverage of last weekend’s deadly Charlottesville protests.

    The Rebel’s approach was seen by some as sympathetic to the white nationalists who organized the rally, which collapsed into violent clashes that killed one counter-protester and injured nearly 20 others.

    Scheer told reporters in British Columbia that he viewed those events with a great deal of disgust and thinks there’s a fine line between reporting the facts and giving those groups a platform or any kind of legitimacy.

    He says he wants to get his vision out in a way that brings people together and as long as The Rebel’s editorial direction remains as it is, he won’t grant them any interviews.

    Scheer and all conservative politicians have faced pressured in recent days to distance themselves from the conservative news outlet and some MPs had previously broken ties.

    Read more:

    U of T denies group with white nationalist views to hold rally on campus

    The Rebel exodus suggests just one ‘ism’ separates far right from alt-right hate: Paradkar

    Co-founder of The Rebel, Brian Lilley, leaves the conservative media website

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    A woman who is facing numerous terrorism-related charges refused for the third time to appear in a Toronto court Thursday.

    Rehab Dughmosh, 32, was set to appear by video from the Milton detention centre after refusing to leave the centre for two previous court appearances.

    At Thursday’s hearing, Justice Kimberly Crosbie ordered Dughmosh to appear by video at a hearing scheduled for Monday.

    Crosbie ordered Dughmosh brought to the hearing by force if she refuses to attend again.

    Dughmosh is accused of swinging a golf club and knife at Canadian Tire employees and customers on June 3. In her first court appearance she pledged her allegiance to Daesh, also known as ISIS.

    Related story: RCMP lays terror charges against woman accused of wielding a knife at Canadian Tire

    She has refused legal representation and has expressed her intention to plead guilty to the charges.

    With files from Fatima Syed

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    The fragile fabric of Confederation has been torn — and not by politicians.

    A massive century-old oil painting called The Fathers of Confederation hanging over the grand staircase at Queen’s Park was ripped when a work crew tearing down scaffolding from a paint job banged a sharp edge into the canvas.

    Unless you’d rather believe that one of the fathers — Edward Whelan of Prince Edward Island — suddenly sprung to life and kicked a hole two or three fingers wide.

    Read more:Do restorations always improve aging or damaged works of art?

    The oblong tear is just off the toe of Whelan’s boot in the lower left corner of the 6-by-3.5-metre piece unveiled by artist Fredrick S. Challener in 1919 after two years of work.

    “It’s just a shame,” said Alicia Coutts of Toronto Art Restoration Inc., who was travelling in Germany on holiday when she got a query from the Archives of Ontario about doing repairs.

    Reached by the Star in Bremen, Coutts could not estimate how much the project could cost until she returns to Canada in two weeks.

    “Art conservation is expensive. It has to be perfect. It has to last forever,” she said Wednesday.

    Forever has proven tough for the painting, which depicts the Quebec Conference of 1864 and features such historic notables as John A. Macdonald, later Canada’s first prime minister, and George Brown, founder of the Globe and Mail.

    The damaged piece is a carefully crafted copy of the original by famous portrait artist Robert Harris, who was commissioned to paint it by the Canadian government in 1883 and 1884.

    But, tragically, it burned in the 1916 fire that destroyed Parliament in Ottawa. Challener worked from Harris’s preparatory drawings to complete the copy viewed by thousands of tourists a year on tours of the Legislature.

    The painting — which hangs two storeys up and is located across the hall from the Legislative chamber where MPPs meet — will have to come down for the repair, said Coutts, whose firm handled “at least” two dozen punctures from clients last year.

    “It’s a pretty involved process. I just don’t know how involved yet.”

    The accident occurred Monday night with a crew from a private company that has done work in the building before without incident, a Legislature official said.

    “It’s unfortunate,” Jelena Bajcetic said, noting that a decision on who pays the bill will be worked out between the company and the Archives of Ontario.

    The Ministry of Government and Consumer Services said the painting will be sent offsite for the repair work at a cost yet to be determined.

    “We will ensure that the necessary restoration is completed so that the painting can be returned as soon as possible,” said a spokeswoman, Anne-Marie Flanagan.

    Looking at the damage, it’s hard to tell if there’s a flap of torn canvas hanging behind the painting that could be salvaged as part of the repair.

    Typically, paintings get damaged in transit when protective boxes are impaled or when they’re left leaning against chairs and other objects, leaving them susceptible to accidents, Coutts said.

    The history behind Challener’s copy dates to 17 days in October 1864, when delegates from what are now Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. gathered in Quebec City.

    It was a follow-up meeting to one the previous month in Charlottetown, P.E.I., on a union of the provinces in British North America — an idea to which the Maritime provinces were receptive.

    The men who later became known as the fathers of Confederation talked about the structure of government, including representation by population or rep by pop, a Senate based on regional equality, preserving ties with Great Britain and the appointment of a governor general by the Crown across the Atlantic.

    A total of 72 resolutions emerged from the Quebec meeting and they became the basis of a constitution, according to the Legislature’s notes describing the painting.

    The “Quebec Resolutions” were presented to the British government at a conference in London in 1865 and became key parts of the British North America Act passed by the British Parliament in March of 1867.

    That set the stage for Canada’s birth less than four months later on July 1.

    The painting is one of about 2,700 in the Archives of Ontario collection, which includes portraits of premiers and other pieces of art adorning the walls of the Legislature and other government buildings.

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    Stephen Bannon, the White House chief strategist, seemed to take issue with U.S. President Donald Trump on North Korea, attacked white supremacists as “clowns” and “losers” and described his efforts against administration rivals in an unusual interview Wednesday with The American Prospect, a progressive magazine.

