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- 10/21/17--15:17: _New coffee hybrids ...
- 10/22/17--07:12: _Syria’s largest oil...
- 10/21/17--18:13: _The murder of Malta...
- 10/22/17--09:48: _Police identify man...
- 10/22/17--03:00: _Is traffic better u...
- 10/22/17--03:00: _Who will channel So...
- 10/22/17--09:11: _Police warn public ...
- 10/22/17--04:00: _A Toronto imam was ...
- 10/22/17--11:32: _Driver of street sw...
- 10/22/17--12:07: _Ontario hands over ...
- 10/22/17--11:52: _International stude...
- 10/22/17--09:00: _NFL reattaches cabl...
- 10/22/17--11:15: _All five living for...
- 10/22/17--14:37: _Portaging an ancien...
- 10/22/17--17:53: _Liberals accused of...
- 10/22/17--15:04: _Quebec women who we...
- 10/22/17--16:30: _How a man was acqui...
- 10/23/17--11:46: _Amazon says it rece...
- 10/23/17--10:14: _UPS to test cargo b...
- 10/23/17--14:56: _Lawyers challenging...
- 10/21/17--15:17: New coffee hybrids suggest bright future for endangered industry
- 10/22/17--09:48: Police identify man shot dead in Newmarket
- 10/22/17--03:00: Is traffic better under Tory? He thinks so
- Mohammad Aboghodda, Understanding Islam Academy
- Atiqa Hachimi, University of Toronto
- Nazir Harb Michel, Georgetown University
- Jonathan Featherstone, University of Edinburgh
- Kristen Brustad, University of Texas at Austin
- 10/22/17--11:32: Driver of street sweeper faces impaired driving charges
- 10/22/17--12:07: Ontario hands over huge swath of land for Rouge Park
- 10/22/17--11:52: International students face uncertainty over Ontario colleges strike
- 10/22/17--09:00: NFL reattaches cable as streaming service falters
- Streams lagging as many as four minutes behind live action.
- Downloads too slow to keep up with game action, leading to pixilated images, paused streams and outright crashes.
- Games airing without audio, or with commentary in languages other than English.
- 10/22/17--14:37: Portaging an ancient footpath — through downtown Toronto
- 10/23/17--11:46: Amazon says it received 238 bids for its second headquarters
Centroamericano, a new variety of coffee plant, hasn’t sparked the buzz of, say, Starbucks’s latest novelty latte. But it may be the coolest thing in brewing: a tree that can withstand the effects of climate change.
Climate change could spell disaster for coffee, a crop that requires specific temperatures to flourish and that is highly sensitive to a range of pests. So scientists are racing to develop more tenacious strains of one of the world’s most beloved beverages.
In addition to Centroamericano, seven other new hybrid varieties are gradually trickling onto the market. And this summer, World Coffee Research (WCR) — an industry-funded non-profit group — kicked off field tests of 46 new varieties that it says will change coffee-growing as the world knows it.
“Coffee is not ready to adapt to climate change without help,” said Doug Welsh, the vice-president and roastmaster of Peet’s Coffee, which has invested in WCR’s research.
Climate scientists say few coffee-growing regions will be spared the effects of climate change. Most of the world’s crop is cultivated around the equator, with the bulk coming from Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia and Ethiopia.
Rising temperatures are expected to shrink the available growing land in many of these countries, said Christian Bunn, a post-doctoral fellow at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture who has analyzed the shift in coffee regions. Warmer air essentially “chases” coffee up to cooler, higher altitudes — which are scarce in Brazil and Zimbabwe, among other coffee-growing countries.
Temperature is not climate change’s only projected impact in coffee-growing regions. Portions of Central America are expected to see greater rainfall and shorter dry seasons, which are needed to harvest and dry beans. In Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, rainfall is projected to decrease, potentially sparking dry periods.
These sorts of changes will pose problems for many crops. But coffee is particularly vulnerable, scientists say, because it has an unusually shallow gene pool. Only two species of coffee, arabica and robusta, are currently grown for human consumption. And farmers traditionally haven’t selected for diversity when breeding either plant — instead, essentially, they’ve been marrying generations of coffee with its close cousins.
As a result, there are precious few varieties of arabica that can grow in warmer or wetter conditions. In addition, diseases and pests that might be exacerbated under climate change could knock out entire fields of plants.
A disease of particular concern — coffee leaf rust, or “la roya” in Spanish — devastated coffee plantations across Central America in 2011. It effectively halved El Salvador’s coffee output and cost the region an estimated 1.7 million jobs.
Coffee farmers could see their livelihoods threatened, noted Aaron Davis, a British coffee researcher, because coffee trees are perennials with a 20- to 30-year life span: If a field is damaged by a bad season, farmers aren’t necessarily in a position to immediately replant it. And because coffee takes three years to mature, farmers face several years without income after new trees are planted.
“Under all these scenarios, farmers pay the biggest price,” Davis added.
While few experts expect these factors to drive coffee to extinction, they could severely reduce the global supply — and increase the hardship for coffee farmers.
“The major concern of the industry is that the quantity, and even the future, of good coffee is threatened by climate change,” said Benoit Bertrand, an agronomist with the French agricultural research group CIRAD and one of the world’s most respected coffee breeders. “So the question becomes: How can we address this with new technology and new innovations?”
Despite coffee’s global popularity, few growers have risen to the challenge. There has historically been no real market for improved coffee plants, Bertrand and Davis said. Unlike such major commodity crops as corn or soybeans, coffee is grown primarily by small farmers with low margins who can’t shell out for the latest seed or growing system.
As a result, coffee is coming late to the intensive breeding programs that have revolutionized other crops. But in the past 10 years, interest around plant improvement has exploded, driven in part by the growth of the specialty coffee market.
Plant breeders have begun cataloguing the hundreds of strains of arabica in existence and cultivating them in different growing areas. They’ve also begun to experiment with robusta, which grows in higher temperatures and fares better against diseases, but often tastes bitter. There is some hope that new varieties of robusta, or robusta/arabica crosses, could capture that resilience without the bad flavour.
Lately, there has been a particular surge of interest in a type of plant called an F1 hybrid, which crossbreeds two different strains of arabica to produce a unique “child” plant. They can be made from any of the hundreds of varieties of arabica and bred for qualities such as taste, disease resistance and drought tolerance.
Because they are the first generation, F1 hybrids also demonstrate something scientists call “hybrid vigour” — they produce unusually high yields, like a sort of super plant.
Since 2010, eight such F1 hybrids have been released to the commercial market. Bertrand is currently testing a class of an additional 60 crosses with the support of WCR.
The researchers say that the top two or three — which are expected to become available to farmers as soon as 2022 — will offer good taste, high yields and resilience to a range of coffee’s current and future woes, from higher temperatures to nematodes.
“These hybrids deliver a combination of traits that were never before possible in coffee,” said Hanna Neuschwander, the communications director at WCR. “It’s the traits that farmers need with the traits that markets demand. People used to think the two were mutually exclusive.”
But the hybrids’ success remains largely untested at scale. Of the eight F1 hybrids on the market at present, only one — Centroamericano — has been planted in any significant volume, Neuschwander said. The variety is currently growing on an estimated 2,500 acres in Central America; for context, the U.S. Agriculture Department reports that Honduras alone grows coffee on more than 800,000 acres.
Farmers who have planted the new trees are seeing success. Starbucks has sold coffee made from F1 hybrids as part of its small-lot premium brand. Last spring, a batch of Centroamericano grown on a Nicaraguan family farm scored 90 out of 100 points in that country’s prestigious tasting competition, which some in the industry heralded as a major victory.
But the path to adoption will be steep. Breeders have developed these plants, Neuschwander said, but many areas of the world don’t have the seed industries and infrastructure in place to actually distribute them. That’s particularly true in the case of F1 hybrids, which — thanks to their particular genetics — can only be grown from tissue samples.
F1 hybrids are also expensive — as much as 2 1/2 times the cost of conventional plants. That puts them well outside the range of most smallholder farmers, said Kraig Kraft, an agroecologist and technical adviser with Catholic Relief Services’ Latin America division.
Kraft, who has worked with WCR to test F1 hybrids in Nicaragua, said that in his region, at least, only mid-size and large plantations have switched to them.
“I think our position is that we need to really understand the requirements for all farmers to be able to use these new technologies,” Kraft said. “My concern is that small farmers don’t have access to the capital to pay for these investments.”
Even if they did, however, some experts caution that the new coffee varieties are only a piece of a much larger adaptation process. To cope with the effects of climate change, farmers may need to adopt other agricultural practices, such as shade-farming, cover-cropping and terracing, said Bunn, the researcher.
In some regions, those practices won’t be economical. And in that case, policy-makers should focus on helping farmers transition to other crops or other livelihoods altogether, researchers stress.
“People sell (F1 hybrids) as a silver bullet,” Bunn said. “To be clear, those plants are indispensable and I don’t question the value of the work . . . but we need more to adapt to climate change. And we need to accept the hard reality that some places will need to move out of coffee production.”
New coffee hybrids suggest bright future for endangered industry
BEIRUT—The U.S.-led coalition said allied fighters captured Syria’s largest oil field from Daesh, also known as ISIS, on Sunday, marking a major advance against the extremists in an area coveted by pro-government forces.
With Daesh in retreat, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian government have been in a race to secure parts of the oil-rich Deir el-Zour province along the border with Iraq.
The SDF, with air support from the U.S.-led coalition, said Sunday it captured the Al-Omar field in a “swift and wide military operation.” It said some militants have taken cover in oil company houses nearby, where clashes are underway. The U.S.-led coalition confirmed the SDF had retaken the oil field.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said pro-government forces retreated from the area around Al-Omar field after coming under heavy fire from Daesh. The SDF said government forces are three kilometres away from the fields.
Syrian troops, backed by Russian warplanes and Iranian-sponsored militias, have retaken nearly all of the provincial capital of Deir el-Zour, as well as the town of Mayadeen, which is across the Euphrates River from the Al-Omar field.
The SDF have focused their operations in rural Deir el-Zour on the eastern side of the river, and have already seized a major natural gas field and other smaller oil fields.
Omar Abu Layla, a Europe-based activist from Deir el-Zour who monitors the fighting through contacts there, said SDF forces have seized control of the oil field but are still clashing with militants in the adjacent housing complex.
Daesh captured Al-Omar in 2014, when the group swept across large areas in Syria and neighbouring Iraq. The field was estimated to produce around 9,000 barrels a day, making it a key source of revenue for the extremists. Its current potential is unknown, following a series of strikes on Daesh-held oil facilities by the U.S.-led coalition.
The government lost the Al-Omar field to other insurgents in 2013.
Al-Manar TV, operated by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, said the fight for Al-Omar was still underway and denied the SDF’s claim to have captured it. The militant group is fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
The official Syrian news agency said troops have regained full control of Khosham, a town on the eastern side of the Euphrates River that they lost a day earlier to Daesh. The Observatory said parts of the town remain contested.
It’s not clear how Syrian troops will respond to the SDF’s seizure of Al-Omar. Assad has vowed to eventually bring all of Syria back under government control.
The two sides have accused each other of firing on their forces in Deir el-Zour province, but a rare face-to-face meeting of senior U.S. and Russian military officers last month appeared to have calmed tensions.
Daesh has suffered a series of major setbacks in recent months, including the loss of the Syrian city of Raqqa, once the extremists’ self-styled capital, and the Iraqi city of Mosul. Most of the territory the group once held has been seized by an array of Syrian and Iraqi forces.
Syria’s largest oilfield captured from Daesh in push by allied forces
VALLETTA, MALTA — The blast from the bomb planted in the rented Peugeot of Malta’s best-known investigative journalist was so powerful it took police investigators four days to collect body parts and wreckage scattered across sun-baked fields next to the road.
Tracking down potential suspects with deep grudges against the victim, Daphne Caruana Galizia, however, will take far longer.
“It is a very long list,” Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, one of the journalist’s many targets, said in an interview. “She was a very harsh critic of mine.”
The list of people whom Caruana Galizia offended and infuriated as a prolific journalist in this tiny Mediterranean island nation includes many members of Muscat’s ruling Labour Party as well as the leader of the centre-right opposition. Also on the list: the president of Azerbaijan and his family, executives of a Chinese electrical equipment manufacturer, foreign drug barons, an Iranian-born banker and people active in offshore tax havens like Panama and the British Virgin Islands.
All of them were the targets at one time or another of Caruana Galizia’s relentless probing of the underbelly of the European Union’s smallest country, a nation that boasts Europe’s fastest growing economy but has been hit by six car bombings in the past two years, all of them unsolved.
How a country that has in many ways been so successful could be the scene of such a macabre and brutal murder on a picturesque road only a half-hour’s drive from the capital, Valletta, has left many asking what went wrong.
In the absence of hard evidence, Maltese are grasping at wild coincidences and conspiracy theories.
The murder took place exactly five years to the hour after the dismissal of Malta’s former senior official in the European Union, the disgraced former health commissioner John Dalli. The murder, Dalli said, “had absolutely nothing” to do with his own troubles.
