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    WASHINGTON—It was everywhere: “The worst mass shooting in U.S. history”

    On Twitter. In private conversations. Even in news headlines.

    Was it accurate?

    It is true a gunman’s killing of 58 people and injuring more than 500 in a mass shooting Sunday in Las Vegas was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, with the total carnage worse than last year, when a gunman killed 49 people in Orlando.

    The United States has a long history of gunmen shooting down dozens — sometimes hundreds — of people at one time. Here are a few other examples of those incidents:

    The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot: As many as 300 people were killed, 35 city blocks were burned and more than 800 people were hospitalized over Memorial Day weekend in 1921 when a white mob attacked black residents of the city’s Greenwood District. The neighborhood was one of the wealthiest black communities in the country at the time and had earned the nickname “Black Wall Street.” In addition to guns, planes reportedly dropped burning balls of turpentine on the rooftops of black residents. (Source: Tulsa Historical Society and Museum)

    The Elaine Massacre: After black sharecroppers met in Elaine, Ark., in 1919 with union leaders to discuss more equitable treatment by white plantation owners, the sheriff of Phillips County led a group of white men to intercept a rumored “insurrection” among the black men. The mob of whites began killing black people on sight, with the number of deaths of blacks reaching into the hundreds. (Source: Equal Justice Initiative)

    The Sacramento River Massacre: Explorer John C. Frémont, motivated by the idea of “Manifest Destiny,” disobeyed orders from the U.S. government to set out with an expedition for the Rocky Mountains, and went to California instead. Upon arrival in 1846, he heard a rumor that a group of Native Americans was preparing to attack the men. Fremont led his men, carrying pistols and rifles, up the Sacramento River to find the members of the Wintu tribe. Upon discovering the group, Fremont’s men fired on the men, women and children, killing at least 120 of them. (Source: An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846—1873)

    The Washington Post wrote about why it’s hard for media organizations to consistently define what qualifies as a mass shooting even as they report on them.

    ‘Mass shooting’ is a term without a universally-accepted definition, which complicates news coverage of events such as Sunday’s massacre in Las Vegas. Stephen Paddock’s rampage clearly meets any mass-shooting standard (58 people dead and more than 500 others injured), but the question is how it fits into a broader trend.

    There’s also some debate over whether the different nature of the shootings in previous eras of history are in the same vein as today’s mass shootings.

    Individuals leading packs to kill groups of people with guns aren’t viewed as “mass shootings” because the modern definition of mass shootings has come to be viewed as the act of a lone gunman shooting sometimes randomly into a public space. Some have argued this narrow definition of one person using guns to kill groups of people erases the thousands of people who have been killed by guns in a single incident.

    One reason it’s problematic — as well as insensitive — not to reference them is because the modern shootings invoke cries of “This is not who we are.” Those claims fail to acknowledge mass shootings have been a part of this country for quite some time.

    “It’s part of the American experience: We deal with mosquitoes in August, airport delays around Thanksgiving, expensive health care and the potential of being shot, at any time, by a semiautomatic weapon as we try to go about the most boring, precious, asinine aspects of our daily lives,” wrote The Post’s Monica Hesse.

    While mass shootings in the style of what we saw Sunday seem to be part of the American experience, much of the history of killing large groups of people with guns is connected to another experience common in, but not unique to, America: white supremacy.

    Significant time will be spent trying to uncover the motives of Stephen Paddock, a man whose actions seemed to surprise his own brother. The motives of many of the massacres throughout American history are not in question.

    No, Las Vegas wasn’t actually ‘the worst mass shooting in U.S. history’: AnalysisNo, Las Vegas wasn’t actually ‘the worst mass shooting in U.S. history’: Analysis

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    In a partial victory for longtime immigration detainee Ebrahim Toure, a Superior Court judge ruled Thursday that his indefinite detention in a maximum-security jail without charge amounted to “cruel and unusual” treatment and violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    But Justice Alfred O’Marra rejected Toure’s application for release, ruling that the federal government still had a right to detain the West African man, who has been behind bars for more than four-and-a-half years because Canada has been unable to deport him.

    But O’Marra ordered Toure’s immediate transfer to the Immigration Holding Centre, a less-restrictive facility for immigration detainees.

    He said that detaining Toure, who has no criminal record in Canada, has never committed a violent offence and is not considered a danger to the public, in a maximum-security jail was a disproportionate means for the government to address its concern that he is unlikely to show up for his deportation if it is ever arranged.

    “His only conviction is for a non-violent property offence from 12 years ago in Georgia,” O’Marra said, referring to Toure’s 2005 conviction for selling pirated CDs and DVDs in Atlanta.

    “. . . Mr. Toure has spent more time in a maximum-security facility than someone convicted of a serious crime.”

    Toure, 46, is a failed refugee claimant originally from The Gambia. He says he is willing to be deported, but doesn’t have any identity documents and Gambian authorities have thus far refused to issue him any.

    Immigration officials, meanwhile, accuse Toure, who was profiled earlier this year as part of a Star investigation into Canada’s immigration detention system, of withholding information that would help them deport him. They believe his name is actually Bakaba Touray, and also point to the fact that until December 2015 he had insisted he was “100 per cent” from Guinea.

    Toure says he has since given government officials everything he has and just wants to go home.

    But O’Marra found Toure’s “lack of cooperation” — he refused to provide a DNA sample until this summer, for example — had impeded immigration officials’ efforts in “good faith” to remove him, and, so, his continued detention is justified.

    Jared Will, Toure’s lawyer, said that while O’Marra’s decision was a “strong condemnation of the almost automatic use of maximum-security facilities” to hold immigration detainees, it doesn’t resolve the underlying issues of Toure’s indefinite detention or answer the question of restitution.

    “What do we do about the fact that his rights were violated over the four-and-a-half-year period that he was held (in maximum-security jail)? That’s the question the (Canada Border Services Agency) should be asking itself with respect to all the other detainees that they’re continuing to hold there.”

    Canada detains thousands of non-citizens every year for immigration purposes if they have been found to be a flight risk, a danger to the public or their identity is in doubt.

    The average length of detention is about three weeks, but complicated cases, such as Toure’s, can drag on indefinitely, for months or years. Unlike many other countries, Canada does not limit the time someone can be held in immigration detention.

    In the fiscal year ending this past March, nearly one-third of the 6,251 people who were detained were held in maximum-security provincial jails, according to government statistics.

    Almost all long-term detainees end up in jail, where they are subject to regular strip searches, lock-downs and treated the same as convicted criminals or those awaiting trial. (A recent government report found that two-thirds of the combined total days spent in immigration detention last year were spent in provincial jails.)

    Will said O’Marra’s judgment “shouldn’t be limited to Mr. Toure’s circumstances,” and that it is “inappropriate” for the government to continue to hold any immigration detainees in criminal jails.

    The Liberal government has said it intends to “sharply” reduce the use of provincial jails while expanding alternatives to detention as part of what it calls a “new framework” for immigration detention, scheduled to be implemented next spring.

    Public Safety Ministry spokesman Scott Bardsley blamed Stephen Harper’s Conservative government for “a decade of inaction,” and said that the Liberals are taking steps to create a “fairer immigration detention system for the humane and dignified treatment of individuals, while upholding public safety.”

    Since taking power in the fall of 2015, the Liberal government has detained fewer people for immigration purposes than the Harper Conservatives. Long-term detentions, of 90 days or more, are also decreasing. Last year, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced a $138-million investment to upgrade and expand immigration detention facilities in an effort to reduce its reliance on provincial jails.