    The interview with magazine co-editor and columnist Robert Kuttner was initiated by Bannon, Kuttner said, in an Anthony Scaramucci-style phone call out of the blue in response to a column Kuttner had written on China.

    “Bannon was in high spirits when he phoned me Tuesday afternoon to discuss the politics of taking a harder line with China, and minced no words describing his efforts to neutralize rivals at the departments of Defense, State and Treasury,” wrote Kuttner.

    “ ‘They’re wetting themselves,’ he said, proceeding to detail how he would oust some of his opponents at State and Defense.”

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

    On North Korea, Bannon said: “ ‘Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.’ ”

    That comment seemed at odds with Trump’s “fire and fury” threats to use military force against North Korea.

    On China, Bannon told Kuttner that the United States was at “economic war” and warned that “one of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path,” according to the article.

    “On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow,” he said.

    Bannon was also asked by Kuttner to comment on the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville last weekend and President Trump’s reluctance to condemn the participants.

    “Ethnonationalism — it’s losers. It’s a fringe element,” Bannon told the magazine. “I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, eh, help crush it more.”

    “These guys are a collection of clowns,” he added.

    The remarks were startling coming from Bannon, who spent more than four years running the far-right website Breitbart News before he was tapped to join Trump’s campaign.

    Bannon, the site’s former executive chair, has called the Breitbart “a platform of the alt-right,” referring to the small, deeply conservative movement that seeks a whites-only state. It was his strategy to use the site to channel white supremacist support for Trump and provide a mouthpiece for his populist message during the 2016 election, a move that helped secure him a senior role in the administration.

    In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, which left a counterprotester dead and others injured, civil rights leaders have called on Trump to fire Bannon over his ties to the white nationalist community, as The Washington Post has reported.

    Read more:

    Longtime Trump aide Hope Hicks takes a temporary step into Anthony Scaramucci’s shoes

    Bromance begone: Gerald Butts must ‘disavow’ reported friendship with Steve Bannon, NDP leader says

    Rising tensions with North Korea bring back Cold War-era nuclear fears

    Asked by reporters Tuesday if he still had confidence in his chief strategist, Trump deflected.

    “He’s not a racist, I can tell you that,” Trump said. “But we’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.”

    Kuttner wrote in Wednesday’s article that he was surprised when he got an email from one of Bannon’s assistants saying he wanted to arrange a meeting. The two ended up speaking by phone on Tuesday afternoon, according to the article.

    When the conversation turned to race and the events in Charlottesville, Bannon dodged questions about his role in cultivating the alt-right, according to the article. He also faulted Democrats for focusing on identity politics.

    “The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ‘em,” he said. “I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

    Kuttner said he was puzzled by the fact that Bannon would call an editor at a progressive magazine and “assume that a possible convergence of views on China trade might somehow paper over the political and moral chasm on white nationalism.”

    “The question of whether the phone call was on or off the record never came up,” he said. “This is also puzzling, since Stephen K. Bannon is not exactly Bambi when it comes to dealing with the press. He’s probably the most media-savvy person in America.”

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    SUN CITY, ARIZ.—U.S.President Donald Trump’s most ardent champions are sticking by him, happy to absolve him of any wrong in the blame game over the deadly weekend violence at a rally of white supremacists.

    Some Republican members of Congress have criticized Trump’s back and forth response since a car slammed into a crowd of counter protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a woman and injuring 19 other people. Trump’s insistence that “both sides” bear responsibility for the violence has sparked anger among many Americans.

    But many of the men and women who helped elect Trump seem unfazed by the outcry over his statements concerning the protest and counter protest over removing a monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

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

    The enthusiasm of many of the president’s core supporters has been noted in the past. Trump himself boasted during the campaign last year he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

    Such unflagging support remains despite polls that show his approval rates dipping overall.

    “I would vote for him again in a heartbeat”

    In Sun City, Arizona, a retirement community and Trump stronghold north of Phoenix, 80-year-old John Libby said nothing the president has done since Election Day has changed his support for the man.

    “I would vote for him again in a heartbeat,” Libby said in the bright sunshine outside a grocery store in a strip mall of low-slung stucco buildings.

    The Des Moines, Iowa, native said he thought the president handled the aftermath of the Charlottesville attack well, but allowed that Trump’s response “wasn’t fast enough for some people.”

    Arriving at the supermarket in his golf cart, Dr. Charles Thomson, a 92-year-old psychiatrist formerly of San Diego, said he voted for Trump and now “I support him more than ever.”

    “He has done nothing to turn me away from him”

    Patricia Aleeyah Robinson, a retired truck driver from Toledo, Ohio, said her support of Trump has cost her friendships and strained family relationships.

    But like many of the president’s most passionate supporters, the 63-year-old black woman said her opinions about Trump have not changed since his response to the violence at the Charlottesville rally.

    “He has done nothing to turn me away from him,” said Robinson. She said he doesn’t defer to racists and feels he is the only president who has ever spoken directly to Black people.

    “He shouldn’t let the press get under his skin”

    Clemente Ruiz, a 49-year-old truck driver in Lubbock, Texas, said he’s been happy with the job Trump has done. “I’d vote for him again tomorrow,” he said.

    The son of a Mexican immigrant who became an American citizen, Ruiz said his only criticism of the president is that he is too “thin-skinned.”

    “He refuses to let anything go,” Ruiz said. “He shouldn’t let the press get under his skin the way they do.”

    But overall, said Ruiz, Trump has accomplished much for the economy. “Everything is looking good as far as that goes and as far as our military goes,” he added.