Dalli was another regular target of Caruana Galizia’s writing — “Everything she wrote about me was a lie,” he said — and yet another well-connected insider who, despite detailed allegations of corruption, has never been prosecuted in Malta.
Dalli, who in December filed a harassment complaint with the police against Caruana Galizia, said he “was very angry” when he heard she had been killed. “It basically removed my chances of exculpating myself from everything she said about me,” he said.
Justin Borg-Barthet, a Maltese legal expert who lectures at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, said the legal system, built up during British colonial rule, has been so steadily eroded by political meddling and constant reshuffling of the police leadership that virtually nobody expects justice to be done in the case of the murdered journalist.
“Trust does not function as a reliable constitutional principle when people are untrustworthy,” he said.
Caruana Galizia, 53, had an insider’s grasp of that world. “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate,” she wrote in her last blog post Monday afternoon, just a half-hour before she left her family home by car to run errands and was blown to pieces.
The bombing stunned Malta, where known criminals sometimes attack one another but where the streets are safe and violence against public figures is extremely rare. It also sent tremors through the European Union, which took in Malta as a member in 2004 and, at a time of deep disillusionment with the “European project” in Britain and elsewhere, has often pointed to Malta’s economic success as an example of how Europe can work.
Christian Peregin, the founder of an online news site, Lovin Malta, and an admirer of the dead journalist, said the killing had exposed a reality that Caruana Galizia had spent decades trying to uncover, a mission that won her a long list of enemies and scores of libel suits.
One of those who sued her this year — and got a court to freeze her bank accounts — is Malta’s economy minister, whom she enraged with a February report that he had been seen along with an aide in a brothel in the German town of Velbert. The minister, who was visiting Germany on government business, insisted he had been attending a conference at the time of the reported sighting.
“Beneath the veneer of a successful, well-to-do European nation there is something darker here,” Peregin said. “Malta is between Europe and North Africa. We speak English and have very English traditions, but we also speak Maltese — basically a mix of Arabic and Italian — and our national psyche is always somewhere between these two very different worlds.”
This split has in turn helped shape and harden a deep and often passionate political divide between the Labour Party, which Caruana Galizia loathed, and the Nationalist Party. She used to support the Nationalists until a new leader took over whom she described as being in cahoots with criminals because of his previous work as a lawyer on behalf of Maltese clients who she said ran a prostitution racket in London.
The Nationalist leader, Adrian Delia, was so angered by Caruana Galizia’s articles, which included details of a secret offshore bank account he controlled, that he filed four complaints against her for defamation.
He dropped the cases after the killing and is now trying to position himself as her defender, demanding that the prime minister, Muscat, resign and take “political responsibility” for the car bomb.
Saviour Balzan, a veteran editor and long-time adversary, called Caruana Galizia a “spiteful snob” who reveled in ridiculing people she viewed as inferior, particularly those who supported the Labour Party.
When the party’s former leader, Dom Mintoff, died at 96 in 2012, Caruana Galizia rejoiced at his passing: She wrote in her blog, Running Commentary, “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah . . . may you rot in hell.”
She stirred such strong feelings that her killing even prompted cheers in some quarters. Ramon Mifsud, a police officer whom she had portrayed in her blog as a drunken habitué of bars and lap dancing clubs, celebrated her killing with a post on his Facebook page: “Everyone gets what they deserve, cow dung.” Suspended from the police force, he quickly deleted the message.
“She was certainly the best investigative journalist Malta has ever seen. However, she was at times also a tabloid trash writer, and did not always follow normal journalistic standards,” Ken Mifsud Bonnici, a Maltese legal adviser to the European Commission in Brussels, said, speaking in a personal capacity. Nevertheless, he added: “People do not get killed for publishing lies.”
Maltese news media reported that the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia was made from Semtex, the plastic explosive that brought down a Boeing 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Malta’s previous car bombings involved more easily obtained explosives and targeted known criminals or their associates.
The police commissioner, Lawrence Cutajar, the fifth person to hold Malta’s top law enforcement job in just four years, declined at a news conference Thursday to comment on the kind of explosive used. He was so evasive in his response to questions that local journalists left the event convinced that the case, like previous car bombings, would never be solved — despite the presence of investigators from the FBI and Dutch police.
With trust in the police so low, representatives of the island’s main news outlets filed a petition with a court in Valletta demanding that any information found by investigators on Caruana Galizia’s phone and computer relating to her sources be kept secret to protect their security.
“When a leading journalist — an institution — is killed and you don’t have any faith in the justice system, everyone becomes a suspect,” Peregin said. “We are all scared because we have no idea who killed her.
“It could be anyone she has written about over the last 30 years, or it could be a message to the Maltese press or the government: Watch out for your neck and accept our demands or we will do worse.”
Balzan, the managing editor of Malta Today, said that while he was a critic of Caruana Galizia’s work, he was appalled and frightened by her murder.
“What happened has taken us back to the Stone Age,” he said. “Who would want to work in journalism after this? Why should I go to work when people are asking: Who will be next?”
The murder of Malta’s best-known journalist has exposed ‘something darker’ in the tiny EU nationThe murder of Malta’s best-known journalist has exposed ‘something darker’ in the tiny EU nation
York Regional Police have identified the victim of a fatal shooting in Newmarket late Saturday evening.
Cody Gionet, 30, of the Town of Georgina, was taken to hospital following the incident and later pronounced dead.
Gionet was found unconscious and suffering gunshot wounds when police arrived on scene.
While police confirm they have arrested two suspects in relation to the shooting, no charges have been laid. Police are appealing for witnesses that may have seen the shooting to come forward.
The incident happened around 10 p.m. in the area of Sheldon Ave., near Yonge St. Sheldon Ave. was blocked off for several hours after the shooting.
With files from Annie Arnone.
Police identify man shot dead in Newmarket
While campaigning for the job of running Canada’s largest city, Mayor John Tory promised to restore stability at city hall after the tumultuous term of his predecessor Rob Ford.
Even Tory’s detractors agree he’s accomplished that, and as a result has maintained high approval ratings in public opinion polls.
But beyond his calming influence, what has John Howard Tory, multi-millionaire lawyer, businessman, and former provincial Progressive Conservative leader, accomplished since he became 65th mayor of Toronto.
What about the other promises to tackle traffic congestion and expand transit, cornerstones of his 2014 election campaign. Does it take any less time to cross the city? Has traffic gotten better, or has it gotten worse?
“I like to think it’s better, I have people tell me anecdotally, that it’s better,” Tory says in an interview to mark the third anniversary of his Oct. 27, 2014 election.
Then Tory, as is his custom, qualifies his answer.
Measuring progress is difficult, he admits, though it will get easier with recently installed Bluetooth technology that monitors traffic speed on major downtown streets.
“I will say with certainty, that if we hadn’t done all the things that we’ve done, and that we’re doing, then it would be much worse, because we have a growing city.”
Those things include towing and ticket blitzes for downtown lane blockers, a pilot project using paid duty police officers to direct traffic at major intersections, to be replaced soon with full-time “traffic wardens.” Next month, Tory will meet with representatives of utility companies asking them to confine non-emergency work to off-peak hours.
On the transit file, Tory remains committed to creating a transit line called SmartTrack. Although, the current configuration is nothing like the original proposal made during the 2014 election campaign. The original proposal has been reduced to six proposed stations added to the GO train network in Toronto and an LRT line towards the airport.
During the campaign, Tory promised it would be a surface rail subway “that moves the most people in the shortest time across the entire city in seven years.” Only recently has he begun to admit seven years was an overly ambitious target.
“It may not end up being seven,” he said last week sitting in his office overlooking Nathan Phillips Square. “I mean, it’s going to be, I’m saying in the early 2020s.”
And while Torontonians might not see evidence, Tory insists progress is being made on the plan, which involves Metrolinx electrifying existing GO train tracks. Last week, there were public meetings on the design of stations, and next spring, a request for proposals will be issued, he said.
“There’s stuff happening, and it’s going to get done.”
Last week, Tory held a series of sit down media interviews wearing a dark suit, chartreuse tie, red and purple argyle socks and polished black shoes.
Sunday marked the one-year countdown to next year’s municipal election on Oct. 22 when Tory will seek re-election. So far, there is only one other major declared challenger: former city councillor Doug Ford, whom Tory beat in 2014.
Some pundits are already sizing up the campaign ahead — though it doesn’t officially start until next May — and suggest Tory’s weakness is that he lacks a bold vision for Toronto.
“I would say to people there is a vision that’s connected to a 15-year network transit plan that’s been approved by city council, we’ve never had one before,” he said, bristling slightly.
“People may say well that sounds dull, well not to me.”
And he touts his role as a champion of the tech, and film and TV sector, as further evidence.
“Nobody will call that visionary, but if you said in terms of my thinking ahead, to the future of the Toronto economy and making sure that we’ll have the new jobs that will last into the future — I am.”
He’s also proud of his record on affordable housing, pushing the province and federal governments for funding, and supporting council-set goals of building between 1,200 and 1,500 units — though housing activists challenge whether they’re affordable enough for people who need them most.
Council critics on the left credit Tory with demonstrating leadership in areas one might not expect from a politician with a Conservative pedigree: his backing of safe injection sites and the Bloor St. bikes lanes, for example.
But those same critics say Tory falls short because he won’t raise property taxes above the rate of inflation to make the necessary investments in areas that he says he cares about.
There will be no budging in the upcoming 2018 budget debate on that 2014 election pledge.
“The government is talking about stress testing people on their mortgages, in light of rising interest rates, why don’t we stress test as well what would happen to a lot seniors and young people if we started property taxes up by 7 or 8 per cent,” Tory said in response.
Instead, Tory suggests much can happen with the gas tax revenue which Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne ponied up after killing Tory and council-backed road tolls, and the infrastructure levy, which he introduced in 2015. The 0.5 per cent property tax surcharge kicked in this year and will compound to 2.5 per cent over five years.
The mayor says he isn’t thinking about what other tax measures the city should consider in the future.
“We still have sort of a delta that we’re going to have to speak to but at this stage, I’m not consumed with that because we don’t need the money at this moment.”
Looking ahead to the final year of this term, Tory insists he is not about to play it safe with a do-nothing agenda.
“They grossly underestimate me,” he says of critics who suggest otherwise. “We have tons to do just look at the agenda.” He cites upcoming transit reports, the 2018 budget and a proposed short-term rental bylaw to regulate Airbnb.
“I’m going to fully occupy myself between now and the campaign time doing my job … moving transit, housing, poverty reduction forward.”
Tory, 63, also plans to continue showing up at city hall at 6:30 a.m., after sleeping for five-and-a-half hours, and admits while he doesn’t have the best work/life balance, it’s not “unhealthy.”
He credits wife Barb Hackett for being so “understanding,” such as putting up with his punishing schedule that saw him work 30 days straight in September. He vows to resume regular workouts with a personal trainer and to spend more time with his grandchildren.
Adding more express buses on TTC routes
Measures to fight traffic gridlock, such as illegal parking crackdowns
Formed a task force to overhaul Toronto Community Housing Corp.
Keeping property tax increases to the rate of inflation
The 22-stop SmartTrack transit plan, as pitched during the 2014 election campaign
TTC fare freeze, fares have gone up every year since he has been mayor
Plant 380,000 trees annually
Outsource garbage collection east of Yonge St.
Is traffic better under Tory? He thinks so
To imagine the scale of last Saturday’s terrorist attack in Mogadishu, think about two truck bombs exploding within minutes during rush hour in the heart of downtown Toronto.
Buildings for blocks around Yonge and Dundas Sts. would crumble, cars and pedestrians incinerated.
The blasts Oct. 14 in Mogadishu’s commercial and entertainment hub were so powerful some of the victims may never be identified and the missing never found. The death toll is just an estimate. There are more than 350 dead, and as many are grievously injured and missing, making this one of the deadliest terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001.
After 9/11, Manhattan’s streets became a gallery of the dead. “Have You Seen” posters lined every post, fence and wall, the faces of hundreds of victims staring out.
The search for the missing and tributes to the dead in Mogadishu have been virtual, pictures and posters spreading online.
A photo of medical student Maryam Abdullahi, 21, was one of the first to go viral. Her father flew from London that day to attend her graduation, but instead was in Mogadishu for her funeral. Marian Omer, another victim, worked at the ministry of planning and was described by many as a “rising star.”
Mohamoud Elmi, the director general of humanitarian affairs; human rights activist Yassin Juma; the four Ayaanle brothers, who ran a popular shop in the Safari Hotel; a school bus of children stuck in traffic.
For those who equate Somalia with endless war, piracy or the 1993 U.S. intervention known as Black Hawk Down, in which 18 American service members and hundreds of Somalis were killed, the truck bombings were a merely a tremor in country wracked by earthquakes.
But some are calling this attack Somalia’s 9/11. Which means its impact will spread well beyond the crater the bombing has left, where the search for the remains of the dead continues.
If a country can break your heart, then Somalia has broken mine.
