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    Humber College student Kate Nodwell fears she won’t graduate from her three-year public relations course if she can’t finish her last eight weeks of classes by year-end. She has a one-way ticket to England for a coveted internship that starts in January, and she’s not about to give that up.

    Calvin McDonnell, who hopes for a career in water treatment, wonders how he’s going to make up the lab time he needs to analyze water samples for chemicals during his last year of environmental technology at Fanshawe College in London, Ont.

    And Greg Kung, a second-year paramedic student at Humber, says his class is being robbed of a crucial part of the program — ride-alongs with crews in the community to experience life on the job.

    They are among the roughly 300,000 college students across Ontario caught in the crossfire this week as 12,000 faculty went on strike Monday after negotiations ended between their union and the province’s 24 public colleges.

    “I can’t sleep because of all this and I have classmates feeling the same way,” says Nodwell, 28, who is in her final year of an advanced diploma.

    The internship she lined up in England is for the work semester required to complete her diploma. She can’t put that on hold if classes extend into the new year as a result of the strike.

    Like students across the province, Nodwell is uncertain how the labour disruption is going to affect her studies and her future, and has been relying on news reports and social media for updates since full-time professors, part-time instructors, counsellors and librarians walked off the job.

    “I’ve worked so hard,” says Nodwell, who has two part-time jobs to pay for school. But the lack of reliable information, uncertainty and inability to plan is causing a lot of anxiety.

    She says she fully supports striking faculty “but when you add it all up it’s very, very stressful and we’re just being left in the dark.”

    Talks, which ended Sunday after the bargaining team for the colleges rejected the final offer from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, were not scheduled to resume as of late Tuesday.

    Calvin McDonnell, 21, was so upset when he heard the news Sunday that he wrote to his local MPP, NDP education critic Peggy Sattler, who recounted his situation during Question Period at Queen’s Park on Monday, demanding the government send both sides back to the bargaining table.

    McDonnell said in an interview he is laden with OSAP loans and doesn’t want to take on more debt as a result of delayed completion of his program.

    “Right now it’s our most intense semester,” says McDonnell. “Most of our study is in the lab and tuition is paying for the equipment.”

    But all that is currently cancelled.

    College students aren’t the only ones affected. There are currently 91 collaborative programs in Ontario run through partnerships between universities and colleges. Depending on the program, those are also experiencing cancellations.

    About 5,000 students enrolled at University of Guelph-Humber, located on the Humber campus in Toronto, are facing cancelled classes, including those taught by Guelph University professors.

    Thousands of students in collaborative nursing programs involving 13 universities and 21 colleges are also feeling the impact.

    The largest such program is between Ryerson University, George Brown College and Centennial College. It’s currently business as usual for students who enrolled through the university, while students whose home site is one of the colleges are dealing with cancelled classes and placements, said Ryerson spokesperson Johanna VanderMaas.

    At Queen’s Park on Tuesday, Premier Kathleen Wynne urged the colleges and union to restart negotiations and put an end to the strike.

    “I am very concerned about it,” said Wynne. “I hope that, in the very short future, we will see that the parties are at the table and they can hammer out an agreement.”

    But paramedic-in-training Greg Kung of Humber says the practical nature of many college programs means that valuable workplace learning is missed with every day of the strike.

    Losing the hands-on experience is causing “a lot of pressure,” says Kung, 28. “Judging from other students we’ve talked to in programs like nursing, there is a sincere worry and anxiety.”

    That’s a big concern for Avery Mackintosh, who is taking a one-year graduate certificate in addictions and mental health at Durham College.

    While it may be possible to catch up on reading academic material, she says the crucial workshop component of the program, which allows students to role play and be critiqued on their interaction skills, is key.

    “A lot of the content is practical skills,” says Mackintosh, 22, who earned an undergraduate degree in psychology from Trent University.

    “We’re not learning everything we should be learning.”

    James Fauvelle is learning — just not exactly the way he expected. Fauvelle, 40, is in his second year of Centennial’s social service worker program, which he says has a strong social justice component.

    So he’s organizing a Toronto march from Bay and Bloor Sts. to Queen’s Park at noon Thursday to “show our solidarity” with faculty — many of whom are part-time and teach anywhere from seven to 12 hours a week.

    Fauvelle says he works part-time and his wife is juggling three jobs so the situation is taking its toll.

    “Honestly, a lot of us just can’t afford it,” he said.

    OPSEU is seeking more job security for those instructors and wants half of faculty to be full-time — versus the current one-third they represent by head count. Full-time staff currently account for half the teaching hours.

    With files from Kristin Rushowy

    Andrea Gordon can be reached at agordon@thestar.ca


    Students caught in crossfire amid strike at Ontario collegesStudents caught in crossfire amid strike at Ontario colleges

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    OTTAWA—The Liberal government appears to be taking a pass on several proposals put forward by a parliamentary committee to assist Canada’s struggling news industry.

    In a letter to Heritage Committee chair Hedy Fry, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly said Monday the government recognizes the “important role” news media plays in Canadian society.

    But the letter signalled the government will not pursue some of the committee’s 20 recommendations to help news outlets adapt to a “changing media landscape,” and was silent on others.

    Specifically, the letter cast doubt on allowing not-for-profit media outlets to obtain charitable status, allowing them to issue income tax receipts for donors.

    Joly, along with Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains, wrote that “it’s not clear” such a measure would help not-for-profit journalism in Canada.

    The model has achieved some success in other countries, such as ProPublica in the United States and The Guardian in the U.K., and was recommended by journalism organizations and academics who testified at the committee.

    The government is also “not commenting” on a proposal to fund a new initiative to train Indigenous journalists, which the committee recommended be run through the Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network (APTN). The letter notes APTN is a private network, and encouraged the committee to take the matter up directly with them.

    Joly’s letter commits the government to continue to study other recommendations, such as expanding the eligibility of the Canada Periodical Fund, and exploring tax issues around foreign news aggregators like Facebook and Google.

    Fry, a Liberal MP, acknowledged it was “disappointing” the ministers’ letter did not engage on more of the committee’s specific recommendations.

    “We heard a lot of testimony and put in a few recommendations that were carefully thought out, because we are very concerned about this issue as a committee,” Fry said in an interview Tuesday evening.

    “(As) chair of the committee, I was disappointed that some things weren’t addressed. But I am being an optimist . . . . We’re not letting this go.”

    Government support for the newspaper industry is a fraught subject and the source of considerable debate within the industry itself. But over 15 months, a number of media organizations and outlets — including the Toronto Star — appeared before the committee to outline the challenges facing the industry.

    Those include advertising revenues being sucked up by companies like Facebook and Google, the rise of so-called “fake news,” and Canadians’ declining access to local journalism.

    In a speech last month, Joly ruled out any direct government support to prop up failing media models.

    “Our approach will not be to bail out industry models that are no longer viable. Rather, we will focus our efforts on supporting innovation, experimentation and transition to digital,” Joly said.

    A representative for Joly’s office said Tuesday night the “work is not over” when it comes to the Liberals’ thinking on cultural policy, noting a response to the committee required within 120 days.

    Pierre Nantel, the New Democrat vice-chair on the committee, said they’ve already spent 18 months on this issue as “the whole ecosystem is on fire.”

    “It’s a lame response,” Nantel said of Joly’s letter.

    “It’s a complicated issue, and this is all interconnected . . . . The main point is that the consumer has changed their way of consuming news and culture, and our system has been caught off guard.”

    Peter Van Loan, the committee’s ranking Conservative, said he’s largely happy with the government’s response. The Conservatives dissented from the committee’s report, arguing Canadians can decide for themselves what media outlets to support.

    But John Hinds, the president of print and digital media advocacy group News Media Canada, said that if local newspapers fail, it will be felt by more than just those who still subscribe.

    “You lose a newspaper in a small community, you lose that medium of record, you lose the economic impact and the broader way for the community to talk to itself,” Hinds said.

    “I think there are real challenges out there. And I think we need to figure out how to talk to the government and explain that to them.”


    Liberals won’t act on proposals to aid news industryLiberals won’t act on proposals to aid news industry

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    FERNIE, B.C.—Three people are dead after a possible ammonia leak an arena in Fernie, B.C., that also triggered an evacuation of homes and businesses in the area.

    The City of Fernie said as of Tuesday evening, emergency crews couldn’t safely enter the Fernie Memorial Arena where three fatalities had been confirmed.

    WorkSafeBC said based on preliminary information, three workers were exposed to a gas leak that was possibly ammonia shortly before noon.

    The city’s fire department had contacted WorkSafeBC about the incident and RCMP are now leading the investigation of the site.

    Fernie fire chief Ted Ruiter said the situation was “somewhat under control.”

    “Anytime you’re dealing with fatalities it’s always tough,” he said of the event’s impact on his crews. “We’re a small city and everybody knows each other. It’s very hard to deal with, for sure.”

    The city said the victims’ next of kin have been notified and their identities are not being released at this time.

    The city said in a news release it is working with CIMCO Refrigeration and is trying to get obtain additional specialized resources to deal with the hazardous situation.

    Ruiter said B.C.’s Ministry of Environment is also sending staff to assist with monitoring and to determine what the next steps will be.

    Homes and businesses in the area, including a retirement home, have been evacuated.

    “We’re still concerned about some ammonia leaking into the environment,” he said.

    Officials have not said if other people were inside the facility at the time of the gas leak.

    The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety says ammonia is a colourless gas that is very toxic if inhaled and can cause death.

    Ammonia can cause severe irritation of the nose and throat and life-threatening accumulation of fluid in the lungs.

    Symptoms of ammonia poisoning may include coughing, shortness of breath, difficult breathing and tightness in the chest. The centre also says symptoms may develop hours after exposure and are made worse by physical effort.

    Ammonia is used as a fertilizer, to make plastics, fibres and other chemicals, as a refrigerant and other applications.


    Three dead after ammonia leak at hockey arena in Fernie, B.C.Three dead after ammonia leak at hockey arena in Fernie, B.C.