    Read more:

    Steve Bannon calls white supremacists ‘clowns,’ says rivals ‘wetting themselves’ in interview

    Pence says he supports Trump’s statements on Charlottesville violence: ‘I stand with the president’

    “He speaks his mind”

    Wyoming construction contractor Richard Mathern said he voted for Trump because of his business experience and wasn’t fazed he hadn’t spoken out more forcefully against the weekend violence.

    The 48-year-old is among more than 68 per cent of people in Wyoming who voted for Trump in the widest margin of victory in any state.

    “Trump, he speaks his mind, there’s no doubt about that. It does tend to tick people off,” Mathern said during a break at a home nearing completion in Cheyenne.

    “There’s a lot of hatred down there (in Charlottesville) . . . But tearing down historical statues is not the answer,” he said.

    The president is doing “pretty well”

    Branden Nong, a 35-year-old from a Des Moines, Iowa suburb who works in banking, voted for Trump because he identified with his entrepreneurial background.

    More than six months after watching Trump’s inaugural speech, Nong said he thought the president was doing “pretty well,” even if he would like him to be more careful on Twitter.

    But Nong feels Trump is delivering on the economy with clear markers like job growth. “I’m pretty happy with the results so far,” he said.

    He said the president was “measured” in his response to the violence in Charlottesville, but said it’s unfair to blame him for deepening racial divisions that already existed.

    “Let the president do his job”

    Joyce Ash took a moment to ponder Trump after buying a dress at a Charleston, West Virginia, shopping mall to wear to the funeral for her husband of 33 years, who died of pancreatic cancer.

    The 71-year-old summoned nothing but support for Trump, who led her to ditch her lifelong support of Democrats. She recalled sitting up election night to watch Trump win, and has not regretted her decision.

    “Let the president do his job instead of trying to take him out every time you turn around,” Ash implored.

    She didn’t follow the back-and-forth over Trump’s statements on Charlottesville but saw no reason to question him: “I believe that if they would just give this man a chance, the economy, everything will start going better.”

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    It is “deeply troubling” that a Toronto District School Board policy designed to prevent children who can’t swim from going on canoe trips was ignored, resulting in a drowning, Education Minister Mitzie Hunter says.

    Hunter announced Thursday that the province will immediately review outdoor education and excursion rules at every school board in Ontario in the wake of 15-year-old Jeremiah Perry’s death in Algonquin Park last month.

    Related story:

    Teen who drowned on school trip didn’t pass swim test

    “It should not have happened,” Hunter told reporters on the way into a cabinet meeting at Queen’s Park.

    A key focus of the review will be on making sure policies like the TDSB’s are obeyed by teachers, principals and other education officials.

    “It’s very troubling to me that the procedures were not followed in this instance,” said Hunter, who did not set a timeline for the review with just over two weeks until the new school year begins and field trips resume.

    “I know how important it is that outdoor education and these types of activities are available to students in Ontario and I want to ensure that the safety of students is a top priority and an incident like this never happens again.”

    She could not explain specifically how the government would ensure that school boards comply with policies that are already in place.

    “I want to review the ratio of adults to students when there are outdoor excursions. I want to ensure appropriate resources are in place…and that there are mechanisms for compliance,” Hunter said, hinting at new “checks and balances.”

    “My expectation is that school boards ensure that the priority is the safety of every student.”

    TDSB officials apologized Wednesday for the swim-test lapse that meant about half the students on the canoe trip were not qualified to go.

    The board said future canoe trips will be approved only after the principal of a school sees documents proving all students have passed the required swimming tests.

    Ontario Provincial Police and the coroner are investigating the drowning on July 4, when Perry slipped under the water. His body was found the next day after an extensive search.

    Hunter said the province will also increase funding to learn-to-swim programs “with a particular emphasis on newcomers and ensuring that we have the supports in place for these critical skills.”

    No details on the funding increase were immediately available.

    Hunter, who spoke to Perry’s parents and siblings about his death, said she hopes the tragedy will galvanize the attention of teachers and others in the education system.

    “This type of incident really affects the school community and I believe that it will cause boards to look at their policies, to look at their procedures.”

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    Premier Kathleen Wynne’s balanced budget plan is based on rosy projections, says Ontario’s independent Financial Accountability Office, echoing concerns raised previously.

    “Given the government’s spending plans, maintaining a balanced budget relies critically on an optimistic revenue forecast and, in particular, on very strong growth in tax revenues,” the office said in a report Thursday.

    “There appears to be significant downside risk to the government’s forecast.”

    The report from the FAO warns that maintaining balanced budgets after this fiscal year will require “additional fiscal policy measures” such as new sources of revenue or lower spending.

    Wynne’s Liberal government, which has embarked on a multi-billion dollar plan to build new transit and is bringing in pharmacare for Ontarians under 25, has promised to balance the budget before next June’s election.

    Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s office said the government is confident a strong pace of economic growth, which has seen Ontario outpace growth in other G7 countries for three years, will keep fuelling provincial coffers.

    “Our government has a strong track record of beating our fiscal targets,” spokeswoman Jessica Martin said. “We do so by taking a prudent approach to fiscal planning.”

    The Financial Accountability Office warned that the government is forecasting tax revenue growth in the next four years to average 5.5 per cent annually, higher than the average 4.4 per cent annually in the previous four years.

    “If the government maintains the spending plans laid out in the 2017 budget, a large shortfall in future tax revenues…could lead to renewed deficits,” said the nine-page report.

    About 70 per cent of the government’s tax revenue comes from the personal income tax, corporate taxes and the HST, which are all tied closely to the general health of the economy.