There are few places that have experienced such trauma over the decades, yet proven so resilient. There are few places that have succumbed to such an endless loop of corruption and warfare, and international meddling that often seems to do more damage than good. There are few places as frustrating.
In my travels to Mogadishu since 2006, I have seen more destruction, and more resurrection, than anywhere else I’ve reported.
There is a 14-year-old Somali boy named Abdibasid Ahmed Hussein, who lives among more than 245,000 other refugees at the Dadaab camp, just across the Somali border, in Kenya. He hadn’t spoken since 2008, when he watched his father and brother die in a cruise missile attack.
When I met him and his mother in 2015, his face was haunted; his eyes unfocused; a thin sheen of sweat on his upper lip even though there was a cool July breeze blowing through the camp. His reaction to what he witnessed was so severe, but what shocked me was that his depression and comatose state was considered uncommon. Somalia’s population should collectively be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder for what they have endured.
“The resilience of human beings is just incredible,” Sahal Abdulle told me by phone Thursday from his home in Mogadishu, just a couple hundred metres from the outer edge of the blast site.
Sahal, a Somali-born Canadian and former photojournalist for Reuters, has become a good friend since I first met him Toronto years ago. He possesses that resilience he praises, having covered two decades of war, surviving a targeted attack on his car in 2007 that killed another Canadian journalist and colleague, Ali Sharmarke.
The Saturday explosion damaged part of his roof and when he was repairing it this week, he found body parts. “I’ve never seen or heard anything like this. It looks like a nuclear bomb had fallen onto the place,” he said about the district known as K5, where the bombs exploded.
But Sahal believes this is a turning point in Somalia’s history and hopes the reaction can be channelled into change.
“What made me stronger and realize that this will come to an end, is the public,” he said. “Today if you go around, you see people are rebuilding, immediately. Yesterday, children, moms and dads came out saying no to this killing; enough is enough. In all the wars I’ve covered in Somalia, I’ve never seen that kind of anger, the magnitude of the bombing brought this to the surface.”
Al Shabab has not claimed responsibility for the attack, but there is little doubt they are responsible. No other group in Somalia has the capacity to carry out a bombing so big or has the network to move the trucks into Mogadishu past what Somali government officials have called the security “ring of steel.”
Matt Bryden, strategic adviser at Sahan Research, a Nairobi-based think tank, said the scale of the destruction was the only surprise, as Al Shabab has been conducting smaller-scale IED (improvised explosive device) attacks throughout the country. “The killing of numerous (Shabab) leaders, including some bomb-makers, has seemingly failed to disrupt their ability to plan and carry out IED attacks,” a 2016 Sahan report states, noting that there is often two phases to their bombings.
“They had reached somewhere between 800- and 1,000-kilo (bombs) … They were getting bigger all the time,” Bryden said. “So we absolutely should have expected a large suicide (vehicle-borne IED). The surprise is the quantum leap from the maximum of 1,000 kilos to what I guess we’re estimating over 2,000 kilos.”
Some reports have said the bomb exploded near a gas tanker, increasing the destruction. The details of the attack are still being investigated.
The level of destruction may have come as a surprise to the Shabab, too, and could be part of the reason they have not made a statement as of this writing. In 2009, the Shabab bombed the Shamo Hotel in Mogadishu during a graduation ceremony for medical students. The backlash against the group was immediate — although not as fierce as it has been this week.
Most analysts believe K5 was not the intended target and Al Shabab was likely aiming for the airport, the Turkish military training base that opened just weeks ago, or one of the embassies inside Mogadishu’s fortified zone; where most international visitors work and live and is protected by forces with the African Union, a mission known as AMISOM.
While the Shabab does not control areas of Mogadishu as the group once did, members of its elite intelligence unit, Amniyat, have infiltrated the capital. In the last two years, there have been a number of assassinations and smaller attacks on hotels, restaurants and shops.
How the trucks, laden with explosives, entered the city — the route the suicide bombers took and checkpoints they passed — is still uncertain.
“There’s no question about the degree of negligence and/or complicity at some of the checkpoints in Mogadishu,” Bryden said. “But it sounds as though one of the checkpoints may have done its job.
“By some accounts, the truck was stopped at a checkpoint, refused to pull over, guards opened fire, and it barrelled down the road towards K5 and it became so cluttered with kiosks and small vehicles, that it eventually came to a stop and exploded outside the hotel.”
Al Shabab began as a small, militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union in 2006, but rose to power during the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion the following year. By 2009, when Ethiopia was forced to pull out its troops, and Somalia was weak from two years of war, Al Shabab had grown to a major force. In 2012, they officially joined Al Qaeda and attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi a year later.
In recent years, they have lost most of their territory, now based primarily in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region. There have been high-level defections from the group, and the Somali government has run a rehabilitation centre to help the hundreds of defecting foot soldiers reintegrate with their families.
There was a photo posted on Twitter on Sunday of Mukhtar Robow, as he donated blood for the wounded. Robow, the original co-founder of Al Shabab, defected to the government in August. The image sparked vigorous debate online. How could a man who had so much blood on his hands be acknowledged for giving his own?
“I recognize that this image is deeply upsetting on a day like this,” wrote Abdi Aynte, who has worked as a journalist, analyst and most recently as the minister for planning and international co-operation in Somalia. “But such is the paradoxical reality in #Somalia. #Pray4Somalia.”
Andrew Harding, a BBC journalist and author of TheMayor of Mogadishu, later weighed in on Twitter: “What does this extraordinary image say to you? The sting of conscience, idle hypocrisy, gesture politics, or perhaps the price of peace?”
The Toronto sign at city hall was illuminated in blue and white for a night last week, the colours of Somalia’s flag. There were other signs of solidarity around the world — at the Eiffel Tower, the moment of silence that was held at the UN Security Council, social media hashtag hugs that included #MogadishuMourning.
But the outpouring of support was nowhere near that which follows attacks in the West, which can compound the grief of the grieving.
In a New Yorker piece Tuesday, staff writer Alexis Okeowo asked, “Where is the empathy for Somalia?”
“It was as if the bombing were just another incident in the daily life of Somalis — a burst of violence that would fade into all the other bursts of violence. The lack of public empathy was startling but not surprising,” she wrote.
Empathy for many, comes with a shared bond: citizenship, religion, a common affliction or experience, or simply being able to just picture a scene. Part of my affection for Somalia and sadness this week is because I’ve been stuck in traffic at K5 where the explosion occurred and on my Facebook feed friends in Mogadishu were checking in as “safe,” as they posted their painful accounts of what they saw.
Public empathy, beyond giving comfort to the grieving, is important as it can drive change.
But not all reactions to terrorist attacks transform a country for the better, and just how last Saturday’s attack will affect Somalia is unclear.
Mogadishu has undoubtedly reformed in recent years, and dramatically so since the 2011 famine. Mogadishu “rising from the ashes” became cliché, but is an apt description in terms of the physical restructuring.
The election earlier this year of “Farmajo” Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed as president was seen as a turning point for many. Like most Somalis, he is referred to by his nickname, which he told me in a 2012 interview he adopted because of his father’s love of cheese.
Farmajo, who is also a U.S. citizen, was Somalia’s prime minister in 2010, credited with cleaning up much of the government corruption and ensuring Somalia’s soldiers were fed and paid. In August 2011, the Shabab withdrew from the capital and retreated to strongholds in the south.
Farmajo’s return to government in February was celebrated, especially among the youth, considerable in a country where 70 per cent of the population is under the age of 30.
But a president — no matter how popular — cannot alone overcome the deep clan and political divisions that often frustrate Somalia’s governance.
Most recently, the country has been split over the Gulf dispute. In June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and initiated an economic boycott, accusing Doha of funding terrorist groups.
Somalia’s federal states announced last month that they have cut ties with Qatar, in defiance of Mogadishu’s neutral stance. “As the Saudis and Emiratis develop direct links with federal states and undermine their relations with the federal government, tensions have grown over which side of the Gulf dispute to back,” notes an International Crisis Group report released Friday. “This also diverts attention from security problems in Mogadishu.”
There has also been recent strife within the government’s ranks. Two days before the attack, the country’s defence minister and army chief resigned following an increase in Shabab attacks on army bases across south and central Somalia.
“What we’re seeing in Mogadishu and elsewhere — this sentiment, this surge of anger — could be actually quite dangerous,” says Bryden. “Although it’s a reaction to this atrocity, it can be directed in any direction.”
The thousands who took to the streets wearing red headbands this week in Mogadishu and other major Somali city were united against Al Shabab.
But the Shabab’s survival in recent years has not been due to popular support. Their strength comes from the weaknesses they exploit.
Michelle Shephard is the Star’s national security correspondent. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm.
Who will channel Somalia’s anger after one of the world's deadliest terror attacks?: Analysis
LONDON—Police in central England warned the public to stay away Sunday from a shopping centre where a gunman reportedly took two employees at a bowling alley hostage.
Warwickshire Police confirmed they were dealing with an incident Sunday at Bermuda Park, a shopping and leisure centre in Nuneaton, about 12 kilometres north of the town of Coventry. The force said the problem was not terror-related, but provided no details.
No injuries were reported.
Mehdi Amshar, chief executive of the MFA Bowl bowling alley chain, told Sky News that he was informed the two employees were being held at gunpoint at the company’s Nuneaton branch.
Amshar said he believed the gunman was an ex-husband or former boyfriend of an employee, but he couldn’t be sure.
All customers were able to leave the premises and were unharmed, Amshar said. There had been no contact with the two staff members since the commotion was reported, he said.
“All our staff, the rest of our staff, are safe and they made sure that all the customers have left the premises so everybody is in safety, with the exception of the two people who are missing,” he told the broadcaster.
One man who said he was at a children’s party at the bowling alley said he initially thought it was a joke when a staff member told him to leave because a gunman was inside.
“I looked up and there was a guy, probably 20 or 30 feet away, walking towards us with a sawn-off shotgun sort of slung over his shoulder,” Lawrence Hallett told Sky News. He added the man was “basically shouting and had a very aggressive demeanour about him.”
An eyewitness told Sky a nearby restaurant was in lockdown.
“We got notification that someone had a shotgun inside the bowling alley,” the witness, Sarah Fleming, told Sky News. “Then we had notification from the police that he actually had hostages.
“Everyone has been a bit up in the air, don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “Everyone is a little bit scared at the minute.”
Another witness from the same restaurant, Carl Lenton, described what he saw outside.
“There were police cars arriving, there was a helicopter, police dogs, armed police stood all around the bowling alley, around the outside of it,” Lenton said.
West Midlands Ambulance Service said it was called to the shopping centre Sunday afternoon and dispatched an ambulance, two paramedics, the Hazardous Area Response Team and an emergency planning manager to the scene. It said on Twitter there were “no casualties.”
Gun crimes are rare in Britain, which has strict firearm control rules.
Police warn public to stay away from U.K. shopping centre amid reports of hostage situation
Ayman Elkasrawy got the phone call late on a Sunday night in February. An incredulous friend was on the line, with a strange and troubling question.
“Did you pray for the killing of the Jews?”
The friend sent him an online article about Masjid Toronto, the downtown mosque where Elkasrawy worked as an assistant imam. It included a video: rows of Muslim worshippers standing under fluorescent lights, their eyes closed and hands cupped. At the front of the crowded room was Elkasrawy, dressed in white and praying to God in Arabic.
“O Allah! Count their number; slay them one by one and spare not one of them,” read the article’s translation of his prayers. “O Allah! Purify Al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews!”
Elkasrawy remembered the scene, filmed during Ramadan eight months earlier. He also remembered praying for Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, a bitterly contested holy site.
But he was shaken by the English translation. “I was surprised,” he says. “When I (saw) that, I even doubted myself. Did I say that?”
Elkasrawy woke up the next morning feeling calamitously misunderstood. He was bursting with things he wanted to explain, but he also realized he had made serious mistakes, for which he needed to apologize.
“Neither I, Masjid Toronto or the congregation harbour any form of hate towards Jews,” he wrote on Twitter later that day. “And so I wish to apologize unreservedly for misspeaking during prayers last Ramadan … I sincerely regret the offence that my words must have caused.”
His apology only fanned the flames. Elkasrawy was suspended from his mosque and fired from Ryerson University, where he worked as a teaching assistant. Toronto police opened a hate crime investigation and condemnations rained down, from Parliament Hill to the National Council of Canadian Muslims. Elkasrawy also became a bogeyman in the federal Conservative party leadership race, cited in campaign literature as an example of Muslim extremism.
“We need to clarify what is going on at this mosque,” Meir Weinstein, head of the far-right Jewish Defense League of Canada, told the Toronto Sun. “Is this a den of worship or a den of hate?”
Eight months later, the story is crystallized online as a putative reminder of the hatred that can fester within Canadian society. A Google search for “Ayman Elkasrawy” — once yielding just a smattering of academic papers and social media profiles — now turns up pages of hits that brand him a genocidal anti-Semite.
Offline, however, new layers of the story began to reveal themselves.