    But there have been no significant legislative changes.

    Immigration lawyers and detainee advocates have called on the government to limit the time someone can stay in immigration detention, as the United Nations Human Rights Committee has recommended.

    O’Marra’s written decision was not immediately available for review.

    Will said O’Marra’s judgment that there is a “reasonable prospect” of Toure’s deportation was “quite disappointing.”

    Maximum-security jail ruled unconstitutional in immigration detention caseMaximum-security jail ruled unconstitutional in immigration detention case

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    Crack was the least of Rob Ford’s sins.

    Drug addiction — and I’m not convinced Ford was a drug addict rather than a dabbler — isn’t a moral failing.

    If the sum of our late mayor’s wrongdoing was that he sucked on a crack pipe now and then, that should not be cause to endlessly vilify him although reason enough to remove virtually every trapping of power to govern. This law-and-order pol consorted with criminals and became himself a target of police surveillance.

    History is replete with individuals who had drug vices at some point in their lives and they have been venerated — from Sigmund Freud to Steve Jobs to Billie Holiday to Arthur Conan Doyle to William Burroughs to Prince.

    It was as a politician that Ford failed, despite capturing the mayoralty — through a dozen years as an insignificant, obstreperous backbench councillor and three years at the municipality helm, during which he floundered at just about every bumper-sticker promise made whilst campaigning.

    It was as a decent human being that Ford failed too because he was manifestly not the jolly and benign socially awkward galumph as portrayed by his apologists. He was, rather, the foul-mouthed and bullying miscreant who infamously unleashed obscenities at complaining fans sitting around him at a Maple Leafs game and berated city hall security guards in one of his late-night drunken escapades.

    He was a racist and a sexist and a homophobe and a spectacular prevaricator.

    A word cloud of his known utterances — captured on video or confirmed by those who suffered in his presence — includes: “dumb f------ wop,” “f------ dago,” “c---------,” “(Pride) f------ flag.”

    He wrote a character letter for a friend convicted of threatening to kill his girlfriend.

    There is no point in further tripping down memory lane, not in a city where Ford’s offences and infractions are so well remembered.

    So he answered his own phone and directly came to the assistance of constituents with problems — an inefficient use of his time and resources. So he volunteered as a football coach. Big f------ deal.

    Thousands do volunteer work in their community and we don’t give them marquee homage.

    Late Wednesday evening, wiser heads on Toronto council prevailed, voting 24-11 against renaming Centennial Park Stadium in his Etobicoke stomping grounds the “Rob Ford Memorial Stadium.”

    This berserk proposal had been put forward by Mayor John Tory in so colossal an affront of misjudgment and imprudence that his instincts compass must have been spinning off magnetic due moral north. If it pleases the remnants of Ford Nation next time they go to the polls, Tory is unlikely to enjoy any bump in support that would presumably cleave to Doug Ford anyway.

    And the anti-Ford constituency may not forgive him for so calculated a piece of politicking — precisely the same kind of miscalculation that Tory plucked out of thin air by in 2007 when, as opposition leader at Queen’s Park, he promised to provide government funding for all of the province’s private Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Islamic schools, a clanger that arguably cost the Conservatives that election.

    Too often during his term, when matters of resounding civic importance are on the table — police carding, for instance — Tory has proved himself disappointingly weak and malleable.

    But this Ford Stadium thing should have been a no-no no-brainer, even if framed as a gerrymandered act of political self-preservation and pre-emption, dressed up as magnanimity, at the request of the Ford family.

    “In all of my actions as mayor, and I think people would find it difficult to cite examples otherwise, I try to be generous, to put politics to the side and to do what seems right, (which) I think most of us do most of the time. It’s often been a challenging course in a big city, which by definition contains many groups of people who have different opinions about what the right thing to do would be.’’

    Thus he assured the Ford family, particularly matriarch Diane Ford, that he would “honour” their request to table the motion, thereby “erring on the side of generosity.”

    Ford invested himself with virtue for a most unvirtuous recommendation — a slap in the face to every segment of our citizenry that Rob Ford slandered.

    Tory must not have read the City of Toronto’s honourific and street-naming policies, amended just two years ago, which explicitly prohibits any undertaking which is “or be perceived to be discriminatory or derogatory of race, colour, ethnic origin, gender identity or expression, sex, sexual orientation, creed, political affinity, disability or other social factors.”

    Rob Ford hits the mark on a bunch of those, via his own behaviour and comments.

    I am weary of politicians commemorating themselves and their colleagues around this city, on street names, parks, child-care centres, public squares, schools and recreational facilities. Bad enough that, if you’re rich enough or influential enough, you can convince hospitals to rebrand themselves after a departed loved one. Bad enough that corporations with deep pockets can buy naming rights to sports arenas.

    Enough of gilding the puffed-up dead, especially flavour-of-the-moment politicians, on public property. Which is why Toronto council was wrong-headed in splitting up Tory’s original motion, voting separately on somehow honouring two other councillors — the late Pam McConnell and Ron Moeser — who died this term.

    We are already far too populated by the commemoratively undead.

    Further, as per the aforementioned city policy, naming of recent events or recently deceased individuals may only be considered “after two years.”

    Rob Ford died less than 17 months ago.

    This debate, and this vote, should never have been held.

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

    Anti-Rob Ford crowd may not forgive Mayor John Tory for his calculated politicking: DiMannoAnti-Rob Ford crowd may not forgive Mayor John Tory for his calculated politicking: DiManno

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    Buyers of new homes in Ontario will have a faster track to warranty payouts for builder defects under a massive overhaul of the Tarion home warranty system, the province has announced.

    Under legislation tabled at Queen’s Park Thursday, buyers who find defects in their newly-built homes will no longer be forced to prove the cause of the problems to obtain warranty coverage, simply show that the defects exist.

    “This has been a persistent issue that consumers, stakeholder and the media have been vocal about,” Tracy MacCharles, Minister of Government and Consumer Services, said at a press conference at Queen’s Park Thursday.

    “If passed, the proposed legislation would clarify the dispute resolution process to make it easier and fairer for new homeowners.”

    An ongoing Star investigation has found buyers who have encountered defects in their new homes are stymied by onerous requirements to prove the cause of the deficiencies in order to successfully make a warranty claim. Some new homeowners the Star spoke to were forced to hire engineers and heating and ventilation specialists in an effort to prove problems with their furnaces — a lengthy and costly process.

    The legislation, “Strengthening Protection for Ontario Consumers Act,” revamps the way the new home warranty program in Ontario works by stripping Tarion Warranty Corporation of its role as regulator of new homebuilders. Under the Liberals’ plan, a new “administrative authority” will be created to regulate builders and vendors, while Tarion will continue to administer warranty claims.

    The measures address what MacCharles calls “conflict of interest concerns” with the multiple roles Tarion currently plays as regulator, warranty provider and adjudicator in disputes between buyers and builders. Tarion, a private non-profit corporation, was created by the province in 1976.

    The legislation also gives the Auditor General of Ontario the power to do value-for-money audits on the two authorities — something opposition parties have long called for.

    While Tarion voluntarily created an ombudsperson’s office in 2009 to promote fairness in the warranty program, the legislation mandates the appointment, giving the official more authority.

    Also in the legislation are measures for up-to-date protections for deposits on new homes and condos. In Ontario, the maximum deposit protection for a new home is $40,000 while the condo deposit protection is just $20,000 — amounts that do not reflect current home prices, especially in the GTA. The government says it will ask Tarion to come up with deposit protection amounts more aligned with today’s real estate market.