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    OTTAWA—A man accused of holding Amanda Lindhout hostage in Somalia testified in court he did not receive ransom money — even though he twice told undercover RCMP officers he got $10,000 U.S.

    Ali Omar Ader told Ontario Superior Court on Tuesday that in 2013, he lied about being paid to a Mountie posing as his business agent because it was what the man wanted to hear.

    At the time, Ader believed he was meeting the businessman on the island of Mauritius to discuss plans to publish his book about Somalia.

    Read more:

    Mother of ex-hostage Amanda Lindhout speaks out on ‘victim shaming,’ Joshua Boyle and her ‘disgust’ with Ottawa

    Accused Lindhout kidnapper admitted receiving $10K of ransom: RCMP officer

    Amanda Lindhout’s mother says accused kidnapper feared ‘he was being set up’

    The seeds of the phoney book project were planted three years earlier when Ader tried to make contact with Lindhout’s mother, months after her daughter was freed. The undercover Mountie phoned Ader in Somalia, saying he had been hired by the shaken family to respond to all queries.

    They stayed in touch about Ader’s book, leading to the face-to-face meeting in Mauritius. The Mounties saw the elaborate scheme as a way to get Ader to admit involvement in the hostage-taking.

    Ader told the court Tuesday he feared his business associate would not trust him if he denied responsibility for the kidnapping.

    Ader said he repeated the lie about getting $10,000 U.S. two years later in Ottawa — this time with his supposed agent and a second Mountie posing as a Vancouver publisher — because he wanted to make his dream of being an author a reality.

    “To tell you the truth, I did not receive any money,” Ader said under questioning from Samir Adam, one of his lawyers.

    Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan were abducted by armed men while working on a story near Mogadishu in August 2008, the beginning of 15 months in captivity. Both were released upon payment of a ransom.

    Ader, a 40-year-old Somalian national who speaks some English, has pleaded not guilty to a criminal charge of hostage-taking for his alleged role as a negotiator and translator.

    In a secretly recorded sting video of the 2015 Ottawa meeting, Ader acknowledges being paid for helping the shadowy group of armed kidnappers.

    In the witness box, however, Ader has told a different story.

    He has painted himself as a victim who was coerced into assisting three gang leaders and a posse of gun-toting youths over several months through threats, a beating and an attack on his family.

    He said he was detained by the group and forced to make ransom calls to Lindhout’s mother. Ader described escaping at one point, and later surrendering to the kidnappers after they assaulted his family and threatened to do worse.

    In fact, Ader said, he then moved his wife and children into a house with the kidnappers as it was the only option at the time.

    Ader insisted he tried to tell his supposed business agent in Mauritius that he had no choice but to work with the hostage-takers, but the man wasn’t interested. “He did not listen to me — he did not pay attention to me.”

    Ader said since his associate kept closing down the conversation, he told him what he liked hearing.

    He said he felt compelled to repeat the lie about being paid to help the gang to secure the book deal at the meeting in Ottawa.

    In cross-examining Ader, prosecutor Croft Michaelson challenged this latest version of events, saying his testimony was “largely untruthful.”

    Michaelson wondered why Ader would make up a story in Mauritius for a man he had come to see as a trusted business partner, instead of telling him he was forced to co-operate with a gang of kidnappers.

    “Why wouldn’t you have told him the story you have told us today?” Michaelson asked.

    “Wouldn’t it have made more sense to tell him the truth than to manufacture a lie?”

    Michaelson also quizzed Ader about moving his family into a house with the hostage-takers.

    “Why would you bring your wife and children with you to live with gunmen?”

    Ader replied: “It was part of the surrender.”


    Accused Amanda Lindhout kidnapper testifies he lied to RCMP, did not receive ransom moneyAccused Amanda Lindhout kidnapper testifies he lied to RCMP, did not receive ransom money

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    A Brampton family is asking for more time to conduct medical tests on a 27-year-old woman who was declared brain dead last month.

    The lawyer for Taquisha McKitty’s family says the woman was taken to hospital in September after experiencing a drug overdose.

    Hugh Scher says McKitty’s condition worsened and she was put on a respirator.

    Read more:

    Judge grants two-week injunction that keeps Brampton woman on life support

    ‘She’s still alive’: Brampton family goes to court to keep daughter on life support

    He says doctors later moved to take McKitty off the respirator after ruling that she was brain dead and issuing a death certificate.

    Scher says McKitty’s family believes she is still showing signs of life.

    The family wants the death certificate revoked and obtained a temporary injunction from the court late last month to keep her on the respirator while its legal challenge continues.

    Court heard Tuesday that a series of tests has been conducted but McKitty’s family is asking for at least one more to be performed, which would require the court to extend the injunction.

    The test would involve filming McKitty for 72 hours to capture her movements and better assess whether they represent a sign of consciousness or simply a reflex, Scher said.

    Lawyers for McKitty’s doctor are taking issue with the family’s expert witness, an American doctor who told the court Tuesday he does not believe lack of brain function is enough to declare someone dead.

    “The beating heart is indication that there can be circulation going on and I don’t think that a patient should be declared dead as long as there is life in that patient,” Dr. Paul Byrne told the court.

    Erica Baron, who represents Dr. Omar Hayani, said that what constitutes life is the crux of the case.

    “Would you agree that there is a respected opinion in the United States that the cessation of brain function constitutes death?” she asked.

    “Yes,” Byrne said. He then acknowledged that it is also considered death under U.S. law.

    The court is weighing whether Byrne is qualified to serve as an expert witness.


    Brampton family is asking for more time to conduct tests on daughter declared brain dead Brampton family is asking for more time to conduct tests on daughter declared brain deadBrampton family is asking for more time to conduct tests on daughter declared brain dead Brampton family is asking for more time to conduct tests on daughter declared brain dead

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    MONTREAL—On April 17, 1849, an Ontario politician named Malcolm Cameron sent a letter from the Parliament of the United Canada in Montreal to London, England.

    In it, the merchant and elected member from Kent, in western Ontario, requested payment on a bill. Before being sent, it was stamped as official correspondence of the legislative assembly. It arrived a few days later in the hands of its intended recipient, a London lawyer named John D. Hughes.

    Most everything that was contained in the prestigious building located just a block from the busy St. Lawrence River was lost when angry English rioters stormed the building eight days after Cameron’s letter was sent, resulting in a devastating fire on the night of April 25, 1849.

    Now, 168 years later, archeologists who have been excavating the site that had been a city parking lot for most of the last 90 years believe they have found the official copper alloy stamp that was stained with blue ink and pressed down on Cameron’s envelope.

    Unearthed just a few weeks ago, the coin-sized stamp is one of the highlights of a years-long dig that has recovered hundreds of thousands of artifacts ranging from pipes and wine bottles to fine china plates and tea sets to oyster shells that would have served as “rich snack food” for the likes of John A. Macdonald, Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, George-Étienne Cartier and Robert Baldwin.

    “We didn’t think we’d find them,” Louise Pothier, chief curator with Montreal’s Pointe-à-Callière archeological museum, said of the official stamps, which were discovered in areas that correspond to the office of the clerk of the legislative assembly and from the legislative council library.

    Pothier said such items would normally be carefully stored in the archives when not in use.

    “The fact that it was a quick and violent fire resulted in them being left on site and rediscovered more than a century-and-a-half later. It’s a very precious discovery for Montreal and we’re very happy to have stumbled upon them.”

    It was a time of great change, when lawmakers here were beginning to shake off colonial masters abroad and when French and English were learning to coexist. The protests and fires occurred during anglophone protests about financial compensation for francophone rebels who suffered property losses during an uprising against British rule in 1837.

    The flurry of digging and discovery since 2011 also inspired the neighbours of the 1849 parliamentarians — the Grey Nuns of Montreal — to delve into their own archives this summer.

    There, they discovered a contemporary account of the incident that sheds new light on the fire’s origins.

    Protest leader Alfred Perry, Montreal’s then-fire chief, suggested it was accidental — the result of a broken gas line — after he and four others were charged with arson. But the account from the nunnery is more nefarious.

    “One small element that came out of it was that (rioters) lit the fire at the four corners of the building and that, in three-quarters of an hour, the building was no longer there,” Pothier said.

    The fire also destroyed the two parliamentary libraries, and an estimated 22,000 public documents from Upper and Lower Canada — Ontario and Quebec. Some of them dated back hundreds of years to the earliest days of French colonization.

    About 30 charred fragments of the 6,000 volumes contained in one of the libraries were recovered. One, which looks like little more than a carbonized crumbling mass, has since been identified as the minutes of the lower chamber of France’s parliament for the months of October and November of 1830.

    Archeologist Hendrik Van Gijseghem said the specimen was shipped to the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa and subjected to an experimental treatment that allowed a page to be extracted. It was carefully frozen and progressively dried until it became readable.

    “After that it was just a question of Googling a sentence or two and we immediately had the title of the work,” he said.

    “To find paper like that calcified or not in an archeological context is extremely rare unless you’re working in an arid environment in the Middle East. It’s almost unheard of.”

    With the dig drawing to a close, researchers now have a staggering amount of work ahead cleaning, examining and cataloguing all the artifacts, but the Point-à-Callière museum hopes to showcase the artifacts in a pavilion that would mark the site.

    “We have the privilege as archeologists to touch the past, to get closer to the people who lived during a certain time,” said Pothier.

    “What we want to do is go much further and allow the population to have this privilege to be in contact with the people of the past . . . and to reduce the space that separates us from historic events.”


    Archeological dig at site of former Parliament in Montreal reveals stamps, burned books and oyster shellsArcheological dig at site of former Parliament in Montreal reveals stamps, burned books and oyster shells

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    “What you’re about to see is very graphic.”

    The warning on Tuesday morning came from Crown Attorney Meghan Scott.

    Delivered at the very minute that a dozen teenagers filed into the courtroom on one of those school field trips to see justice in action.

    They appeared to endure the ordeal without visible trauma. But I kept thinking: Leave. Now. Go.

    There are some things that should never be displayed in public.

