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    Three teachers whose jobs were impacted when a private Islamic high school abruptly shut down, are opening up a new “leadership academy” in the hopes of giving dozens of displaced students a viable alternative.

    The move comes just days before the new school year begins.

    Long-time teachers and employees Riyad Khan, Omar Essawi and Ali Haroon, were in the midst of preparing for the new term at the Islamic Foundation School in east Toronto, when they heard last week that the high school would not be re-opening in September.

    “No one imagined it would lead to this,” said Khan, who has taught at IFS for 11 years, and was one of 35 teachers to unionize in May. “We thought at the most it would give us a way to negotiate in fair dealings with each other,” he said, adding he resigned from IFS last week, but never received a formal layoff notice.

    Once the closure was announced, the three teachers quickly sprang into action to open up the Gibraltar Leadership Academy — a project they have been working on for the last year, Khan said.

    About 50 students, many from IFS, have already registered for the school, said Essawi, who was a non-unionized staffer and former student at IFS.

    Last week, the management at IFS stunned the tight-knit community when they said they had no choice but to close the decades-old high school, citing financial issues and low enrolment. The elementary school at the same site will continue to operate.

    The union, United Food and Commercial Workers, has called the move to close the high school a form of “reprisal” against recently unionized employees.

    On Tuesday, the union filed a complaint with the Ontario Labour Board alleging the employer “has engaged in a series of unfair labour practices” and asked for the matter to be heard “on an expedited basis.”

    Muneeza Sheikh, a partner at Levitt LLP Employment & Labour Law, and legal counsel for Islamic Foundation, said the school was “disappointed at a number of mischaracterizations” set out by the union in their complaint and will be filing a response to the allegations.

    The last-minute closure set the parents and students — many of whom had attended at IFS since Grade 1 — scrambling to find space at local schools, and sad at the prospect of not graduating with their life-long friends.

    Khan and Essawi say that’s why many parents have been willing to consider their school.

    “We have worked with some of these students for years, and our students trust in us, as do their parents,” said Khan. “We fully intend to help them get into university and prepare them as best as we can,” he said, adding another Islamic school, facing low enrolment, offered to let their academy use its facilities for the next year.

    Plans for the academy began last year, with the initial goal of setting up an Islamic school summer program that would “instill Islamic character in our students, ensuring their development as socially responsible citizens of Canada.”

    Essawi said the academy, originally scheduled to open next summer, was to offer students academic credits, but would also reinforce skills “lacking in traditional Islamic schools” like leadership programs, public speaking and a summer co-op. In preparation, they submitted necessary paperwork to the Ministry of Education earlier this year, he said.

    All private schools in Ontario are required to submit a “notice of intention to operate a private school,” after which ministry staff make an unannounced visit to confirm the school meets requirements set out in the Education Act. The ministry also conducts inspections of schools wishing to offer credits towards the high school diploma. Over 1,200 private schools are registered in Ontario.

    A ministry spokeswoman said they had received the required documentation from the academy, and will follow the normal process in the coming months. Moreover, “because the school began this process in June, it may begin operating in September,” she said.

    “This is not a pop-up shop,” said Khan. “We have been dedicated to this project, and Islamic education for a long time. We want to make sure we run the school in the right way.”

    Khan, said pushing for high standards was also his goal as a teacher at IFS, which is why he voted to join the union in May. He said teachers were eager to “have a voice at the table.”

    “A lot of it came down to relationships between the teaching staff and management and how they were treated,” said Khan, including issues of respect and job security.

    He said the issue of wages had not yet come up in negotiations, and was never considered a priority for staff. A union representative told the Star that, on average, teachers were paid around $40,000 a year.

    Fathima Cader, legal counsel for the UFCW, said “the parties were at the very early stages of bargaining” including agreeing on “basic language” in the contract including the preamble, grievance process, and health and safety issues, when the employer decided it was going to close its high school.

    “By this point, the union had not made any wage proposal,” she said, adding the employer provided no indication to the union that there were financial troubles at the last meeting on Aug. 18, or that it had any intention of shutting down. It announced the closure to parents the next day.

    She said IFS management also spoke to parents about a possible tuition increase.

    In a letter to parents sent late last week, IFS management said the high school closure was not related to the union, but that “the high school is being shut down for financial and administrative reasons,” such as low enrolment.

    “The foundation cannot continue without the financial projections, which is the basis of sustainability of any organization,” the letter said.

    In an effort to be more transparent, and “learn from the past,” the management said it plans to hire a human resources officer, an accountant and health and safety officer, will facilitate the formation of a parents association, and will ensure greater consultation with parents on major decisions.

    But when pressed by the union to initiate a last-ditch effort to keep the high school open, the management suggested it was too late.

    “We spoke to the union and explained the difficulty in running the school at a loss with low enrolment,” said Akbar Warsi, a spokesman for the IFS board of directors, in an email. He added that nearly 100 high school students have transferred from the school in the last week.

    Despite the tensions between the two parties, both the union and management say they plan to continue to negotiate a contract for the remaining 25 full-time employees at the school.

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    HOUSTON—Larry and Suzette Cade’s blue car had floated six metres or so. Ten massive logs that the couple had never seen before were scattered on one side of their lawn. There was no trace of the mailbox.

    Thursday was the first glimpse the Cades had of their house since Hurricane Harvey battered and drenched the city. All around Houston, people have begun returning home. Some came in trucks, others in boats. Not everyone stayed; some searched for prized possessions or medications before heading back to shelters. Most simply could not bear to wait any longer to find out: How bad is it?

    The Cades have owned their brick house in northwest Houston for a quarter century, yet on Thursday, it felt unfamiliar.

    Read more:

    Harvey now the second most destructive after Katrina with $80B U.S. in damages — so far

    Tropical storm Harvey makes landfall again, this time in Louisiana

    As Cade tried to pry open the swollen front door, Cade peeked through the window of the family room. Even through a film of dirt, she could see everything was upended. The water had reached well over a metre and a half in the house.

    They stood at their front door holding hands — and crying.

    “I just feel so sad and empty,” Cade, 63, said, standing in the driveway on Thursday afternoon.

    “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God,” Cade, 62, softly repeated as she again walked the perimeter of the house. “This is overwhelming. Everything is thrown everywhere.”

    It was uncertain how many of this region’s residents have tried to return home since the storm, but Houston officials said the numbers in shelters were dropping. The George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston’s main shelter, was housing fewer than 8,000 evacuees by late Thursday, down from about 10,000.

    “I do want people to exercise caution if they are leaving the shelters and returning home,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said late Thursday, “or if they sought lodging someplace else and are returning home. They just need to be extra careful when they are returning.”

    The process of going home had its own complications, given all that this city has been through. Local and state authorities issued an array of cautions: Do not eat anything that had come into contact with floodwaters; check for wildlife, including snakes; and visit homes in daylight.

    And they have been passing around advice for disinfecting soaked furniture: one cup of bleach to 18 litres of water.

    “It’s dirty water,” said Dr. David E. Persse, the public health authority for the City of Houston.

    State Senator John Whitmire, who represents part of Houston, said residents were eager to see their homes.

    “Every human emotion ever found in a society is being experienced,” Whitmire said. “They realize how lucky they are to be alive, in many instances. You’ve got to have priorities: Their priority was one of survival and breathing. Now they want to get back to normal as much as possible.”

    Some went home and moved back in. Others made calls to contractors and landlords, planning repairs. Still others carried out wedding photographs or clothes, then headed back to shelters or the homes of relatives for what may be months. In many cases, the homes are not livable.

    “We could only go in and get some clothing and food,” said Marisela Arevalo, 25, who returned to her house in northeast Houston, but only briefly.

    Standing on a flooded highway not far from her home, Arevalo said the water line in the house came up to her knees.

    Tequoya Stewart-Miller, 30, saw her home for the first time since the flood on Thursday, rolling up to the peach-colored two-story house that she shares with her grandmother and other relatives in the Cypress Creek neighbourhood, northwest of downtown.

    The water had inundated the first story. Her strongest memory of the visit, she said, was the smell of the place: “mildew and death.”

    “It was devastating,” she said. “Just devastating.”

    The house where the family gathered for Friday night card games and Sunday soul food dinners was so destroyed she dared not enter.

    “We had the kids around, we didn’t want them to see,” she said. “That’s traumatizing, to see all they used to have.”

    Back at Larry and Suzette Cade’s house, the couple found their backyard looking as though it had been turned upside down.

    The flower pots Cade had collected over 15 years were smashed and scattered across the backyard. Others had vanished. The fence had fallen in a messy heap. The garage door, gone. Fish had found their way into the swimming pool.

    “Where’s our deck?” Cade wondered aloud.

    Cade whirled around and looked at a muddy patch of earth.

    “Gone too,” he said, shoulders sinking.

    Before they left the house on Sunday afternoon to stay at a hotel with five of their 22 grandchildren, Cade placed a photo of his mother on the top of a two-metre shelf. The photo, more than 50 years old, is so treasured that Cade can recall it with precise detail: he is a toddler wearing black shorts, suspenders and white, hard-bottom, high-top shoes; his mother wears a blue floral dress and holds his hand as they stand in Houston’s Fifth Ward.

    “As soon as I walked to the door this morning, I thought about my mom,” he said. “That photo,” he said, his voice thinned by tears. “I thought the shelf was high enough.” The jumble of furniture that the Cades could see through their windows left little hope.

    They said they had weathered storms before in this neighbourhood northwest of downtown, Bammel Forest, but nothing like Harvey.

    “I have seen the really bad stuff on television,” said Cade, whose family owns a transportation business. “But actually experience it? No. Never.”

    Now, the Cades have to face what’s inside. The door is still swollen shut.

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    WASHINGTON—Senate Republicans will soon run out of time to rely on the barest of their majority to dismantle the Obama health law.

    The Senate parliamentarian has determined that rules governing the effort will expire when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, according to independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee. The rules allow Republicans to dismantle the Obama health care law with just 51 votes, avoiding a filibuster.

    “Today’s determination by the Senate parliamentarian is a major victory for the American people and everyone who fought against President Trump’s attempt to take away health care from up to 32 million people,” Sanders said in a statement. Sanders heads up Democrats on the budget panel and took the lead in the arcane arguments before the parliamentarian, who acts as the Senate’s non-partisan referee.

    Republicans control the Senate 52-48 and were using the special filibuster-proof process in the face of unified Democratic opposition. Now, if Republicans can’t revive the repeal measure in the next four weeks, they will be forced to work with Democrats to change it.

    Read more: Millions will keep health care as Trump, Republicans suffer political defeat

    Trump volunteer sues Republican party for failing to repeal Obamacare

    ‘Let Obamacare fail,’ Trump says after GOP health care plan collapses

    Senate Republicans pulled the plug on their Obamacare repeal effort in July, after falling short in a key vote. It has languished since, despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for senators to keep trying.

    The ruling by Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough is likely the final nail in the coffin, since it means Republicans would have to revive the effort and wrap it up in just a few weeks. Congress returns to Washington next week to face a packed agenda including Hurricane aid, a temporary government-wide funding bill, and raising the government’s borrowing cap to prevent a default on U.S. payments and obligations.

    The bitter battle, and struggle among Republicans, over health care consumed the early months of Trump’s presidency. Now, the administration and its allies in Congress are eager to turn the focus to overhauling the tax code.

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    Some people love the Canadian International Air Show, and others, like myself, see it as a loud annoying tourist trap — that is, until today.

    Gliding above the city, circling the CN Tower, I joined the Canadian Harvard Aerobatic Team in the cockpit of a Second World War plane that took off from Buttonville Airport ahead of the weekend Air Show at The Ex.