    In an interview, MacCharles said she hopes the bill passes by the end of the year, but noted the new system likely won’t be up and running until 2020.

    The plans have been informed by recommendations made by former Associate Chief Justice J. Douglas Cunningham, who was appointed by the province in late 2015 to conduct an independent review of the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act and Tarion following a series of Star stories. Opposition parties have also called for greater oversight.

    In March 2017, Cunningham produced a lengthy report consisting of 37 recommendations for improving the system, including:

    • Setting out the minimum standards for mandatory warranty protections in legislation.

    • Improving the transparency of information available on Tarion’s online builder directory.

    • Making the new regulator subject to transparency and oversight provisions similar to those in place for other administrative authorities.

    Tarion is unique when it comes to the province’s administrative authorities in that it has the power to enact its own regulations, such as those governing builder performance and warranty terms.

    In her remarks, MacCharles said both newly created administrative authorities would be subject to “stronger oversight, transparency, governance and accountability” similar to Ontario’s other modern authorities, such as the Electrical Safety Authority, the Technical Standards and Safety Authority and the Travel Industry Council of Ontario.

    The new legislation also gives the minister the power to appoint a minority of board members for the new authorities and choose the chairs.

    In statement issued Thursday, Tarion spokesperson Melanie Kearns said the corporation is analyzing the legislation’s content and remains “committed to supporting the province on the smooth transition and delivery of the government’s plan and will continue to seamlessly deliver on our daily responsibilities and operations.”

    Progressive Conservative consumer services critic Jim McDonell called Thursday’s legislation “long overdue,” noting that his office has heard many complaints about Tarion from consumers.

    “We want to make sure that the builders are held accountable,” he said. “Right now . . . it’s very hard for homeowners to know who they can rely on if they’re choosing a builder.”

    Wayne Gates, MPP and consumer services critic for the NDP, said the bill doesn’t do enough to protect homebuyers.

    “For the last decade, Ontario’s NDP has been calling for a total overhaul of Tarion, to reform it into a true consumer advocate acting in the best interests of hard working Ontario families,” Gates said in a statement.

    “While the Liberals are finally talking about taking action, it remains to be seen if they will really act, or if this is another empty pre-election promise.”

    One of Cunningham’s key recommendations was for new home warranties to be delivered through a competitive model with multiple providers, much like the insurance industry. MacCharles said such a measure is “not on the table right now.”

    Karen Somerville, president of the consumer advocacy group Canadians for Properly Built Homes, said Ontario deserves a competitive model similar to those in existence in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. She called Thursday’s announcement “a start” but still a “far cry from what Justice Cunningham recommended” and said the government appears to have “cherry-picked” the recommendations it liked.

    “Many homeowners are still fighting with Tarion today. What about all those people who feel their claims were incorrectly dismissed? They need to be addressed,” she said. “The Wynne government seems to be out of touch with the needs of consumers.”

    Hoping to make home-ownership easier,Hoping to make home-ownership easier,

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    The removal of a 43-year-old totem pole from one of its schools has left the York Region District School Board stranded between the wrath of townspeople who frame the action as political correctness gone too far and a parent irate that it “allowed such a racist symbol to remain standing for so long.”

    The totem pole was installed in 1974, says a local newspaper, the fruit of months of labour by the Grade 6 students of Summitview Public School in the once-sleepy bedroom community of Stouffville, some 50 kilometres north of Toronto.

    The students worked under the guidance of their history teacher, Bernadine Mumford, who told the Stouffville Sun-Tribune that she was focused on explaining the damage French explorer Samuel de Champlain, who founded Quebec City, did to Indigenous people.

    A few weeks ago, a parent complained. On Sept. 29, the school board sent out a letter to parents.

    “Dear Families,” it read. “This decision was made with the support of senior staff and after consultation with the local Trustee and Indigenous leaders in our closest community and partner in education, the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation.”

    The trouble was the pole, a sacred object for the Indigenous nations of the west coast, was created without their input or consultation.

    “Here’s our feeling,” said Lauri Hoeg, a band councillor for the culture and education portfolio for the Chippewas of Georgina Island.

    “It was made around 40 years ago. That kind of time when the teacher who did the project with her kids was not doing it with any ill intent but was doing it as a way to educate her classroom.”

    “Fast forward 40 years later we know differently now.”

    She offers this parallel: “There was no ill intent when we didn’t put on seatbelts. But you got to put them on now. We fix things as we become aware of them. We move forward in such a good way if we don’t get all up in arms.”

    The pole was taken down between 5.15 p.m. and 5.45 p.m. that evening, the board says.

    The opposition to removing the pole has been strong and furious.

    “It’s absolutely shameful to be disregarding a piece of local history and Canadian symbolism. Just pathetic,” said one person on a local Facebook group. I am not naming the commenters because it is a closed group and not a public one.

    Other comments went like this:

    “It wasn’t hurting ANYONE for 40 years…”

    “An opportunity to educate has been removed.”

    “It was a landmark, a sign of support and respect for our Indigenous friends and something that should have been regarded, always, as sacred, NOT offensive.”

    Perhaps the creation of the pole meant no disrespect, but bereft of the solemn significance totem poles carry for its makers, how could this one be a sign of respect?

    The school board acknowledged in its email that the pole was initially constructed with positive intentions.

    However, it said, “our understanding of how cultural appropriation affects our learning environments has developed significantly.”

    The concern over the erasure of local history is also rich with irony, exemplary of a rather large blind spot that covers up the threat to the existence of totem poles from colonizers, the federal government and Christian missionaries. Totem poles, so geographically rich with meaning, were taken out and placed in museums around the world.

    “The totem pole can be seen as a symbol of ongoing survival and resistance to cultural and territorial encroachment,” says the Canadian Encyclopedia.

    Poles commissioned by non-Indigenous peoples were, and still are, considered culturally insensitive, it says.

    This suggests an opportunity to educate has not been removed. On the contrary, the removal has created that opportunity.

    But there are differences of opinion over why the pole was taken down.

    “We agreed with the board that it should come down for a couple of reasons,” says Hoeg.

    “One, it was offensive to a First Nation parent. The other was it was a health and safety hazard.”

    The health and safety aspect — Hoeg said two school board staff touched it and “found it rickety” — is not mentioned in the school board letter.

    “The reason it came down was because of cultural appropriation,” said Drew McNaughton, superintendent of education.

    The parent who complained says the existence of the pole was racist.

    Aaron Detlor identifies as Kanienkehaka, (or the Mohawk people of Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy) in a letter to the school principal.

    “It may have been raised with good intent,” he said to me by email on Thursday. “But however benign or benevolent the intention, racism is still racism … What I am really looking for from the board is an acknowledgement that the totem pole itself is/was racist and that it was removed on the basis that it is/was racist.”

    “The board needs to … apologize not necessarily to me personally but to the broader Indigenous community.”

    He had broached the topic of an apology earlier with the board.

    “We didn’t feel that was necessary,” Hoeg said on Wednesday. “These kinds of things are going to pop up in schools.”

    She advocates cultural competency training for teachers.

    Then there was the issue of why the school board consulted with the Chippewas in the first place.

    “Are the Chippewas of Georgina Island a collective rights holder?” asked Detlor in a pointed email to McNaughton. “Why are you not consulting with the Haudenosaunee given that I and my daughter are Haudenosaunee?”

    One commenter on Facebook wrote, “Asking the Chippewa if there should be a Totem pole in Stouffville, is like asking the Belgians if Chinese food should be sold in Argentina. Totem poles are a part Pacific coast Indigenous nations’ culture. If there is any “consultation” to be done, call upon the Haida or other west coast nations whose culture is being “appropriated.”