    “The 2017 budget forecasts significantly stronger growth in these three tax revenue drivers than the FAO or the average of other economic forecasters,” the report added.

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    It takes a six-figure income to afford virtually any Toronto area home — even a condo — and that expense is presenting a considerable financial challenge to an important cohort of millennial consumers.

    Separate studies from two real estate companies on Thursday paint pictures of the high income requirements of affording a home, and of the housing aspirations of Canada’s “peak millennials” — adults 25 to 30.

    It takes a household income of more than $200,000 a year to carry the $1.15 million cost of the average detached house in the Toronto region, according to a report from TheRedPin brokerage.

    Even the average condo apartment, costing about $511,000, requires an annual income of $92,925 to afford a $1,933 monthly mortgage, plus taxes, utilities and condo fees, according to the report.

    Meantime, 59 per cent of those aged 25 to 30 in Ontario would like to own a detached house in the next five years, but only 30 per cent think they will be able to afford one, according a new Royal LePage report based on findings by Leger research.

    According to TheRedPin, buyers need more than $150,000 a year to cover the cost of a home in half of 22 Toronto area municipalities.

    The average Toronto home price, $864,228, is affordable to buyers with an annual income of $147,750 — though that average may be skewed lower by the large number of condos on the market.

    The most expensive real estate in the region is in King Township. Buyers there need $264,000 a year to afford the monthly mortgage of $5,883 and other expenses for an average home price of $1.6 million.

    In Oshawa, an annual income of $108,773 is enough to afford the average home price of $552,268.

    TheRedPin study averaged home prices over the first seven months of the year, and assumed a 20 per cent down payment and a 2.99 per cent mortgage, amortized over 25 years. The income requirements took into account the areas’ average utility costs and property taxes and estimated condo fees based on a 900-square-foot condo townhouse and a 750-square-foot apartment.

    Matching home prices to income levels gives buyers a more precise picture of what they can afford, said the brokerage’s Enzo Ceniti.

    “It can be hard to grasp exactly how much you need to earn to be able to invest in a home. Information about home prices increasing or decreasing by a certain percentage isn’t as relevant or as personalized,” he said.

    Drew Rankin, 29, is part of an age group that will grow by 17 per cent in Canada by 2021. He is among the 35 per cent in that cohort that already own a home, according to a report from Royal LePage.

    Like 25 per cent of his contemporaries, Rankin and his girlfriend had help from family with the down on the one-bedroom-plus-den he had been renting near King St. and Spadina Ave. for about $465,000.

    The 700-square-foot unit had the layout and location Rankin and his girlfriend wanted.

    “In terms of where our mindset was, the lifestyle was top of mind, accessibility to friends, restaurants, even work. Sports, concerts, everything is right there,” he said.

    But the condo isn’t big enough to raise a family.

    “I grew up in London, Ont., in a middle-class neighbourhood with a yard and I don’t necessarily view that as an attainable lifestyle for me (in Toronto), at least not in the next 10 years,” said Rankin.

    People in their late 20s face significant affordability barriers compared to their parents when it comes to housing in Toronto, said Royal LePage CEO Phil Soper. While cities have the best employment prospects for young adults, they are also the most expensive property markets.

    The company’s report, he said, “is either a sobering insight into the challenges young people will face as they try to build homes and families or it’s a really optimistic view of Canadian economics. Two thirds of people say they’re going to have a difficult time buying a house because of affordability but nearly all of them want one — 87 per cent,” he said.

    “More adults in Ontario than anywhere else in Canada hope to own a home in the short-term even though it’s the most expensive place in Canada to own a home,” said Soper.

    Condo owner Rankin thinks Toronto real estate offers good value “relative to other global centres.”

    “I have a lot of friends in New York,” he said, “and that’s a totally different scenario.”

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    BARCELONA, SPAIN—A white van jumped the sidewalk Thursday in Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas district, killing and injuring several people as it plowed into a summer crowd of tourists and residents, police said. The El Pais newspaper said police were treating the crash as a terror attack.

    Police cordoned off the broad, popular street, ordering stores and nearby Metro and train stations to close. They asked people to stay away from the area so as not to get in the way of emergency services. A helicopter hovered over the scene.

    Quoting unnamed police sources, El Pais said the two perpetrators of the crash were holed up in a bar in Tallers Street. There was no immediate police confirmation of the report.

    Catalan police tweeted that “there are mortal victims and injured from the crash” without specifying numbers. The Barcelona-based La Vanguardia newspaper reported at least one dead and 20 injured from the van.

    In a photograph on public broadcaster RTVE, three people were lying on the ground in the street of the northern Spanish city Thursday afternoon, apparently being helped by police and others. Other videos showed five people down and recorded people screaming as they fled the scene.

    Las Ramblas, a street of stalls and shops that cuts through the centre of Barcelona, is one of the city’s top tourist destinations. People walk down a wide, pedestrian path in the centre of the street but cars can travel on either side.

    Keith Fleming, an American who lives in Barcelona, was watching TV in his building just off Las Ramblas when he heard a noise and went out to his balcony.

    “I saw women and children just running and they looked terrified,” he said.

    There was a bang, possibly from someone rolling down a store shutter, and more people ran by. Then police arrived and pushed everyone down the street, a full block away. Even people leaning out of doors were being told to go back inside, he said.

    He said police are there with their guns drawn and riot police are at the end of his block. He said his street is now deserted.

    “It’s just kind of a tense situation,” Fleming said. “Clearly people were scared.”

    Cars, trucks and vans have been the weapon of choice in multiple extremist attacks in Europe in the last year.