    And this — autopsy photos of the dismembered remains of 24-year-old Rigat Ghirmay — was the worst I’ve ever witnessed in decades of covering trials.

    Murder porn.

    I wondered, too: Would these exhibits — final violation of an Eritrean refugee chopped up into pieces, allegedly in her own bathtub — have been put up on a screen, in open court, if the victim was a young white middle-class female?

    Because it is no longer routine for such grisly evidence to be paraded in court.

    One person who didn’t look up at all: Adonay Zekarias, on trial for first-degree murder. He picked at his cuticles, stared into space, leaned in as a translator spoke quietly into his ear.

    But he never cast a glance at those gruesome images.

    Ghirmay’s remains were discovered at separate locations, three years apart. Her torso — actually, both legs from below the waist but with feet missing — were happened upon by a passerby, Francis McMullen, on May 24, 2013, stuffed into a duffel bag and left near a pathway in the Black Creek Flood control area. That spot was about 500 metres from Zekarias’s residence.

    The second discovery was made by bone collector Michael Paquet on two expeditions a week apart to the Lavender Creek Trail in April 2016. The first cache was long leg bones and bone shards that Paquet originally believed were animal specimens. Returning to the site later he found a plastic bag that contained a clearly human skull, ribs and other bones — the rest of Ghirmay, apart from the feet and her right hand, which have never been found.

    It was the torso — most of Ghirmay’s lower half, retrieved only nine days after the woman was last seen alive, so still fleshy and not extensively decomposed — that sent shudders through the courtroom as Dr. Toby Rose, a forensic pathologist, testified about the remains she had autopsied.

    “This is the entire specimen,” Rose, deputy chief of forensic pathology with Ontario Forensic Pathology Service, said crisply, with the detachment of an expert who specializes in the dead, a corpse whisperer.

    And there Ghirmay is on the screen, severed just above the belly button, still wearing yoga pants and her underwear, with a deep slash across one leg, as if someone had tried to saw through below the knee cap but not finished the job.

    Bisecting a human being at the waist, noted Rose, is not particularly strenuous work. “There aren’t any bones there to go through . . . until you get to the spine.”

    Oh, but it got excruciatingly more horrific.

    In another slide, the truncated body is now naked. So terribly vulnerable. Rose points out “splash marks” on the buttocks, indicating that some type of liquid had spread across the area. Yes, it might have been acid, it might have been bleach. But testing revealed no definitive cause. Just as Rose could not determine cause of death by what she had on the table. There were no obvious injuries such as a bullet hole or a stabbing wound. Ghirmay may have been strangled, who knows? Rose didn’t have a neck that could have shown compression injuries.

    “It can be difficult to determine a cause of death even when I examine (a body) in the best of circumstances. In this case the circumstances are the worst.”

    She did draw attention to a few “body part defects,” evidence of small injuries that she concluded occurred after death.

    Of particular scrutiny to Rose, during the autopsy, was a tiny puncture to the external genitalia. And here we were presented with an excised scrap of flesh from the clitoris to the anus. It might have been significant as an indicator of sexual assault trauma but Rose could draw no conclusions. There were no internal injuries. Ghirmay had been a healthy young woman.

    But we stared at the specimen anyway, in magnified dimensions, these most intimate details of a dead woman’s anatomy. With no discernible reason for why Ghirmay should have been so miserably exposed.

    It was another pathologist who conducted the post-mortem on the “jumble” of bones found by Paquet but Rose, who reviewed the findings, presented them to court. “Her circumstances were worse,” said Rose of her colleague. “She only had a skeleton.”

    Those desiccated remains showed no “bony” injuries but there were some indications of “changes she saw in the bones” that could have been caused by an object with a blade, a straight edge and a pointed end. A knife in other words.

    The prosecution’s theory is that Zekarias killed Ghirmay — a close friend who’d briefly shared an apartment with him — to prevent her from taking any suspicions she may have had to police about the Oct. 23, 2012 murder of another woman, Nighisti Semret. The mother of four, also a refugee from Eritrea — as is the accused — was stabbed to death in a Cabbagetown alley as she walked home after her night shift as a hotel maid.

    It is unknown if Ghirmay and Semret knew each other. But both certainly knew Zekarias. Semret had helped Zekarias — they both lived for a time at Sojourn House, a refugee shelter — fill out immigration paperwork. All three came to Canada from Eritrea.

    Zekarias was Semret’s killer. He was convicted of first-degree murder in June 2015 and sentenced to life in prison. Although simultaneously charged with Ghirmay’s murder, the trials were severed. This trial, four years after Ghirmay was last seen alive — captured on surveillance video entering her Shuter Street apartment building with Zekarias — is judge-alone, which is why so many details about the earlier crime have been heard in open court: How he fled to Germany for two months after the Semret slaying and monitored reports of the police investigation on his laptop searches; how he returned to Canada in February 2013 when detectives still believed they were looking for a white suspect who walked with a limp; and how, crucially, he’d been taken to hospital, mere hours after Semret was killed, to be treated for severe wounds to both hands, which he claimed had been caused by a slamming door.

    DNA taken from beneath Semret’s fingernails led police to dramatically change their suspect description, revealing that the killer had probably absorbed serious injuries to his arms or hands during the assault, and also announcing a $50,000 reward for information resulting in an arrest.

    Ghirmay had ridden in the ambulance with Zekarias. She was with him when he purchased his plane ticket to Germany. In the months prior to his arrest, they were frequently seen together as Ghirmay bought a TV, a cell phone, and signed a lease on a subsidized housing apartment.

    No motive has ever been learned for why Semret was murdered.

    But there was plenty of motive for silencing Ghirmay — a victim, in a final indignity, stripped of all her secrets in court.

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


    Murder victim stripped of all her secrets in court: DiMannoMurder victim stripped of all her secrets in court: DiManno

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    Charity the cow isn’t going anywhere soon, and there’s confusion about where she will go when a decision is made on her future.

    Markham councilors held a council meeting Tuesday night to determine what to do with the city’s infamous cow-on-stilts statue after a local developer couldn’t be prodded to change her position.

    The statue was donated and installed earlier this summer by local developer Helen Roman-Barber, and has attracted hundreds of curious bovine art critics and lovers to the quiet suburb of Cathedraltown, near Elgin Mills Rd. and Woodbine Ave.

    “When I asked her if she had an intention, or willingness to open her mind to look at an alternative site, she said that was never her intention and she sees this as being the best location for her donation,” said Steven Chait, the director of economic growth, culture and entrepreneurship for the city of Markham.

    He said she was not open to discussion on moving the statue, even when she was informed the city would pay for it.

    Last month, Markham councilors voted to move the now infamous cow statue called Charity: Perpetuation of Perfection, after residents protested about the proximity of the stainless steel statue to their home, the lack of consultation before installation and the height of the public art piece.

    Charity, believed to be “the most perfect cow there ever was,” was partially owned by wealthy businessman, Stephen Roman, Helen’s father. It is believed the cow never even came to Markham, and spent her life on a farm in Port Perry.

    Mayor Frank Scarpitti repeatedly said he was against the idea of moving the cow.

    Councillors struggled to decide if the statue should be removed immediately or if it should remain on Charity Cres. until a new location is found. After a recorded vote, council decided 7-4 to keep the “sculpture on site until a suitable location is found.”

    Council also voted to give staff until the end of the year to come up with possible options of where the statue will go when the city assumes ownership of the statue.

    According to a memorandum signed between the developer and the city, the city will consult “with the donor prior to any final decision being made regarding the sculpture’s removal and relocation,” it says, adding “the decision of the city shall be final.”

    And “if the decision is made by the city to relocate the Sculpture or remove the Sculpture from public display, the city will advise the donor in writing.”

    Tammy Armes, a long-time resident of Cathedraltown, questions why taxpayers should be on the hook.

    “Why should we pay for it? Why should resident of Markham pay for this mistake?”

    Resident Danny Da Silva said he was happy to see the councilors support the motion for moving the statue and would be following the next steps closely.

    “I think the donor has been very consistent in her stance, so that wasn’t surprising.”

    But until then, he admits he will have to live with a front row seat of Charity.

    “We want to see how this transpires. We are still expecting to find an alternate location soon as possible, and at the earliest convenience to see it moved. If they dilly-dally, that could be problematic.”


    Markham cow statue to stay put, for nowMarkham cow statue to stay put, for now

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    Google’s urban innovation offshoot looked at hundreds of international cities before choosing Toronto’s east waterfront as the best site to use technology to try to radically remake the modern city.

    “We looked all over the world for the perfect place to bring this vision to life and we found it here in Toronto,” Dan Doctoroff, chief executive of New York-based Sidewalk Labs, told a crowd Tuesday at Corus Quay that included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet.

    In an interview Doctoroff said his two-year-old company looked across North America, western Europe and Australia for the best place to try new ideas including self-driving buses and mass-production modular homes to solve major problems of urban living such as high housing costs, commute times, social inequality, climate change and even cold weather keeping people indoors.

    Sidewalk Labs settled on Toronto for reasons including “unequalled diversity and spirit of openness,” a booming tech sector, and three levels of government committed to Waterfront Toronto’s unfolding redevelopment plans for 800 acres of east downtown land.

    Tuesday’s announcement made official recently leaked news that Sidewalk Labs won a Waterfront Toronto competition to at least start a conversation about building Quayside, a 12-acre site at Queens Quay E. and Parliament St. into a bustling neighbourhood with homes — one fifth of them for low-income Torontonians — as well as offices, stores, cultural spaces and more, underpinned by sensors and other cutting-edge technology.

    Doctoroff said his company will spend $50 million on a yearlong discussion, starting at a Nov. 1 public meeting, with citizens, governments, universities and others, about what the project dubbed “Sidewalk Toronto” should be.

    At the end of the year, they hope to have a blueprint that Waterfront Toronto, a partnership of the federal, provincial and Toronto governments, and Sidewalk Labs will find worthy to continue a partnership that both sides say could spill into the rest of the largely undeveloped 800 acres.