    McNaughton said, “This totem pole was created without any consultation or involvement of members of Indigenous nations. If it had been built in partnership with them, we would have asked them.”

    “Because it’s in our territory (McNaughton) wanted to check with us to see what we felt should be done,” said Hoeg. “I think it was handled well.”

    Shree Paradkar writes about discrimination and identity. You can follow her @shreeparadkar

    Why York school board felled a 43-year-old totem pole: ParadkarWhy York school board felled a 43-year-old totem pole: Paradkar

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    The sparsely populated, but mineral-rich, Ring of Fire zone in northwestern Ontario will be getting high-speed internet at a cost of $67.1 million to taxpayers.

    Funding for the project, which involves the installation of 880 kilometres of new fibre-optic cable, is being announced Friday in Thunder Bay by the federal and provincial governments in hopes of spurring the mining of an estimated $60 billion in chromite, gold and other deposits in the region.

    “In today’s economy, high-speed internet is no longer a luxury; it is essential,” said Navdeep Bains, federal minister of innovation, science and economic development.

    Up to $37.1 million has been earmarked by the federal government and $30 million by Queen’s Park. The contractor is Rapid Lynx Telecommunications.

    The investment follows Ontario’s decision in August to move ahead with an all-season road into the proposed Noront Resources mining project in the Ring of Fire zone after years of delays and negotiations with First Nations.

    That road is expected to provide a much-needed economic boost to the area about 575 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay and connect remote communities to other highways.

    Federal officials said the high-speed internet will serve 610 households at five remote First Nations communities, including Fort Hope and Webequie, along with 36 businesses and institutions.

    That averages out to almost $104,000 per location.

    The Ontario government pledged $1 billion to develop the Ring of Fire three years ago and has been pressing Ottawa to match that amount to help build road access and electricity transmission corridors into the area.

    Ontario has touted the Ring of Fire as one of Canada’s next great mining zones, with massive deposits of chromium, a key ingredient in stainless steel, and other minerals, which could provide thousands of mining and processing jobs for generations in the economically depressed area.

    Bains touted the internet funding as “yet another demonstration of our government’s commitment to the economic development of northern Ontario.”

    The service will help residents and businesses connect with the outside world better for everything from online distance education to new opportunities and job searches, he added.

    “We are bridging the digital divide.”

    Opposition parties have been critical of the Ontario government for not moving faster to develop the Ring of Fire.

    Environmental assessments for the all-season road are slated to begin in January, six months before the June 7 provincial election, and construction is set to start in 2019.

    Noront’s president Alan Coutts hailed the road is “a major step forward” for the company’s hopes of developing the mining site.

    The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has estimated the Ring of Fire could generate $9.4 billion in new economic activity over the next decade and support 5,500 jobs a year.

    The absence of a roadway has been a major barrier to development, prompting U.S. mining giant Cliffs Natural Resources to pull out of a major mining project four years ago.

    Sparsely-populated Ring of Fire zone to get high-speed internet at cost of $67.1M to taxpayersSparsely-populated Ring of Fire zone to get high-speed internet at cost of $67.1M to taxpayers

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    WASHINGTON—U.S. President Donald Trump delivered a foreboding message Thursday night, telling reporters as he posed for photos with his senior military leaders that this might be “the calm before the storm.”

    White House reporters were summoned suddenly Thursday evening and told the president had decided he wanted the press to document a dinner he was holding with the military leaders and their wives.

    Reporters were led hastily to the grand State Dining Room, where they walked into a scene of the president, his highest-ranking military aides and their wives posing for a group photo. The cameras clicked and they smiled. A joke was made about someone’s face being tired. Live classical music played.

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    Then, Trump gestured to the reporters in the room.

    “You guys know what this represents?” Trump asked. “Maybe it’s the calm before the storm. Could be the calm, the calm before the storm.”

    “What storm Mr. President?” one reporter shouted. “ISIS (Daesh)? North Korea? Iran?”

    “You’ll find out,” the president said.

    He also praised those assembled for the photo, saying: “We have the world’s great military people in this room, I will tell you that.”

    Earlier in the evening, the president had lauded the group, including his defence secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and said they would be discussing the most pressing military issues facing the country, including North Korea and Iran.

    Trump said “tremendous progress” had been made with respect to the Daesh, also known as ISIS or ISIL, adding, “I guess the media’s going to be finding out about that over the next short period of time.”

    He also denounced Iran, saying the country should not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons, and offered another stark warning to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

    “We cannot allow this dictatorship to threaten our nation or allies with unimaginable loss of life,” he said, vowing to “do what we must do to prevent that from happening and it will be done, if necessary. Believe me.”

    He also said that, moving forward, he expects those in the room to provide him with “a broad range of military options, when needed, at a much faster pace.”

    Trump ominously mentions the ‘calm before the storm’ — but doesn’t elaborateTrump ominously mentions the ‘calm before the storm’ — but doesn’t elaborate

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    In the vast expanse of Toronto — its cloud-scraping apartments holding together some two million residents — one woman reached out for the aid of her neighbours in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

    But Liz Bertorelli’s door knocks went unanswered.

    So began a millennial saga that has captured social media’s attention with a mix of pity and amusement.

    Bertorelli dropped her phone from her balcony. She could see it, but she couldn’t reach it. So she took to Twitter — using a friend’s phone — to chronicle her attempts to retrieve her cellphone.

    “What did I do tonight? Oh ya know, dropped my phone off balcony to the unit below,” the first dispatch said at 4:48 a.m., an attached photo showing the mobile device lying on the balcony of the unit below.

    While drop tests have become something of a staple to measure the durability of new mobile devices (allocated amateur scientific measures like “waist height” and “head height” drops by savvy tech-testers) Bertorelli was less than pleased with the balcony-height test she’d inadvertently conducted.

    “Watchin’ notifications roll in from afar is devastating,” she tweeted plaintively.

    Her tweet immediately resonated, with over 6,000 social media users interacting with the first message alone. Bertorelli continued to document the process.

    She lobbed a written note over the balcony’s edge; it landed, perfectly, on the neighbour’s outdoor table. The wind, however, had other ideas.

    “Noooo, note blew off the table,” came the update at 1:06 p.m. As the hours rolled on, Bertorelli’s retrieval efforts became increasingly ridiculous.

    “I’ve got a Swifter and duck tape (sic),” read another, followed by an image of all the long objects she could find, like a broom and a guitar. She mused on a more philosophical meanings. “Thought: is this how Romeo and Juliette felt?”

    She tweeted out photos of drones, asking for internet advice on whether to engage the technology in her rescue pursuits. There were updates on the door-knocking attempts, to no avail. Her neighbours simply weren’t home.

    An ominous weather forecast photo warned of a storm coming. A friend arrived, and they drank to the electronic device’s looming fate. Bertorelli lowered a plastic bag on a string in an attempt to shield it from the rain.

    “May the odds be ever in your favour, sweet prince,” she wrote at 4:40 p.m.

    The string of tweets roused the aid of the internet, with users offering their best advice. Even British actor Stephen Fry got in on the saga, chiming in that the tension was almost unbearable.

    Bertorelli replied back, pointing the famous Brit’s attention to the Trevor Project while he waited for an outcome.

    The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth across the country. Their website cites 45,000 calls to their “Lifeline” in one year. When eyes were on Bertorelli’s Twitter account for the comical saga, she urged Twitter users to donate.