Elkasrawy went quiet soon after his Twitter apology, advised by everyone in his life to stop talking. But a month after the scandal broke, he reached out to a stranger for help.
Bernie Farber is a household name in Toronto’s Jewish community, the former head of what was once Canada’s leading Jewish advocacy group. Both affable and combative, the white-goateed Farber has spent most of his career tackling anti-Semitism. For the past two years, until his retirement in early October, he also ran the Mosaic Institute, a non-profit that promotes diversity.
Farber opened his email one day to discover an unusual request: would the Mosaic Institute help Elkasrawy learn from his mistakes? Farber immediately said yes, assembling a team of experts and planning a cultural sensitivity curriculum.
But after meeting the young imam, Farber was puzzled by the facts of this case. Elkasrawy was always quick to admit he made a serious mistake — it was wrong to pray about “the Jews.” But he also insisted his words were twisted, an explanation he struggled to articulate.
Farber was bothered by the discrepancy between the “quiet, dignified” man he had come to know and someone who would pray for Jewish people to be slain. Over the years, he has developed “almost a sixth sense” for detecting anti-Semites. Elkasrawy did not fit the mould.
At a time when white supremacists are mobilizing across North America, the fight against anti-Semitism has taken on renewed urgency. But this is a story that is far more tangled than it first appeared.
It is about an imam who made hurtful mistakes that he could not adequately explain. But it is also about the slipperiness of language — especially in a climate of viral misinformation, polarized debate and geopolitical conflicts that have found fresh battlegrounds in Canada.
Elkasrawy’s prayers were undeniably problematic, but they were also distorted to fit a certain narrative that gave his words added potency amid rising anti-Islamic sentiment.
In a controversy that hinges on his words, a central question was never fully investigated: Did Elkasrawy really say Jews were filth? Did he really call for them to be killed?
According to several Arabic experts contacted by the Star, the answer is no.
“I’ve learned a personal lesson throughout this entire process,” Farber says. “Do not take anything for granted. Not even words.”
Ayman Elkasrawy prefers not to speak at all, whenever he can help it.
At about six feet and 285 pounds, the bearded and bespectacled 32-year-old has an understated presence for someone who looms so large. He speaks softly and hesitantly; in the presence of strangers, he tends to fade into the background.
“I’m not so good at being social,” he says. “The more you talk, the more you make mistakes.”
Born and raised in a devout family in Egypt, Elkasrawy has dual Canadian citizenship through his father, an agronomist who immigrated here in 1976. He spent three summers with his dad in Toronto, “a different planet” in the eyes of a 13-year-old kid from Cairo.
After university, he moved to Canada to continue his education and is now at Ryerson pursuing a PhD in electrical engineering. While he sometimes wears traditional dress at the mosque, at Ryerson he blends easily with the campus crowd — just another grad student riding his Bike Share in jeans, sneakers and a backpack that looks slightly shrunken on his broad frame.
Elkasrawy and his wife, Somaia Youssef, found a religious community in Masjid Toronto (“Toronto Mosque”) on Dundas St. W., located in an old bank building near the bus terminal. The mosque opened in 2002 but did not hire a resident imam until 2015, so it sometimes asked Elkasrawy — who had memorized the Qur’an — to lead prayers or Friday sermons.
He was timid at first, even avoiding eye contact with congregants, but received positive feedback and was officially hired as an assistant imam in 2015. Elkasrawy sees this work as a spiritual duty and found himself spending hours at the mosque nearly every day — not just leading prayers, but also teaching and planning events, such as networking socials for Muslim professionals. “I felt that’s like my second home,” he says.
Over the years, Canada has become home for Elkasrawy as well. But as with many immigrants, an invisible umbilical cord connects him to the part of the world where he was born. His Twitter feed is dominated by Egyptian and Middle Eastern politics. He mostly retweets accounts he follows, including one called “Friends of Al-Aqsa.”
The silver-domed Al-Aqsa mosque is located on an elevated limestone compound in East Jerusalem. The compound — known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif and to Jewish people as the Temple Mount — is Islam’s third holiest site (after Mecca and Medina), and Judaism’s holiest.
Over the past century, the compound has become an explosive flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In 2000, a provocative visit by Israeli politician Ariel Sharon sparked clashes that escalated into the deadly Second Intifada. This summer, the mosque was at the centre of some of the worst violence, and biggest demonstrations, Jerusalem has seen in years.
For many in the Muslim and Jewish diasporas, stories about the holy site are front-page news. On June 26, 2016, the latest headlines were about a skirmish between Israeli police and Muslim worshippers.
What people understood about the incident depended in part on the media they consumed. According to the Arab press, Israeli officers “stormed” Al-Aqsa mosque, beating worshippers and deploying tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets. According to Jewish newspapers, “masked Arab assailants” were arrested after hurling rocks, chairs and slurs at Jewish tourists.
For Muslims, the Al-Aqsa violence was particularly alarming because it broke out during the last 10 days of Ramadan, an especially sacred time in Islam’s holiest month. So Elkasrawy decided to include the mosque in his prayers at Masjid Toronto. “I thought maybe this will help, praying together for this place,” he says.
It was nearly midnight by the time he finished reciting the Qur’an and began his supplications.
Unlike sermons, which are more like religious lectures, supplications are invocations to God; during prayers, they are recited by imams who face away from the congregation. While made in the highly technical style of Quranic Arabic, and typically in a rhyming scheme, supplications are often improvised.
Elkasrawy spent 10 minutes thanking God and asking for help — for protection from evil and greed, for beneficial knowledge to humanity, for good health, empathy, benevolence and love of the poor.
He then prayed for victimized Muslims around the world. He thought of Syria, a recurring topic of prayer at his mosque, invoking a quote from the Hadith (reports of the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions). He also prayed for Al-Aqsa, repeating a supplication he had found on the internet earlier that day.
Meanwhile, someone was filming. This didn’t bother Elkasrawy; prayers are sometimes recorded for worshippers unable to attend. When the mosque posted the video on YouTube, he scanned various parts, curious about his performance. Then he forgot about it.
The video sat there in its corner of the internet, barely seen. The next time Elkasrawy watched it was eight months later, when he got the phone call: “Did you pray for the killing of the Jews?”
On a sunny morning in May, Elkasrawy rode an elevator to the 34th floor of a Bloor St. office tower, where two prominent members of Toronto’s Jewish community awaited him.
Dressed in jeans and an electric blue sweatshirt, Elkasrawy sat across a boardroom table from Bernie Farber — the one-time CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress — and Karen Mock, a former director with B’nai Brith Canada and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. He was also joined by his mosque’s senior imam and officials from the Muslim Association of Canada, which owns Masjid Toronto.
Everybody was there for Mock’s anti-racism workshop, one of five sessions Farber had organized to educate an accused anti-Semite. The mood was friendly and relaxed, with pleasantries and business cards exchanged.
But those abhorrent words loomed over this group of newly acquainted Muslims and Jews: “Purify Al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews!”
When it comes to Jewish-Muslim relations, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the ever-present “elephant in the room,” Farber says — even in Canada, where both minorities share the burden of religious discrimination. According to Statistics Canada, Jewish people are the most frequent targets of police-reported hate crimes, while attacks against Muslims are the fastest-growing.
But there is also enormous diversity within both groups, which are sometimes the source of one another’s pain. There is mounting concern over anti-Semitism in certain corners of the Muslim world; meanwhile, Jewish people on the far right are among the loudest voices in the anti-Muslim movement. Israeli-Palestinian debates also have a tendency to slide into accusations of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia.
Farber, who once ran for the provincial Liberals, says Muslim issues have become a divisive topic among Jewish Canadians. He says he has received criticism from right-leaning members of his own community for defending Muslim Canadians and for supporting M-103, the parliamentary motion to recognize and condemn Islamophobia, which prominent Jewish advocacy groups opposed.
But he remains a vocal ally of Canadian Muslims. After the Quebec City mosque shooting in January, he joined people who gathered at mosques to form “rings of peace” across the country — an act of solidarity spearheaded by a Toronto rabbi that was covered by media outlets around the world.
But just two weeks later, that feeling of solidarity crumbled. “Supplications at Masjid Toronto Mosque: Slay them one by one and spare not one of them,” read the headline on a story published by CIJ News, an obscure right-wing website that has since been taken down.
Elkasrawy’s prayers quickly gained widespread coverage, from the Star and Sun to the CBC and the Canadian Jewish News, the country’s largest Jewish weekly. B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish advocacy group, also wrote about the incident after urging Ryerson to fire Elkasrawy from his job as a teaching assistant.
The imam became a topic of heated discussion around Farber’s Sabbath table. “I was very troubled by it,” he says. “I was hearing a lot of anger. I was also hearing a lot of ‘How could this be? Just last week I was involved in a circle of peace, and now this happens.’”
Farber wasn’t exactly surprised, however. This was not the first time an imam had been accused of preaching hate against Jewish people, even in Canada. Elkasrawy’s story emerged around the same time as other accusations of anti-Semitism in Canadian mosques. This summer, a Jordanian cleric was also charged by Montreal police after allegedly praying at a local mosque for Jewish people to be killed.
But something about the Elkasrawy case struck Farber as odd, and he was skeptical of the website that broke the story. “I’ve been in this business long enough to know that before judgments are made, you really need to get all the facts,” he says.
So in April, when a mutual friend reached out to Farber on Elkasrawy’s behalf, he was intrigued.
The imam said he wanted to gain a better understanding of Canadian norms and values, in the hopes of learning from his mistakes. Farber — who once helped a repentant neo-Nazi leave her white supremacist organization — agreed to help.
Given the disturbing anti-Semitic prayers Farber had read about in the news, his initial plan was to prescribe intensive anti-racism training. But he changed his mind after meeting Elkasrawy.
“We’re not dealing with a racist or anti-Semite,” he says of his gut reaction. “I really saw a young man who felt beaten down for something that he didn’t quite understand.”
Farber switched gears. He organized five workshops to help Elkasrawy develop a better understanding of Canada’s cultural, legal and human rights landscape. (The workshops were provided at no cost, though the mosque later made a small donation to the charity.)
Elkasrawy learned about anti-racism, hate crime laws and Canada’s human rights framework. He also visited his first synagogue — Beth Tzedec, Canada’s largest Jewish congregation — where he learned about Judaism and discussed interfaith issues with a rabbi and reverend.
Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl did not ask Elkasrawy to explain himself, but he expressed how his language was harmful. “We are concerned about discrimination against Muslims,” he said, as Elkasrawy nodded. “But we are also concerned about extremism that comes out of the Islamic community.
“Our people hear the extremism and when you speak that way, that’s what they hear. They become afraid. And they become angry.”
During each session, Elkasrawy listened intently and occasionally jotted notes. He also asked questions, including one he repeated several times: “How do you speak (clearly)? How do you tell things?”
When the program ended, Farber reached a conclusion. “I just do not believe that Ayman is a hateful person,” he says. “He came in here with an open heart and a real willingness to understand.”
But he still couldn’t wrap his head around the words Elkasrawy had been accused of saying, or the imam’s muddled attempts to explain himself.
Two things were clear: Elkasrawy was sorry. He also felt misunderstood.
“I made this mistake,” he said at one point. “But not that mistake.”
Translation is not an exact science. Words are like prisms, refracting different shades of meaning. A good translation is one that captures the right hue.
Elkasrawy’s prayers were first translated on CIJ News, a website founded and edited by Jonathan Dahoah Halevi.
Halevi describes himself as a retired lieutenant-colonel and intelligence officer with the Israel Defense Forces, who now researches the Middle East and radical Islam. He learned Arabic in school and university, he once explained to an interviewer.
He has also been a go-to pundit for the now-defunct Sun News Network and its offshoot Rebel News, a right-wing media website that has drawn controversy for its anti-Muslim coverage.
Halevi’s writings and statements suggest that he sees himself as a soldier in the information wars — particularly when it comes to allegations against Israel, which he challenges by using “continuous, intensive and thorough” research, according to a profile on the Economic Club of Canada’s website.
This work includes counting “Gaza fatalities in his free time,” according to a 2009 NPR article that described his “macabre hobby.” During the first Gaza war, NPR wrote, Halevi suspected Palestinians of exaggerating their civilian fatalities and spent six months scrutinizing 1,400 deaths listed by a human rights group — checking each name against a terrorist database he personally compiled and “whatever he finds on the internet.”
Halevi has also written extensively about Islam and Muslim Canadians on CIJ News, where his Arabic translations have drawn praise from the “anti-Islamist” blog Point de Bascule. “His knowledge of the Arabic language gives him an advantage when it comes to understanding the ambitions of the enemy,” the Quebec-based blog wrote last year.
On Feb. 18, CIJ News published a story about Masjid Toronto, which included his translation of Elkasrawy’s controversial prayers.
Halevi later told the Toronto Sun that he was prompted to dig up the material after reading media coverage of a rally outside the mosque.