    “A lot of the things I think we might want to do, while you can pilot them at the Quayside level, they really achieve their real benefit at a larger scale,” Doctoroff said.

    Google Canada would move its Richmond St. headquarters to the area. Sidewalk Labs says it would have an “insatiable” appetite for partnerships with other companies, including local tech startups, as well as universities and others on the buildout.

    Officials stressed all plans are tentative until the end of consultations but the Sidewalk Labs winning submission paints a futuristic picture.

    Transportation would be provided by small self-driving “taxi-bots” controlled by app services, with self-driving buses to follow. An already planned waterfront light-rail line would link new communities with surrounding areas including the West Don Lands and Canary District. The flow of people would be monitored and maximized by computer sensors constantly analyzing data.

    Instead of city garbage trucks rumbling through streets, robot vehicles would move waste and other goods through underground tunnels.

    Weather “mitigation” features including wind shields and possibly heated surfaces could double the time people spend outside and encourage cycling and walking.

    And “radically mixed use” wood-composite modular buildings, able to be quickly modified for a variety of uses, could be fabricated in the area using new materials.

    “We could create a whole new industry that could help the Canadian model, the timber model, if we develop the model here and export,” said Will Fleissig, Waterfront Toronto’s chief executive, in an interview.

    “No one has really yet figured out modular housing at scale,” Doctoroff added, to which Fleissig said construction of 15,000 to 25,000 units would allow the prototype of new materials with the costs spread across the major development.

    Doctoroff, a former New York City deputy mayor, hastened to add that Sidewalk Toronto will not be a test bed for new gimmicks.

    “The objective here is about finding ways to address our biggest urban challenges, it is about for the average person every person, improving quality of life . . .,” he said. “Innovation mixed with really thoughtful design. If their cost of living goes down by $10,000 to $15,000 per year — we think that’s possible here.

    “If a time-starved parent can save an hour or so per day, we think that’s possible. People getting to many more places without a private automobile, that’s possible. This becoming the most climate-friendly place of anywhere in the world, that’s possible.”

    There are big questions and challenges. Some worry that Google, which makes money with data about people’s lives, could use the new project in a way that jeopardizes privacy. Sidewalk Labs documents released Tuesday don’t dispute such data will be collected but try to blunt such concerns with assurances security and privacy protection will be baked into the new infrastructure.

    Nor is it clear how the company will profit from the project. Developers are keen to build on the east waterfront. Doctoroff says “it is about, for the average person every person, improving quality of life. If you can find ways to do that, you know, business models and other things can follow.”

    Also unclear is whether regular rules around development will be changed or suspended for the new zone. Doctoroff said the new type of construction and neighbourhood might require different kinds of “zoning and building codes,” something that could raise objections at city hall and elsewhere.

    But Tuesday the talk was of opportunities, not problems.

    Trudeau heralded “technologies that will help us build smarter, greener, more inclusive cities which we hope to see scaled across Toronto’s eastern waterfront and eventually in other parts of Canada and around the world.”

    Schmidt described the choice of Toronto as the result of years of discussions with Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and a visit with Trudeau where the Prime Minister pitched his vision of Canada as a “Silicon Valley, plus everything else Canada is.”

    The Virginia-born Alphabet executive chair took a veiled shot at U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

    “You guys are home for immigrants — excellent,” he told the crowd which included Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory.

    “Try to remember that technology is powered by immigrants,” and “some people” in America need to know that, he said. “So please continue to let (immigrants) in and they’re going to be the basis of extraordinary business and personal success for your country.”

    This is a big week for Toronto and technology. On Wednesday morning, the Ontario government is expected to reveal some details of the “bid book” it is submitting to Amazon as part of a competition that has cities across North America trying to land the tech giant’s second headquarters.

    Doctoroff told the Star that he is happy to sing Toronto’s virtues to a tech rival.

    “If Amazon sees what we see in Toronto, they should be coming here,” he said.


    Google firm wins competition to build high-tech Quayside neighbourhood in TorontoGoogle firm wins competition to build high-tech Quayside neighbourhood in TorontoGoogle firm wins competition to build high-tech Quayside neighbourhood in TorontoGoogle firm wins competition to build high-tech Quayside neighbourhood in TorontoGoogle firm wins competition to build high-tech Quayside neighbourhood in TorontoGoogle firm wins competition to build high-tech Quayside neighbourhood in TorontoGoogle firm wins competition to build high-tech Quayside neighbourhood in TorontoGoogle firm wins competition to build high-tech Quayside neighbourhood in Toronto

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    The Star talked to five women from Victoria and asked them about the study that suggests the B.C. capital is the best place to be a woman.

    Boma Brown, 26, Support Network for Indigenous Women & Women of Colour founder

    Brown, who’s of Nigerian descent and previously lived in Botswana and in the U.S., has been in Victoria for six years. While the city has become more diverse in that time, she said, it’s still difficult for a woman of colour.

    “I think living in Victoria is, I don’t know if unique is the right word, but it’s an interesting experience,” she told the Star by phone.

    “Victoria is on the West Coast, so it’s really beautiful and the weather is great and I think that attracts a lot of immigrants and people who are retired and tourists and things like that. So in that regard it’s really awesome. But the unfortunate reality is for a person who is a woman of colour who moved here there isn’t a lot of community.”

    She said a lot of people who move to the city, particularly from other countries, can end up feeling isolated “in terms of having people who look like you, who speak your language, who eat the food you like to eat.”

    For a long time after moving to Victoria, she would travel to Toronto twice a year with an empty suitcase to pick up all the food she couldn’t get at home.

    And in 2014 she founded the Support Network for Indigenous Women & Women of Colour, hoping to support other women experiencing the same possible feelings of isolation.

    Gillian Worley, 24, electrical engineering co-op student

    After three years in Victoria, Worley said she sincerely loves the city.

    “I feel safe to walk and bike around at night,” she said.

    In her experience, she said the city was accepting of “all those who identify as women, and is encouraging of uniqueness and authenticity.”

    “That being said, I speak from a place of majority demographic,” she cautioned, though she said that it was her hope that minority groups would say the same thing about their city.

    There was a sense of camaraderie, she said, among her female friends and other women in the community that wasn’t felt in other cities she’s lived in.

    She spent two years in Vancouver, and found it busier and less personal.

    “Even though Victoria is a city, it feels smaller because women seem to look out for each other. I would agree that Victoria is one of the best Canadian cities for women for these reasons.”

    Kaitlin Ruether, 23, full-time student

    Ruether moved to Toronto this fall after five years in Victoria.

    “In terms of safety, or the feeling of safety, Victoria definitely feels like the safest place I’ve ever lived,” Ruether wrote in a Facebook message. “I think it has to do with the city’s mentality of community and this atmosphere it has of a town — or at least the small city off the coast of Vancouver.”

    Since moving to Toronto, though, she said that she’s found a higher focus on ideas of diversity and equality between men and women. Some of the smaller-city features of Victoria, which made it feel safe to live in, also led to more difficulty when it came to seizing opportunities.

    “It feels harder to work your way into anything, and even more so as a woman,” she wrote.

    So, for her, being in Toronto meant increasing the possibilities in her life.

    Sarah Petrescu, 39, Victoria Times-Colonist reporter

    “Victoria has the same personal safety risks for women that any other city has,” Petrescu wrote in an email to the Star. “That said, you don’t often worry about random cougars on the loose near downtown Toronto.”

    (Police and conservation officers chased down a wild cougar on the loose in Victoria late in 2015, drawing considerable local and media attention.)

    Petrescu added that, in some ways, she found Victoria to be the best place for women — dubbed ‘Chicktoria’ by some for its high female population numbers. “It’s easy to network and build support groups, to make lasting friendships and raise a family. Where leadership and salary opportunities lack, creative income-generating ideas flourish — check out our Etsy shops.”

    But, as a journalist, she said she also sees the many single mothers and marginalized women bearing “the heaviest load” in what she called a brutal zero-vacancy rental market with a high cost of living.

    Bobbi Turner, 60, executive director of Island Sexual Health

    Tuesday was the first Turner had heard of Victoria being ranked so highly for women, and she laughed when thinking about what to say.

    “Golly, that’s an interesting question,” she said. “It’s not one I’ve ever really thought about.”

    The Island Sexual Health clinic where Turner works had over 22,000 patient visits last year — predominantly women — and she said it’s becoming the only medical resource for many.

    “It’s extremely difficult right now for anyone to get a family physician,” Turner said of the city. “So from a health-care perspective, this doesn’t bode as well for women in Victoria.”

    The majority of their clients don’t have a family doctor, making it difficult to access health care outside the realm of sexual health.

    “This is, for many of them, the only place that they can go to get services.”


    Is Victoria really the best place to be a woman in Canada? Five residents weigh inIs Victoria really the best place to be a woman in Canada? Five residents weigh in

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    What precedes the most wonderful time of the year?

    The most offensive time of the year, of course — a.k.a. Halloween.

    It’s the only holiday that makes school principals and university deans cower in fear, not on account of ghosts or witches or any other supernatural threat, but because of something very real: the likelihood that, sooner or later, some kid will show up for class in a cable-knit sweater brandishing a bottle of pills, i.e. clad in a DIY costume of accused serial rapist Bill Cosby.

    Or, to use a more current example, they know a student is bound to show up at school wearing a nice suit with a big pillow tucked under his shirt, in an attempt to resemble alleged serial predator Harvey Weinstein. (Yes, people have already begun doing this. I Googled it. I wish I hadn’t.)

    But the costume that will likely take the cake for most bizarre and offensive in 2017 isn’t that of any living person, but one long dead: a costume depicting Holocaust victim Anne Frank.

    The ensemble, which went viral this week provoking major backlash online, comes complete with a “beret,” a “shoulder bag” and a “felt destination tag.” Its product description on halloweencostumes.com actually read, “We can always learn from the struggles of history!” No kidding.

    But perhaps the getup’s most outrageous element is that the child modelling the costume on the website was pictured grinning with her head cocked to one side and her hand on her hip. In other words, she looked less like a victim of the Nazi regime and more like a girl named Madison posing for a photo at her Bat Mitzvah party at Casa Loma.