    “I’m getting followers right now, so I might as well do something,” she told the Star Thursday afternoon. As well as her day job, she’s been a merchandiser for Toronto Pride through her apparel company, so the Trevor Project had always been on her radar, she said.

    Of course, there’s no way to know for sure what it was about Bertorelli’s plight that captured internet traction. Forbes has previously cited an average of 500 million tweets being posted each day, leaving the creation of a “viral” post somewhat of an elusive ideal.

    But, while Bertorelli is keeping a sense of perspective — “I’m lucky enough to own and pay for a phone to begin with, and I’m obviously just making fun,” she told the Star, chuckling — she maintains that there’s something universal to her plight.

    “Every single person who’s lucky enough to have some sort of device has feared or been in this situation before,” she said, noting that her phone is filled with cherished and valuable information, from photographs to contacts.

    “So from that perspective, it’s an emotional connection that we probably all share,” she said.

    Finally, just after 9 p.m. Thursday, Bertorelli managed to use part of a drone to snag the phone and pull it up to her balcony.

    Woman drops phone on neighbour’s balcony. Rescue attempts are fruitless. Twitter fixates.Woman drops phone on neighbour’s balcony. Rescue attempts are fruitless. Twitter fixates.

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    When Murray Porteous emailed a group of his fellow farmers in Norfolk County with a simple request, the response he got was swift.

    Porteous is a fourth-generation apple and asparagus farmer, currently tending about 850 acres near Waterford, south of Brantford. Each summer he relies heavily on the Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program (SAWP), and even in a light year like this one — the aftershocks of last year’s dry summer cooked the buds on some of his Honeycrisp and Northern Spy trees — he brought in 58 workers for the harvest. Porteous also chairs the Canadian Horticultural Council’s labour committee, so he was the obvious go-to guy when Ottawa came calling.

    What Ottawa sought was a site visit with farms in the region. Representatives from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada, and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada were set to descend on Norfolk County in mid-August. They had 17 farms on their list.

    “They said they wanted to visit those farms because it was a range of small, medium and large producers in terms of employees they have in the program and the number of employees they have in total,” Porteous says. “They wanted to see different crops being grown to see what things were actually like in the field. They asked for opportunities to speak with workers privately without the employers being present. They wanted to have the opportunity to see several different bunk houses, where the workers are housed.”

    “Within 30 hours we had a full schedule of stops,” he continues. “I got a fast response from the farmers.”

    Read more from ourMigrant FarmworkersSeries:

    He’s worked legally in Canada for 37 years but the government considers him ‘temporary’

    One could view this as swift pragmatism. There had been rumblings which, at the extreme, left some farmers anxious that the feds were contemplating eliminating, or dramatically curtailing, access to migrant seasonal agriculture workers. “We were getting comments like, This is silly. Why not give those jobs to Canadians?’” says one Norfolk-area farmer.

    Was the program being tapped by farmers in the way it had been intended when it was created in 1966, that is as “last resort” when permanent residents could not be found to fill the labour shortage? And how significant was the problem of what Porteous, at an annual general meeting more than a year ago, called the “bad actors” in the SAWP program, by which he meant employers who mistreat their workers?

    Porteous notes the report by the country’s auditor general, tabled in May, of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. The report found gaping holes in its administration, including few on-site inspections, sparse face-to-face interviews with workers and grindingly slow enforcement actions. That report particularly singled out caregivers and fish plant workers and concluded that reasons cited for hiring foreign workers over domestic labour lacked credulity in the extreme.

    Auditor General Michael Ferguson didn’t single out the agricultural stream for comment, and previous changes to the TFW program in 2014 had exempt the primary agriculture sector from reforms aimed at restricting the use of the program. Yet it was clear to Porteous that what he calls “the full spectrum of agriculture” was under review by Ottawa. “We try to hire locally first and foremost,” he says. “But it’s just not the type of work that young people aspire to do.”

    This is ultimately not a domestic story.

    In the federal government’s long-term vision for the economy, “agri-food” has been championed as a vector for global growth. Taking a sector approach, the government’s economic advisory council, led by McKinsey’s Dominic Barton, has targeted key areas — health care; advanced manufacturing — with agriculture highlighted as an obvious agent of the country’s “endowment” properties. The country’s vast natural attributes — clean water, arable land — should theoretically play well on the world stage, especially looking to such export opportunities as fast-growing Asian economies.

    “Fast growing” doesn’t quite capture it. In February, the Brookings Institute forecast that the global middle class will explode by 160 million people per year on average through 2030. “We are witnessing the most rapid expansion of the middle class, at a global level, that the world has ever seen,” writes Brookings deputy director Homi Kharas. Close to 90 per cent of that growth will emerge in Asia, particularly India, with a projected 380 million newly arrived middle class consumers, and China, with 350 million.

    Top of mind for the newly affluent global consumer will be safe, sustainable, traceable, nutritious food, and the bet is that these newly arrived customers will be willing to pay a premium for product that delivers all of those attributes. Kharas calculates that by 2030, the growth in middle class consumption could total a $29-trillion (U.S.) increase from 2015. By 2020, he predicts, China will outpace the U.S. as the world’s top country for middle-class consumption.

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is urgent in his desire that Canada keep its eye on the China prize, repeatedly meeting with Jack Ma, the Chinese king who rules the Alibaba on-line marketplace, extolling the country’s potential, posing in photo ops with Mr. Ma raising a lobster or sipping maple syrup. (Canada produces three-quarters of the world’s maple syrup.) Alibaba is a giant, vying with Amazon to be the world’s most valuable online retailer.

    Let’s wind back to Murray Porteous for a moment. As an apple grower, Porteous has a front-row seat in what’s happening in global horticulture. As autumn descends, thoughts of Canadian consumers typically turn to fall bounty, the apple being a mainstay of the fall cornucopia. But it would be a mistake to think that some sharp export-minded thinking in Ottawa is going to recast the potential for Ontario apples. Porteous turns his thoughts to China. “They went from not exporting any apples several years ago to being the No. 1 exporter in the world within four years,” he says. “Like, they just turn on the tap and away they go.”

    The CIA’s World Factbook bears this out. In 2016 the value of China’s apple exports reached $1.5 billion (U.S.), vastly outpacing the United States, at $936 million, as the world’s largest exporter. Canada placed eighteenth.

    Not long ago Porteous had a home-based market for juice apples. But that’s been squeezed. “We used to do over 1,000 bins and now we do maybe 200,” he says. “That’s pretty common across the province. There are a lot of producers who don’t pick up any juice any more. They can buy concentrate like anybody else from China.”

    Porteous isn’t complaining. “I’m not blaming them,” he says of the juice processors. “That’s just the way it is.”

    The way agri-food could be is the challenge set by the Trudeau government. Last February, a year after it was formed, the Barton-led economic advisory council highlighted what it deemed the untapped potential of the sector, which it defined in the broadest possible terms, encompassing everything from raw fruits and vegetables (agriculture) to prepared meats and beverages (agfood). The cumulative agri-food terminology is defined as a field-to-fork focus on growing the sector as a whole.

    Canada’s global rankings serve as benchmarks for where we are now — fifth in agriculture exports and 11th in agfood exports. The advisory group has proposed an audacious target of second place in agriculture and a leap to fifth place in agfood, an accomplishment, the council forecasts in its report, that would bring with it a potential $30 billion (U.S.) in additional exports. The importance of the temporary foreign worker to this plan has been underscored by Barton himself.