    “You have to be individually trained to fly this plane,” my pilot, Kent Beckham says. “Many modern day pilots would never be able to take this off the ground.”

    The Canadian Harvard, which first debuted in 1941 for combat operations, is held in a high regard among pilots. “If you master flying the Harvard, you can fly anything,” Beckham and his team joked before takeoff.

    Beckham, who flies full time for Air Canada, says that the air show is his ‘fun break,’ flying alongside the four-man fleet for around 10 years. He loves it especially because of the novelty and history behind the Harvard.

    “There are no computers on this plane, just your hands, feet and your eyeballs,” he continued. “It’s incredible.”

    From liftoff to touchdown, the pilots seamlessly synchronized the four planes in the air, following the lead pilot’s orders over the radio. The aircraft swooped over and under one another, all while maintaining a concerningly close distance, almost wing-to-wing. I was able to clearly see the pilot and passengers in the other three planes — one of them even took photos of me from their seat.

    “It just looked absolutely beautiful, three four feet away from each other, it’s incredible,” Garry Wilks, an aviation enthusiast who flew in one of the Harvard planes said. “Formation flying is amazing. It gives you a whole new appreciation for the skill of flying.”

    Wilks also hopes the younger generation will become more interested in keeping the air show tradition alive.

    “The history is very important to maintain, it is by which everything our society has grown from. That’s why the air show, these planes are incredible.”

    As a millennial, once sour to the thought of coming anywhere near The Ex or the ‘annoying’ air show, flying in a piece of Canadian history took my head out of the clouds.

    The Canadian International Air Show will be running over Labour Day weekend at The Ex from Saturday to Monday.

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    SALT LAKE CITY—A Utah nurse said she was scared to death when a police officer handcuffed and dragged her screaming from a hospital after she refused to allow blood to be drawn from an unconscious patient.

    After Alex Wubbels and her attorneys released dramatic video of the arrest, prosecutors called for a criminal investigation and Salt Lake City police put Detective Jeff Payne on paid leave Friday.

    “This cop bullied me. He bullied me to the utmost extreme,” Wubbels said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And nobody stood in his way.”

    The Salt Lake City police chief and mayor also apologized and changed department policies in line with the guidance Wubbels was following in the July 26 incident.

    Wubbels, a former alpine skier who competed in the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics, said she adhered to her training and hospital protocols to protect the rights of a patient who could not speak for himself.

    “You can’t just take blood if you don’t have a legitimate concern for something to be tested,” Wubbels said. “It is the most personal property I think that we can have besides our skin and bones and organs.”

    Payne didn’t return messages left at publicly listed phone numbers, and the Salt Lake Police Association union did not respond to messages for comment. The department and a civilian board also are conducting reviews.

    “I was alarmed by what I saw in the video with our officer,” Police Chief Mike Brown said.

    Read more:

    Georgia cop fired after video captures him saying ‘we only shoot Black people’

    Police chiefs blast Trump for seeming to endorse ‘police brutality’

    Police body-camera video shows Wubbels, who works in the burn unit, calmly explaining that she could not take blood from a patient who had been injured in a deadly car accident, citing a recent change in law. A 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling said a blood sample cannot be taken without patient consent or a warrant.

    Wubbels told Payne that a patient had to allow a blood sample to determine intoxication or be under arrest. Otherwise, she said police needed a warrant. Police did not, but Payne insisted.

    The dispute ended with Payne saying, “We’re done, you’re under arrest” and pulling her outside while she screamed and said, “I’ve done nothing wrong!”

    He had called his supervisor and discussed the time-sensitive blood draw for over an hour with hospital staff, police spokeswoman Christina Judd said.

    “It’s not an excuse. It definitely doesn’t forgive what happened,” she said.

    Payne wrote in a police report that he grabbed Wubbels and took her outside to avoid causing a “scene” in the emergency room. He said his boss, a lieutenant whose actions also were being reviewed, told him to arrest Wubbels if she kept interfering.

    The detective left Wubbels in a hot police car for 20 minutes before realizing that blood had already been drawn as part of treatment, said her lawyer, Karra Porter. Wubbels was not charged.

    “This has upended her worldview in a way. She just couldn’t believe this could happen,” Porter said.

    Wubbels and her attorneys on Thursday released the video they obtained through a public records request to call for change. She has not sued, but that could change, said attorney Jake Macfarlane.

    Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said that the video was concerning and called the police chief to ask for a criminal investigation.

    The department is open to the inquiry that will be run by Salt Lake County’s Unified Police, Judd said. Gill’s office will review the findings.

    In response to the incident, Judd said the department updated its blood-draw policy last week to mirror what the hospital uses. She said officers have already received additional training.

    The agency has met with hospital administration to ensure it does not happen again and to repair ties.

    “There’s a strong bond between fire, police and nurses because they all work together to help save lives, and this caused an unfortunate rift that we are hoping to repair immediately,” Judd said.

    The hospital said it’s proud of the way Wubbels handled the situation.

    The patient was a victim in a car crash and Payne wanted the blood sample to show he had done nothing wrong, according to the officer’s written report.

    The patient, William Gray, is a reserve police officer in Rigby, Idaho, according to the city’s police. They thanked Wubbels for protecting his rights.

    Grey is a semi-truck driver and was on the road when a pickup truck fleeing from authorities slammed into him and his truck burst into flames, police reports say.

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    Doug Ford will announce next Friday that he plans to challenge Mayor John Tory in the 2018 Toronto election, sources say.

    Ford has quietly been building a team in his bid for a rematch against Tory, who beat him in the 2014 municipal vote.

    Joe Reis, one of the federal Conservative Party’s top campaign organizers, has been phoning around to elicit support for the former city councillor.

    “Right now, I’m just shaking the trees and seeing if the people that I worked with before will come out for him like they did for his brother (former mayor Rob Ford, who died last year),” he said Friday.

    Reis, who is also well-respected in provincial Progressive Conservative circles, said Torontonians are wary of a bloated civic bureaucracy that fails to deliver on key services.

    “We go back to what his brother used to say: be there for the taxpayer. Drain the swamp . . . although I think that was another bushy-haired guy,” he said, referring to U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been likened to Rob Ford.

    “It’s the same principle, right? Stop the gravy train. I think they’re getting back on the gravy train.”

    Even though the current mayor was leader of the Progressive Conservatives from 2004 until 2009, “the only thing Tory about that man is his name,” Reis joked.

    “I don’t think he’s conservative enough. We need someone who will really pull the purse strings back together and make sure the city understands why they’re there,” he said.

    Asked what the response has been to Ford’s nascent campaign, Reis said: “very good, it’s been excellent. I’ve only had pushback from one person, who will remain nameless, because he has a vested interest in seeing that John Tory is returned.”

    “I understand his personal vested interest . . . and I respect it, but I think, on the whole, people have been supportive. It will be a good run. I think Doug will have a good team,” he said, adding hastily “if he decides to enter.”

    Ford, who had been toying with running for Patrick Brown’s Progressive Conservatives in the June 7, 2018 provincial election, told the Star to “wait until Friday,” when he will announce his plan at the family Ford Fest barbecue in Etobicoke.

    Tory’s campaign would welcome a reprise of the 2014 election, which was a referendum on Rob Ford’s tenure when Toronto was ridiculed around the world for the ex-mayor’s exploits, which included smoking crack.

    “People vividly remember the chaos and dysfunction of the Ford years, and they don’t want to go back,” said one source on the Tory re-election effort, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal strategy.

    “Also, Toronto voters find Trump-style politics repugnant and will not be inclined to look favourably on a candidate who embodies them and has publicly expressed his admiration for the guy,” said the insider, referring to Ford’s praise of Trump.

    Amanda Galbraith, Tory’s former director of communications and his campaign spokeswoman in 2014 before she became a principal at Navigator Ltd., also made the comparison with the mercurial American president.

    “Doug is basically Donald Trump Light. If he wants a rematch, I think voters will take one look at him and say, ‘No, thanks. We’ve seen this movie. We’ve got the T-shirt. We’ve moved on,’ ” she wrote in email.

    Galbraith added that a reboot of 2014 would be “an election and narrative the mayor has fought and won before.”

    “From a political perspective, Doug will drive voters from (the) left to the mayor. It’s a narrative that works for him. If I were Doug, I’d stick to making stickers,” she added, referring to Ford’s decals-and-tags business.

    Ford said Friday he knows Tory’s “little game will be to try to compare me to Donald Trump,” but rejects any parallels.

    Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals want him to run for the provincial Tories, because they believe the Trump comparisons will hurt Brown.

    “I used to take it as a real insult when they compared Rob to Donald Trump; Rob Ford was Rob Ford, and the Fords are the Fords, and we’re going to do what we’ve always done for 25 years for the taxpayers,” said Ford.

    The next municipal election will be held Oct. 22, 2018, four years after the last election, in which Tory received 394,775 votes compared to 330,610 for Ford, who only entered the race after Rob Ford dropped out for health reasons, late in the campaign.

    There have been changes to election rules. The campaign period is now shorter. It used to be that nominations could be filed on Jan. 1. Next year, nominations can be made May 1.

    Campaign finance rules have changed, too; the maximum contribution a candidate can make to his or her campaign is now $25,000.

    Previously, there was no limit on what a candidate could spend as long as it did not exceed the overall spending limit, which was $1.36 million in 2014.

    That year, Doug Ford spent $558,724 of his own money to run for mayor, after his brother Rob’s cancer diagnosis forced Rob to drop out in September. Doug Ford raised $356,167 in donations.

    Tory, who didn’t spend any of his own money, received $2.8 million from more than 5,000 donors.

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    A United Nations committee has urged Ottawa to limit the use of immigration detention and drop a bilateral pact that turns asylum-seekers back at the U.S. land border.

    The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination makes the recommendations in its recent review of how Canada’s government policies and programs are affecting minority groups.

    “The Committee recommends . . . immigration detention is only undertaken as a last resort after fully considering alternative non-custodial measures. Establish a legal time limit on the detention of migrants,” said the report released in Geneva this week.

    Read more:

    Immigration detainees can be jailed indefinitely, federal judge rules

    Immigration board refuses to release four-year detainee Ebrahim Toure

    Caged by Canada

    Canada should also “rescind or at least suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States of America to ensure that all individuals who attempt to enter the State party through a land border are provided with equal access to asylum proceedings,” the report said.

    Ottawa has been under intense criticism for its handling of migrants in detention and the surge of asylum seekers attempting to cross into Canada at unmarked points along the U.S. border.

    A Star investigation, Caged by Canada, this year into immigration detention in Canada found a system that indefinitely warehouses non-citizens away from public scrutiny in high-security criminal detention facilities.

    Some of the detainees are former permanent residents who were convicted for crimes and await deportation. Others are failed refugees waiting for removal or people deemed inadmissible to Canada, flight risks or dangers to the public. More than 100 of the detainees had spent at least three months in jail, and one-third of them have been held for more than a year.

    “We raised the issue of indefinite detention of non-status immigrants and their children, and the committee has listened,” said Shalini Konanur, director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario.

    The Safe Third Country agreement, introduced in 2004, prevents refugees from making asylum claims in both the U.S. and Canada, which clogs the system. Claimants are barred from entering the other country for asylum unless they belong to one of four exemption groups.

    However, the ban does not apply to those who sneak through unmarked points along the border, pushing some asylum-seekers to trek through no man’s land, mostly commonly in Quebec, B.C. and in Manitoba, where hundreds walked in the dead of winter this year, sometimes overnight, to Emerson.

    “Given the current xenophobic political climate in the U.S.A., it is no surprise that the committee has called on Canada to rescind or at least temporarily suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement. Canada cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening down south,” said Debbie Douglas of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.