    Needless to say, the Anne Frank costume triggered so much outrage it has since been pulled from the popular Halloween website.

    But other tasteless attire there remains to strike fear into the hearts of school administrators. Among them: “Native American Beauty Costume,” “Arab Costume,” “Tween Jade Geisha Costume,” “Pregnant School Girl Costume,” “Child Will Work for Candy Hobo Costume,” and last but certainly not least, “Frank the Flasher,” which appears to be a combination of a raincoat and nude jumpsuit affixed with an enormous plastic penis.

    Eliminate one Anne Frank getup and a thousand different but equally deranged costumes are still there for the taking.

    It’s not surprising then that some institutions are so wary of offending or frightening anyone they have done away with Halloween altogether.

    One of them, the brand new École Sage Creek School in Winnipeg, announced recently that, instead of Halloween, it will celebrate a “tie and scarf day.” The school’s principal told the CBC this week that this decision arose in part because there is a concern Halloween might inspire some students to wear costumes that are too gory and not age-appropriate (think sexy zombie).

    And while not going as far as cancelling Halloween, a French school board in Ontario has released a costume checklist for parents, to help their kids avoid outfits that make use of cultural or ethnic stereotypes.

    And yet I can’t help but strongly doubt that any of these tactics will actually work to dissuade the truly committed young s--- disturber from putting on his most convincing Bill Cosby sweater or makeshift suicide bomber vest come October 31.

    Human beings who choose to wear such costumes, generally speaking, live to scandalize their fellow man, and their worst fear on Halloween isn’t that Bloody Mary will appear in the mirror, but that they won’t sufficiently repulse the people around them.

    So the best punishment for this kind of person, it seems to me, is to fight his extremely poor taste with extremely good taste.

    Come October, schools and colleges should compile a large collection of painfully wholesome costumes. In fact, they should go online right now and order the following: Teletubby, Mailman, Olaf from Frozen, EMT worker (and for couples), Peanut Butter and Jelly.

    It should follow that any student who shows up in a racist or otherwise highly offensive costume would be asked to change into one of these wholesome outfits immediately.

    Who knows, such a student may come to seriously reconsider his Harvey Weinstein fat suit or his Anne Frank beret when he is forced to wear a costume that mortifies nobody but himself.

    Emma Teitel is a national affairs columnist.


    Anne Frank, Harvey Weinstein Halloween costumes call for drastic measures: TeitelAnne Frank, Harvey Weinstein Halloween costumes call for drastic measures: Teitel

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    SMITHS FALLS, ONT.—Joshua Boyle, a Canadian who was rescued with his family last week by Pakistani troops, said Tuesday that his wife had to be rushed to the hospital and remains there.

    Boyle told The Associated Press in an email that his wife, Caitlan Coleman, was admitted Monday. His email did not specify why she was taken to the hospital.

    “My first concern has to be the health of my wife and children,” Boyle wrote.

    Read more:

    If Pakistan failed to free Boyle family SEAL Team 6 would have, U.S. officials say

    After a lifetime in captivity, the children of Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman begin to heal

    ‘Let’s make the best of this’: Ex-hostage Joshua Boyle explains why he and his wife had kids in captivity

    Boyle, his American wife and their three children were rescued Wednesday, five years after the couple was abducted in Afghanistan on a backpacking trip. Four children were born in captivity.

    Boyle said after landing at Toronto’s airport on Friday that the Taliban-linked Haqqani network killed an infant daughter and raped his wife during the years they were held.

    In prior email exchange with AP, Boyle did not respond to a question about the fourth child but later told the CBC that it was a forced abortion. The Taliban said in a statement it was a miscarriage.

    On Monday, Boyle told the AP that he and his wife decided to have children even while held captive because they always planned to have a big family and decided, “Hey, let’s make the best of this and at least go home with a larger start on our dream family.”

    “We’re sitting as hostages with a lot of time on our hands,” Boyle told AP. “We always wanted as many as possible, and we didn’t want to waste time. Cait’s in her 30s, the clock is ticking.”

    Boyle said their three children are now 4, 2 and “somewhere around 6 months.”

    “Honestly we’ve always planned to have a family of 5, 10, 12 children ... We’re Irish, haha,” he wrote in an email.

    The parents of Caitlan Coleman have said they are elated she is free, but also angry at their son-in law for taking their daughter to Afghanistan.

    “Taking your pregnant wife to a very dangerous place, to me, and the kind of person I am, is unconscionable,” Caitlan’s father, Jim Coleman said, told ABC News.


    Caitlan Coleman, recently freed hostage, admitted to hospitalCaitlan Coleman, recently freed hostage, admitted to hospital

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    WASHINGTON—The vast divide between Canada and the United States over the future of North American trade burst into public view on Tuesday as top officials for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Donald Trump traded blame for their negotiating impasse.

    In an acrimonious joint appearance that trade experts called highly unusual, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer exchanged sharp criticism while standing a metre from each other on a stage in Washington.

    Their remarks went beyond the standard posturing give-and-take over particular subjects of dispute. Their speeches confirmed that important parts of the talks are going poorly, hampered not only by disagreements about policy but about basic facts of continental trade.

    Freeland, for the first time, challenged the Trump administration’s general approach to the negotiation, saying the “win-win-win” Vice-President Mike Pence claimed to be seeking “cannot be achieved with a winner-take-all mindset or an approach that seeks to undermine NAFTA rather than modernize it.”

    Certain proposals, she said, would “turn back the clock on 23 years of predictability, openness and collaboration under NAFTA.” She emphasized her opposition to a protectionist U.S. proposal for auto manufacturing, saying it would cost tens of thousands of jobs.

    Lighthizer, meanwhile, castigated both Canada and Mexico for what he called a “resistance to change,” saying they were fighting to preserve “one-sided benefits” enjoyed by their companies and refusing to endorse policies they agreed to as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that Trump killed.

    They held the joint appearance with their Mexican counterpart at the end of a weeklong negotiating round at which U.S. negotiators delivered a series of demands so unpalatable to Canada and Mexico that trade experts were left wondering if Trump, who has been publicly indifferent about the future of an agreement he calls a “disaster,” prefers to blow up the talks rather than reach a new deal.

    Collapse did not appear imminent, but the three countries agreed, in a joint statement, that there were “significant conceptual gaps” between them. Freeland said she continued to hope for the best but would prepare, in a “no-fuss Canadian way,” for “the worst possible outcome.”

    Freeland confirmed that there are major divisions on at least five issues important to Canada: autos, dairy, government procurement, dispute resolution, and the “sunset clause” the U.S. wants to insert to terminate the deal in five years if a new endorsement from all three countries is not agreed to.

    The three sides agreed to abandon their swift schedule. They are now planning the fifth round of talks for a month from now, rather than their previous two-week rapid turnarounds, and extending their informal deadline into early 2018.

    Although Freeland had previously opposed specific U.S. proposals, this was the first time a top Canadian official had publicly expressed broad concern about the American approach. She argued, though, that the change in schedule was a positive sign about the Trump team’s intentions.

    “What that says to me is something really significant, which is that there is goodwill in all parties, a real willingness to roll up our sleeves,” she said at a solo news conference.

    Like Freeland, Bob Fisher, a U.S. negotiator in the original NAFTA talks, said he does not consider the delay a sign of a breakdown.

    “I think it’s a necessary elongation of the process,” said Fisher, now managing director at Hills and Co. “You cannot put out ideas as unconventional, or ‘new approaches,’ as the U.S. has put out, and expect that in a week or two people can start to have substantive discussions. There’s going to have to be a lot of soul-searching in Mexico City and Ottawa.”

    Asked if there are any circumstances in which Canada would walk away from the table, Freeland said the government remains committed to sticking out the talks. She noted that a mere two months have passed since the start of the process — a “nanosecond,” she said, by the standards of trade negotiations.

    But with U.S. congressional primaries also being held in early 2018 and a Mexican federal election soon after, any delay may make a successful resolution even more difficult.

    “The more days and weeks we let pass by, that 2018 political calendar becomes almost impossible. We have to use this month constructively, because there’s really no time on the back end. I don’t see how any trade deal can be announced in the winter of 2018 in the middle of primary season,” said Dan Ujczo, a Canada-U.S. trade lawyer with Dickinson Wright in Ohio.

    The day underscored that there are fundamental differences in the basic outlook of the Trudeau and Trump governments. Freeland, in her remarks beside Lighthizer, noted that the U.S. has a trade surplus with Canada, but she said deficits and surpluses are not a good way to measure a trade deal.

    Most economists say the same. Yet Trump is focused on deficits, arguing that they show the U.S. is “losing.” Lighthizer shot Freeland a look as he said, “For us, trade deficits do matter. And we intend to reduce them.”


    Trudeau, Trump governments trade criticism as NAFTA talks falterTrudeau, Trump governments trade criticism as NAFTA talks falter

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    An Ontario judge has approved Sears Canada’s request to reduce its retention bonus for about three dozen head office staff who will stay through the retailer’s liquidation process, which begins its next phase on Thursday.

    The total amount that could be paid under the retention plan for head office executives and staff has been cut by $1.1 million following a number of departures, which has reduced the number of eligible employees to 36 from 43. That is down from a total pot of $7.6 million when the insolvent retailer’s restructuring process first began in June.

    But some of the retailer’s former employees said after Wednesday’s hearing that they think too much money and time are being spent to coax executives to stay.

    Read more:

    Sears Canada going out of business

    Sears Canada executive chairman quits

    Sears Canada faces online calls for boycott over treatment of ex-employees

    “I’m really upset. Really upset. I’m upset,” said Mina Iannino, who struggled to express her “disgust” with the way employees have been treated during the Sears Canada windup.

    The employees who are being kept for the liquidation “should just walk out and leave this company high and dry and to lose something,” Iannino told reporters.