    There is a ring of familiarity to this sector approach. In July 2014, McKinsey Australia produced a country analysis entitled “Compete to Prosper: Improving Australia’s Global Competitiveness.” The report advised a focus on sectors where Australia can win, defined as “trade exposed sectors where Australia is already strong and has the endowments to win in global markets.” Agriculture took its place alongside mining and tourism as those advantaged performers with the best prospects for global competitiveness. That Australia has the most arable land per capita of any country was deemed one of its key attributes. “Brand Australia is also powerful in bringing an assurance of quality and food safety,” the report noted.

    In the fall of 2014 the Australian government released its action plan for a stronger Australia. “Without change, Australia risks being out-competed in the world market . . . If left unaddressed, our declining competitiveness will represent the start of an unacceptable slide into mediocrity.” Replace “Australia” with “Canada” and the message is the same.

    Australia’s competitiveness agenda settled on six sectors for focused growth. In agriculture it established Food Innovation Australia Ltd. (FIAL), a federally funded initiative established through the department of Industry, Innovation and Science that the government hopes will spur collaboration and innovation across the industry. One of FIAL’s programs is directly targeted at assisting Australian food and beverage exporters in tapping the Chinese market.

    Defining Canada’s branding position is going to be some task. While Australia has stated its goal of increasing its share of the global food market, it has also acknowledged that its “clean and green” brand is not a unique differentiator in the global marketplace. Consumers increasingly expect value chain transparency and traceability, from farm to consumer. The prevailing question for the discerning consumer: what is the root source of the food that appears, in all its glistening glory, on the Thanksgiving table? And if clean and green is not a sufficient differentiator, what’s so great about Canada? And, a less commonly asked question: who picked that apple?

    In Ontario, the family farm is still a foundation stone of the sector, a truth that may come as a surprise to many, and in and of itself bears strong brand attributes. Any production that doesn’t bear the mark of mighty conglomerates but rather home and hearth should play as well on the world stage as wide blue skies and waving fields of wheat.

    Statistics Canada’s 2016 Census of Agriculture reported 49,600 census farms in Ontario, accounting for approximately one quarter of all the farms in the country. Ontario produces more than two-thirds of the country’s greenhouse vegetables, the demand for which grew by 30 per cent in the five years to 2016. The area dedicated to field vegetables also grew, albeit by a more modest 5 per cent. Sweet corn, green peas and tomatoes top the list.

    Murray Porteous’s Norfolk County, which markets itself as “Ontario’s Garden,” is the country’s top grower of pumpkins, sour cherries, ginseng, asparagus, squash and more. It also employs the highest number of seasonal or temporary workers, at 6,493 in 2016. That the agriculture sector is driven by temporary workers can be expressed most clearly by an obverse figure: Norfolk employs just 812 full-time workers in the sector.

    Without seasonal workers, the farming community insists, there would be no reliable source of labour. No labour, no apples. “It will be impossible to farm without that program,” says Clark Hoskin, manager of tourism and economic development for Norfolk County. “The reliance on [the foreign worker] is increasing dramatically.”

    Unlike those machine harvested waving fields of wheat, the tripwire in the world of horticulture is the issue of hand harvesting.

    Take apples, again. In late September, Porteous travelled to Michigan to suss out a vacuum harvesting system in which, as he describes it, a worker has a tube that attaches to a harness on his body. “You simply have a tube that’s very lightweight attached to you and you put the food into the tube and it goes into the bin.” Such a system eliminates ladder climbing (the workers stand on a platform) and reduces the potential for repetitive strain (no more of those 15-kilogram picking bags) and potentially worker fatigue, in part, because the moving harvesters are equipped with shields to keep out the sun and the rain. This machinery is not new.

    The catch is in wresting the apple from the tree. “There’s nothing right now that will pick them carefully enough and also grade them as you’re picking them,” Porteous says.

    The operative words are “right now.” In Germany, two national research institutes, supported by EU funds, are working away at “intelligent automated cucumber harvesting” that eliminates both the damage done by conventional mechanical harvesting and targets a harvest rate of 13 cucumbers a minute.

    In Japan, the Techno Farm Keihanna continues to promise an automated cultivation system that will harvest 30,000 heads of lettuce daily.

    Last May, Wired magazine reported on robots moving through fields of California lettuce cutting the heads with “water knives” — high pressure water blasts — thus eliminating the need for workers bent double in the fields, nicking the long-necked heads of romaine lettuce from their roots.

    And, wait, here’s apples again. Last spring, GV, the former Google Ventures, made a $10-million investment in California-based Abundant Robotics, which has developed a robot that vacuums apples right off the trees using a “perception system” that isolates ripe apples in the tree canopy. Last fall, the company stated that it hoped to have a commercially viable system on the market in two years.

    While such advances address, so far, only a small portion of the sector, it’s clear that innovation is where the future lies, and that the private sector should be the facilitator. An assist from the federal government could come through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year, $3-billion investment, slated to come into effect on April 1 of next year. “It will strengthen the agriculture, agri-food and agri-based products sector, ensuring continued innovation, growth and prosperity,” the government announced.

    Australia provides a useful reality check here. Food Innovation Australia Ltd. estimates that of that country’s 57,000 food and agriculture businesses, only 5 per cent could be called “‘businesses of tomorrow’ that actively pursue new markets, are more inclined to take risks, are more connected to their end markets and continually invest in building both their capability and knowledge of these markets.” Many have no desire to export. Many more wouldn’t know how. In September, the Australian government moved one step closer to creating an agri-tech business hub in Western Australia.

    Viewed through this lens, the challenge for the Canadian government is twofold. The effective administration and modernization of temporary foreign worker programs on the one hand and, perhaps as significantly, the urgent need to ramp up the sector’s economic potential with the invaluable support of those same workers and to set those workers on an advanced skills trajectory.

    It’s clear that the economic model for farmers in certain sectors has been based on the availability of foreign workers. “The reality is that the employers become dependent upon this pool of labour,” says Jason Foster, assistant professor of human resources and labour relations at Athabasca University. “There’s lots of research that shows whenever you set up these kinds of temporary migrant labour programs the program itself becomes entrenched and certain industries, certain sectors of the economy become highly dependent on these workers. So for decades now farming and agriculture, particularly in Ontario and B.C., has become highly dependent on this program. . . They’re no longer a supplementary labour force. They become a primary source of labour.”

    Simplistically, as Foster notes, “if we didn’t have this pool of migrant workers, farmers would be forced to make their jobs more attractive and obviously there are lots of ways they can do that. They can increase the wages, they can improve working conditions, they can mechanize. But they don’t have to do any of that because they can bring in migrant workers.”

    But there’s no easy fix. Farmers complain about razor-thin margins and fret about potential wage increases. Granting permanent residency, Foster adds, “doesn’t solve the problem of, ‘do we close the program?’ We’ve got ourselves in such a mess that the solution is going to be really complicated. It will require a degree of political and economic will that I don’t think governments have currently.”

    Where the political will appears to currently rest is on a high growth agri-food agenda. In Foster’s view, the high growth notion will only drive the continued need for temporary workers. “They want to sell more cherries to China. They don’t need high-skilled labour to do that. They need more arms to pick those cherries off the tree.”

    The economic advisory council’s stretch goals do bear scrutiny. To move Canada into the No. 2 spot in agriculture exports means advancing ahead of both the Netherlands and China to be second only to the United States.

    But there’s a reason tiny Netherlands, as Dominic Barton said in a radio interview, “punches well above its weight.” In 2004, the Dutch government established its “Food Valley” as a support partner for business. A key part of Food Valley’s innovation and research infrastructure is Wageningen University and Research Centre, exclusively focused on food and agribusiness, and attendant applied research.