    The most deadly was the driver of a tractor-trailer who targeted Bastille Day revelers in the southern French city of Nice in July 2016, killing 86 people. In December 2016, 12 people died after a driver used a hijacked trick to drive into a Christmas market in Berlin.

    There have been multiple attacks this year in London, where a man in a rented SUV plowed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing four people before he ran onto the grounds of Parliament and stabbed an unarmed police officer to death in March.

    Four other men drove onto the sidewalk of London Bridge, unleashing a rampage with knives that killed eight people in June. Another man also drove into pedestrians leaving a London mosque later in June.

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    GORAKHPUR, INDIA—It was around 6 a.m. last Friday, said Mohamed Jahid — the father of a very sick little girl being treated at a government hospital — when the oxygen stopped. The situation was desperate, but the parents of children in the intensive care unit did not panic, because they had no idea what was going on.

    Most were villagers like Mr. Jahid, who said they all thought it was normal procedure when the nurses unhooked the ventilators that had been helping keep their children alive, handed out small plastic hand-operated resuscitators and quickly showed the parents how to use them.

    With his daughter gasping for air, Mr. Jahid got right to work.

    “I pumped and pumped,” he said. He looked around the ward. All the parents were pumping and pumping. Unbeknown to them, the hospital’s supplies of oxygen had been steadily dwindling, after the supplier cut off shipments of liquid oxygen for lack of payment. On Friday, despite repeated warnings from the supplier and hospital technicians, the oxygen ran out.

    By the time the flow was stabilized, more than 60 children had died. Many were sick with Japanese encephalitis and other tropical diseases and may have died from other causes, but doctors admitted that the oxygen interruption is likely to have claimed at least several lives.

    The children’s deaths have become a national outrage, headlining front pages of all the major newspapers and marring celebrations this week of India’s 70th anniversary of independence.

    The government hospital, part of the larger Baba Raghav Das Medical College in Gorakhpur, was considered the area’s best, a beacon to millions of people. It is now a symbol of India’s swamped, mismanaged and often corrupt public health care system. As this episode underscored, the system is so enormous and has so many people moving through it that mistakes are often not corrected until many lives are lost.

    Read more:

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    How the legacy of the Partition of British India and Pakistan affects me 70 years later

    The medical college is a monument to that sense of scale. It is a hulking, sprawling network of buildings with nearly 1,000 beds and 3-metre-wide corridors a city block long. With such a deluge of patients, some coming from hundreds of miles away, doctors sometimes work 36-hour double shifts with just a six-hour break, and children are crammed two or three to a bed. Families are camped out everywhere, their bedrolls, blankets, water jugs and round steel food tins clogging the hallways.

    The case has cast a glare on the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in no small part because Gorakhpur is the home turf of one of Mr. Modi’s most contentious allies, Yogi Adityanath. A divisive politician and Hindu ascetic, Adityanath recently became chief minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, which, at 200 million, has more people than all but a handful of the world’s nations.

    The state government’s initial response to the oxygen fiasco was to imply that it was perfectly normal for 10 children to die every day at the Gorakhpur hospital, especially at this time of year, the rainy season, when swarms of mosquitoes spread deadly Japanese encephalitis, a virus that causes brain swelling and seizures.

    That explanation was widely criticized as the height of insensitivity. “Who have we become?” asked Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a leading commentator, in a recent column. “In our republic, poor children are fated to die.”

    The government response continues to be confused. Adityanath’s administration is adamant that the oxygen problem was not responsible for any deaths, even though no autopsies were performed. At the same time, it has suspended the head of the medical college and called for a full investigation.

    Lying just south of the India-Nepal border, Gorakhpur is very lush, especially now, during the monsoon. Some parts of it are beautiful, with dripping banyan trees, brightly painted houses and new shops. There’s even a Domino’s pizza place. But in other areas, stagnant water covers the roads and garbage is stuffed into every nook and cranny — between houses, along riverbanks, heaped up in vacant lots. Entire neighbourhoods seem to be sinking under piles of their own waste.

    The town is surrounded by wet green rice fields that during the rainy season are infested with mosquitoes.

    Brahamdev Yadav, a rice farmer, had never heard of Japanese encephalitis. But by putting his hand to the foreheads of his newborn twins, he could tell they were sick.

    He checked them into the hospital on Aug. 3, around the same time that the hospital’s oxygen supplier was issuing increasingly urgent pleas for payment. In a string of letters to the medical college, the Indian news media reported, the supplier insisted it had its own bills to cover and could not keep delivering liquid oxygen for the hospital’s central oxygen system unless a $100,000 bill was settled.

    In India, public officials often squeeze their vendors for “commissions.” It is widely acknowledged that even after public contracts are awarded, vendors have to grovel for payment, and that the best way to lubricate the bureaucracy is to give the officials in charge a 2 to 5 per cent cut. When asked whom they blamed for the tragedy, several parents of children who died in the oxygen shortage said simply, “corruption.”

    The head of the medical college, R.K. Mishra, who has resigned, was already under suspicion for misusing public money, Indian news outlets reported. In this same part of India, millions of dollars have vanished in other public health corruption scandals.

    The medical college clearly needs all the funds it can get. While a new Japanese encephalitis wing is state of the art, with its plate glass windows and beeping machines, other parts of the hospital are in chaotic disrepair. Giant holes have been punched in the walls, the wide corridors reek of urine, many lights have burned out and water drips from the ceiling, pooling on the floor.

    The hospital is “overburdened 10 times,” said Dr. K. P. Kushwaha, the former head of the medical college.

    Doctors said that many Indian hospitals are like this, often with deadly consequences. In 2011, 16 new mothers died at one crowded hospital in Jodhpur before it was discovered that many intravenous fluid bags were contaminated with bacteria. That same year, 22 babies died at another hospital over a four-day period, though the cause remains unclear.