    A Harvard University Law School review in February also warned about the negative effect of President Donald Trump’s administration on refugees and urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to consider pulling out from the bilateral deal.

    Hursh Jaswal, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said Canada has a robust asylum system and the Safe Third Country Agreement is an important tool for the orderly handling of refugee claims on both sides of the border.

    “While the executive order affected the U.S. system for resettling refugees from abroad, it did not impact the U.S. system for handling domestic asylum claims,” Jaswal said. “Our government is monitoring the situation closely and will carefully evaluate any new developments for potential changes to the domestic asylum system in the U.S.”

    On immigration detention, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the government is committed to improving the system.

    “We need to minimize the use of provincial jails and try to avoid, as much as humanly possible, the holding of children in detention,” said Scott Bardsley, adding that Ottawa is investing $138 million to expand alternatives to detention, improving detention conditions, providing better mental health services and reducing reliance on provincial jails for immigration holding.

    “Under the new government, the number of immigration detentions has decreased, despite an increase in visitors to Canada,” Bardsley said.

    The UN committee also raised alarm over the treatment of migrant workers in Canada.

    “Although the temporary foreign worker program conducts inspections, temporary migrant workers are reportedly susceptible to exploitation and abuses, and are sometimes denied basic health services, and employment and pension benefits to which they may make contributions,” it warned.

    The report called on Ottawa to collect race-based economic and social data to improve monitoring and evaluation of its programs that aim at eliminating racial discrimination and disparities.

    On a positive note, the committee praised Ontario for establishing the anti-racism directorate; Quebec, for passing a bill on combating hate speech and incitement to violence; and Ottawa for its condemnation of Islamophobia, as well as progress made in addressing discrimination against Indigenous peoples, resettling 46,000 Syrian refugees and restoring health care funding for refugees.

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    As Canadians, what is it about the image of a dying child that moves us so?

    You may remember the harrowing pictures of Ethiopia’s starving children 30 years ago during their historic famine. Their plight spurred Canadians on to lead the world in famine relief.

    Or how about the heartbreaking photo two years ago of the lifeless body of tiny Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach? It encouraged Canada to become a world leader in welcoming Syrian refugees.

    Yes, what is it about the image of a dying child that moves us as Canadians — except, it seems, if these children come from Yemen, the scene of what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

    What else are we to conclude?

    According to the UN, Yemen is on the brink of famine. Nearly two million Yemeni children are starving and many have died or have been seriously injured in bombing attacks by the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

    Dramatic photos of these children finally became public this week — and have gone viral around the world on social media — in spite of sweeping Saudi efforts to block media coverage.

    As Canadians, we should stare at these pictures and be ashamed. This time, unlike in Ethiopia and Syria, Canada is no innocent bystander. Our support of this criminal Saudi action may not be as direct as that of the United States and Britain. But our hands are as bloodied.

    By becoming a major arms supplier to Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s worst violators of human rights, Canada is very much complicit in the war crimes being waged against Yemeni civilians by the Saudi military.

    Like most everywhere in the Arab world, the story of this conflict is not a simple one – and blame for what is happening should be widely shared.

    In the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen’s conflict began as a domestic struggle between Houthi rebels sympathetic to Iran and a government supported by Saudi Arabia. It soon turned into a proxy war between the region’s two dominant rivals.

    For the past two years, the Saudi-led military coalition has taken the fight to the rebels, bombing civilians and blockading the besieged rebel-held areas. The impact of the conflict on the Yemeni population has been horrific.

    The death toll has surpassed 10,000 — with many of them children — and more than 40,000 people have been wounded. According to observers, most of the injuries and death can be traced to the Saudi coalition, and many of them come from direct Saudi airstrikes on civilians, which would constitute war crimes.

    What fuels Saudi Arabia’s regional ambitions is a massive military buildup in recent years. Like feeding drugs to an addict, the U.S. and Britain have led the way in arms sales to the Saudi military, and they have also provided logistical support and intelligence to the Yemeni mission.

    Canada is not officially a member of the Saudi coalition in Yemen but we have been an enthusiastic arms supplier to the Saudi military.

    A government report in June indicated that the Saudi government purchased more than $142 million of Canadian arms in 2016, and this made Saudi Arabia the biggest recipient of Canadian arms other than the United States.

    Although the government claims these sales impose restrictions on how the Saudis can use Canadian combat vehicles, there are indications that these limits are being ignored.

    Recent video disclosed by The Globe and Mail and the CBC suggests that the Saudis may have deployed Canadian vehicles against Saudi citizens. And in 2016, it appeared that Canadian-made armoured vehicles were operating in Yemen.

    Is this a surprise? Of course not. Only the naive and delusional would believe that Saudi Arabia would treat Canada’s “restrictions” seriously.

    So, if we look closely at the pictures of the Yemeni children being circulated this week, we have a choice as Canadians.

    We can admit our complicity in these crimes, and move on.

    Or we can remember what Ethiopia in 1985 and Syria in 2015 revealed about Canadians — and conclude that we can do better.

    A starting point would be to do what Amnesty international is urging of Canada: to call upon all states — including Canada — to stop supplying any weapons and military equipment to all the warring parties in Yemen.

    I wonder what these Yemeni children would want us to do.

    Tony Burman is former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News. Reach him @TonyBurman or at .

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    Game in, game out, Mike Morreale always knew what was expected of him when he stepped onto the football field.

    His job as a receiver was to grab the tough yards, get the first downs and take the big hits in the middle of the field.

    Morreale played 12 years in the CFL — that’s 216 regular-season games — and he never missed one of them.

    Over his career, the Hamilton native says he was never diagnosed with a single concussion, which seems astonishing.

    Now that he can look back on his career, how many concussions does he think he suffered?

    “I would have had one every game,” said Morreale, now 46. “Every game.

    “Every game I would have seen stars. Every game I would have had light-headedness. Every game I would have had an issue for a few plays in the huddle after a big hit.

    “I just thought it’s part of the game, that’s what happens,” Morreale added. “I never missed a game my whole career, so add ’em up.”

    He doesn’t blame the team’s medical staff because he says he never told them about the damage he was absorbing.

    “There were many times — probably 30 or 40 games in my career — where I probably shouldn’t have played,” said Morreale. “But I did. You felt you had to be invincible.

    “And I was always scared of someone taking my job,” he added. “That’s the culture that existed in sports.”

    Every former player has at least one story of being knocked senseless on the field at some point and then picking up — or trying to — as if nothing had happened.

    “It was ‘Gladiators,’” said Ticat Hall of Fame linebacker Ben Zambiasi, known throughout his 11-year career as a ferocious hitter.

    “You wanted to eliminate as many of the other players as possible,” said Zambiasi. “The more guys you got out, the better.”

    Kerry Smith, a receiver who played six CFL seasons, including four with the Ticats in the late ’70s and early ’80s, said the tactic in those days was for a defender to wrap up the ball carrier and hold him upright, rather than trying to tackle him to the ground.

    That way, other defenders could take a run at the player, inflicting as much damage as possible.

    He remembers being held up one time by another player, completely defenceless, and having the left side of his head smashed at full speed by a tackler.

    “One of my fillings popped out,” he said.

    After a few plays, he was sent back in.

    He couldn’t see out of his left eye, he said, and the vision in his right eye was garbled “like when the vertical hold used to go in those old TVs.”

    Lee Knight spent 11 seasons in the CFL with the Ticats as a receiver and running back.

    He recalls a time playing in Winnipeg when he jumped to catch a pass and then a defensive back came from underneath and took his legs out. Knight landed on his head.

    One of the Winnipeg players guided Knight back to the bench and told the Ticats’ trainer that he “wasn’t right.”

    The next thing Knight remembers is being on the bench. He started giggling because a rush of childhood memories were flashing through his mind, like a video of his life.

    He tried to go back on the field, but someone had hidden his helmet as a precaution.

    Here are the stories from some of the players who took part in the Spectator’s concussion project:

    When Dan Ferrone watches football now and sees a vicious hit, he shudders.

    “Because I go ‘I did that?’ I can’t believe it,” he said. “I don’t normally watch highlights of myself but when I do, I go ‘Holy sh-t, what the hell was I thinking?’

    “When your aggressiveness is there, you don’t even recognize how you use your head,” Ferrone said. “Other than your hands, it’s probably your No. 1 weapon in the game of football.”

    As an offensive lineman, Ferrone said his head was taking punishment on virtually every play.

    “A running back might not get the ball or a receiver might catch six or seven balls and get tackled and that’s the extent of a great game,” said Ferrone. “Whereas, 60 or 70 offensive plays or however many offensive plays there were in a game, on 98 per cent of those plays as an offensive lineman you were hitting something.

    “And if you weren’t, you weren’t going to be on the team much longer.”

    Ferrone says he was diagnosed with one or two concussions, but suspects now he may have had as many as 10.

    “Do I remember having nausea? Yes,” he said. “Do I remember having the spins or not being able to stand or practice the next day? Yes.

    “Back then the remedy was to stay in a dark room,” he said. “But then when practice started, you had to come out and watch practice.

    “I can remember twice, once in college, once in the pros, that I had trouble standing and watching practice.

    “The concussions were something that could actually give you a break during the week,” he added. “You wouldn’t practice so you didn’t have to hit the rest of the week, so that was always a blessing.”

    Ferrone said he hasn’t experienced symptoms of depression or irritability and calls himself “a happy person.”

    “I don’t think I worry more than any other person,” said Ferrone.

    “The scenario of walking into a room and forgetting why you walked into a room is shared by many of my friends that never played any sport,” he said. “The issue that I fear is walking into a room and not knowing where that room is.”

    “Today, I’m confident that I’m not worse for wear but that could change very quickly.”

    It was just the second game of Bob MacDonald’s university football career when he suffered his only diagnosed concussion.

    He was an 18-year-old offensive lineman for McMaster during the 1986 season and lined up opposite him was a University of Guelph defender he describes as “giganto” — 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds.

    “I went out to cut him and I took his knee right to the side of my head,” said MacDonald. “I dropped and as I started to get up on my hands and knees and raised my head, everything was blue and green. It was just bizarre.

    “I started walking toward the bench and the guy who was playing guard beside me said ‘Bobby, where are you going?’ I said ‘I’m going to the bench.’ He said ‘We’re the other way.’”

    MacDonald played the second half of the game, but he doesn’t remember anything about it.

    After the game, he went back to his parents’ house in Burlington and spent most of the next day, a Sunday, vomiting.

    “But then Monday, I strapped them back on and was back at practice,” said MacDonald.

    Back then, MacDonald said, he was taught to employ three points of contact — punch out with two hands, and then he taps the middle of his forehead, “right here, where your cage and your helmet meet.”

    “I would try to knock snot out of my nose every single contact,” he said. “If I saw snot on my face mask, I thought ‘that’s fantastic.’

    “It’s craziness.”

    MacDonald, now a teacher at Saltfleet Secondary School, is also one of the coaches of the football team.

    He admits he’s really struggling with that role, particularly now that he has participated in this project.

    “It’s a real moral conundrum,” he said. “This might be the final straw.

    “When there are big hits, I’m almost triggered off, like a PTSD response,” MacDonald said. “Like, ‘Oh my God, what just happened to that kid’s brain?’”

    A retired Argonaut receiver, now in his 50s, spent 16 years playing football, starting at age 11, and he admits he now has concerns about the future.

    (As part of the research project protocol, participants were guaranteed anonymity if desired.)

    “Some of it may be natural aging of the brain, but a lot of it I’m wondering ‘Would I be forgetting this? Would I be acting this way if it wasn’t for football?’” he said.