    The Netherlands has proved a phenomenal winner in productivity — it’s the world leader in tomato yield, by example. It claims status as the global leader in greenhouse construction. Its agriculture research is sprinkled across the entire food chain, from seeds to consumption. And it wins world plaudits for dairy, pork and horticulture. (Its supremacy in tulips is duly noted.) Nor does it hurt that the Netherlands is rich in what the economic council calls “global champions” — see Unilever, Heineken.

    It’s one thing to be aspirational. But could trumping the Netherlands really be an attainable goal in the next decade, or even the next 20 years?

    The advisory council proposes a vision statement: “Canada will become the trusted global leader in safe, nutritious and sustainable food for the 21st century.” That’s the kind of indistinct mission statement that any number of countries could claim today. There is no differentiator.

    What it doesn’t say is that migrant labour is a foundation rock upon which that elusive business goal is built. And it doesn’t say what it’s going to do about that.

    Why Canada's farm industry is ripe for change: WellsWhy Canada's farm industry is ripe for change: WellsWhy Canada's farm industry is ripe for change: WellsWhy Canada's farm industry is ripe for change: Wells

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    OTTAWA—Most Canadians are open to voting for someone who wears a turban and a Sikh kirpan dagger, a new poll finds.

    The online survey of 1,477 people this week by the Angus Reid Institute found that 69 per cent of respondents would consider voting for a Sikh man who wears those religious symbols.

    But half the respondents said “some” or “most” of their close friends and family would not vote for someone like that.

    And three out of respondents said they “could not vote” for a turban-wearing Sikh.

    The poll was conducted over three days this week, after Jagmeet Singh’s decisive victory in the federal NDP leadership race on Sunday. The 38-year-old MPP from Brampton is a practising Sikh who wears a turban and kirpan.

    “It is kind of a good-news-bad-news story” for the NDP, said Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute.

    She said that the half who said their friends and family wouldn’t vote for someone such as Singh may be an indicator of their own reservations.

    “Often what questions like that can reveal is people’s own inner sentiments that perhaps they don’t want to share,” she said.

    Provincially, the poll found that respondents in Quebec were most averse to the idea of voting for a turban-wearing Sikh. Forty-seven per cent of respondents from Quebec said they would not consider it, compared with 32 per cent in Alberta, 23 per cent in British Columbia and 24 per cent in Ontario.

    The place of religious symbols in Quebec and a proposed law to ban face coverings for people giving and receiving public services became a contentious issue during the NDP leadership race. Singh, a former lawyer, has repeatedly said he believes Quebecers are open-minded and progressive, while he has also denounced the proposed law and predicted it would be struck down by the courts.

    The leader of the Bloc Quebecois has claimed she thinks Singh represents the rise of a “religious left” in Canada and that he’s too religious for Quebecers. Pierre Nantel, a Quebec MP with the NDP, also expressed reservations about Singh’s stance on religious symbols, but said, after his leadership win, that Nantel’s own discomfort with the notion has been dispelled.

    Kurl said that, despite the results on Quebec, the poll also had some positive findings for the NDP leader; more than three quarters of respondents said that a candidate’s religion or culture shouldn’t matter, only their policies should. Seventy-one per cent said that having a member of a visible minority community lead a major party is good for Canada.

    Even so, 54 per cent of the survey’s respondents agreed Singh’s religion “will hurt the NDP’s electoral chances.”

    The Angus Reid Institute surveyed 1,477 randomly selected adults from across Canada between Oct. 2 and 5. The institute says a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

    Are Canadians open to voting for a turban-wearing Sikh?Are Canadians open to voting for a turban-wearing Sikh?

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    Even though Ontario is recognized as a North American leader for ensuring kids have safe water to drink, according to newly obtained government data, more than 640 schools and daycares found lead levels in drinking water that failed to meet the provincial standard over the past two years.

    Some schools, including Clemens Mill Public School in Cambridge and Robert Baldwin Public School in Milton found lead concentrations in water from individual faucets or taps between 100 and 300 times higher than the province’s threshold of 10 parts per billion. Several others exceeded the standard by more than 10 times, including St. Vincent Catholic Elementary School in Thunder Bay, which failed tests both years.

    These statistics — which were obtained by the Star and have never been released before — tell a mixed story, experts say. Ontario has the most stringent program in Canada for monitoring lead in drinking water at schools and daycares. Only 5 per cent of all facilities that submitted water lead tests between April 2016 and March 2017 failed to meet the provincial standard, and the province says that “flushing” taps by regularly letting the water run has in many cases effectively reduced concentrations.

    This all suggests the province has made strides in addressing the problem over the last decade. “Every child in a child-care centre or school in Ontario is drinking clean, safe water,” Ontario’s Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said in a statement to the Star.

    Some experts, though, say flushing is only a short-term solution. Of the roughly 350 schools and daycares that failed lead tests in 2016, about 100 failed the test after flushing. The rest were samples from “standing” water.

    There is also no such thing as a safe level of lead exposure, health bodies like the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics agree.

    Young children can absorb four to five times more ingested lead than adults, according to the World Health Organization, which also notes that at lower levels of lead exposure, which were previously considered safe, lead can affect children’s brain development and result in lower IQ scores — effects that are thought to be irreversible.

    After the Star spent a year trying to obtain data from the environment ministry that would show which schools failed lead tests, the province recently decided it would proactively publish the information online starting Friday.

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    While Ontario is doing better than most jurisdictions (it is the only province that requires schools and child-care centres to test for lead), its current standard for acceptable levels remains too high, said Bruce Lanphear, a Simon Fraser University health sciences professor and expert in the effects of toxins in children.

    A federal-provincial-territorial committee is currently considering whether to lower the drinking water standard for lead to 5 parts per billion, which is half the existing standard and, according to Lanphear, more in line with the latest scientific evidence.

    At that threshold, more than 800 schools and daycares would have failed to meet the standard in the 2016-17 fiscal year alone, government data shows.

    The long-term goal, however, should be to reduce the threshold even further, to one part per billion, Lanphear said. In Ontario, this is currently a voluntary target.

    It’s likely that excess lead in a facility’s drinking water got there by leaching out of the pipes, fixtures and/or service line, the ministry says.

    As of 2007 provincial legislation required schools and daycares to test their water annually for lead. While schools were previously only required to test one tap a year, new regulations brought into force this summer require daycares and schools with a primary division to ensure every tap used for drinking and food preparation is tested by 2020. Other schools have until 2022 to do the same.

    For each tap, schools are required to test two samples. The first, a “standing” sample, must be taken at a time when the plumbing hasn’t been used for at least six hours and the second, a “flushed” sample, must be taken immediately after the first sample once the tap has been flushed for at least five minutes and then left unused for about half an hour.

    “The vast majority of schools and child-care centres have found no problems with lead in their drinking water. Where there have been lead exceedances, facilities must take immediate corrective action to protect children as directed by the local Medical Officer of Health,” said Ontario’s Chief Drinking Water Inspector Orna Salamon in a statement.

    Schools and daycares are particularly vulnerable to heightened lead levels because the metal can accumulate to very high concentrations while the water sits in pipes during vacations, said Marc Edwards, a professor of environmental and water resources engineering at Virginia Tech, adding, “It’s unfortunate because you have the worst lead in water problems and the most at-risk population: young children.”

    Edwards said the results from Ontario are what he would expect to see. He added that he is more concerned with jurisdictions who do no testing at all.