The rally was ostensibly to protest the federal Islamophobia motion, but demonstrators brought signs that read “Say no to Islam” and “Muslims are terrorists.” The protest was roundly criticized, including by local politicians who denounced it as an Islamophobic “display of ignorance and hate.”
But in his interview with the Sun, Halevi suggested the real hate was happening inside the mosque. “The double standard and hypocrisy was appalling,” he said.
After the story broke, Masjid Toronto took all its videos offline but it was too late; a new, edited clip was posted on YouTube, crediting Halevi with its translation and referencing an extreme anti-Muslim ideology known as “counter-jihad.” The account hosting the clip also mentions “Vlad Tepes Blog” in its video description.
The “counter-jihad” is described by researchers as a loose network of people and groups united by the belief that Muslims are plotting to take over the West. A recent National Post investigation described Rebel News as a “global platform” for the counter-jihad, and linked Vlad Tepes Blog — regarded as a key website in the movement — to a frequent Rebel News contributor.
Rebel jumped on the story about Elkasrawy’s prayers, which it credited “our friend Jonathan Halevi” with breaking. In a video segment, “Rebel commander” Ezra Levant plays the YouTube clip while imploring his viewers to “look at what the folks inside the mosque were saying.”
“Look at the translation written on the screen,” Levant says in the video, which has now drawn more than 35,000 views. “Here they are talking about Jews — there’s a lot of Jews in Toronto — and how they need to be killed one by one.”
But such stories contained a glaring oversight: this was not at all what Elkasrawy said.
This is the consensus that emerged from five Arabic experts who independently analyzed Elkasrawy’s prayers at the Star’s request. The experts — from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom — are Arabic translators, linguists and university professors with published book chapters, academic papers and textbooks. None of them knows Elkasrawy.
The experts found that the imam’s prayers were not without fault, and many clarified that they do not condone or excuse some of the language he used.
But they also described the initial, widely circulated translation as “mistranslated,” “decontextualized” and “disingenuous.” One said it had the hallmarks of a “propaganda translation.”
The YouTube clip was particularly troubling for Arabic sociolinguist and dialectologist Atiqa Hachimi, an associate professor at the University of Toronto.
This is because the clip was digitally manipulated: the first two seconds were cut and pasted from a different prayer Elkasrawy had made two minutes earlier. A slanted translation then transformed this Quranic verse from “Thou art our Protector. Help us against those who stand against faith” to “Give us victory over the disbelieving people.”
“It changed their meaning in such a way as to promote the dangerous myths that violent extremism and hate are inherent to Islam,” Hachimi said.
Elkasrawy also was not referring to Jewish people when he said “slay them one by one,” a line from the Hadith that is often invoked as a cry for divine justice. This line was misunderstood as being part of his prayer about Al-Aqsa mosque; in fact, it was the closing line in a previous supplication that he made on behalf of suffering Muslims around the world, Hachimi said.
As for “Purify the Al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews,” a more accurate translation is “Cleanse Al-Aqsa mosque from the Jews’ desecration of it,” according to Nazir Harb Michel, an Arabic sociolinguist and Islamophobia researcher at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
The crucial word here is danas. Arabic-English dictionaries list several possible definitions — among them “besmirch,” “defile,” and spiritual “impurity” or “filth” — so context is key in determining the appropriate translation. Harb Michel said “no translator worth two cents” would choose the “filth” definition in the context of Elkasrawy’s prayer.
When danas is used in reference to a holy place — like Al-Aqsa — the common definition is “desecration,” the experts agreed. “He does not say ‘the filth of the Jews,’” said Jonathan Featherstone, a senior teaching fellow at the University of Edinburgh and former Arabic lecturer with the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
But what did Elkasrawy mean by “desecration”? Again, context is instructive. Days before his prayers, he and his congregants were reading reports of Israeli police deploying tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets inside Al-Aqsa mosque — actions many Muslims would consider to be a desecration of the site, especially during the 10 holiest days of Ramadan.
Elkasrawy now realizes how wrong it was to mention “the Jews,” especially since his intention was to pray for the mosque, not against people.
“If I could say it in a more clear way,” he says, “it would be ‘O Allah, protect the Al-Aqsa mosque from occupation. Or preserve the sacredness of the Al-Aqsa mosque from violation.’”
He said “Jews” is widely used in the Arabic-speaking world to mean “Israeli forces” or “Israeli occupiers,” not as a sweeping reference to all ethnic and religious Jews. But he acknowledges this common usage is problematic. And, he asks, “How is it perceived in my (current) community? It’s something I didn’t take into account.”
“I have never thought of anything against people of Jewish faith,” he says. “In Islam, we believe that no one should be forced into any religion. We cannot hate any people, any group, because of their ethnicity or their religion.”
Halevi declined requests for a phone interview but, in emailed responses, he stood by his original translation of Elkasrawy’s prayers. He did not answer specific questions, including why he chose the “filth” definition, but sent links to various websites and Arabic-English dictionaries.
He also did not answer questions about the source of the digitally manipulated clip, saying only that the original video was available on his website until the mosque deleted its YouTube channel.
But Halevi provided context that he considered important: excerpts from Islamic books that promote praying against disbelievers; translations of violent, aggressive or anti-Semitic statements made by other Muslims; links to CIJ News, which Halevi took down shortly after being contacted by the Star.
“Canadian imams deny any rights of the Jews over the Temple Mount or in (the) Land of Israel/Palestine,” Halevi wrote.
B’nai Brith Canada said two Arabic experts independently verified the original translation before the group urged Ryerson to fire Elkasrawy. B’nai Brith said it also reached out to the imam on Facebook but did not get a response. (Elkasrawy deleted his account shortly after the story broke.)
“Statements like this have been made in many parts of the world and it’s actually been used directly as incitement,” said B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn. “Jewish people have lost their lives over statements like this.”
Mostyn rejects the linguistic opinions obtained by the Star, in one case accusing an expert of having an anti-Israel bias. But he would not identify his own translators, citing concerns over their safety. The Star’s request to interview them anonymously was also declined.
In response to the Star’s questions, B’nai Brith solicited a third opinion from Mordechai Kedar, an assistant professor with the Arabic department at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.
In a phone interview, Kedar did not remember being asked to evaluate Elkasrawy’s entire supplications, just the phrase that referred to “Jews” and danas. But he said he didn’t need any context to interpret Elkasrawy’s prayers because “when it comes to what Israel is doing, it is the worst meaning of the word.”
“Nobody should give them the benefit of the doubt that they mean something else, because they don’t,” he said. “(They want) to make the mainstream media in the free world believe them that they are the targets, when they are the problem in the whole world.”
Like Halevi, Kedar is a former Israeli intelligence officer and media pundit. His views have also drawn controversy, and Kedar once served on the advisory board for Stop Islamization of Nations — an organization co-founded by the anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller and designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a U.S.-based civil rights watchdog.
Kedar argued Elkasrawy’s language was “meant to create a religiously charged rage and anger against the Jews.”
“Reacting violently against (Jewish people) in revenge for their deed is almost a required reaction,” he wrote in an email. “You can call it, in one word, terrorism.”
B’nai Brith Canada has not gone so far as to allege verbal terrorism, and said it is glad Elkasrawy has undergone cultural training, but its position remains unmoved: “Mr. Elkasrawy’s message at the mosque was irrefutably offensive and anti-Semitic.”
Farber feels differently. He says Elkasrawy chose his language poorly, especially when he referred to “the Jews,” and failed to understand the harmful impact of his words.
But he now believes Elkasrawy’s prayers were misrepresented to the public. Like many people, Farber accepted the initial translation unquestioningly, but now says “if people were going to take that and ruin lives, we should have been a lot more careful.”
“He said something that’s highly charged and highly political and could be anti-Zionist — but it’s not anti-Semitic,” Farber says. “And that changes the flavour of this.”
In the rush to condemn Elkasrawy’s prayers, Muslim organizations were among the first in line.
“Unacceptable” and “inappropriate,” his mosque said in a statement. “Appalling and reprehensible,” wrote the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the country’s largest Muslim advocacy group.
There was much to disapprove of, in addition to the mention of “Jews.” Many Muslim Canadians disagree with praying negatively and feel frustrated when religious leaders speak in ways that reinforce harmful stereotypes.
Prayers like “slay them one by one” also have no place inside a Canadian mosque, says Mohammad Aboghodda, a lecturer with the Understanding Islam Academy, an educational charity in Mississauga. Aboghodda was one of the Arabic translators consulted by the Star.
This quote from the Hadith has a specific reference to ancient Islamic struggles but is sometimes used in prayers for divine justice; Elkasrawy says he invoked it on behalf of Syrian people killed and tortured by the government regime or by Daesh (ISIS) terrorists.
But Aboghodda finds this language inappropriate, even if well intentioned — it would be like a priest delivering a Sunday sermon and quoting Bible verses that say “wrongdoers will be completely destroyed.”
“That’s a very common old prayer, but it implies violence that we don’t need,” he says. “I think many young and novice imams go to the old books and just copy these from it.”
These were some of the concerns Muslim groups had in mind when they denounced Elkasrawy’s prayers — public statements that many took as an implicit acceptance of the initial translation. But those statements did not reveal whether the Muslim community thought the translation was accurate, or whether they understood Elkasrawy’s words at all.
How many Canadian Muslims speak Arabic? Contrary to assumption, only about 20 per cent of the world’s Muslims are native Arabic speakers; according to the latest census, 1.2 per cent of Canadians cite Arabic as their mother tongue. Quranic Arabic, which Elkasrawy used in his prayers, is also notoriously complex and difficult to deconstruct.
Hachimi pointed out that several Arabic-language newspapers also clearly relied on English reports of the incident, because when they back-translated the word “filth,” they chose a different Arabic word — najas— from the one Elkasrawy used in his prayers.
And who bothered to check the original video? The translation was not verified by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, executive director Ihsaan Gardee confirmed in an emailed statement.
He said the organization is now “deeply troubled” to learn that the widely circulated clip of Elkasrawy’s prayers was manipulated and the translations called into question. But in the fast-moving aftermath of the scandal, he said, the organization “could only respond to what was being reported” — in other words, it reacted to the CIJ News translation.
“Unfortunately, we are living in a time where the very worst is believed about Canadian Muslims — contrary to the reality that the vast majority are contributing positively,” Gardee wrote. “So when a story like this emerges that contains the words of religious leaders speaking in a way that is understood — rightly or wrongly — to be promoting hatred against anyone, it is critical that human rights advocates be quick to condemn such language.”
Officials from the Muslim Association of Canada said their first priority was to reach out to the Jewish community and apologize for their employee’s inappropriate language, which violated the mosque’s stated policies.
But that doesn’t mean they considered the translation to be accurate — they didn’t. “We avoided this detail because a clear position was required so that there will be no confusion of our stand on this,” spokesperson Abdussalam Nakua wrote in an email.
Elkasrawy’s prayers exploded into view at a particularly fraught time.
Only weeks had passed since a gunman stormed into a Quebec City mosque and massacred six Muslim worshippers. The United States had just inaugurated a new president who campaigned on a Muslim travel ban. The acrimonious debate around the Canadian Islamophobia motion had reached a fever pitch, with Liberal MP Iqra Khalid even receiving death threats.
Elkasrawy’s prayers were quickly taken up by politicians. A month after they emerged, MP Steven Blaney — who was then running for the federal Conservative party leadership — cited Elkasrawy in a campaign email seeking donations to “stand against violence and radicalization.” (“Should Allah kill all the Jews? I don’t think so but frighteningly, some do.”)
Right-wing groups also latched on to the story and Elkasrawy’s picture was used on a poster at a rally against M-103. A hate crimes complaint was filed by the Jewish Defense League, which has been active in anti-Islamic protests. (A local JDL member is himself facing possible hate crime charges in the U.S. in connection with an alleged assault on a Palestinian-American man in Washington, D.C., earlier this year.)
“We’re dealing with a community in fear,” Farber says of Muslim Canadians. “Even if the community itself might feel that ‘Well no, this translation isn’t exactly right … we don’t want to make people more angry.’ In the end, I’m not particularly surprised that the mosque and others involved said, ‘Let’s shut this down and apologize.’”
Elkasrawy said his first priority after the story broke in February was to apologize to the Jewish community. He worried, too, about further inflaming the situation. “I feared for the people inside the mosque, that they might be attacked because of this.”
He decided to let things calm down before attempting to explain himself. But within days, posters were plastered around Ryerson’s campus, where Elkasrawy had been a teaching assistant on and off since 2008, a job that partially funds his graduate studies.
The posters had a picture of his face and the words “Fire him now” — a demand that was echoed by B’nai Brith Canada. The student who led the postering campaign, Aedan O’Connor, recently announced on Facebook that she is now working with Rebel Media.
Ryerson and its new president, Mohamed Lachemi, were already under pressure to respond to previous reports of anti-Semitism on campus. A meeting was quickly called between Elkasrawy and the dean of Ryerson’s engineering department.
Elkasrawy attended the meeting and brought a more accurate translation of his prayers, assuming this would be a first step in the university’s investigation. According to Elkasrawy, his translation was disregarded and Ryerson officials deliberated for about 15 minutes before handing him a two-page termination letter.