    Jennifer Holder, a laid-off cosmetics sales person, said she “cannot believe that they’re still worried about securing bonuses for executives when the employees are looking at going through a Christmas season with no real job.”

    “Everything they’re doing in this process is to secure themselves some form of a bonus, when everyone else is looking at unemployment, (and without) enough money in the hardship fund to take care of employees across Canada.”

    Under the court-approved employee retention plan for Sears Canada, executives would forfeit their bonus if they leave voluntarily or are fired “for cause” — a legal term meaning some sort of contract violation or wrongdoing.

    Under the revised plan, the key head office employees can earn their bonuses if they stay with the company until next March or April, depending on the person.

    Before granting the company’s revised retention bonus plan, Justice Glenn Hainey got assurances that there are no additional funds being approved beyond the $7.6 million that was originally approved for head office bonuses.

    About half of the original bonuses for head office executives has been used up since Sears Canada entered court protection in June. That would have left $3.9 million in the bonus plan prior Wednesday’s court approval, but now only $2.8 million will be allocated for the remainder of the windup.

    The retailer currently has 74 full department store locations, eight Sears Home Stores and 49 Sears Hometown stores, which all face closure.

    Wednesday is the last day Sears Canada will honour extended warranties as the retailer prepares to start liquidation sales Thursday.

    Sears Canada said earlier this week that only customers who bought a protection agreement within the past 30 days could get refunds from paying for extended coverage.

    It said most merchandise it sells comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty, which will be available to customers directly from the manufacturers.

    The company said it still looking for a buyer for its repair business, but it’s not know if a sale will go through or under what terms the repair service would operate.


    Sears Canada employees angered by bonus plan for key executivesSears Canada employees angered by bonus plan for key executives

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    Electricity is governed by the laws of physics. Government is bound by the rules of accounting.

    But political power and electrical power have one thing in common: They follow the path of least resistance.

    Now, Ontario’s auditor general is trying to bend both to her will. Ahead of the next election, Bonnie Lysyk is fighting another rearguard action against the Liberal plan to curb hydro rates.

    The auditor made headlines this week by accusing the government of short-circuiting the accounting rules with complex financial manoeuvres that could add $4 billion in borrowing costs over 30 years. Oddly, though, Lysyk doesn’t quibble with their plan to cut hydro rates by 25 per cent — despite her mandate to seek value for money — possibly because it’s far too popular with voters.

    I’ve argued before that it’s an expedient shell game that mortgages our future by refinancing power projects over a longer amortization term. But all major parties keep promising cheap electricity today (for higher rates tomorrow), so perhaps the auditor is wiser than me by staying silent on the overall strategy.

    Instead, her quibble is over tactics — that the Liberals are borrowing the money through Ontario Power Generation (OPG), their wholly-owned electrical utility, instead of carrying it on the government’s own balance sheet. And while the auditor bristles at this description, at root it’s an arcane accounting dispute — though she is surely setting the stage for a broader political dispute that could affect the coming campaign.

    It’s true that the Liberals were loath to add billions of fresh debt to bankroll this hydro rebate, because they had promised in the last campaign to eliminate the budget deficit by this year (which they did). Better to bury the borrowings in their OPG subsidiary, claim a balanced budget, and cast themselves as credible stewards of the province’s finances.

    This wouldn’t be the first government to rely on creative financial engineering to restructure our electricity infrastructure and engineering costs. Ontario’s consolidated balance sheet has always required a decoding ring, and the auditor is right to question its complexity — even if her answers offer no greater clarity.

    She faults the Liberals for offloading the borrowing on a subsidiary, and then using creative (but legal) accounting techniques to count future “regulated” revenues as an upcoming asset. Lysyk likens that to treating your credit card debt as an asset.

    That’s a peculiarly misleading analogy for the auditor to make. No, you don’t count your own credit card debt as an asset, but the bank surely does — it’s an account receivable. And a regulated revenue stream is eminently reliable cash flow.

    The Liberals argue that power projects have historically remained on the books of power producers like OPG. The difference, of course, is that the old Ontario Hydro once generated all our power, before it was dismembered and downsized (it’s a pecuniary irony that OPG is being asked to clean up the mess from the stealth privatization of the energy sector).

    The last time Lysyk attacked the government’s deficit calculations, an outside panel of experts rejected her arguments— because not even an auditor can make a surplus disappear from a balance sheet. There is no permanent arbiter for auditors, but Lysyk is no longer the last word on accounting disputes — merely one of many voices, right or wrong. Expect that voice to grow louder next year when she formally assesses the 2018-19 spring budget — and once again challenges Liberal claims of deficit elimination.

    The conventional narrative frames this as a political clash pitting our fearless auditor against feckless Liberal politicians. In fact, her fight is with senior public servants, the provincial comptroller, treasury board staff, and outside accounting firms — all of whom describe it as a “professional disagreement” over accounting standards.

    Most of these experts, who are governed by their own professional code of conduct, gave their seal of approval to the government’s books — rightly or wrongly. Lysyk countered that they are cooking the books — and demanded their internal correspondence in search of dissenters.

    Without providing details, the auditor points ominously to emails (unreleased, unidentified and unquantified) from some bureaucrats questioning the government’s plans — as if this is the ultimate proof point for her point of view. Was she expecting unanimity?

    Interesting but irrelevant, until you consider this fun footnote: While the auditor was demanding confidential emails from public servants who give private counsel, she flatly rejected an Access to Information request filed this year by my colleague, Robert Benzie, for her office’s sometimes testy correspondence with bureaucrats. The response? An Access to Information request demanding to know Benzie’s identity (no secrets here — he readily waived the automatic confidentiality of the process). The auditor still refused to release any correspondence.

    So much for publicly accepted principles of Access to Information, transparency and reciprocity. Some watchdogs don’t like being watched.

    Martin Regg Cohn’s political column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. mcohn@thestar.ca, Twitter: @reggcohn


    Watch out for watchdogs who don’t like being watched: CohnWatch out for watchdogs who don’t like being watched: Cohn

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    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau celebrates the second anniversary of his election victory this week with his finance minister in a self-imposed exile from the House of Commons that the opposition parties would gladly make permanent.

    Three parliamentary sitting days have elapsed in the ethical storm that has engulfed Bill Morneau over his decision to keep control, albeit indirectly, of his shares in his family’s pension services company, and he has yet to show up in the House to face down his opposition critics.

    They allege the minister breached if not the law at least the spirit of the conflict-of-interest rules that govern elected officials, a point the Conservatives and the New Democrats hammered over the course of Wednesday’s rowdy question period.

    Read more:

    Morneau open to changing financial affairs as Conservatives, NDP demand ethics investigation

    Trudeau, Trump governments trade criticism as NAFTA talks falter

    Morneau walks himself into a political crisis: Tim Harper

    In an interview this week, Morneau said he had no plans to step down. But at mid-mandate, Trudeau’s star economic recruit has become a liability. That’s not just because of his handling of his financial affairs. He is a weak link in a crucial spot in the government’s chain of command.

    As Trudeau’s clumsy efforts to play interference for his finance minister demonstrated this week, it is a situation that the prime minister cannot, on his own star-dusted merits, mitigate.

    Had he served in someone else’s cabinet, Trudeau would not have been a natural choice for a senior economic portfolio. Morneau was meant to anchor the government’s economic team. Until further notice, the anchor is dragging down the Liberal ship.

    The finance minister’s travails are also acting as a distraction from some of the more inspired moves of the government over the first half of its mandate.

    Inexperienced ministers have accounted for much of the bad press the Liberals have endured over the past two years. But not all the Liberal rookies have been underwhelming in the execution of their ministerial duties.

    The performance of Chrystia Freeland as the lead minister on the Canada/U.S. front falls in the opposite category. The minister of global affairs is holding her own on the toughest file the government is tasked to manage, one that is not even of the Liberals’ own choosing.

    In a support role as international trade minister, first-time MP François-Philippe Champagne has also risen to the challenge. On the Quebec media hot seat over the Bombardier-Airbus arrangement this week, he succeeded in not making a delicate situation worse for his government.

    Perhaps Champagne could offer lessons to his heritage colleague, Mélanie Joly, who left only debris in her wake when she did the media rounds to sell her Netflix deal this month.

    Freeland and Champagne were assigned their current roles as part of a post-U.S. presidential election realignment of federal resources.

    Success for Canada on that front may not be in the offing. Perhaps the best realistic outcome will amount to limiting the damage of the protectionist policies of Donald Trump’s administration. But there is a consensus that extends beyond the Liberal ranks that on this issue Trudeau has so far navigated deftly.

    Indeed one of the most notable features of last week’s first ministers meeting was the absence at least in public of provincial recrimination over Ottawa’s handing of the NAFTA file.

    Speaking of federal-provincial relations, as counterintuitive as that may seem, the decision to set a firm deadline for the legalization of marijuana was almost certainly a tactically inspired one.

    Whether one agrees or not with the promise to legalize cannabis, the Liberals did campaign on it. It is not a surprise they have sprung on their unsuspecting provincial counterparts. But absent the July 1 deadline it is far from certain that all provinces would have resisted the temptation to drag their feet on the way to creating the infrastructure required to sell cannabis legally.

    The legal cannabis operation will probably not open to rave reviews. Squeaky wheels will abound on the road to a well-oiled marijuana marketing system. But from a political perspective, the reality of legalization stands to be less daunting than the doomsday picture opponents of the Liberal policy are painting.

    On that score, a reality check is almost upon the federal parties.

    The Conservative opposition has spent little time in question period quizzing the Liberals on the cannabis issue but they have talked up a storm about its imminent legalization in Lac-Saint-Jean, one of two Conservative ridings that will be the site of mid-mandate by-elections on Monday.

    Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.


    Two years in, Trudeau’s rookie ministers have accounted for much of the government’s grief: HébertTwo years in, Trudeau’s rookie ministers have accounted for much of the government’s grief: Hébert

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    Calling it a tool with “the potential to save lives,” Toronto police are renewing their push for greater deployment of conducted energy weapons, saying more front-line officers should have access to the weapons during tense and possibly deadly interactions.