    On Thursday night, Mr. Jahid arrived at the medical college with his 5-year-old daughter burning with fever and struggling to breathe. This was just hours after the Gorakhpur Newsline, a website featuring local news, published an article warning that the hospital’s oxygen supply was about to run out.

    Mr. Jahid, a jewelry salesman, had not seen that report. Like most others with children at the hospital, he had passed through several smaller facilities before getting there.

    “They told me, ‘Take her to the medical college, where there are good doctors and machines, and she’ll be O.K.,’” he recalled. He said the oxygen cut out five times on Friday.

    Around this time, Mr. Yadav’s newborn twins died. Both of them had been on ventilators. They were 10 days old, and did not even have names. “I thought about killing myself,” Mr. Yadav said.

    As news of the children’s deaths spread, the hospital scrambled to make a partial payment. Liquid oxygen was delivered on Saturday morning and hospital officials insist there was only a two-hour gap between 11:30 p.m. Thursday and 1:30 a.m. Friday without a central oxygen supply.

    They say they brought in cylinders of compressed oxygen during the shortage and kept the oxygen flowing to crucial areas, like the intensive care unit. But several parents disputed that, saying the oxygen flow had not been restored until Friday evening, when journalists with video cameras showed up.

    Several pediatricians interviewed at the hospital said it would be difficult to pinpoint a cause for each of the more than 60 child deaths last week, but that the oxygen cutoff by itself claimed at least two or three lives.

    Mr. Jahid is haunted by thoughts about what he could have done differently. Sitting at home, holding a picture of his daughter, Khushi, he said he had squeezed the manual resuscitator as best he could.

    “She was so affectionate,” said her grandfather, Ilahi. “She would bring me tea, she would bring me food, she would bring me water.”

    He gazed into the alleyway in front of the family home, seeming to see her out there again, walking toward him, and said softly, “She was like my hand.”

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    SAN FRANCISCO—When white supremacists plan rallies like the one a few days ago in Charlottesville, Va., they often organize their events on Facebook, pay for supplies with PayPal, book their lodging with Airbnb and ride with Uber. Technology companies, for their part, have been taking pains to distance themselves from these customers.

    But sometimes it takes more than automated systems or complaints from other users to identify and block those who promote hate speech or violence, so companies are finding novel ways to spot and shut down content they deem inappropriate or dangerous. People don’t tend to share their views on their Airbnb accounts, for example. But after matching user names to posts on social-media profiles, the company canceled dozens of reservations made by self-identified Nazis who were using its app to find rooms in Charlottesville, where they were heading to protest the removal of a Confederate statue.

    At Facebook, which relies on community feedback to flag hateful content for removal, the social network’s private groups meant for like-minded people can be havens for extremists, falling through gaps in the content-moderation system. The company is working quickly to improve its machine-learning capabilities to be able to automatically identify posts that should be reviewed by human moderators.

    Read more:

    Internet giants vow to speedily tackle online hate speech

    Facebook's attempt to moderate content doesn’t address its main problem: Teitel

    These more aggressive actions mark a shift in how companies view their responsibilities. Virtually all these services have long maintained rules on how users should behave, but in the past they’d mostly enforce these policies in response to bad behaviour. After the violence in Charlottesville, which resulted in the death of a counter-protester, their approach has become more proactive, in anticipation of future events. While social-media companies have been grappling for years with how to rid their sites of hateful speech and images, the events of the last several days served as a stark reminder of just how real, present and local the threat posed by white supremacists can be.

    Uber told drivers they don’t have to pick up racists; PayPal said it has the ability to cancel relationships with sites that promote racial intolerance. Even Discover Financial Services, the credit card company, said this week that it was ending its agreements with hate groups. U.S. civil rights advocacy organization Color of Change said Wednesday that Apple Inc. had also moved to block hate sites from using Apple Pay. Facebook shut down eight group pages that it said violated hate-speech policies, including Right Wing Death Squad and White Nationalists United.

    “It’s one thing to say, we do not allow hate groups — it’s another thing to actually go and hunt down the groups, make those decisions, and kick those people off,” said Gerald Kane, a professor of information systems at the Boston College Carroll School of Management. “It’s something most of these companies have avoided intentionally and fervently over the past 10 years.”

    Companies historically have steered clear of trying to determine what is good and what is evil, Kane said. But given the increasingly heated public debate in the U.S., they may feel they need to act, he said.

    There’s some precedent. Globally, tech firms have been criticized by governments for their role in the spread of Daesh (also known as ISIS or ISIL) ideology, particularly on Facebook and Twitter Inc. Both of the social-media companies have stepped up their efforts to remove extremist content, deleting hundreds of thousands of accounts, as well as group pages on Facebook.

    “People have wondered, why are they so focused on Islamic extremism, and not white nationalism or white supremacy in their own backyard?” said Emma Llanso, director of the Center for Democracy & Technology’s Free Expression Project. “Now extremists in the United States are getting swept up in the same policies.”

    Tech companies have no legal obligation in the U.S. to respond to calls to censor racist content online. Under the Communications Decency Act of 1996, intermediaries are immunized from most litigation that claims material on their pages is unlawful.

    That doesn’t mean these companies aren’t feeling the pressure from advertisers and users who fear that pages belonging to self-proclaimed alt-right publications such as the Daily Stormer could incite violence, said Daphne Keller, director of Intermediary Liability at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. The Daily Stormer’s web domain support was revoked this week by GoDaddy and then Google, and Twitter suspended several associated accounts. Technology companies are likely to be evaluating their options in consultation with organizations including the Anti-Defamation League before shaping their policy, Keller said.