    He was never diagnosed with a concussion, but he does recall a couple of times when he suffered short-term blackouts from hits.

    “Back in those days, you weren’t really seen by medical staff or kept out of play for long,” he said. “The old ‘How many fingers am I holding up?’ and then you’re back in within a few minutes.

    “I can’t even count the number of times where I had impacts where I didn’t necessarily black out, but you’re dazed and just kind of shake it off and get back in the huddle.

    “It was part of the culture,” he said. “The whole peer thing, the whole macho thing.”

    The player said he refused to allow his children to play football, and if he could turn back the clock, he probably wouldn’t have played either.

    “Had we known this information back when we were playing or thinking of playing, that would have changed a lot of our minds and certainly our parents’ minds,” he said.

    “What parent would want to have their kid participating in a sport where there’s a near certainty of having a brain injury if they played for a number of years?”

    It was 1975 and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers, the “ordinary superstar” as he described himself, was electrifying the CFL with his long punt returns.

    “So what opposition defences would do is say ‘To hell with the penalty on no yards, we’ll just take him out,’” said Don Bowman.

    That was bad news for Bowman, who was playing his rookie season in Winnipeg and ended up returning punts himself.

    He was playing in B.C. and back waiting for a punt, with his head up. A B.C. linebacker came racing at him.

    “He’s run 50 yards, he has a towel taped on his arm, so it’s kind of like a cast, and as I’m looking up for the ball, he hits me in the face with a clothesline,” Bowman recalled. “I haven’t even touched the ball yet and I’m down.

    “My face mask is broken, my nose is broken,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I was out for a bit.”

    The trainer ran out and snapped Bowman’s nose back into place with a click. He went to the sideline, cotton swabs were jammed in his nostrils and he thinks he missed one series of plays.

    Then he played the rest of the game, “spitting and swallowing blood.”

    Bowman was never diagnosed with a concussion, but he now thinks in hindsight he may have suffered between six and 10 of them at all levels of football.

    As the interview concludes, Bowman asks a small favour.

    Despite the startling results from the Spectator’s concussion project, despite the damage he may have sustained from the violence of the game, he doesn’t want to be portrayed as being anti-football.

    He’s happy with the choices he’s made and he’s happy with his life.

    “The reality is, you make your decisions and they come with consequences — some good, some bad,” he said. “How you handle them is up to you.

    “You had a chance to excel at something you dreamed about doing and you made it. That’s pretty cool.

    “Out of that whole thing, you developed a personality and a drive or a discipline that helped you do other things in your life,” he added. “So why would you change all that?”

    Jokingly — maybe half joking — Rocky DiPietro says he’s going to post the findings of the Spectator’s concussion project on the fridge so then he can just point to it the next time he forgets something.

    The results, though, are no laughing matter, he admits.

    “Even though you hear about on the radio and read it in the paper, it’s still surprising to see the facts in front of you,” he said. “I didn’t know it was that bad.

    “If you knew the results would you do it all over again? I don’t know,” he said. “But it’s certainly sobering to see all the facts in front of you and know that there’s something to it.”

    DiPietro played 14 seasons, all with Hamilton, and became one of the CFL’s best-ever receivers. Despite absorbing hundreds of punishing hits, DiPietro thinks he managed to escape the sport relatively unscathed.

    “I’d like to look at the positive and think that maybe I’m one of the people who wasn’t affected too much, but I guess I don’t really know,” said DiPietro.

    “I think about it more and more,” he said. “You’re always questioning.

    “If I forget something is there more to it? But I also realize that I’m aging, too.”

    Like Morreale, DiPietro says he was never diagnosed with a concussion. Looking back, he now thinks he may have suffered as many as a dozen.

    “I had my head dinged quite a few times,” he said. “I never really lost consciousness but there were a few times I saw stars and saw black, or getting up wobbly because your head was kind of spinning.”

    For him, the expression “getting your bell rung” was accurate.

    “Hearing the bells, oh yeah,” he said. “Hearing that pitch and then just trying to shake it off as fast as you could and get back to the huddle.”

    DiPietro coached high school football for many years and he still enjoys watching the game, but it bothers him when he sees a violent collision on the field.

    “You get that feeling back when someone gets hit really bad,” he said. “When two guys collide, it kind of brings back some of those memories.

    “You kind of know almost what they’re feeling and it’s not a good thing. Especially now with slow motion — you can see the impact.

    “And I think TV likes that,” he added. “They like the viewers to see that.”

    A year and a half ago, Marv Allemang, 64, was watching Super Bowl 50 when they marched out all of the previous MVPs from Super Bowls past.

    “I remember saying ‘Hey, I’ve got something in common with all those Super Bowl MVPs — we all walk the same,’” Allemang said. “Everybody hobbled out there almost, or tried not to show it.”

    Allemang spent 14 seasons in the CFL, half of them with the Tiger-Cats. He then went on to have a second career as a firefighter, a profession that carries a different set of risks than football.

    “I feel blessed to have been able to be a professional football player and a professional firefighter,” he said, “but you also have to be aware that those are occupations that have side effects and dangers.”

    Allemang said he was never diagnosed with a concussion, but believes he may have suffered a couple from football. He says he was fortunate to have never lost consciousness on the field, but he does remember having headaches.

    “Sometimes I would think it was from wearing my helmet too tight but who knows?” he said. “I’d have headaches and sometimes a bruise on the outside of my skull from the helmet.”

    Allemang admits he worries about what the future holds for him but he tries not to dwell on it.

    “It’s not something I’m depressed about and it doesn’t really affect my mental state,” he said.

    “You ask yourself honestly ‘Would you still do it?’ and if the answer is yes, then you’ve just got to accept it.

    “That’s the decision you made and you go with it,” he added.

    Bob Macoritti, 66, remembers he had just booted a kickoff and was running down the field.

    It was the mid-’70s and he was playing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders against Winnipeg, his former team. One of his friends was on the field for the Bombers.

    “He comes by me and goes ‘Boo’ and he just keeps running by,” Macoritti said. “I’m thinking ‘OK, he didn’t hit me, that’s good.’”

    Then the play changed direction and Macoritti turned to get in position to make a tackle.

    “Well, he’s come from behind me and he’s waiting for me and as I turn, he just lays me right out,” said Macoritti. “Blindsided me.

    “The guys had a good laugh at me going ass over tea kettle on the film.

    “He hit me so hard that my insides felt like they were moving around, like they weren’t part of me, for about three or four days,” he said. “I’ve never felt that before or since.”

    Macoritti thinks he’s had three other concussions — two as a kid and one when he was on the field lacrosse team at university.

    “It was a three-hour bus ride back to the university throwing up the whole way,” he said.

    “They dropped me off in the hospital and I was in the hospital for five days.”

    Like other players, he says he now has some concerns about his short-term memory.

    “I’ll get up and go to do something and in the middle of it ‘What was I going to do?’” he said.

    “Don’t even give me your phone number because I won’t remember it. Names are tough.

    “But I think I’m still functional,” Macoritti said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to ascertain if your injuries are causing this or if it’s just the normal process of aging.”

    Would he do it again? There’s a pause.

    “Ummm … ahhh … it offered me a lot of opportunities,” he hesitates, then tears begin to flow.

    “I don’t know,” Macoritti said, wiping his eyes. “It’s one of the issues I have — I’ve become very emotional. Overly emotional.

    “And I know that can be one of the effects of concussions, an imbalance of your emotions.”

    After a horrid 2-16 season the year before, Mike Morreale and the 1998 edition of the Tiger-Cats suddenly found themselves among the CFL’s elite.

    It was the first year in Hamilton for quarterback Danny McManus and receiver Darren Flutie and with three games to go in the regular season, the Ticats were trying to clinch first place in the East Division.

    They were playing in Saskatchewan and it was second down and 22 yards to go. As luck would have it, Morreale was about 20 yards shy of having 1,000 yards in receptions for the season.

    “Danny threw kind of a line drive over the middle and I went up to get it, left my feet and before my feet could touch the ground, I took a shot in the face,” said Morreale.

    He hung on to the ball, jumped up and stretched out his arm to signal first down.

    “Holy, I didn’t know where I was,” he said. “I could have pointed the other direction — I just happened to land in the proper direction.

    “It’s one of the most hellacious hits I ever took in the head.”

    But there were also lots of random hits, he said, that hurt just as much — a forearm to the face mask, a knee to the temple during a pileup, or his helmet bouncing off the turf during a tackle.

    “The back of the head was always the most painful for me because instantly you’d see stars,” said Morreale. “Everything goes dark and you just kind of shake it off.

    “Can you imagine? Shaking off a brain injury? That’s what you’d do.

    “It’s crazy,” he said. “How do you shake off something that’s already shook in the first place?”

    Now, Morreale says he can’t go on roller-coasters, he can’t spin his daughter around and he doesn’t like anything that involves a lot of motion.

    “There’s a lot of things I can’t do because they make me feel nauseous, so I just avoid them,” he said. “What does the future hold? I don’t know.”

    And yet despite all the “hellacious” hits, despite his estimate he suffered a concussion per game, if someone gave him a chance to strap on the pads again for one more series of plays on the field, Morreale says he’d be tempted to say yes.

    “Physically, I think I could manage one series,” he said. “But that one hit I take could ruin my life.

    “That’s scary,” he said. “Because I think I have a lot of life ahead of me.”


    Study shows ‘disastrous’ damage in brains of retired CFL players


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    MEXICO CITY—Mexico “won’t accept anything that goes against our dignity as a nation,” its president said Saturday, a direct barb against Donald Trump’s repeated denigration of Mexican immigrants, threats against NAFTA and promises to have Mexico pay for a wall between the two countries.

    In the annual state of the union address, Enrique Pena Nieto defended free trade and said North American Free Trade Agreement must be strengthened. A second round of talks between Canadian, U.S. and Mexican trade negotiators to update the accord began on Friday in Mexico City, and will continue through Tuesday. Trump, who as a presidential candidate met with Pena Nieto in Mexico, again this week threatened to tear the deal up.

    “The relationship with the new government of the United States, like any other nation, must be based on irrevocable principles: sovereignty, defence of the national interest and protection of our migrants,” Pena Nieto said.

    “We won’t accept anything that goes against our dignity as a nation,” he told a crowd of politicians and the country’s elite gathered at the National Palace, who rose at that point to deliver the most vigorous standing ovation of his address.

    NAFTA is a necessary vehicle to integrate the region, Pena Nieto said.

    “The negotiating team has precise instructions to participate in this process with seriousness, good faith and a constructive spirit,” he said, “always putting first the interest of Mexico while reaching for a result where all three countries win.”

    On Saturday, Trump said he would discuss with his advisers this week whether to withdraw from a trade deal with South Korea that he has also long criticized. Such a move could stoke economic tensions with a U.S. ally at a time both countries confront a crisis over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

    If Trump withdraws from NAFTA, Mexico, which is Latin America’s second-largest economy, has indicated it would pull out as well.

    Among the thorny issues negotiators are dealing with are what are called rules of origin, which set what percentage of parts in goods need to come from NAFTA countries in order to get tariff breaks, according to a schedule.

    Trump seeks higher U.S. content in goods like automobiles made in Mexico.

    Pena Nieto defended free market reforms passed on his watch and also took a jab at the candidate who leads in polls to succeed him in June 2018 presidential elections: leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has espoused more statist, nationalist positions such as building more government refineries to replace U.S. imports of gasoline.

    “There are visible risks of going backward,” Pena Nieto said.

    “Mexico has not faced such a decisive and determinative crossroads in years,” he said, adding that the country must choose whether to continue down the path of trade and economic liberalization “or surrender to a model from the past that has failed.”