Ryerson declined to be interviewed for this story, stating that it does not discuss human resources matters.
For Elkasrawy, this was the moment that killed any hope he had of eventually explaining his side of the story. The YouTube clips, the media coverage, the public statements, his suspension, the police investigation, the termination — it all braided together into a knot that felt impossible to unravel. It all happened in 10 days.
Elkasrawy says he agreed to speak with the Star because “I have nothing to hide.” He has contemplated leaving Toronto or changing careers, but for now, he wants to move forward.
He has returned to his mosque, which conducted its own internal probe into the incident. He has applied, unsuccessfully, for new teaching jobs at Ryerson. And while the hate crime complaint against him remains active, Elkasrawy says he has yet to be contacted by police.
When asked what this experience has been like, Elkasrawy sighs heavily, his eyes drifting to the floor of his modest downtown apartment. He explains in a wavering voice that he has tried to take an Islamic point of view.
“People go through difficult times, hard times, in which they have to be patient and have some forbearance,” he says. “You have to listen to people and learn from this experience.”
He is holding tight to the lessons he’s learned, including those from the Mosaic Institute. Chief among them: when you speak, your meaning has to be clear — not just in your own head or to the people in front of you, but to Canadians of all backgrounds.
“Once the word comes out, even if the person who was hurt later understands your meaning, it will leave something in his heart,” Elkasrawy says. “It will not be the same as before.”
The Star consulted five Arabic experts for this story. They are:
A Toronto imam was accused of hate-preaching against Jews. But that wasn’t the whole storyA Toronto imam was accused of hate-preaching against Jews. But that wasn’t the whole story
A Mississauga man has been charged with impaired driving — while operating a street sweeper.
Ontario Provincial Police officers say witnesses saw the street sweeper driving very slowly on the QEW and notified police. The driver was allegedly drinking alcohol in the vehicle.
Aaron Duffy, 48, has been charged with driving impaired, driving over the legal limit, and having open alcohol inside his vehicle.
Driver of street sweeper faces impaired driving charges
A classic green and white Parks Canada sign now welcomes visitors to Rouge National Urban Park at a Markham entrance after the provincial government signed over its portion of the parklands to the federal government and paved the way for other public bodies to do the same.
“This has been a priority for our government since the very beginning,” said federal Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott, who represents the riding of Markham-Stouffville.
“We’re celebrating a very significant milestone in the completion of Canada’s first national urban park,” she added.
The agreement announced this weekend transfers 6.5 square kilometres of land from the province to Parks Canada. Ontario has also relinquished its interest in 15.2 square km managed by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and 1.1 square km of land managed by the City of Markham, paving the way for those bodies to also transfer management to Parks Canada.
Once that happens, the federal government will manage 80 per cent of the 79.1 square kms identified for the Rouge National Urban Park. The remaining 20 per cent of land is expected to be transferred to Parks Canada by other municipal governments in the coming months.
Ontario’s Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid thanked the various groups and people who’ve spent decades fighting to protect the area, offering a special thanks to Lois James, 94, who is often called the “mother of the Rouge,” and Jim Robb, whom he jokingly called a “pain in the butt.”
Though the provincial government endured some “political shrapnel” for delaying the transfer of provincially managed lands to Parks Canada until the ecological protections in the federal Rouge National Urban Park Act were strengthened this summer, Duguid said, “we truly believe that we’ve got it right and that makes me very proud.”
Rouge National Urban Park covers the traditional territories of a number of First Nations, including the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, which never surrendered their rights to the lands.
“It’s good to have this park so that they can renew themselves with the creator’s beauty,” said Mississaugas of the New Credit elder Garry Sault.
While decades ago the establishment of parks excluded First Nations, Louis Lesage, who spoke on behalf of Huron-Wendat Nation Grand Chief Konrad H. Sioui, said things are different today thanks to examples like Rouge National Urban Park.
He encouraged parents to bring their children to the park and to teach them the history of the lands, which were once home to the largest First Nations villages in Canada.
Some, though, are still concerned about the level of environmental protections in the park.
Jim Robb, general manager of the Friends of the Rouge Watershed, expressed concern that Parks Canada is looking at extending private leases to farmers before the park management plan is completed.
“We want them to complete the management plan in a public open forum before they extend the leases,” he said. He’s concerned that some farming in the park, which he described as “industrial” and pesticide dependent, may not be consistent with their goals of environmental protection.
There is room for other farmers in the park who take a more ecological approach though, he said.
Rouge National Urban Park Superintendent Pam Veinotte said Parks Canada hasn’t extended any of the private leases yet. Instead, they are working concurrently to finalize the management plan and examine the leases at the same time.
“Part of the character of this national urban park is that you have this mix of urban and forest,” said Anna Baggio, director of conservation planning for CPAWS Wildlands League.
“Obviously there needs to be restoration but I think we can work with the farmers to get there, they want to see this land well-managed and so do we,” she said.
Ontario hands over huge swath of land for Rouge Park Ontario hands over huge swath of land for Rouge Park Ontario hands over huge swath of land for Rouge Park
Tens of thousands of international students affected by a faculty strike at Ontario colleges are being reassured by immigration officials that they won’t be penalized for a delay that is beyond their control.
But some international students say the work stoppage, which began last Monday, has them worrying about finances as well as their education and immigration status.
“It is very stressful,” said Noble Thomas, 24, a human resources management student at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Thomas, who came to Canada two years ago from India, said each week on strike represents a loss of roughly $800 in tuition fees, not to mention the additional money spent on rent if the semester is prolonged once faculty return to work.
And though he has a job at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), Thomas said international students are limited to 20 hours of work per week. What’s more, he said, uncertainty over the length of the strike prevents students from scheduling additional shifts.
Schools should be giving refunds for the time lost, he said — a sentiment expressed by domestic and international students alike in a petition that had garnered nearly 100,000 signatures by Sunday morning.
Several colleges in the province said they recognized the concerns raised by the strike and hoped it would end before the more than 40,000 international students enrolled in Ontario colleges felt financial — or other — difficulties.
Officials at Humber, George Brown and Confederation colleges also stressed that other services remain available during the strike, including support for international students concerned about their visas or study permits.
“We haven’t started down the path of refunds yet,” said Kim Smith, associate director of international admissions and student services at Humber College, where some 5,000 international students are enrolled.
“In the past, this has always been decided by the province and not by an individual college, so at this time we’re kind of waiting to see what comes out of that,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Ontario ministry of advanced education and skills development would not say whether the province was considering refunds.
“We are optimistic that the two parties will return to the table to work to reach a successful, negotiated settlement that is in the best interests of all parties, with a focus on students and their learning,” Tanya Blazina said in an email.
“I know that all students, domestic and international, are upset about the strike, and understandably concerned for what the impact could be on their education. While the uncertainty students face is challenging, I want them to know that previous college strikes have not led to students losing their semester.”
Meanwhile, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is seeking to relieve international students’ fears about the fate of their visas and permits.
“Study permits include the condition that the student must make continual progress toward the completion of their program,” said Beatrice Fenelon, a spokesperson for the department.
“However, international students whose studies have been affected by the labour dispute at some designated learning institutions in Ontario will not face enforcement action for being unable to fulfil that condition, as it is a circumstance beyond their control.”
International students who need to apply for extensions should include with their application a letter from their school’s registrar confirming the impact of the strike, she said.
And while students are required to have studied continuously in order to qualify for a post-graduation work permit, the interruption caused by the strike won’t affect their eligibility, she said.
John Porter, director of international admissions and student services at Toronto’s George Brown College, said most students have study permits that span the duration of their program, plus a 90-day grace period afterward so they can apply for a post-graduation work permit.
Permit extensions are “fairly common” even in a normal school year, said Porter, himself a regulated international student immigration adviser.
“We’re not really expecting that because of this current work stoppage situation that we’ll have a really great increase in the need for study permit extensions unless it goes beyond X number of weeks,” he said.
Thomas, whose program and permit are scheduled to end in December, said there won’t be enough time to apply for a work permit if the school year encroaches on the 90-day grace period, since that process can take months.
So the strike could also put international students’ job prospects at risk, he said. “If everything goes alright, I would like to stay here to experience more.”
International students face uncertainty over Ontario colleges strike
The 75-inch TV in Wendell Waldron’s Regina home is perfect for viewing football, but these days he watches his beloved San Francisco 49ers on a small tablet. It’s the only device in his home that streams DAZN’s NFL Sunday Ticket broadcasts without pausing or cutting out.
King City resident Gianfranco Schirripa subscribed to DAZN to follow the Philadelphia Eagles, but missed the end of the team’s season-opening win over Washington when his stream crashed.
In suburban Vancouver, DAZN subscriber Sean Meade grew so frustrated with the their spotty performance he created a Twitter account — @DAZNSucks — to unite disgruntled customers of NFL Sunday Ticket’s exclusive Canadian provider and amplify their voices.
The NFL and its new partner heard them. Late last week the league and DAZN reached agreements allowing several cable providers to resume selling Sunday Ticket, a subscription-only service showing out-of-market games.
But fans say the fight isn’t over.
The new agreement doesn’t cover Bell and Telus, whose subscribers still can’t access Sunday Ticket without buying DAZN. And until streaming becomes as reliable as cable, the NFL risks alienating customers who are willing to pay but can’t find a satisfactory product.
“The mission’s not complete until every Canadian can get Sunday Ticket just like they used to be able to,” Meade said. “All these companies used to have this product . . . You want to give your telecom more money and they won’t let you do it.”
DAZN (pronounced “da Zone”) is a U.K.-based sports streaming service that entered the Canadian market with a splash this summer, beating out traditional cable providers for exclusive rights to NFL Sunday Ticket. The company threw a glitzy rooftop party at a downtown hotel to promote the arrangement, and enlisted social media influencers to extend their online marketing reach. If streaming is the future of live sports, DAZN hoped to nudge Canadian NFL fans into a new era.
But when the season started, Canadians subscribers reported a litany of problems:
“It’s taken away from my enjoyment of the game,” says Waldron, a Mississauga native who moved to Regina in 2013. “I was getting even more buffering issues last week . . . There’s a major problem here.”
The NFL maintains it vetted DAZN and felt confident it could deliver the content reliably, but Canadian users’ complaints echo the ones raised by fans in Japan when DAZN took over rights to J-League soccer broadcasts earlier this year.
For its part, DAZN insists its technology is sound, and that the highly-publicized glitches affected a small percentage of subscribers. The company says it didn’t account for disparities in connectivity speeds before launching in Canada, and has worked to tailor its streams accordingly.
“We have to be able to serve that customer base,” DAZN executive Alex Rice said. “We should have been ready, but we’ve made those changes now.”
Experts say the emergence of a DAZN-style provider, which merges the convenience of streaming with the popularity of live sports, is inevitable. When the Solutions Research Group polled U.S. consumers on their must-have viewing options, Netflix ranked fourth, trailing only the three major broadcast networks. Amazon Prime, meanwhile, finished 14th. Neither streaming service made the top 15 last year.
Cable sports giant ESPN ranked sixth, best among cable networks.
But SRG president Kaan Yigit says DAZN’s early struggles in Japan and Canada demonstrate how much over-the-top services still need to improve to satisfy sports fans.
“We are probably some years away from an equally robust streaming solution on a mass scale for live sports — I’d say four to five years,” Yigit wrote in an email to the Star. “I don’t know that it will ever surpass cable, but at some point it should be near parity.”
DAZN might appeal to cord-cutters who still crave live sports, but disappointed customers say the service ignores habits that define contemporary sports viewership.
While in-game tweeting has become part of the viewing experience for many fans, streaming delays can turn Twitter into a non-stop string of spoilers for DAZN customers.
“I had to shut off all my notifications,” Schirripa said. “I was relegated to using my Twitter during commercial breaks because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being told something before it actually happened.”
And where fantasy football enthusiasts often toggle quickly between games to stay updated, DAZN’s interface makes that type of channel surfing inconvenient.
While DAZN works to make its product as reliable as cable is, the NFL says bringing cable providers back into the Sunday Ticket mix made more sense than waiting for streaming technology to catch up with fans’ habits.
The agreement DAZN signed with Rogers, Shaw, Eastlink and SaskTel runs through next season, but NFL executive Michael Markovich foresees Sunday Ticket remaining available on cable beyond that.
“From an NFL perspective, it was the fan comes first, and choice is what they want,” said Markovich, the NFL’s VP of international media. “There’s a desire on the DAZN side and . . . on the cable operator side to find a way to work together going forward. I don’t view that as a short-term partnership.”
Rice says DAZN is already working to address concerns customers have raised over the first half of the NFL season, and that long-term goals include an interface that allows for TV-style channel swapping.
The company is working in the short term to mend its tattered reputation, a campaign that includes visiting dissatisfied customers.