    But at a public meeting Wednesday on the possible expansion of Tasers to more front-line officers, critics pushed back against the device, better known as a Taser, raising concerns about increasing weaponization of police and unknown medical impacts on those with mental-health challenges.

    “We don’t need Tasers. We need de-escalation,” said Peter Rosenthal, a Toronto lawyer who has represented families of people killed by police.

    Currently, only front-line supervisors and some officers in specialized units carry the weapon. The Toronto police is asking its civilian board to expand deployment to on-duty Primary Response Unit constables and to on-duty constables from designated specialized units.

    No details about the number of Tasers or total cost have been released. Toronto police deputy chief Barbara McLean said at Wednesday’s meeting that a formal request will be sent to the civilian board.

    Read More:

    Police need to talk, not use Tasers

    Should cops carry Tasers? Public to weigh in at Toronto police board meeting

    Outgoing deputy chief ‘unreservedly’ endorses Tasers for front-line cops

    The weapon would “never to be used as a substitute for de-escalation” and would be part of a suite of tools available to officers, she said. The weapon has “the potential to save lives,” she said.

    Board chair Andy Pringle said no decision would be made immediately and that expanding the deployment of the weapon is an “active discussion.”

    Dr. Peter Collins, a forensic psychiatrist who has been called in by Toronto’s Emergency Task Force to help during crisis calls, says despite the emphasis placed by Toronto police on communication and verbal de-escalation, “unfortunately not everyone will respond to that type of approach.”

    “Some individuals are not going to respond and you have to have other options,” Collins said.

    Tasers, the only brand of CEW approved for use in Ontario, incapacitate a person through the deployment of two darts connected by wires, which deliver an electric current. The weapon causes involuntary muscle spasms and temporary loss of motor control.

    The weapon has become popular within police services in Ontario as a less lethal option for officers in comparison to a firearm. Since the province of Ontario stopped restricting Taser use to supervisors and select officers in 2013, virtually every police service in the province has expanded use of the weapon except Toronto.

    Ron Bain, executive director of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP), said his organization has long supported Taser deployment to front line officers. The fact that Toronto police officers have restricted access to the weapons means there is now a risk to public and officer safety. The Toronto police board “has the power and authority” to fix the situation, Bain said.

    But some members of the public, legal experts and rights organizations are speaking out against greater Taser deployment. High on their list of concerns are the unknown health risks, particularly to people with mental illness.

    “CEWs are not harmless weapons. CEWs are weapons that are intensely painful and can potentially lead to serious, even lethal, injuries,” wrote Rob De Luca, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s public safety program, in a letter to the police board in advance of Wednesday’s meeting.

    In a written submission to the Toronto police board, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) says the use of CEWs “raises serious human rights concerns because people with mental health disabilities tend to have more frequent contact with police, and may be more likely to be Tasered because of behaviours and responses to police instructions that appear ‘unusual’ or ‘unpredictable.’”

    “They may also be more likely to die after being Tasered,” says the OHRC submission.

    Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), continues to probe the death of Rui Nabico, 31, who was killed after he was Tasered by a Toronto police officer. Earlier this year, the SIU cleared Toronto police in the death of Rodrigo Almonacid Gonzalez, who was Tasered eight times but whose death the coroner concluded was due to acute cocaine toxicity.

    Following the high-profile death of Sammy Yatim — who was shot eight times by Const. James Forcillo, then Tasered by another officer — Toronto police tapped retired Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci to conduct a review of police use of force on those in mental-health crisis. Among Iacobucci’s recommendations was that Toronto launch a pilot project allowing front line officers greater access to Tasers.

    But the recommendation came with a caveat. Iacobucci expressed concern about the unknown health risks posed by the weapon, particularly to people with mental illness, wondering if the population might be particularly vulnerable to the potentially serious effects of Tasers due to a higher likelihood of pre-existing medical conditions, prescription medications, substance abuse issues and high levels of agitation.

    “The absence of definitive research into the risks of CEWs for populations who are likely to encounter the police in non-criminal contexts is a problem,” Iacobucci wrote in his 2014 report.

    The retired judge recommended Toronto police “advocate for an interprovincial study of the medical effects of CEW use on various groups of people (including vulnerable groups such as people in crisis).”

    However, the recommendation was among the few Toronto police did not implement.

    “While the Service recognizes the value of continual research, it remains satisfied that the current medical research has found no persuasive evidence of risk to vulnerable persons,” Toronto police said in response.

    However, critics have questioned the quality of research on CEWs, including that some studies were conducted or funded by the weapon manufacturers.

    Wendy Gillis can be reached at wgillis@thestar.ca


    Critics question Toronto police push for more TasersCritics question Toronto police push for more Tasers

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    Police are investigating after a British Columbia man had around $500,000 worth of rare coins and bills stolen from his vehicle while it was parked in Mississauga last month.

    The 68-year-old man had travelled to Ontario for a collectibles convention, police said. He parked in a hotel parking near Edwards Blvd. and Derry Rd. on Sept. 28, leaving two bags of coins and bills inside his vehicle.

    According to police, a suspect — described as a balding man with a heavy build and between the ages of 35 and 45 — broke into the collector’s vehicle at around 1 p.m. that day and walked away with the bags.

    The stolen bank notes and coins include an American $20 coin and Canadian $5 bills issued by the Bank of Hamilton and the Molsons Bank.

    Surveillance video of the alleged suspect has been released by police.


    $500,000 in rare coins and bills stolen in Mississauga$500,000 in rare coins and bills stolen in Mississauga

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    ALBANY, N.Y.—Last March, five women gathered in a home near here to enter a secret sisterhood they were told was created to empower women.

    To gain admission, they were required to give their recruiter — or “master,” as she was called — naked photographs or other compromising material and were warned that such “collateral” might be publicly released if the group’s existence were disclosed.

    The women, in their 30s and 40s, belonged to a self-help organization called Nxivm, which is based in Albany and has chapters across the country, Canada and Mexico.

    Sarah Edmondson, one of the participants, said she had been told she would get a small tattoo as part of the initiation. But she was not prepared for what came next.

    Each woman was told to undress and lie on a massage table, while three others restrained her legs and shoulders. According to one of them, their “master,” a top Nxivm official named Lauren Salzman, instructed them to say: “Master, please brand me, it would be an honour.”

    A female doctor proceeded to use a cauterizing device to sear a five-centimetre-square symbol below each woman’s hip, a procedure that took 20 to 30 minutes. For hours, muffled screams and the smell of burning tissue filled the room.

    “I wept the whole time,” Edmondson recalled. “I disassociated out of my body.”

    Since the late 1990s, an estimated 16,000 people have enrolled in courses offered by Nxivm (pronounced Nex-e-um), which it says are designed to bring about greater self-fulfilment by eliminating psychological and emotional barriers. Most participants take some workshops, like the group’s “Executive Success Programs,” and resume their lives. But other people have become drawn more deeply into Nxivm, giving up careers, friends and families to become followers of its leader, Keith Raniere, who is known within the group as “Vanguard.”

    Both Nxivm and Raniere, 57, have long attracted controversy. Former members have depicted him as a man who manipulated his adherents, had sex with them and urged women to follow near-starvation diets to achieve the type of physique he found appealing.

    Now, as talk about the secret sisterhood and branding has circulated within Nxivm, scores of members are leaving. Interviews with a dozen of them portray a group spinning more deeply into disturbing practices. Many members said they feared that confessions about indiscretions would be used to blackmail them.

    Mark Vicente, a filmmaker and former top Nxivm official, said that after hearing about the secret society, he confronted Raniere.

    “I said ‘whatever you are doing, you are heading for a blowup,’” Vicente said.

    Several former members have asked state authorities to investigate the group’s practices, but officials have declined to pursue action.

    In July, Edmondson filed a complaint with the New York State Department of Health against Danielle Roberts, a licensed osteopath and follower of Raniere, who performed the branding, according to Edmondson and another woman. In a letter, the agency said it would not look into Roberts because she was not acting as Edmondson’s doctor when the branding is said to have happened.

    Separately, a state police investigator told Edmondson and two other women that officials would not pursue their criminal complaint against Nxivm because their actions had been consensual, a text message shows.

    State medical regulators also declined to act on a complaint filed against another Nxivm-affilated physician, Brandon Porter. Porter, as part of an “experiment,” showed women graphically violent film clips while a brainwave machine and video camera recorded their reactions, according to two women who took part.

    The women said they were not warned that some of the clips were violent, including footage of four women being murdered and dismembered.

    “Please look into this ASAP,” a former Nxivm member, Jennifer Kobelt, stated in her complaint. “This man needs to be stopped.”

    In September, regulators told Kobelt they concluded that the allegations against Porter did not meet the agency’s definition of “medical misconduct,” their letter shows.

    Raniere and other top Nxivm officials, including Lauren Salzman, did not respond to repeated emails, letters or text messages seeking comment. Roberts and Porter also did not respond to inquiries.

    Former members said that, inside Nxivm, they are being portrayed as defectors who want to destroy the group.

    It is not clear how many women were branded or which Nxivm officials were aware of the practice.

    A copy of a text message Raniere sent to a female follower indicates that he knew women were being branded and that the symbol’s design incorporated his initials.

    “Not initially intended as my initials but they rearranged it slightly for tribute,” Raniere wrote. “If it were abraham lincolns or bill gates initials no one would care.”

    Joining the sisterhood

    Edmondson, who lives in Vancouver and helped start Nxivm’s chapter there, was thrilled when Lauren Salzman arrived in January to teach workshops.

    The women, both in their early 40s, were close and Edmondson regarded Salzman as a confidante and mentor.

    “Lauren was someone I really looked up to as a rock star within the company,” said Edmondson, an actress who joined Nxivm about a decade ago.

    During her visit, Salzman said she had something “really amazing” she wanted to share. “It is kind of strange and top secret and in order for me to tell you about it you need to give me something as collateral to make sure you don’t speak about it,” Edmondson recalled her saying.