    Pena Nieto also called for Mexico to redouble efforts against violence, saying that restoring peace to the country is the biggest demand of society and top priority of his government.

    After falling in the first years of his administration, the rate of killings is on the rise again. That requires improvement in security forces at the local level across the country, Pena Nieto said. He urged the Mexican Congress to pass an overhaul to turn 1,800 local police forces into 32 state units, an initiative that has been stalled for years, saying Mexico can’t depend on federal forces to permanently provide security in towns and municipalities.

    “We still have much to do,” Pena Nieto said. “Today, a great part of homicides aren’t related to organized crime but with common crimes, for which states and municipalities are responsible. It’s imperative that we address this weakness and the historical lags that exist in our local security forces.”

    Homicides have soared this year, reaching the highest rate this century, as drug cartels spar over trafficking routes. The drug war has also spread to top beach resorts like Cancun and Los Cabos, triggering a U.S. State Department travel advisory for both resorts and endangering a tourism industry that generates $25 billion (Cdn) annually.

    The president’s reference to the spiralling violence signals the severity of the problem, and its likely importance in the upcoming presidential election to choose his successor next July.

    Although the Pena Nieto administration is credited with passing key economic reforms that have ended the state’s oil monopoly and triggered a plunge in prices for mobile-phone service, its record on security has been widely criticized. Successes at taking down drug kingpins like Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman may have only backfired by triggering bloody battles among traffickers fighting to replace them.

    The Mexican president also voiced his support for immigrants illegally brought to the U.S. as children. Trump plans to announce on Tuesday whether he’ll scrap protections for them as he comes under new pressure from top congressional Republicans and hundreds of business leaders to keep the program. The young immigrants are known as “Dreamers” after a proposal to shield them from deportation.

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    A man in his twenties is dead after a shooting in Etobicoke Saturday night.

    Toronto police said the man was shot at around 8:48 p.m. near Tandridge Cres., and Arcot Blvd., near Braeburn Woods Day Care Centre.

    Paramedics said the man was pronounced dead on scene.

    Const. Caroline de Kloet said police received multiple calls for gunshots around that time.

    There is no information on suspects.

    Anyone with information about this shooting is asked to contact police at 416-808-2300 or Crime Stoppers at 416-222-8477.

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    In the lead-up to a crucial vote during which city council flip-flopped on transit plans to approve a multibillion-dollar subway in Scarborough, Jennifer Keesmaat went on the warpath.

    In July 2013, the progressive chief planner — whose departure after five years at the helm was announced on Monday — was trying to make it known to anyone who would listen that a seven-stop light-rail line the province had already agreed to pay for, and the city had already approved, was still the better option.

    Hundreds of pages of emails obtained by the Star through freedom of information requests over the past two years show how Keesmaat became the subway’s strongest critic on staff and tried — but ultimately failed — to prevent what some have called the biggest boondoggle of Toronto transit politics.

    The number of reasons why the three-stop subway was a bad idea added up, Keesmaat agreed in one such email, to an “embarrassment of riches.”

    The push to build a subway in Scarborough was one of the most controversial projects advanced under Keesmaat’s tenure at city hall, one that has complicated her legacy as a progressive city-builder. A compromise plan she later moved under Mayor John Tory today continues to unravel.

    This is the untold story of how she tried behind the scenes to prevent the subway from being approved in the first place.

    By the first week of July 2013, the future of transit in Scarborough was in limbo.

    A surprise and illegal motion from Scarborough councillor and subway backer Glenn De Baeremaeker at an earlier May meeting during a completely unrelated debate — a move supported by then mayor Rob Ford — saw council sending mixed messages. They had endorsed a subway while having a signed agreement with the province’s transit agency, Metrolinx, to build an LRT.

    Metrolinx, unsurprisingly, demanded clarity, triggering another vote, which was scheduled for a July 16 council meeting.

    City staff began preparing a report to help council decide how to proceed, meeting nightly at one point to meet the tight deadlines.

    On July 2, Keesmaat emailed her superiors, then city manager Joe Pennachetti and deputy city manager John Livey.

    She noted media reports that said TTC CEO Andy Byford was meeting Metrolinx officials to review the costs for proceeding with the subway following De Baeremaeker’s motion.

    But Keesmaat was not convinced the subway should be built at all.

    “As we have discussed, there are different opinions as to the validity/relevance of these motions,” Keesmaat wrote, referring to the re-opening of the debate.

    “I am well aware of the issues,” Pennachetti responded, promising to convene a meeting of staff that day.

    The next day, Keesmaat forwarded a proposed outline for the council report to Livey.

    “This is the outline we are working with,” she wrote.

    Importantly, the outline included an example of what the planning department believed should be recommended: “For the reasons presented, subway is not the preferred technology to meet the future planning and transportation vision for this part of the city.”

    Several days later, Pennachetti asked a senior group of staff for further refinements to the draft report.

    Keesmaat responded to that request to make a point: “The subway option DOES NOT make the list of (ten) priority projects when compared with other projects across the city.”

    It was followed by a warning.

    “The quickness of the turn around has meant that we are struggling with a rationale, fair means of assessment,” Keesmaat wrote.

    Two days later, Keesmaat sent Byford an email with the subject line “LRT/Subway – URGENT.”

    “It is my understanding that your support of a subway for Scarborough is based on the projected increase in ridership,” she began. “I would like a more fulsome understanding of (how) you attained this number.”

    “I have not forecast more riders,” Byford responded. “We didn’t reopen this debate so (it’s) up to councillors to say if funds are available.”

    The emails reference a ridership number that would soon appear in the final version of the July report.

    Though earlier analysis estimated the number of subway rush-hour riders by 2031 would be 9,500. That number had suddenly grown to 14,000.

    That number was rarely discussed in any emailed conversations obtained by the Star before that report was tabled.

    But the increase came as a surprise to Keesmaat. She was unaware it had apparently come from her own planning department, not the TTC, as the final report would later state.

    Keesmaat declined to comment for this story. When asked previously about this exchange, the chief planner admitted the analysis leading up to the July vote was both “rushed” and “problematic”.

    Reached by the Star, Pennachetti said he was relying on Keesmaat, Byford and their teams to come up with the recommendations in the report. As for the ridership number, he said: “I don’t have an explanation for that number because it was a transportation planning key issue to determine.”

    By July 9, staff had a working draft of their report to council. A copy obtained by the Star shows that language warning against the perils of a switch to a subway was toned done significantly in the final report.

    For example, a line that said: “At present, there is insufficient information available at this early stage on the net cost of maintaining and operating a proposed extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway” was removed entirely.

    There were also several additions to the final report.

    An entire section on ridership projections, focusing on the 14,000 figure, was added.

    Importantly, this line was included in summary: “TTC staff have identified that either an LRT or subway can effectively serve the Scarborough RT transit corridor. Each technology option offers distinct advantages.”

    On July 10, Keesmaat emailed Pennachetti with the subject “Subway vs LRT” to offer more evidence of the LRT’s benefits.

    “Are you aware that the LRT travels through 3 priority neighbourhoods and the subway travels through one?”

    “Are you aware that this will double the city’s debt — the cost is 3 billion?”

    Pennachetti appears to not have responded by email.

    The next day, Keesmaat emailed Councillor Josh Matlow’s senior policy adviser, Andrew Athanasiu, who had asked for information to support an opinion piece he was drafting to send to the Star. Matlow had been strongly opposed to the push for a subway from the beginning.

    Keesmaat told him they were still working on the report to council, due the next day, and that it had been a “significant negotiation around the table.” She wanted to know what kind of material he needed.

    Athanasiu responded that the piece had already been submitted. “That’s fine,” he said. “There’s an embarrassment of riches as to why this is a bad idea.”

    “It is an embarrassment of riches,” Keesmaat replied. “It is a significant overbuilding of the needed infrastructure.”

    She also noted the cost for a subway, as spelled out in the report, would be “mind boggling” — much higher than anticipated.

    “Has this changed Joe P’s mind at all?” Athanasiu asked, inquiring about the city manager.

    Keesmaat didn’t answer that question in her subsequent email.

    Emails also show that in July staff were monitoring Keesmaat’s tweets and printing them out for her superior, Livey, to see.

    In an email this week, Livey said: “Since I did not access Twitter regularly, I asked staff to print them for me. Staff regularly receive media and social media updates/clippings from strategic communications to help better inform us of the coverage on topics of high interest to the public.”

    When the report was finalized, the recommendations were not at all what Keesmaat had earlier envisioned.

    Instead, it gave council a choice, presenting the subway and the LRT as potential equals, with some caveats. In doing so, staff told council to choose instead of making a firm recommendation as the original outline had done.

    The 45-member council convened on July 16 to discuss the report and make a choice.

    It wasn’t even close. Council voted instead to build a subway, 28-16 (one councillor was absent).

    The subway was again confirmed in a subsequent vote in October, which approved a tax increase to help cover the more than billion-dollar increase in costs. In the years that followed, Keesmaat worked to create a compromise that Mayor John Tory, who campaigned on building the subway, and his allies could support.

    It involved reducing the number of stops from three to one and pitching that the savings could be used to build an extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus.

    In presenting the idea she argued an “express” subway — a favoured term of Tory’s — could be beneficial in the context of a network plan.

    But since that plan was unveiled, mounting costs related to the subway have meant the funds already set aside may not even cover the cost of the subway, let alone the LRT.

    And a recently published study on the subway estimates that in 2055, trains will still be two-thirds empty at rush hour — which would mean steep costs for the city to operate it.

    Announcing she’ll decamp from her post at the end of September this year, Keesmaat will be long gone before any of it is hashed out at council and construction green-lighted.

    At that July debate, Matlow, fighting to keep the LRT plan in place, asked Keesmaat to address the bigger question directly, out in the open. Which would be better for the city?

    Keesmaat, on her feet in the cavernous council chamber, tried to make it clear.

    “Based on the criteria that we have for great city-building, looking at economic development, supporting healthy neighbourhoods, affordability, choice in the system, the LRT option is, in fact, more desirable.”

    “I just want to make sure that my colleagues heard that,” Matlow said as his time to question ran out. “So, you’re saying that all of the evidence-based criteria that you’re using, the LRT for this specific route is the preferred option for Scarborough and Toronto.”

    “That’s correct,” Keesmaat said.

    0 0

    WASHINGTON—An upbeat Donald Trump landed Saturday morning in Houston to get a firsthand look at a flooded and mud-choked metropolis devastated by Hurricane Harvey’s record rainfall and storm surge, declaring himself “very happy” with rescue and recovery efforts.

    The U.S. president was in an optimistic, nearly exuberant mood during a stop at the NRG Center, a convention building converted into a temporary shelter housing 1,200 children and adults displaced by the waters. Touring the facility with television cameras in tow, Trump threw his arms around storm survivors — and they hugged him back — while posing for selfies and hoisting one young girl in his arms.

    “There’s a lot of love. As tough as it’s been, it’s been a wonderful thing to watch,” Trump said before heading into a room where he handed out cardboard boxes with hot dogs and potato chips to residents. “I’m going to do a little bit of help over here.”

    Trump, making his second trip to the region in the past week, also visited with emergency responders and others in Lake Charles, La., who helped during Harvey.

    At a Louisiana guard armoury, Trump thanked the emergency responders for their efforts.

    The trip to Houston and southwestern Louisiana, both of which were affected by Harvey, was part of an effort by the White House to highlight Trump’s empathy and personal connection with people in the region, after he was criticized for not meeting with hurricane survivors during his visit Tuesday.

    The president, wearing a broad smile and a blue windbreaker with the presidential seal Saturday, said shelter residents had given the recovery effort, and him, good reviews. “They’re really happy with what’s going on,” he told the reporters. “It’s something that’s been very well received. Even by you guys, it’s been very well received.”