As his @DAZNSucks Twitter feed gained followers and influence, Meade received a direct message from the company on his personal account, asking if they could spend a day watching football and addressing his complaints. The following Sunday, a DAZN executive from England appeared at Meade’s house, accompanied by a public relations rep and bearing an afternoon’s worth of snacks. They discussed Meade’s concerns while watching a Seahawks game — on cable rather than his faulty DAZN stream.
Meade appreciated the gesture but cancelled his subscription anyway.
“If I have DAZN and I have cable, I’m going to pick cable 100 times out of 100,” he said. “It’s better. I don’t want to stream my football. I’ve never wanted to stream my football. I just want to turn it on and have it there.”
NFL reattaches cable as streaming service falters
AUSTIN, TEXAS—The five living former U.S. presidents attended a concert Saturday night to benefit victims of recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Barack Obama, George W. Bush, George H.W Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter appeared together at the “Deep From the Heart” concert in College Station, Tx. on the campus of Texas A&M University. They called on Americans to donate to an appeal that has raised $31 million (U.S.) since it began on Sept. 7.
They avoided politics in their remarks, and none of them mentioned current U.S. President Donald Trump.
The U.S. mainland and its territories have recently been walloped by one natural disaster after another. In all, hurricanes and wildfires have killed more than 100 people and left residents with billions of dollars in damage that they have only begun to clean up.
Massive donation drives have been started, and on Saturday, they got a boost from five men who are used to being fundraiser in chief.
At the event Saturday, President George H.W. Bush did not address the crowd, but smiled and waved from the stage. The 93-year-old elder Bush suffers from a form of Parkinson’s disease and appeared in a wheelchair at the event.
Grammy award winner Lady Gaga made a surprise appearance at the concert.
While he didn’t attend, President Donald Trump recorded a video message for the event.
In the video, Trump says the American people “came together as one” in the wake of the series of devastating hurricanes.
He’s also thanking presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — frequent subjects of his wrath — for helping to spearhead the effort, calling them “some of America’s finest public servants.”
He says: “This wonderful effort reminds us that we truly are one nation under God, all unified by our values and devotion to one another.”
It was a brief moment of detente. Obama and Bush, who've kept relatively low profiles since leaving office, have recently criticized Trump
Having so much ex-presidential power in one place is unusual. George H.W. Bush spokesperson Jim McGrath said all five of Saturday night’s attendees haven’t been together since the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas in 2013, when Obama was still in office.
With files from the Washington Post
All five living former U.S. presidents gather at concert to raise funds for hurricane relief
A group of travellers hunched under canoes set off along a 23-kilometre trading route to portage from the Humber to the Don River.
They carried everything they needed for the journey on their backs — clothing, food and firewood — and planned to arrive before dark.
Unlike early Indigenous hunters, fishers and traders, the portagers didn’t have any wild animals to worry about, but then again, the Davenportage is all about sticking to tradition.
On Sunday afternoon, about 30 “historian athletes” and “voyageur philosophers” carrying 10 canoes travelled along Davenport Rd. — or Davenport Trail — to recognize Toronto’s rivers, history and Indigenous people.
Dating back thousands of years, the trail connected Indigenous settlements with hunting and fishing grounds and trade routes tied to the Great Lakes, Atlantic Canada and the Midwest, according to Heritage Toronto. In Objibwe, it was named Gete-Onigaming meaning “at the old portage.”
In 2014, four friends mapped out and followed roughly the same route, portaging through downtown Toronto. That’s when the Davenportage was born. They’ve continued it every year since, boasting that everyone who tries it comes back the next year.
“The Davenportage is a joyous and interesting way to experience the city, using traditional modes of transportation — feet, paddling and portaging,” said Nicholas Brinkman, co-founder and organizer.
European traders, missionaries and soldiers discovered the trail in the 1600s. By 1793, when the Town of York (now Toronto) was established, it had been transformed into a road for wagons and horses.
“What appealed to me the most is connecting to Toronto’s past, forming a visceral connection,” said Bethany Reed, who was participating for the first time.
The portage started at Étienne Brûlé Park with a sacred smudging ceremony and opening prayer, led by Mike Ormsby of Curve Lake First Nation.
“Think of the Indigenous people you’re following, you’re walking in our footsteps” Ormsby said to the group before they set off. “I really respect what you guys are about to do.”
Along the way, Davenportage participants dropped off canned goods at the Yorkville Fire Station and stopped for split pea soup, coffee and tea at the Tollkeeper’s Cottage at Davenport Rd. and Bathurst St. A Community History Project, the tollgate operated from at least 1850.
They made their way down Davenport Rd. until it turned into Church St. Then they followed smaller streets and finished at the Evergreen Brick Works, along the Don River.
A group of eight, including Brinkman, started the trek earlier, with a 15-kilometre run to the Don River, followed by a paddle to Lake Ontario and up the Humber River to the park.
“The experience is spiritual and ridiculous,” Brinkman said.
Portaging an ancient footpath — through downtown Toronto Portaging an ancient footpath — through downtown Toronto
OTTAWA—Health groups joined forces on Sunday with the Conservative opposition to accuse the Liberal government of trying to raise tax revenue on the backs of vulnerable diabetics.
The accusation opened a new front in the ongoing opposition-waged war on government taxation policy, amid the backdrop of the conflict-of-interest controversy dogging Finance Minister Bill Morneau over whether he’s properly distanced himself from millions of dollars in private sector assets.
Diabetes Canada was among the groups that joined Conservative politicians to publicly denounce what they say is a clawback of a long-standing disability tax credit to help diabetics manage a disease that can cost the average sufferer $15,000 annually.
Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre branded it as one more example of an out-of-touch Liberal government that he characterized as unfairly targeting the hardworking middle-class people it claims to support.
“His tax department tried to tax the employee discounts of waitresses and cashiers. Now his government is targeting vulnerable people suffering with diabetes with thousands of dollars in tax increases,” Poilievre said on Sunday at a Parliament Hill news conference flanked by fellow Conservative critics, a young diabetic constituent and a top official with a leading diabetes advocacy organization.
In May, the revenue department stopped approving a disability tax credit for people with Type 1 diabetes for those who had previously claimed it, he said.
People who need more than 14 hours per week for insulin therapy and had a doctor’s certification previously qualified. But other than citing a spike in applications for the benefit, the government offered no explanation for the change during initial interactions earlier this spring, said Kimberley Hanson of Diabetes Canada.
Thousands of claimants from across Canada who had previously been given the $1,500 annual benefit have been rejected in recent months, but Hanson said she can’t get an exact number from Canadian Revenue Agency and has had to file an Access to Information request to find out.
In recent months, the agency officials and Minister Diane Lebouthillier have for the most part rebuffed their overtures.
“Over the past two months, she’s stopped responding to my messages and answering some of my questions,” Hanson said, referring to one senior department official.
On Saturday, a senior department official reached out to her to reopen dialogue, she said. Poilievre said that only happened because the matter was raised briefly on Friday by the Conservatives during Question Period.
“Applicants are now being denied on the basis that ‘the type of therapy indicated does not meet the 14 hour per week criteria.’ These denials are in contradiction of the certifications provided by licensed medical practitioners and do not appear to be based on evidence,” says an Oct. 3 letter to Lebouthillier, signed by Diabetes Canada, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism and two other organizations.
In an emailed response to The Canadian Press on Sunday evening, a spokesperson for Lebouthillier writes that the “concerns brought up by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and other groups, are worrisome.”
It says the minister has initiated a “five-point plan” that included numerous consultations with “stakeholders” to better understand how the benefit is administered.
It says she wants the agency to improve its data collection and is planning to hire more nurses to work in processing centres to evaluate the claims.
This would help “to ensure that a medical professional is involved in the reviewing of individual’s applications,” said the emailed statement.
This latest complaint about the government’s tax policy comes after the Liberals were forced to reset proposed tax measures after weeks of vocal opposition from small business owners, doctors, farmers and backbench Liberal MPs.
The Canada Revenue Agency was also recently forced to withdraw a notice that targeted employee discounts after it caused an uproar.
“It’s not like I can snap a finger and this disease turns off,” said Madison Ferguson, a constituent of Poilievre’s who first raised it with her MP this summer after her claim was rejected.
She said she has to constantly calculate the effect of what she eats, while monitoring her blood sugar levels as much as four to 10 times a day, using test strips that cost $1.50 to $2 each time.
“It’s quite expensive but it’s needed because without this I wouldn’t be here,” said Ferguson. “So every moment of every day has to be calculated.”
Liberals accused of tax grab by clawing back disability credit for diabetics
MONTREAL—Warda Naili says the first time she donned a niqab six years ago, it became a part of her.
The Quebec woman, a convert to Islam, said she decided to cover her face out of a desire to practice her faith more authentically and to protect her modesty.
And in an image driven society, she found it liberating that people would now have to connect with her based on who she was, not what she looked like.
“My interpretation — and it’s very personal — is that my niqab is my portable curtain,” Naili, 34, said in an interview near her home in Montreal.
“I can go everywhere and be reached, and reach people as I want.”
Since its adoption on Wednesday, the Quebec government’s religious neutrality bill has been the subject of heated debate.
In light of this, the government will publish the rules on how it will be applied, the province’s justice minister said Sunday.
Stéphanie Vallée said the decision to publish the document, which was originally intended only for administrators, was made in order to fully inform the public on the controversial legislation.
In a lengthy interview with The Canadian Press, Vallée said she was stunned by the intense reaction to Bill 62, which requires anyone giving or receiving state services to do so with an uncovered face.
On Sunday, Vallée called for calm and stressed the need to “reposition the law in its context.”
She noted that most members of Quebec’s legislature agree with the principle behind the bill.
“I must admit that the interpretation we’ve heard is quite particular, because we were concerned throughout the bill with preserving balance and especially preserving individual freedoms,” she said.
Fatima Ahmad, a 21-year-old Montreal university student, said she felt compelled to begin wearing the niqab just over a year ago, during the month of Ramadan.
“I realized it was something I wanted to do, and I loved it,” she said. “It’s part of my devotion towards God and it also deals with modesty.”
The legislation forbids anyone from receiving or giving a public service with their face covered.
That includes city services such as public transit.
While the law does not mention a particular religion, many say it unfairly targets Muslim women who wear religious face coverings.
Ahmad says the bill could technically stop her from attending university, although she’s hoping that won’t happen since most of the faculty members she’s spoken to have said they’ll support her.
She also takes buses and the subway to get around, both to school and social engagements.
In the future, she says she expects to have to stay home more often.
Naili, for her part, says she already stays home most of the time to avoid the discrimination she faces on the street.
The exception is hospitals, which she says she must visit on a regular basis for health problems.
She says she doesn’t see how the law can claim to be helping women when it will make her depend on her husband for rides and force her to change what she wears.
“I want to control who I give the permission to access my body,” she said. “I think every woman, and every person, should have this right.”
Both Naili and Ahmad say they made the choice to wear the niqab on their own, based on the way they interpret their religion.
But having made the choice, neither feel they can just remove the garment, other than when necessary for identification purposes.
“It’s something very personal to me, it’s part of who I am, my identity,” Ahmad said. “It’s not something I can just take off to receive a public service.”
The political opposition has said the law doesn’t go far enough, while members of the Islamic community said it violates the right of Muslim women right to express their religion as they see fit.
Some city leaders, including Montreal’s mayor, have said they’ll resist applying it to city services.
But not all women who’ve worn niqabs feel positively about them.
Ensaf Haidar, the wife of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi, says she had to wear the niqab in Saudi Arabia at times because it was mandatory.
She feels niqabs are a way of erasing women from public view and says she doesn’t believe they have a place in Canada or Quebec.
“When the niqab is there, the woman is absent,” she said in a phone interview. “She’s like a ghost.”
Haidar lives in Sherbrooke, Que. with her three children as she fights for the release of her husband, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for his criticism of Saudi clerics.
She says she doesn’t believe wearing the niqab can be a choice and hopes to see it gone from Canada one day.
“We came here to be free,” Haidar said. “We’re here because there are a lot of things we can’t do in our country.”
“I am here and I am free and I am me.”
Quebec women who wear niqab worry about how Bill 62 will affect daily life
What if an accused, charged with beating a dog to death, told the court: I didn’t know that was against the law.
Who would be unaware that such cruelty towards a defenceless animal is a crime?
Who would be afforded judicial latitude for ignorance?
The crime is the crime.
Now imagine instead that a man is charged with raping his wife. Actually you don’t have to imagine it because such a man went on trial for the alleged crime in Ottawa some four months ago. And was acquitted last week.
Neither husband nor wife understood that sexual assault — “rape” no longer exists in Canada as a specific charge — was an offence under the Criminal Code.
It was an arranged marriage, to which the woman consented reluctantly but dutifully, as was the practice in her culture. Raised in Kuwait by Palestinian parents, arriving in Canada in 1989 as a teenager, age 22 at wedlock, after she withdrew from university.
She believed she had no choice. That is how some females still lead their lives of quiet desperation in this country, in our midst, in a kind of shrouded existence, denied basic human rights and treated as property.
Like a dog.