    “What’s pushing them is probably a mix of people being revolted by the content, plus the public and advertising pressure,” said Keller, who is also former associate general counsel at Google. “Everything they’re doing is because they want to, or because of public pressure. But not because of the law.”

    In March, Google conceded to giving marketers more control over their online ads after a flurry of brands halted spending in the U.K. amid concerns about offensive content. The company also agreed to expand its definition of hate speech under its advertising policy to include vulnerable racial and socioeconomic groups. The policies marked a sharp turn for Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which had hewed to its position as a neutral content host.

    Google along with Twitter and Facebook continue to face increased pressure to amend their user terms to bring them into compliance with European Union law pertaining to illegal content on their websites.

    Facebook hired thousands more human moderators this year to try to help it tackle violent content, hate speech and extremism on its platform. Meanwhile, chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg has in the past touted Facebook’s product for groups as a key to improving empathy around the world. But when groups are used to silence others or threaten violence, Facebook will remove them, he said Wednesday.

    “With the potential for more rallies, we’re watching the situation closely and will take down threats of physical harm,” Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page. “We won’t always be perfect, but you have my commitment that we’ll keep working to make Facebook a place where everyone can feel safe.”

    Because all the decisions are subjective, it’s going to be important for technology companies to make it clear what standards they’re applying when they’re reacting to public outrage, Llanso said.

    “When does extra scrutiny kick in, if there are other standards, or if it’s a special case?” she said. “They have a lot of leeway, but they still have a responsibility to their user base to explain, what are the terms, when is the company going to weigh in with a values-based judgment?”

    Cloudflare Inc., a web-security company that has protected the networks of several neo-Nazi sites, including the Daily Stormer, faced criticism in May from ProPublica for doing so, and has been one of the “worst offenders when it comes to protecting white-supremacist propaganda,” said Heidi Beirich, who monitors hate groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center. The company has defended itself by saying service providers shouldn’t be censoring content on the internet. But on Wednesday, Cloudflare decided to end its business with the Daily Stormer, saying it could no longer remain neutral because the neo-Nazi website was claiming the company secretly supported its ideology.

    “Maybe even they are waking up to this problem,” Beirich said. “Maybe this is a moment of reckoning and change — and it sure seems serious right now.”

    Still, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince warned that even as he chose to sever ties with the Daily Stormer, the move could set a dangerous precedent.

    “After today, make no mistake, it will be a little bit harder for us to argue against a government somewhere pressuring us into taking down a site they don’t like,” Prince wrote.

    0 0

    ATLANTA—The U.S. Department of Justice says a Canadian man has been charged after allegedly flying to Atlanta in an attempt to have sex with a 13-year-old Georgia girl he met on the internet.

    Officials say the 53-year-old Ontario man has been arraigned on federal charges of using the internet to entice a child for sexual activity and enticing the girl to engage in sexually explicit conduct over the internet.

    Prosecutors allege Yves Joseph Legault met a Marietta, Ga., girl on Omegle, a free and anonymous online text and video chat tool, in July.

    After moving to another site, it’s alleged he asked the teen to perform sexual acts on live video-streaming for him and eventually arranged to travel to Atlanta in order to have sex with her.

    Legault was arrested on Aug. 11 after flying from Toronto to Atlanta and was indicted by a federal grand jury on Tuesday.

    Prosecutors say the girl’s mother had alerted the FBI to the alleged relationship after she intercepted a package sent her daughter from Canada.

    “Cases like this one demonstrate the continued importance for parents to engage with their kids about their activities on the internet, including the apps they are using to chat and the people with whom they are chatting,” U.S. Attorney John Horn said in a release.

    The FBI said Ontario Provincial Police, York regional police and Canada Border Services Agency assisted in the investigation.

    “The investigation, arrest, and resulting federal charges involving Mr. Legault, a Canadian national, is an example of the great partnership and responsiveness of Canadian law enforcement authorities in helping the FBI carry out this mission,” said David J. LeValley, the special agent in charge of the investigation.

    0 0

    Following Legal Aid Ontario’s decision to defund the African Canadian Legal Clinic, members of the Black community are speaking out.

    They include members of a panel consulting on the creation of a replacement clinic.

    A committee of the Legal Aid Ontario board of directors decided to defund the clinic Wednesday because it failed to meet eight conditions imposed in 2014 to address financial mismanagement and poor governance.

    Lawyer Roger Rowe called the turn of events “disappointing.”

    “It’s real hard to get official funding for something that helps Black people, it’s real hard,” he said. “But it is what it is: There’s financial accountability that has to be addressed.”

    Rowe is one of six Black Canadians advising Legal Aid on developing the new organization and ensuring there’s no disruption of legal services to the community. Other panel members include Black Lives Matter founder Sandy Hudson and Zanana Akande, the first Black woman elected to the Ontario legislature.

    There’s no timeline for the new clinic, said Akande, who explained that new board members will be chosen by the community. In the meantime, clients can rely on the Human Rights Legal Support centre, members of the private bar and Legal Aid’s test case program.

    Metro reported earlier this month that the African Canadian Legal Clinic’s funding was in jeopardy due to concerns dating back to 2009.

    A 2013 audit by independent firm PwC found unusual purchases on a company credit card, including $754 for a diamond ring, charged by executive director Margaret Parsons, who provided no evidence to back up her claim she had paid it back.

    Parsons rejected the audit’s finding that $120,000 set aside for vacant staff positions was instead used to give her bonuses over a four-year period.

    Parsons did not respond to a request for comment on the decision.