    He added, “Have a good time, everybody!”

    Floodwaters are receding, and Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston declared his city, the fourth largest in the U.S., “open for business.”

    Still, many Houston streets remain more than a metre underwater after being pelted by 125 centimetres of rain over the past week. An estimated 100,000 houses have been damaged or destroyed, with tens of thousands of displaced residents seeking shelter in local schools, in government buildings or on the couches of friends and neighbours lucky enough to live on higher ground.

    The reaction inside the shelter to Trump’s visit was mostly positive, with a quieter undercurrent of anxiety and skepticism.

    “Is he going to help? Can he help?” asked Devin Harris, 37, a construction worker. “I lost my home. My job is gone. My tools are gone. My car is gone. My life is gone. What is Trump going to do?”

    During his visit to Texas on Tuesday, the president met with emergency management officials in storm-brushed Corpus Christi and Austin, but he kept clear of nearby Rockport and other areas that bore the brunt of the storm, saying he did not want to interfere with early rescue and recovery efforts.

    A few days later, by contrast, Vice-President Mike Pence met storm victims when he joined Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas in clearing fallen tree branches and other debris on the Gulf Coast.

    On Saturday, Trump visited with families at the NRG Center, part of a complex that is home to the Houston Texans of the NFL. He chatted with parents and bent down to play with a few young children drawn to the president and his bustling entourage of Secret Service agents and camera-toting journalists.

    “I’m a Democrat. It raises the morale,” said Kevin Jason Hipolito, 37, an unemployed Houston resident who was rescued from the roof of his flooded Acura after fleeing his swamped first-floor apartment.

    “When he went to Corpus, I was like, ‘Man, he just forgot about us.’ This shows a lot of support,” Hipolito added.

    A largely supportive crowd of about 100 people waving U.S. flags and pro-Trump signs gathered outside Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base on Saturday morning to watch Air Force One land.

    But not everyone thought Trump should be making a visit — much less a second one — to an area still very much in disaster mode, where cities are still flooded, people are lining up for bottled water and homes are being evacuated.

    “This has taken a lot of resources from the emergency medical workers,” said Connie Field, 62, a retired oil accounting worker from Sugar Land, a Houston suburb, who voted for Trump. “We still need them out there.”

    Field, who waved a small U.S. flag at passing military vehicles, did not suffer any damage in the flood. She praised the flood response from local officials, especially Houston’s mayor. She said Texas did not need Trump on the ground.

    “Be at your command post,” she said. “The police need to be out watching these neighbourhoods.”

    White House officials, acutely conscious of such criticism, greenlighted Saturday’s trip after being given assurances by Texas officials that the visit would not disrupt recovery efforts, according to senior administration aides.

    The trip came hours after the administration submitted its initial hurricane recovery funding request to Congress, a $14.5-billion plan that is expected to be a down payment on a much bigger package that could exceed $100 billion, according to estimates by state and local officials.

    Trump was travelling to a region newly free of the storm’s clutches but still suffering in its wake. Flooding has knocked out the water systems of Beaumont, with a population of nearly 120,000, and local officials said they had no idea when service could be restored.

    Late Friday, a chemical fire tore through a plant near Houston, sending a huge column of thick, black, noxious smoke into a sky finally clearing of clouds after days of rain.

    0 0

    Michelle Kungl was pulled from the womb with a broken neck and a grim prognosis.

    Limp and unable to breathe, nobody expected her to survive the difficult forceps delivery 34 years ago. Her parents and doctors were preparing to remove her from life support when suddenly, an elated nurse noticed something miraculous — Michelle’s tiny hand, twitching.

    It was the beginning of an astonishing journey that would see the bright-eyed baby — who had no movement below the neck and was attached to a ventilator to breathe — eventually learn to talk, sit up, walk and even ride a tricycle.

    Photo blog: Against all odds: Michelle Kungl’s everyday battle

    Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Michelle became a media darling. The Star and other local newspapers wrote stories about the little dynamo at the Hospital for Sick Children who couldn’t go home because she relied on a ventilator. She was featured on CBC and CNN as a youngster determined to live like any other child.

    Michelle would spend the first seven years of her life at Sick Kids — the hospital’s longest in-patient — before she was transferred to Bloorview Children’s Hospital, where she was finally allowed to go home for the first time with a nurse. Another seven years would pass before the province’s health-care system provided the support for her to live at home full time.

    Doctors never thought she would live independently. But now 34, Michelle has her own apartment in Richmond Hill with on-site attendants. She drives a 2013 Dodge Caravan Crew SE, enjoys playing video games with her boyfriend, and earns more than $42,500 as a full-time credit card fraud investigator for a bank.

    Michelle overcame impossible medical odds as a child. But as an adult she is fighting her most frustrating and seemingly impossible battle yet — convincing Ontario’s narrow and rule-bound social assistance system that she is disabled enough to receive help to cover her extraordinary medical and disability-related expenses.

    “The impact this is having on her life is devastating,” says her lawyer Brendon Pooran, who specializes in human rights and financial security for people with disabilities.

    * * *

    It is early July and after 11 months of emails, phone calls and meetings, Michelle believes York Region’s Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) office has finally sorted out her monthly payments and extended health benefits.

    The bad news comes first thing in the morning on July 6, when Michelle’s ODSP worker calls to say her provincial support has been suspended for about the 50th time in almost 14 years.

    Today, it is because she received three bi-weekly paycheques in June and has — once again — exceeded the program’s monthly income threshold.

    “I don’t believe that they care at all about me — I’m just a number, a case file,” she writes in an email to her mother.

    “They give you as little as they possibly can and turn away from you like you are invisible.”

    Since she finished college in 2003, Michelle has had to choose between her health — even survival — and being an active and productive member of society.

    The irony is, she knows exactly what she could do to make these headaches disappear overnight.

    “Everything would be so much easier if I just didn’t work,” she sighs, placing her index finger over the tracheotomy tube in her neck to steady her voice.

    And yet Michelle, who achieved “top performer” status at work earlier this year, loves her job.

    “When you are working it helps your mental health. You have friends. You have something to look forward to,” she says. “You have more income — more than what you get on ODSP (alone.) You have activities where you meet new people. It’s better than staying home alone, isolated.”

    Working also keeps her moving, which is good for her overall health, especially her fragile lungs.

    While living in hospital, Michelle learned to breathe without her ventilator, a process that requires her to think about every breath she takes. But she still needs her ventilator when she sleeps and is at home relaxing, in case she nods off.

    “If I forget to breathe, I’m dead,” she says, only half joking.

    Every time her income crosses a certain threshold, Michelle’s benefits are suddenly cut off, leaving her scrambling.

    This day’s latest setback is particularly worrisome because her accessible van is being serviced and she is expecting a bill for more than $2,300. As she has explained dozens of times to ODSP workers who have questioned these expenses, she needs the van for work because accessible public transit doesn’t accommodate her hours.

    To make matters worse, July is when her tenant and auto insurance are due. Michelle pays these expenses annually to save on both premiums and paperwork.

    And it is a mountain of paperwork. Every year, Michelle collects scores of receipts and fills out dozens of forms to convince ODSP to help cover more than $25,000 in annual disability expenses that keep her healthy and able to work.

    Keeping up with the paperwork has become a part-time job for Michelle and a full-time job for her mother Lyn, a 62-year-old artist and retired gallery manager.

    “It’s hard watching your kid struggle,” says Lyn. “But this is beyond that. This is a human rights issue.”

    Michelle can’t work, save money for a vacation or even consider marrying her boyfriend without losing critical financial support, she notes.

    Michelle’s employer allows her to work set hours instead of the usual rotating shifts. Her Friday to Tuesday afternoon/evening work schedule accommodates the one-hour attendant care she receives every morning as well as an extra two-hour appointment every Wednesday when an attendant helps her do laundry or clean the circuits on her ventilator.

    Michelle’s days off are packed with household errands, medical appointments, trips to her wheelchair service technician or auto mechanic and the ever-present administrative burden of keeping track of expenses she must submit monthly to prove she needs ODSP to survive.

    Lost receipts mean lost support and more precious time fighting for reinstatement, so once a month she drives the documents to the ODSP office to ensure nothing goes missing in the mail.

    As of June, Michelle was approved to receive $767.24 a month to offset what she and her mother estimate are almost $1,700 in monthly work-related disability expenses that allow her to hold down a job and remain active in the community. Life-sustaining medical equipment related to her ventilator adds another $507 to Michelle’s monthly costs that she recoups through her company benefits plan and ODSP extended health benefits.

    But as the latest call from her ODSP worker shows, it is never a sure thing.

    From the time she moved into her own apartment and began receiving ODSP in 2003, Michelle’s support has been questioned. There were disputes over her supplies, such as the “trach tie,” a collar she wears around her neck that holds her tracheotomy tube in place. The only brand the program covered cut into her neck until it bled.

    When Michelle’s part-time work hours grew, the program would spit out form letters informing her she was cut off for earning too much.

    Finally, in 2007, while living in Toronto, Michelle’s local legal aid and ODSP workers devised a “creative solution” that ensured her extraordinary disability costs would be taken into account so the cut-off notices would cease.

    Her monthly income support and medical benefits remained relatively stable until last summer when she relocated to an apartment in Richmond Hill closer to work.

    “When she moved, the whole thing fell apart,” Lyn says.

    York Region ODSP didn’t recognize how her case was handled in Toronto, she says. “They told her go home. Deal with it on your own. You are making a salary and you should be able to look after this by yourself.”

    Complicating matters — and adding to the paperwork — was Michelle’s promotion to full-time last fall which entitles her to company benefits.

    Since ODSP is a “program of last resort,” Michelle can no longer submit an annual list of medical supplies to her local pharmacy, order what she needs every month, and have everything covered.

    Instead, she must pay upfront. To get her money back, she has to submit the bills to her company benefits supplier, which covers 80 per cent of most items. Then she has to bring the benefit statement toODSP to cover the balance. Wheelchair repair costs are handled the same way.

    It is an onerous process that usually takes two months and explains why Michelle carries 14 credit cards to juggle the costs. She figures she owes about $30,000.

    * * *

    Dr. Karen Pape was in the neonatal intensive care unit at Sick Kids on Dec. 19, 1982, when Michelle arrived by ambulance from Women’s College Hospital, barely alive.

    And it was Pape’s ground-breaking use of electric stimulation to Michelle’s inert muscles about three years later that changed the course of the young girl’s life.

    But the neonatologist who has since retired from clinical practice, confesses she was shocked when she reconnected with her former patient several years ago while writing a book about innovative treatments for children with early brain and nerve injuries. After everyone worked so hard for Michelle as a child, public systems seem to have abandoned her as an adult, Pape says.

    “She has really been failed. She has chronic ventilatory dependence. This is not a joke. She will die a respiratory death.”

    As far as Pape knows, Michelle is the oldest person with a neonatal spinal cord injury who is partially ventilator dependent and living independently.

    Adults with Michelle’s level of injury are usually in institutions and costing the public hundreds of thousands of dollars, she notes.

    Instead of the constant paper chase and hour-long drive each way to Newmarket to submit her income statements and expense receipts every month to ODSP, Michelle’s time should be spent living her life and looking after her health, Pape says.

    She should have a massage and physiotherapy once a week, an athletic trainer to keep her mobile and an occupational therapist to monitor her for safety and medical aids, the doctor says.

    But none of this is covered by Michelle’s employer or ODSP. Her company benefits cover the equivalent of just one physiotherapy treatment a month.