    School boards contacted by the Star said they took immediate steps to address high lead levels. Clemens Mill Public School in Cambridge, which found lead levels of 3,120 parts per billion in a flushed sample from one tap (the highest result in the 2016-17 fiscal year), retested the failing tap and passed. The school will now flush its taps daily for the next two years.

    St. Vincent Catholic Elementary School failed more than 15 lead tests in the last two years, including one 2015 standing sample that found lead levels of 488 parts per billion and a 2016 standing sample of 348 parts per billion.

    Pino Tassone, director of education for the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board, said the high 2015 samples were taken in the summer and not indicative of water quality during the school year. The 2016 samples came after the removal of a “tap aerator” that “disturbed some debris in the piping.” The school replaced the tap and copper piping leading to it.

    Some schools like Duke of Connaught Jr. & Sr. Public School in Toronto, which had six failing tests including one flushed sample that came back at 460 parts per billion in the 2015-16 fiscal year, immediately provided bottled water and investigated the source of the contamination — a fixture that was subsequently replaced. A letter was also sent home to parents informing them of the lead exceedance.

    “It always makes you feel bad that something like that was in a school and was unknown to a particular point,” said Sheila Cary-Meagher, a Toronto school trustee who represents Ward 16 Beaches-East York.

    “It’s not the sort of thing that you can taste, or smell, or see, you have to do the test to know it,” she said, adding the school’s response to the exceedance was standard.

    One element of the school’s response, however, does stand out — parents were proactively informed. Some schools, including Robert Baldwin Public School in Milton, conducted lead testing in the summer of 2016 and did not notify parents that there had been five exceedances, including a flushed sample that came back at 110 parts per billion and a standing sample at 2,000 parts per billion.

    While it may be difficult to notify parents during the summer months, Cary-Meagher said they should be informed come September that high lead levels were discovered and either addressed or that bottled water is being provided.

    “I wish it had been communicated to us,” said parent Darren Harrison, whose 9-year-old daughter is in Grade 4 at Robert Baldwin Public School. “We give her bottled water for her lunch, this makes me wonder what she’s drinking the rest of the day.”

    Explaining the high sample taken at Robert Baldwin Public School, Halton school board superintendent of education Robert Eatough, said “a major renovation” may have contributed to high lead levels detected. Subsequent retesting found the concentrations within the provincial standard. The school is flushing its pipes daily.

    Lead levels in water from any given tap can fluctuate. Extremely high lead levels can be caused by a dislodged pellet of lead, which may not happen all the time, Lanphear, the health lead expert said.

    “But the point of it is if you’re finding levels above five or 10, and certainly above 20 or 1,000 there are major sources of lead in that faucet or in those fountains and that should serve as an indicator that we have to fix this, ” he said.

    Lanphear said water sources that tested above five parts per billion could be brought to below one part per billion over the next 10 to 20 years. The taps with the highest lead concentrations should be addressed urgently, he said, additional flushing — one of the most common measures used to reduce lead concentrations in Ontario, according to a plain language guide to the province’s drinking water regulations for schools and daycares — may not be the answer.

    The province’s environment ministry requires all schools and daycares to flush their plumbing by letting the water run for at least five minutes at least once a week in an effort to reduce lead concentrations that can accumulate in water that’s left standing in unused plumbing. Schools where lead levels exceed the standard may have to flush the errant tap or the whole system daily.

    While the ministry says flushing has been shown to reduce lead levels, Lanphear said it isn’t a long-term solution.

    “Even if you flush it and it goes down it can build up within about 30 minutes back up to the pre-flushed levels and we can’t expect the maintenance guys at the schools to walk around and flush these things before every class break ,” he said, adding that installing certified filters would be a slightly better short-term solution.

    Over the long term the best approach is to find the source of the contamination and get rid of it, he said. In the next couple of decades he’d like to see a new standard of 1 part per billion enforced.

    The debate over how to decrease lead levels in schools ultimately comes up against how much funds are available to do so.

    This year the province invested $1.4 billion in school repairs and upgrades to plumbing systems, roofs, flooring and more, according to the education ministry.

    Edwards, the engineering expert from Virginia Tech, said he thinks Ontario’s existing standard “is very aggressive and probably tests the limits of what’s achievable with reasonable interventions.” To virtually eliminate lead in drinking water could mean diverting funds away from another worthy priority, he said.

    Lanphear said he’s “fairly optimistic that once we decide to act on something we can do it.”

    With files from Alex McKeenAinslie Cruickshank can be reached at (416) 869-4352 or acruickshank@thestar.caJayme Poisson can be reached at (416) 814-2725 or

    With 640 Ontario schools and daycares failing testing, are children drinking lead-contaminated water?With 640 Ontario schools and daycares failing testing, are children drinking lead-contaminated water?

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    The president refused Friday to elaborate on what he meant when he told reporters the day before, while posing for photos with senior military leaders, that this might be “the calm before the storm.”

    Trump plays coy at Friday event with ‘calm before the storm’ remarkTrump plays coy at Friday event with ‘calm before the storm’ remark

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    Pipeline politics may put the Justin Trudeau government’s energy-environment policy plan to the test.

    The end of the Energy East pipeline could mark the start of federal-provincial turmoil: HébertThe end of the Energy East pipeline could mark the start of federal-provincial turmoil: Hébert

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    Bjorn Samstrom is accused of coercing girls to perform sexual acts in front of webcams by threatening them or their families. Under Swedish law, rape does not have to involve intercourse. It can be another act considered to be equally violating.

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    Both Louisiana and Mississippi officials declared state of emergency and Louisiana ordered some people to evacuate coastal areas and barrier islands ahead of the storm that is likely to reach the U.S. Gulf Coast as a hurricane, forecasters said.

    U.S. states declare emergency, people ordered to evacuate ahead of Tropical Storm NateU.S. states declare emergency, people ordered to evacuate ahead of Tropical Storm Nate

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    The U.S. president drew out the name in an accented fashion three times — “Pueeeeerto Rico.”

    ‘Pueeeeerto Rico’: Trump plays with Spanish accent as he celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month‘Pueeeeerto Rico’: Trump plays with Spanish accent as he celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

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    The new tariff intensifies political pressure on NAFTA negotiators ahead of next week’s resumption of talks among Canada, Mexico and the U.S.

    Bombardier accuses Trump administration of ‘egregious overreach’ after new tariff put on U.S. CSeries salesBombardier accuses Trump administration of ‘egregious overreach’ after new tariff put on U.S. CSeries sales

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    Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, a Canadian citizen, was arrested in connection with an alleged Daesh-inspired plot targeting New York City in the summer of 2016, according to documents released by the U.S. Justice Department Friday.

    19-year-old Mississauga man arrested, pleads guilty over alleged Daesh plot to attack Times Square, New York subways19-year-old Mississauga man arrested, pleads guilty over alleged Daesh plot to attack Times Square, New York subways

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    A whole lot of Torontonians are madder than a wet hen over city council’s decision to allow a pilot project that would permit people to keep backyard chickens.

    Backyard chickens in Toronto won’t cause the sky to fall: DiMannoBackyard chickens in Toronto won’t cause the sky to fall: DiManno

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    Joshua Boyle and his American wife Caitlan Coleman were taken hostage in Afghanistan nearly five years ago. Now, the Boyle family is sharing a video they received this year in reply to their letters.

    Family of kidnapped Canadian shares new video, clings to hope as 5th anniversary of abduction approachesFamily of kidnapped Canadian shares new video, clings to hope as 5th anniversary of abduction approaches

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