    In a previous interview with Metro, she denied any financial wrongdoing and said the clinic had been held to a “double standard” and treated unfairly by Legal Aid since it started in 1994.

    Julian Falconer, who has represented Legal Aid in the matter, urged members of the community to look at the documents posted on the organization’s website, including the PwC audit.

    “This is not a happy day, but I think it’s a necessary exercise,” he said.

    “What we have to do is keep our eye on the ball, which is the needs or the unmet needs of very vulnerable people.”

    Tiffany Gooch, a strategist for government relations firm Enterprise, said much of the conversation boils down to Parsons being a “lightning rod” for the community.

    “A lot of the issues were coming back to her, and the institution couldn’t seem to separate itself from her. I do believe mistakes were made. This is more a death-by-a-thousand cuts situation, rather than one anywhere,” she said.

    “I think we, as a community, need to have a larger conversation about transitional leadership,” she added.

    Criminal defence lawyer Annamaria Enenajor was surprised by the decision.

    “Even though there’s a promise to ensure that there will be no disruption in legal services to Black Ontarians, it’s troubling for me that you see the disbanding of an organization, rather than the leadership that was problematic,” said Enenajor.

    “Why reinvent the wheel, unless it’s so rotten to the core?”

    0 0

    CHICAGO—The results of this weekend’s three-game series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field will not make or break the Blue Jays’ chances of remaining a peripheral wild-card hopeful into September. However in facing the World Series champs, the results — good or bad — will surely have an effect on the Jays’ collective psyche.

    The Cubs are reigning champions and though they are struggling to repeat, there is a certain aura about meeting the champs in their own building. Recall the seven games the Jays have played against the class of the American League this year, the Houston Astros. Despite scrambling and scraping to a 3-4 record, the Jays were outscored 63-34 in the seven games, spanked soundly three times and looking outclassed.

    The Cubs’ pitching matchups and the intimidating Wrigley experience are hinting at a mismatch in favour of the home team. Jake Arrieta, Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks against J.A. Happ, Nick Tepesch and Marco Estrada.

    Read more:Donaldson, Blue Jays cap homestand with win over Rays

    American poet laureate Carl Sandburg labelled it “the city of the big shoulders,” and for 108 years the biggest burden this great city had to bear on its shoulders was that, despite the most loyal fan base in North American sports, the beloved MLB team on the North Side of town had been without a World Series win since 1908. Blame day games, blame the goat, blame Bartman. At last, the Cubs became World Series champs. But success has changed perception.

    Cubs fans used to be fatalistically lovable losers: playing nothing but day baseball at Wrigley Field, cheering for Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Hack Wilson, Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg and others. The late hall of fame broadcaster Harry Caray would lead the fans in a heartfelt “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for every seventh-inning stretch. With Caray long gone, celebrity guests now lead the seventh-inning singalong, while usually trying to promote one thing or another.

    Now they have a president, Theo Epstein, who has been labelled the greatest leader in the world by Fortune magazine. Epstein ranked two spots ahead of the Pope, for God’s sake. The Cubs and their fans are no longer losers and they are no longer lovable. With a World Series title under their broad belts, there is a large dollop of smugness and arrogance that has crept into the mix.

    Smug? They even forgave Steve Bartman for his unforgiveable faux pas. In Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, the fan wearing earphones and a glove spoiled what would have been one of the greatest catches in playoff history by Cubs left fielder Moises Alou. The former Expos star leaped and reached over the short brick wall down the left-field line, with a World Series berth within easy reach. Bartman reached out and knocked the ball away.

    The Cubs lost Game 6 and Game 7 with their two best starting pitchers working. The Marlins snuck through the Cubs’ debris on the way to beating the Yankees in the World Series and Bartman became a pariah in the Windy City, going into seclusion until Cubs ownership recently reached out with the offer of a ring. Fourteen years after the fact, he’s got a championship ring — but he’s still Bartman.

    Wrigley Field opened in 1914, two years after the Titanic sunk and two years after the opening of Fenway Park and Tiger Stadium. Tiger Stadium has been replaced, but Fenway and Wrigley remain. Blue Jays players who have never been to Wrigley Field will sense a lot of the same atmosphere, the same pros and the same cons, as the iconic Boston ballpark.

    Making one’s way down to the field from the elevated visitors’ clubhouse at Wrigley, up through the cracked concrete tunnel and out into the sunlight becomes an emotional experience for any true baseball fan. It’s basically the same trek that has been taken by all the legends of the National League for the past 103 years.

    As for visiting players, the act of settling into the batter’s box, toeing the rubber or looking out and seeing the team banners fluttering in the breeze atop the scoreboard — letting you know the standings and the wind direction, and whether to expect a pitchers’ duel or a slugfest — is an experience few others can match.

    But the expectation is that the Wrigley Field we’ll see on Friday for the opener of the Jays series will bear little resemblance, in terms of fan experience, to the Wrigley Field I saw from 1973-94 and 2003-05, when the Jays last paid a visit.

    One of the great fan aspects back then was the bullpens situated on the field of play down each foul line, set apart from the small dugouts — with pitchers having to warm up with a spotter for protection, sitting on straight wooden benches and in constant conversation with the fans in the first few rows. Most relief pitchers found that aspect ultra-charming and a welcome dose of reality.

    Now, the bullpens are tucked under the stands — away from real weather, away from the fans, with expensive seats replacing the old ’pen areas. Cubs ownership claims they tried to maintain the tradition and feel of old Wrigley Field, but not really. Money has changed. The field has changed. The fans have changed.

    But the truth is that for any Jays fans looking for a lasting road experience, this Wrigley Field weekend is the trip of the year.

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