Couldn’t say no to her parents. Couldn’t say no to her husband when he forced her to have sex against her will.
In court documents, the woman is identified only as “Z.”
“I . . . accept Z.’s evidence that the accused believed that as her husband he had the right to have sexual relations with her when he wished,” Justice Robert Smith writes in his reasons for judgment.
“Z. testified that there were many instances during her marriage where she did not consent to having sex with the accused but that he went ahead anyway in the circumstances where they both believed he had the right to do so. She was unaware that she could stop her husband from having sex with her without her consent. Their sexual relationship continued in this manner from 1992 until Jan. 1, 2013.”
The marriage had been performed in Gaza. Children were born to them here.
In time it became an unhappy union and the couple separated in 2013.
A change had come over her husband, the woman testified, after he returned from a 20-month visit to settle family estate matters in Gaza. He became aggressive, had no patience and “was no longer kind to her.”
Speaks volumes, that phrase, doesn’t it?
It wasn’t until later in 2013, when police attended at the couple’s home — they were arguing over access issues — that Z. discovered she could have indeed refused her husband’s sexual demands over all those years.
That has been the law in Canada since 1983. Prior to then, rape was considered an offence only outside of marriage, meaning a husband could not be charged with raping his wife and a wife could only have her spouse charged with indecent assault, common assault or assault causing bodily harm.
A year previous to the revised legislation, NDP MP Margaret Mitchell was mocked about the issue — laughed at by other MPs — when she rose in the House of Commons and demanded the government take action to stop domestic violence.
Bill C-127, which came into effect Jan. 4, 1983, made sexual assault against a spouse an offence under the Criminal Code. A spouse could also be charged with aggravated sexual assault if the crime included a beating.
That was scarcely 35 years ago. In some patriarchal countries, it’s still not a crime.
Z. recalled one incident in particular which became the basis of the sex assault charge against her husband and it dated to an episode from 2002, when he grabbed her by the wrist, pulled her on the couch, tugged down her pants and had sex despite Z. asking him three times to stop. “She closed her eyes and prayed for it to end and then took a shower,” Smith writes.
Now, anyone with experience of sex assault trials would instantly recognize the frailty of the case — so long ago, no witnesses, no independent corroboration, he-said she-said accounts.
Except the judge believed Z., found her entirely credible. “She answered questions in a straightforward manner. Her evidence that the accused believed he had a right to have sex with his wife was not contradicted. The accused acknowledged that he exercised control over his wife’s body by refusing to allow her to have an abortion when she became pregnant …
“I find that the accused probably had sex with his wife on many occasions without her specific consent, as both he and she believe that he had the right to do so.”
Z. told the court she fulfilled her connubial role because she believed it was her obligation as his wife.
By comparison, the accused “was argumentative and evasive when cross-examined and often did not answer the question posed. I find that his evidence was not believable and did not raise a reasonable doubt.”
Smith was especially skeptical about the husband’s claim that he clearly remembered not having sex at all with his wife during the period of the alleged assault — because he’d had a hair transplant and, he said, the doctor had told him to avoid sexual activity for two weeks. No medical evidence for that advice was presented; it’s nonsensical.
And yet. And yet.
Because the Crown had not proven mens rea— a guilty mind, the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime — beyond reasonable doubt.
Because he believed he had the right.
It is to weep. It is to rage against the madness of the courts.
Little wonder women don’t report. The standard of proof is too high. While it should not be lower for sexual assault, it sure as hell shouldn’t be higher.
This was not a woman caught in a web of lies. She didn’t collude to support her claim. She submitted because we clearly have done a wretched job of informing women about their rights. And then a judge found her credible narrative wanting, falling as it did within this crevice of perverse woman-hating culture.
The judge also acquitted the defendant on charges of assaulting his daughter — seizing her by the neck — and threatening the girl, though both she and her sister testified about how their father had returned from Gaza more fervidly religious, setting limits on what his daughters could wear, which resulted in family disputes.
“I will end you,” the girl testified her father had said to her in Arabic during the argument, after even the accused admitted he’d gone upstairs to “straighten her out.”
Girls and women: Who were they to challenge his authority?
The judge had prefaced his decision with this observation: “Marriage is not a shield for sexual assault; however, the issue in this trial is whether considering the whole of the evidence the Crown has proven the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Here, the doubt was profoundly unreasonable.
Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
How a man was acquitted of sexually assaulting his wife because neither knew he needed consent: DiManno
The tally is in: Amazon received 238 proposals from cities, states, districts and territories interested in hosting the company’s second headquarters.
The online retail giant published a map Monday showing that bids came from D.C. and all but seven states — Arkansas, Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming — as well as from most of southern Canada, three regions of Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Last month, Amazon announced it wanted to open a second North American headquarters, setting off a scramble among economic development officials from the United States, Canada and Mexico eager for as many as 50,000 jobs and $5 billion (U.S.) of investment the company says it plans to make in another city.
Seattle-based Amazon and its founder, Jeffrey Bezos, who owns the Washington Post, launched the search for “HQ2” by publishing its criteria online. Bezos issued a statement saying he expected the new location “to be a full equal to our Seattle headquarters. Amazon HQ2 will bring billions of dollars in upfront and ongoing investments, and tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. We’re excited to find a second home.”
If Amazon fulfils its plan to add 50,000 jobs and eight million square feet of office space in another city, it will amount to the largest corporate move in decades, though the company plans to maintain its current Seattle headquarters. Some governors and mayors have already begun floating subsidies of as much as $7 billion while others have filmed online videos or launched marketing campaigns aligned with their bids. On the day bids were due, Oct. 19, buildings around New York City were lit orange to match the company’s logo.
The next step is for Amazon’s real estate team to sort through the bids and decide which proposals to consider more closely. It plans to make a decision early next year.
However, urban policy analysts have warned that jurisdictions ought to tread lightly when offering single corporations large subsidies, arguing that investing in workforce, education and transportation tends to be a better bet for economic growth. To accommodate the company’s growth in Seattle, taxpayers funded hundreds of millions of dollars in improvements, although Amazon directly contributed $30 billion to the local economy.
Affordable housing advocates point to spikes in rents in Seattle as evidence that bidding cities ought to prepare for rising housing costs if Amazon decides to locate thousands of highly paid employees there.
Amazon says it received 238 bids for its second headquarters
A new type of vehicle is about to roll out on Toronto’s streets.
UPS announced Monday the U.S.-based shipping giant is a launching a pilot project of using cargo bikes for package deliveries.
At a press conference outside city hall to mark the launch of the pilot program, Mayor John Tory said deploying cargo bikes could help reduce congestion and mitigate the “traffic nightmares that people experience in this city.
“It’s time we take a look at something like this, because it’s being done in Frankfurt, in Vienna, in Hamburg, in Rome. And it has made a difference in those cities; they know that,” he said.
According to UPS Canada President Christoph Atz, this is the first time it has piloted the vehicles in Canada, although it has used cargo bikes in cities around the world. Atz called it “another step towards a more sustainable city.”
Evaluation of the project “will determine our strategy going forward for cargo delivery by bicycle on a larger scale in Toronto and potentially to other cities across Canada,” Atz said.
According to a spokesperson for the company, the pilot will begin soon and will “continue until it is determined that the weather may jeopardize the safety and comfort of the UPS rider.”
The company has chosen York University and the surrounding neighbourhood as a testing area, in part because its proximity to the corporation’s main distribution hub.
The specialized bike weighs roughly 217 kg. when empty, and has a payload capacity of up to 408 kg., including the driver, according to a fact sheet provided by the company. It is 2.8 metres long and can hold up to 50 packages. Safety features include headlights, tail lights, turn signals, side markers and hazard lights. The lights are powered by a solar panel on the vehicle’s roof.
Because of its size the bike won’t be allowed to operate in bike lanes, Tory said.
Nithya Vijayakumar, a senior adviser on transportation and urban solutions at the Pembina Institute, an environmental think-tank, recently authored a report advocating for the increased use of cargo bikes in Toronto.
It determined that 16.4 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the city come from vans, light-duty trucks, and SUVs.
“Replacing delivery vans with cargo bikes is going to be great for improving air quality and congestion,” Vijayakumar said.
According to the report, at least four smaller companies in Toronto already use cargo bikes as part of their business.
Vijayakumar said she hoped a major company piloting the vehicles will help bring the idea into the mainstream.
“Seeing a UPS cargo bike zipping around the city will, hopefully, demonstrate to other large shipping companies that, sometimes, the most innovative solutions are those that go back to the basics,” she said.
UPS is advocating for changes to provincial regulations that would allow the company to deploy electric-assist cargo bikes, which have an electric motor to help the driver climb hills or speed up quickly after a traffic stop. Atz said the technology “would significantly increase the efficiency” of cargo-bike delivery.
There is no provincial classification for electric-assist cargo bikes heavier than 120 kg., and allowing the vehicles on the road would require changes to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act.
UPS to test cargo bikes for deliveries in Toronto to help with 'traffic nightmares'
A key aspect of the Law Society of Upper Canada's plan to address systemic racism in the legal profession is coming under fire.
The issue is whether Ontario's legal regulator should be requiring lawyers and paralegals to adopt and abide by a so-called statement of principles that “acknowledges (their) obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, and in (their) behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public,” as described in an email sent last month by the law society to all licensees, reminding them that the statement is mandatory.
Licensees can either adopt a statement of principles prepared by the law society, or come up with their own, but they must indicate whether it's been done in their annual report to the law society, the regulator says. They do not have to submit the actual statement to the law society for approval.
The statement of principles was one of the recommendations stemming from a law society working group that looked into the challenges faced by racialized licensees, and which were adopted unanimously (with three abstentions) at the law society's board meeting last December.
Toronto lawyer Joe Groia, a member of the board of directors (known as “benchers”), said he fully supports efforts to improve equality and diversity in the profession, but takes issue with the fact that the statement is mandatory. He will be bringing a motion at the board meeting this December that would allow an exemption for those who have a “conscientious objection” to the requirement, which is proving to become a divisive topic in the profession.
“Not that these are not laudable objectives, because they are, and not that lawyers don't occupy a special position, they do, but I think that the real question is: Is this requirement, which I think amounts to compelled speech, compelled belief, is that something that the law society is allowed to do? And even if it is, is it something that the law society should do?” he told the Star.
Groia's motion is being seconded by Ottawa lawyer Anne Vespry, herself a racialized licensee.
“I believe I have a duty to act in a way that does not discriminate, but I do not believe that I have a duty to promote anything except maybe my own business,” Vespry told the Star, adding she will “stand up for this motion and any other motion that will make the recommendations make better sense.”
Both Groia and Vespry were among the 19 benchers who had supported bencher Sidney Troister's unsuccessful motion to discuss and vote on each recommendation separately last December.
“I have been approached by more lawyers and paralegals and asked to reconsider this initiative than I have on any other matter that's been before the law society in my time as a bencher,” Groia said. “Every single person I've spoken to have said ‘we are not opposed to the promotion of equality, we in fact support every effort, what we are opposed to do is being required to prepare a statement of principles that may indeed go against our faith, may go against our beliefs, may go against our conscience.’”
Groia is already locked in another battle with the law society; the Supreme Court of Canada is set to hear on Nov. 6 his appeal of his incivility conviction for being rude in court and one-month suspension imposed by the law society tribunal. More than 3,600 lawyers elected him a bencher in 2015 as his case — which is being closely followed in legal circles — was making its way through the courts.
The working group spent four years looking into challenges faced by racialized licensees, finding them “both long-standing and significant.” It came up with a total of 13 recommendations, three of which, including the statement of principles, are being implemented this year. Another mandatory recommendation requires “legal workplaces” with 10 or more licensees to develop and implement a human rights and diversity policy. The third recommendation, for licensees to participate in an “inclusion survey,” is optional.
The statement of principles “forces people to think about what exactly is their obligation, to understand that they have such an obligation and to think about how they're going to implement it in their own practice,” said lawyer Paul Jonathan Saguil, chair of the law society's equity advisory group. “There's no debate about the fact that people can decide what words to use (in the statement), but to fail to acknowledge that you have an obligation to promote equality and inclusion, if people don't want to do that, if people say they don't have any such obligation, that to me is a serious flaw on their perception of what it means to be a lawyer in the 21st century in Ontario.”
The law society has said change is needed now more than ever, as the number of racialized lawyers in Ontario has doubled — from 9 per cent of the profession in 2011, to 18 per cent in 2014.
Licensees who don't come up with a statement of principles this year will receive a letter indicating their non-compliance, said treasurer Paul Schabas, the elected head of the regulator. Whether they will face penalties in the future remains to be seen.
“We're trying to be positive and proactive,” he told the Star. “Our focus is on raising awareness and achieving the culture shift the working group recommended, which is make people aware of the challenges faced by racialized licensees in getting jobs and advancing in jobs. Our aim is simply to educate and raise awareness, we didn't bring this in to penalize.”
Lawyers challenging part of Law Society of Upper Canada plan to address racism Lawyers challenging part of Law Society of Upper Canada plan to address racism