    The proposition seemed like a test of trust. After Edmondson wrote a letter detailing past indiscretions, Salzman told her about the secret sorority.

    She said it had been formed as a force for good, one that could grow into a network that could influence events like elections. To become effective, members had to overcome weaknesses that Raniere taught were common to women — an over-emotional nature, a failure to keep promises and an embrace of the role of victim, according to Edmondson and other members.

    Submission and obedience would be used as tools to achieve those goals, several women said. The sisterhood would comprise circles, each led by a “master” who would recruit six “slaves,” according to two women. In time, they would recruit slaves of their own.

    “She made it sound like a bad-ass bitch boot camp,” Edmondson said.

    Edmondson and others said that during training, the women were required to send their master texts that read “Morning M” and “Night M.” During drills, a master texted her slaves “?” and they had 60 seconds to reply “Ready M.”

    Trainees who failed had to pay penalties, including fasting, or could face physical punishments, two women said.

    In March, Edmondson arrived for an initiation ceremony at Salzman’s home in Clifton Park, New York, a town about 20 miles north of Albany where Raniere and some followers live. After undressing, she was led to a candlelit ceremony, where she removed a blindfold and saw Salzman’s other slaves for the first time. The women were then driven to a nearby house, where the branding took place.

    In the spring, the sorority grew as women joined different circles. Slaves added compromising collateral every month to Dropbox accounts and a Google Document was used to list a timetable for recruiting new slaves, several women said.

    Around the same time, an actress, Catherine Oxenberg, said she learned her daughter had been initiated into the sorority.

    “I felt sick to my stomach,” said Oxenberg, who starred in the 1980s television series “Dynasty.”

    Oxenberg had become increasingly concerned about her 26-year-old daughter, India, who looked emaciated from dieting. She told her mother she had not had a menstrual period for a year and that her hair was falling out.

    Oxenberg said she invited her daughter home in late May to try to get her away from the group.

    When Oxenberg confronted her about the sorority, her daughter defended its practices.

    “She said it was a character-building experience,” Oxenberg said.

    ‘Humans can be noble’

    By the time the secret group was taking shape, Mark Vicente, the filmmaker, had been a faithful follower of Raniere for more than a decade.

    Vicente said he had been contacted by Salzman’s mother, Nancy, a co-founder of Nxivm who is known as “Prefect,” after the 2004 release of a documentary he co-directed that explored spirituality and physics.

    Soon, Vicente was taking courses that he said helped him expose his fears and learn strategies that made him feel more resolute.

    He also made a documentary called “Encender el Corazón,” or “Ignite the Heart,” which lionized Raniere’s work in Mexico.

    “Keith Raniere is an activist, scientist, philosopher and, above all, humanitarian,” Vicente says in the film.

    Raniere has used those words to describe himself. On his website, he said he spoke in full sentences by age 1, mastered high school mathematics by 12 and taught himself to play “concert level” piano. At 16, he entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

    Before Nxivm, he helped run a company called Consumers’ Buyline Inc., which offered discounts to members on groceries and other products.

    In the mid-1990s, several state attorneys general investigated it as a suspected pyramid scheme; Raniere and his associates agreed to shut it down.

    Through Nxivm, Raniere transformed himself into a New Age teacher with long hair and a gurulike manner of speaking.

    “Humans can be noble,” he says on his website. “The question is: will we put forth what is necessary?”

    By many accounts, Raniere sleeps during the day and goes out at night to play volleyball or take female followers for long walks. Several women described him as warm, funny and eager to talk about subjects that interested them.

    Others saw a different side. Nxivm sued several former members, accusing them of stealing its trade secrets, among other things.

    Vicente said he was aware of the negative publicity, including a 2012 series by The Albany Times-Union that described alleged abuses inside Nxivm.

    Vicente’s views began to change this year after his wife was ostracized when she left Nxivm and he heard rumours about the secret sorority.

    Vicente said he got evasive answers when he asked Raniere about the group. Raniere acknowledged giving “five women permission to do something,” but did not elaborate, other than to say he would investigate, Vicente said.

    Vicente said he suspected Raniere was lying to him and may have done so before. Suddenly, self-awareness techniques he had learned felt like tools that had been used to control him.

    “No one goes in looking to have their personality stripped away,” he said. “You just don’t realize what is happening.”

    Followers start to flee

    In May, Sarah Edmondson began to recoil from her embrace of the secret society.

    Her husband, Anthony Ames, who was also a Nxivm member, learned about her branding and the couple both wanted out.

    Before quitting, Ames went to Nxivm’s offices in Albany to collect money he said the group owed him.

    He had his cellphone in his pocket and turned on its recorder.

    On the recording, Ames tells another member that Edmondson was branded and that other women told him about handing over collateral. “This is criminal,” Ames says.

    The voice of a woman — who Ames said is Lauren Salzman — is heard trying to calm him. “I don’t think you are open to having a conversation,” she said.

    “You are absolutely right, I’m not open to having a conversation,” he replied. “My wife got branded.”

    A few days later, many of Raniere’s followers learned of the secret society from a website run by a Buffalo-area businessman, Frank R. Parlato Jr. Parlato had been locked in a long legal battle with two sisters, Sara and Clare Bronfman, who are members of Nxivm and the daughters of businessman Edgar Bronfman, the deceased chairman of Seagram Co. and member of the influential Canadian Jewish Bronfman family.

    In 2011, the Bronfman sisters sued Parlato, whom they had hired as a consultant, alleging he had defrauded them of $1 million (U.S.).

    Four years later, in 2015, the Justice Department indicted him on charges of fraud and other crimes arising from alleged activities, including defrauding the Bronfmans. Parlato has denied the claims and the case is pending.

    Parlato started a website, The Frank Report, which he uses to lambaste prosecutors, Raniere and the Bronfmans. In early June, Parlato published the first in a torrent of salacious posts under the headline, “Branded Slaves and Master Raniere.”

    A Nxivm follower, Soukaina Mehdaoui, said she reached out to Raniere after reading the post. Mehdaoui, 25, was a newcomer to Nxivm but the two had grown close.

    She said Raniere told her the secret sorority began after three women offered damaging collateral to seal lifetime vows of obedience to him.

    While Mehdaoui had joined the sorority, the women in her circle were not branded. She was appalled.

    “There are things I didn’t know that I didn’t sign up for, and I’m not even hearing about it from you,” she texted Raniere.

    Raniere texted back about his initials and the brand.

    By then, panic was spreading inside Nxivm. Slaves were ordered to delete encrypted messages between them and erase Google documents, two women said. To those considering breaking away, it was not clear whom they could trust and who were Nxivm loyalists.

    Late one night, Mehdaoui met secretly with another Nxivm member. They took out their cellphones to show they were not recording the conversation.

    Both decided to leave Nxivm, despite concerns that the group would retaliate by releasing their “collateral” or suing them.

    Mehdaoui said that when she went to say goodbye to Raniere, he urged her to stay.

    “Do you think, I’m bad, I don’t agree with abuses,” she recalled him saying. He said the group “gives women tools to be powerful, to regain their power for the sake of building love.”

    Nxivm recently filed criminal complaints with the Vancouver police against Edmondson and two other women accusing them of mischief and other crimes in connection with the firm’s now-closed centre there, according to Edmondson. The women have denied the allegations. A spokesman for the Vancouver police declined to comment.

    Edmondson and other former followers of Raniere said they were focusing on recovering.

    “There is no playbook for leaving a cult,” she said.


    ‘Master, please brand me’: Inside the secretive self-help organization Nxivm‘Master, please brand me’: Inside the secretive self-help organization Nxivm

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    WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump in a tweet Wednesday denied that he had told the widow of a soldier killed in an ambush in Africa this month that her husband “must have known what he signed up for.”

    But the mother of the fallen soldier stood behind the account, saying that Trump “did disrespect” the family with his comments during a phone call.

    The president was reacting to a Florida congresswoman saying the family of Sgt. La David T. Johnson was “astonished” by that remark during a phone call from Trump on Tuesday. Trump said he has “proof” that the conversation did not happen as recounted by Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson. He did not elaborate, but the claim again raised questions about whether the president tapes calls and conversations.

    Wilson told MSNBC on Wednesday that Johnson’s widow, Myeshia, was shaken by the exchange.

    “She was crying the whole time, and when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part.”

    Read more: Trump offered a grieving military father $25,000 in a call, but didn’t follow through

    Wilson went on to say Trump “was almost like joking. He said, ‘Well, I guess you knew’ — something to the effect that ‘he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway.’ You know, just matter-of-factly, that this is what happens, anyone who is signing up for military duty is signing up to die. That’s the way we interpreted it. It was horrible. It was insensitive. It was absolutely crazy, unnecessary. I was livid.”

    “She was in tears. She was in tears. And she said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ “

    On Tuesday, Wilson told The Washington Post that Trump had told Johnson’s widow, “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”

    Wilson said she was riding in a limousine with Johnson when the president called, and said she heard the conversation on speakerphone.

    “He made her cry,” Wilson said.

    Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told The Post on Wednesday that she was in the car during the call from the White House and that “President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.”

    Jones-Johnson, speaking to The Post via Facebook Messenger, declined to elaborate.

    But asked whether Wilson’s account of the conversation between Trump and the family was accurate, she replied: “Yes.”

    The White House did not confirm or deny Wilson’s account on Tuesday.

    “The President’s conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private,” a White House official said in a statement.

    The White House had said Tuesday that Trump placed calls Tuesday to the families of all four service members killed in Niger on Oct. 4. The calls followed Trump’s claims Monday and Tuesday that his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, had not often made such calls to families. Former Obama administration officials strongly dispute that claim, saying Obama engaged families of fallen service members in various ways throughout his presidency.

    Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Fla., was found dead after initially being reported as missing after the attack.

    He was a driver assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) based in Fort Bragg, N.C.


    ‘Trump did disrespect my son’: Mother backs report of president’s ‘horrible’ call to soldier’s widow‘Trump did disrespect my son’: Mother backs report of president’s ‘horrible’ call to soldier’s widow

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