    Pape was the catalyst for Michelle’s move to Richmond Hill last summer where she lives in an accessible, ground-floor apartment in a non-smoking building with underground parking. Second-hand smoke, which was common in Michelle’s subsidized apartment in Toronto where she lived for almost 13 years, is particularly dangerous for people on ventilators, she notes.

    “She was on the eighth floor of a building where the elevator used to break down. She couldn’t get up the stairs. Her father had to be called to carry her up,” she says, trying to control her exasperation. “She had to scrape the ice from her car in the outdoor parking lot in the winter.”

    Michelle’s new apartment is a huge improvement, Pape says. But even that arrangement comes with a hitch. Now that Michelle is working full-time, her subsidized rent of $352 a month is expected to spike to a “market rate” of more than $1,100 after her annual rent review this fall.

    * * *

    “Hope you weren’t expecting Driving Miss Daisy,” Michelle quips, as she roars out of her underground parking garage in her gold Dodge Caravan. When Michelle is behind the wheel, it is nothing like the 1989 film about an aging Jewish widow and her African-American driver.

    Her license plate — “Sparky8” — is a nickname from her years at Brother André Catholic High School in Markham. The blue butterfly tattoo on her left shoulder blade and an image of the moon and the stars inked on her lower back are also high school relics.

    “Why not look at the moon when you are looking at the moon?” she says with a smirk.

    The van, with a price tag of about $25,000, cost her more than $80,000 after accessibility modifications were installed to accommodate her electric wheelchair. Her 10-year, biweekly loan payments average about $941 a month, an expense that must be paid until 2022. Now that the warranty has run out, her service costs will escalate.

    But the van is Michelle’s life-line.

    Her first stop is almost always Starbucks drive-thru for a venti Caramel Frappuccino “no whipped cream, extra drizzle” or Tim Hortons for a large S’mores Iced Capp.

    Michelle frowns as she pulls into Costco and looks for a wheelchair parking spot. The specially designated spaces often don’t work for her van, which requires at least five metres of clearance for the electric wheelchair ramp that extends out the right-hand sliding door at the push of a button on her keychain. As a result, she parks in a regular spot at the far end of the lot to avoid getting boxed in.

    As she searches for a deal on plastic cups for a work pot-luck, she zips by startled shoppers in her electric wheelchair barking “careful now” in a “don’t mess with me” voice.

    “People just don’t look where they are going,” she says. “And I hate it when people see someone in a wheelchair and just assume you need help.”

    Michelle smiles in the check-out line where clerks greet her by name.

    Growing up amid hospital routines, rules and regulations have given Michelle an intense, if not extreme, respect for authority, confidentiality and protection of personal information in both her professional and private life.

    Punctuality and precision are also touchstones. “I’d rather be an hour early than a minute late,” she says describing how she allows 90 minutes for the 30-minute drive to work.

    “Wheelchair breakdowns, accessibility ramp glitches and difficulty finding wheelchair parking spots. Having a disability takes time,” she says wryly.

    * * *

    Lyn has spent more than three decades fighting for her eldest child’s right to live a normal life. While raising two younger boys, she pushed for Michelle to leave the hospital with a nurse so she could attend school with her peers. She insisted her daughter join the school choir, become a Brownie and a Girl Guide, take taekwondo, go to summer camp and go on family vacations.

    When Michelle became a young adult, Lyn insisted her daughter work part-time and attend college where Michelle lived in residence and learned to drive.

    Michelle credits her mother for her fierce independence.

    But her years of hospital life and Lyn’s constant advocacy have forged a difficult mother-daughter relationship.

    “My mom and I both have different ideas about how I should be conducting myself,” Michelle says diplomatically.

    Strong-willed and extremely private, Michelle refuses to introduce her mother to her boyfriend, a man with spastic cerebral palsy she has dated for more than two years.

    And she is annoyed by Lyn’s discomfort with suctioning.

    Because Michelle can’t cough, she carries a portable medical vacuum mounted to the back of her wheelchair that sucks the mucus from her lungs through a clear narrow catheter. When she sticks the catheter into her lungs through a tracheotomy tube in her neck, the machine whirrs and makes loud slurping noises.

    “I suction wherever I want. But for some people, it makes them feel sick, so Lyn feels I should do it in the bathroom.”

    As a teen, when she finally moved into the family home, Michelle was angry Lyn forced her to leave her wheelchair in the garage and walk or use her walker.

    “She thought it was better for me. Which of course it was,” Michelle concedes.

    Lyn loves her daughter. But she admits Michelle is sometimes hard to like.

    “Michelle’s point of view is f-you. I’m disabled. Get over it,” Lyn says.

    She frets about her daughter’s hygiene and diet. “I find it hard to go to her house and see bags of potato chips and packages of Mr. Noodle everywhere.”

    “Michelle feels I have never accepted her disability,” Lyn says. “And she is right. I’ve never had the luxury of feeling sad for my daughter because I’ve been so busy fighting. I’ve always been the difficult one. I had to be. Because feeling sorry for Michelle was never going to get her where she needed to go.”

    But Lyn knows she has to let go.

    “Michelle is an adult. I have to let her live her life. We all have to let her live her life. And that is what this fight is all about.”

    * * *

    “Hey there, whatcha doing for dinner?” Michelle texts.

    “Call me — easier that way.”

    Michelle’s dad Werner, 60, a bronzed and burly auto mechanic who came to Canada from Germany when he was 18, suggests they meet for dinner at The Keg at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night.

    As often happens when couples have a critically ill child, Werner and Lyn’s marriage collapsed under the stress of Michelle’s traumatic birth and a subsequent failed medical malpractice lawsuit. But as Werner is quick to point out “we are all friends now.”

    “Your mother deserves all the credit for getting you where you are at. It is all your mother,” he tells Michelle as he digs into his order of Baseball Top Sirloin. “She was always there for you. She is a very strong woman . . . Me? I’m just the comic relief.”

    The restaurant rings with Michelle’s distinctive chortle as Werner recounts the time he took her to summer camp, drove onto the highway shoulder and told her the noise from the rumble strip was a helicopter circling overhead.

    “I made you look,” he jokes.

    Werner pulls out his cellphone to share photos of Michelle in a bikini, marching in the gay pride parade and riding on the back of his black Harley Davidson motorcycle.

    Michelle is still laughing when Werner mentions he and his partner have just joined Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park, a local nudist colony.

    “Maybe you want to join too,” he suggests.

    “Could I take my wheelchair?” she shoots back.

    “I can never say no to you,” her father replies. “Except when you ask for a Ferrari.”

    Michelle’s youngest brother, Dane, 30, runs a tow truck company and is often around her father’s Markham auto shop. “I know he will always be there if I need him, especially if my van breaks down on the road,” she smiles.

    But she is closest in both age and spirit to brother Ryan, 33, an electrical engineer, currently studying dentistry in Australia and about to apply to medical school.

    “When I see Michelle I don’t see her disability,” he says over Facetime from Brisbane. “She has never been defined by her disability and has never asked for any handouts.”

    Ryan, the peacemaker in the family, struggles to describe his frustration over his sister’s battles with bureaucracy.

    “What I would hope for Michelle is to see her be supported by a program that gives her a fighting chance at continuing to lead a normal life in the face of extraordinary circumstances,” he adds. “A program that covers her basic medical needs without all the hassle of endless paperwork and red tape.”

    Disability rights lawyer Pooran, is outraged by Michelle’s struggles with ODSP.

    “This constant flow of paperwork — the monitoring and compliance requirements — has had a devastating effect on her physically, emotionally and psychologically. And it has to stop,” he says.

    For more than two decades, Pooran and other disability advocates have been urging Queen’s Park to ease the onerous reporting requirements and strict income and asset rules that govern ODSP. He is accompanying Michelle and Lyn to a meeting with provincial officials early next month to discuss her case.

    Although Pooran acknowledges Michelle is somewhat unique — few with her level of disability work full time — her experience highlights the problem most people on social assistance face when they try to work or receive income from other sources. More than 900,000 Ontarians rely on social assistance, including more than 490,000 on ODSP. Barely 10 per cent of individuals receiving ODSP have employment income.

    It is a key issue Community and Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek asked a provincial working group to address last summer as part of a review of Ontario’s income security system. The group’s 10-year blueprint for reform, is expected in October.

    In the meantime, a ministry spokesperson said the government has already increased the amount individuals and families can deduct from their earnings for disability-work related expenses from $300 to $1,000 a month.

    The ministry is also planning to ease the burden of monthly income and expense reporting by allowing people to submit records electronically.

    “We understand it can be inconvenient, onerous and at times a frustrating process for individuals,” said Kristen Tedesco. “We know we have more work to do and we look forward to the recommendations from the Income Security Working Group in order to further improve social assistance programs in Ontario.”

    * * *

    When the Kungls lost their medical malpractice lawsuit in 1989, it was a crushing blow to Michelle’s financial future.

    As the judge warned in his ruling: “I cannot help but feel that the law has failed the infant plaintiff Michelle. Society must not fail her.”

    The words echo as Lyn continues to battle for her adult child.

    “Our society should be looking after disabled people,” she says. “Our programs should be looking after Michelle’s medical expenses. If she was not working, it would all be covered. It doesn’t make any sense.”

    Lyn confesses she urged doctors to take her severely-injured baby off life-support.

    “I can tell you there were times when I wished for the pain of watching Michelle’s struggle to breathe to end,” she says.

    “She is a woman now. But the struggle to have a life — a life that you and I take for granted — has always been beyond her reach,” she continues. “This is the pain that I share with my child who lives.”

    0 0

    BALTIMORE—The Blue Jays won a game but lost a starter on a rainy Saturday, when Marcus Stroman was forced out of a 7-2 win over the Orioles early after taking a line drive to the elbow.

    Kevin Pillar’s solo home run to right field broke a scoreless deadlock in the fifth inning — and ended a string of 18 scoreless innings going back to Thursday — before the Jays added a couple more homers: a no-doubt three-run dinger to left field by Josh Donaldson in the seventh and a two-run shot by Darwin Barney in the eighth.

    But the concern came well before the power outburst, when Stroman exited the game in the second inning with a right elbow contusion.

    Stroman retired five of six batters before coming up against Baltimore’s Mark Trumbo. The designated hitter’s hit came off the bat at 107.5 miles per hour, according to Statcast, and deflected off the outside of the right hander’s pitching elbow.

    Stroman immediately dropped to the ground and rolled off the mound, writhing in pain. Preliminary X-rays taken during the game were negative for any broken bones. Stroman is considered day to day.

    “It’s just scary, right at first,” Stroman said. “Trumbo hits the ball unbelievably hard. It just caught me right on my elbow, so obviously you panic . . . It just felt like my arm exploded. It's a 108-mile-per-hour line drive.”

    Stroman said he felt better once he realized he still had strength in his wrist and hand. He even lobbied bench coach DeMarlo Hale, filling in for manager John Gibbons, to let him take a couple warm-up pitches. But his arm was already swollen and bruising, so Hale opted to play it safe.

    “He wasn’t getting that far,” Hale said. “I understand he’s a competitor; that’s what we love about Stro. Maybe if he got hit somewhere else but, in my experience, when you get hit on the arm you better be cautious.”

    That meant another busy night for a bullpen that put in six innings Friday. In came left-hander Matt Dermody, who allowed just one hit over 2 1/3 innings, followed by right-hander Luis Santos, making his big-league debut. Toronto added the 26-year-old Dominican to the roster on Saturday while designating one-time rotation fill-in Nick Tepesch for assignment.

    Santos, a starter with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons this year, went 3 1/3 innings, allowing one run on two hits while striking out three.

    Hale called it another outstanding performance by the bullpen.

    “Can’t say enough of what these guys did, keeping this team, with the offence that (the Orioles) have and . . . the game relatively close until we had a couple of good innings,” he said.

    Those started with Pillar’s career-high 14th homer in the top of the fifth, meaning Santos arrived with a one-run lead. Kendrys Morales cashed in Steve Pearce in the next inning with a sacrifice fly. The leadoff hitter had reached third base with a walk and back-to-back singles from Donaldson and Justin Smoak, who returned to the lineup after three days off with a sore right calf.

    Donaldson opened up a 5-0 lead with his 15th long ball in the past 33 games. That scored Darwin Barney, who had doubled to left field, and Luke Maile, on first after getting hit by a pitch.

    Barney added a two-run shot to left field in the eighth inning.

    Orioles right fielder Seth Smith hit a solo home run off Santos to get Baltimore on the board, and Tim Mayza gave up an RBI single to Trumbo in the final inning.

    Following the game, Stroman said Stroman said he had never been hit by a comebacker that high up. “Definitely lucky and thankful for how it all played out.”

    And he was already looking forward to his return to the mound.

    “I’ll be good. I’ll lobby to try and get back out there on Wednesday, to be honest with you, being that I only threw 30 some pitches. But if not, I’ll be back out there on Friday.”

    0 0

    SEOUL—North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspected a new “super explosive” hydrogen bomb meant to be loaded into an intercontinental ballistic missile, Pyongyang’s state media said Sunday, a claim to technological mastery that some outside experts will doubt but that raises the possibility of an imminent nuclear bomb test.

    Photos released by North Korea showed Kim talking with his lieutenants as he observed a silver, peanut-shaped device that was apparently the purported thermonuclear weapon destined for an ICBM. What appeared to be the nose cone of a missile could also be seen near the alleged bomb in one picture, which could not be independently verified and which was taken without outside journalists present. Another photo showed a diagram on the wall behind Kim of a bomb mounted inside a cone.

    Aside from the factuality of the North’s claim, the language in its statement seems a strong signal that Pyongyang will soon conduct another nuclear weapon test, which is crucial if North Korean scientists are to fulfil the national goal of an arsenal of viable nuclear ICBMs that can reach the U.S. mainland. There’s speculation that such a test could come on or around the Sept. 9 anniversary of North Korea’s national founding, something it did last year.

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    As part of the North’s weapons work, Kim was said by his propaganda mavens to have made a visit to the Nuclear Weapons Institute and inspected a “homemade” H-bomb with “super explosive power” that “is adjustable from tens kiloton to hundreds (of) kiloton,” the state run Korean Central News Agency said.

    North Korea in July conducted its first ICBM tests, part of a stunning jump in progress for the country’s nuclear and missile program since Kim rose to power following his father’s death in late 2011. The North followed its two tests of ICBMs, which, when perfected, could target large parts of the United States, by threatening to launch a salvo of its Hwasong-12 intermediate range missiles toward the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam in August.

    It flew a Hwasong-12 over northern Japan last week, the first such overflight by a missile capable of carrying nukes, in a launch Kim described as a “meaningful prelude” to containing Guam, the home of major U.S. military facilities, and more ballistic missile tests targeting the Pacific.

    Vipin Narang, an MIT professor specializing in nuclear strategy, said it’s important to note that North Korea was only showing a mockup of a two-stage thermonuclear device, or H-bomb. “We won’t know what they have until they test it, and even then there may be a great deal of uncertainty depending on the yield and seismic signature and any isotopes we can detect after a test,” he said.

    To back up its claims to nuclear mastery, such tests are vital. The first of its two atomic tests last year involved what Pyongyang claimed was a sophisticated hydrogen bomb; the second it said was its most powerful atomic detonation ever.

    It is almost impossible to independently confirm North Korean statements about its highly secret weapons program. South Korean government officials said the estimated explosive yield of last year’s first test was much smaller than what even a failed hydrogen bomb detonation would produce. There was speculation that North Korea might have detonated a boosted fission bomb, a weapon considered halfway between an atomic bomb and an H-bomb.

    It is clear, however, that each new missile and nuclear test gives the North invaluable information that allows big jumps in capability. A key question is how far North Korea has gotten in efforts to consistently shrink down nuclear warheads so they can fit on long-range missiles.

    “Though we cannot verify the claim, (North Korea) wants us to believe that it can launch a thermonuclear strike now, if it is attacked. Importantly, (North Korea) will also want to test this warhead, probably at a larger yield, to demonstrate this capability,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

    North Korea is thought to have a growing arsenal of nuclear bombs and has spent decades trying to perfect a multistage, long-range missile to eventually carry smaller versions of those bombs.

    South Korea’s main spy agency has previously asserted that it does not think Pyongyang currently has the ability to develop miniaturized nuclear weapons that can be mounted on long-range ballistic missiles. Some experts, however, think the North may have mastered this technology.

    The White House said that President Donald Trump spoke with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan regarding “ongoing efforts to maximize pressure on North Korea.” The statement did not say whether the conversation came before or after the North's latest claim.

    A long line of U.S. presidents has failed to check North Korea’s persistent pursuit of missiles and nuclear weapons. Six-nation negotiations on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for aid fell apart in early 2009.

    The North said in its statement Sunday that its H-bomb “is a multi-functional thermonuclear nuke with great destructive power which can be detonated even at high altitudes for super-powerful EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack according to strategic goals.”

    Kim, according to the statement, claimed that “all components of the H-bomb were homemade . . . thus enabling the country to produce powerful nuclear weapons as many as it wants.”

    In what could be read as a veiled warning of more nuclear tests, Kim underlined the need for scientists to “dynamically conduct the campaign for successfully concluding the final-stage research and development for perfecting the state nuclear force” and “set forth tasks to be fulfilled in the research into nukes.”

    The two Koreas have shared the world’s most heavily fortified border since their war in the early 1950s ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 U.S. troops are deployed in South Korea as deterrence against North Korea.

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    There’s a bit of the wide-eyed 4-year-old in Charles Pachter as he strolls down the Midway at the Canadian National Exhibition.

    Each blast of light and sound and colour from this roller-coaster or that chance to spin the wheel and win a prize stops the celebrated artist in his tracks, and it’s “Oh, I need a picture of myself with this,” or “Oh, isn’t that something?”

    It’s a trip 70 years into the past, to the summer Pachter spent at the Ex, playing the title role in the National Film Board short Johnny at the Fair.

    “I was a movie star for one year and it’s been downhill ever since,” Pachter says.

    Pachter went on to forge a career as one of Canada’s best-known pop artists, with a penchant for celebrating, and sometimes tweaking, classic Canadian iconography. The hockey player murals at College subway station are his work, as are a wide array of images of Queen Elizabeth II riding or petting a moose.

    But in 1947, he was just an energetic little kid from midtown Toronto whose aunt heard the NFB was looking for a boy to star in a movie about the Ex.

    The CNE had been closed before its 1942 season and converted into a military barracks and training ground for the rest of the Second World War. But by 1947, it was set to reopen and poised to show Canadians all the wonders of the modern, postwar world.

    To mark the Exhibition’s triumphant return, the National Film Board assembled an 11-minute film about a little boy who goes to the CNE with his parents, gets lost and winds up seeing all the wonders the Ex has to offer — in between brushes with Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis and figure skater Barbara Ann Scott, the “Wondergirl of the Ice Rinks.”

    Pachter recalls “doing somersaults and picking my nose and blowing bubble gum” at the audition.

    The producers hired him almost immediately, for a fee of $101, and Pachter’s real-life mother and father were brought in to play Johnny’s worried parents.

    Every day for two weeks that summer, Pachter ran amok at the Ex for the cameras.

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    Back in those days, Pachter says, the CNE was more like an educational fair.

    “They had all the newest things that came out,” he remembers. “The women dressed in cocktail dress and high heels and the men were in suits. The Ex now is a whole other ballgame.”

    The film’s narrator — actor Lorne Green, who went on to star in TV’s Bonanza and Battlestar Galactica— heralds glamourous new gadgets like electric typewriters, “television receivers,” plastic bathroom sinks, rear-engine cars, fireproof ironing boards and jet planes.

    There’s a “Chemical Wonderland” where scientists cook up “1,001 substances never before seen in nature.”

    Johnny sees it all, visiting the hall of mirrors, a fashion show, a speedboat race.

    Scott plants a kiss on Johnny’s cheek that the nonplussed Pachter quickly wipes off.

    “It was a dream, with all these crazy characters that I just accepted as normal at the time and I went around watching it all with great glee,” Pachter said.

    The big dramatic scene comes at the end of the film, when Johnny is led away in tears to the “Lost Children Area.”

    Except the director couldn’t get the young actor’s tears to flow.

    “My mother said, ‘I know how to make him cry,’ ” Pachter recalls, “and she picked up a hunk of mud and swatted me across the face.”

    Johnny at the Fair has, like many NFB shorts, become a kind of kitschy classic over the years, introduced to new generations in the 1990s, when an edited version was featured in an episode of the cult TV show Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

    But the moment that shaped Pachter the most ended up on the cutting room floor.

    “This eccentric old guy from northern Ontario named Joe Laflamme used to go to fairs all around North America with his pet moose,” Pachter says.

    “I can still smell the fur.”

    Years later, images of moose would become a major focus of Pachter’s art, an enduring symbol of Canadiana that dominates his work.

    “(Filming) was just a sensory blast for two whole weeks,” Pachter said.

    “It must have impacted me in a way that I wasn’t able to understand until I became much older . . . So much of it is now part of my vocabulary as an adult painter, how I spent most of my life trying to search out the Canadian psyche.”

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    Two separate and serious overnight stabbings have left two men in hospital, with one in life-threatening condition.

    The first incident occurred outside of RJ’s Grill, near Danforth Rd. and Eglinton Ave. E. in Scarborough at 2:13 a.m. Paramedics located a man in his 30s who had been stabbed multiple times. He was transported to hospital in life-threatening condition.

    Twenty minutes later, a man in his 20s was found with a stab wound in his torso in the area of College and Bathurst Sts. While details of incident are not clear, Toronto police confirmed his injuries are considered serious, and possibly life-threatening.

    Police have not released any suspect information for both stabbings. Investigations into both situations are ongoing.

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    Toronto police have identified the man who was fatally shot near an Etobicoke day care on Saturday night.

    Police say Awad Hurre, 34, of Toronto, was the man shot and killed near Braeburn Woods Day Care Centre at Tandridge Cres. and Arcot Blvd., east of Albion Rd., around 8:48 p.m.

    Gun shots were heard by several people in the area at the time of the shooting. Const. Caroline de Kloet said police received multiple calls afterward.

    When emergency services arrived, they found Hurre with gunshot wounds. He was pronounced dead on scene.

    Police are also looking for the driver of a taxi cab — believed to have spoken to Hurre minutes before the shooting — to assist with the investigation.

    Anyone with information about this shooting is asked to contact police at 416-808-2300 or Crime Stoppers at 416-222-8477.

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    Two men are dead and three others are seriously injured after a multi-vehicle collision in Vaughan on Saturday evening.

    York Regional Police said the collision occurred around 5:15 p.m. on Rutherford Rd. just east of Highway 50 and involved an Audi, a Honda CRV, and a commercial van.

    The passenger of the Audi, a 27-year-old man from London, was pronounced dead on scene and the driver was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries.

    The driver of the CRV, a 61-year-old man from Brampton, was pronounced dead in hospital, while the two passengers suffered serious injuries.

    The driver of a van was assessed for minor injuries and released.

    The road was closed past midnight for investigation.

    Inspector Dave Riches said it is currently not known what caused the collision and police are asking anyone with information to contact them.

    With files from Alexandra Jones

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