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    What does living in poverty look like in the GTA today?

    Ask a panel of leaders from United Way anchor agencies around the GTA who deal with poverty on the front lines every day, as the Star recently did, and they don’t lack for descriptions.

    “It looks like a client who comes into a program who has walked four miles because they don’t have TTC fare,” says Axelle Janczur, the executive director of Access Alliance on College St. near Kensington Market. “It’s precarious employment . . . parents who have three or four or five jobs between them, and who are not home for their children.”

    “It looks like being kicked out of the home you’re renting. Not being able to qualify for a mortgage,” says Ginelle Skerritt, executive director of Warden Woods Community Centre in Scarborough. “Poverty, what it looks like at Warden Woods, is racialized. And we notice that the face of poverty is getting younger, with children and youth having the highest rates.”

    It is more spread out across the region than ever before, says Shari Lynn Ladanchuk, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Peel. “Our poverty rates are higher than the provincial and national average, although people still think there is no poverty in Peel region,” she says.

    “I talked to a client yesterday and I asked her what poverty meant to her, and she said poverty is exhausting,” says Elisha Laker, executive director of Family Services York Region. “She came from a family where there were mental health problems . . . she got into an arranged marriage at age 17, she had three kids. That marriage was a disaster with violence. She ended up staying in a motel with her kids because she had an older son so she couldn’t get into a shelter.” That woman is now a school teacher, Laker says. “But talk about the barriers and dilemmas she went through to get to the point she is today, they’re huge.”

    Huge. It’s a word that describes the scope of the situation in Canada’s biggest city, which is growing and changing at a world-beating rate, but remains Canada’s income inequality capital, with housing and rental prices reaching crisis levels of unaffordability, where the job market is increasingly a minefield of precarious part-time and temporary jobs.

    As the largest non-government supporter of social services in the region, the United Way has long confronted the task of trying to understand the huge problem of poverty — and finding new and better ways to deal with it.

    Daniele Zanotti, president and CEO of United Way Toronto and York Region, says the agency’s long record of influential research reports has reshaped its approach in recent years, focusing its work in particular neighbourhoods and opening hubs for service delivery, and sharpening its approach to helping youth.

    “But then last year we transformed how and who we fund,” Zanotti says, by developing “anchor partner” relationships with a list of multi-service agencies, including those represented at this roundtable discussion. “The anchor partners are really working with us on the front line on the community side, and on policy on poverty issues.”

    This includes “the poverty of the belly,” as Zanotti refers to the lack of basic needs such as food, housing and safety, and is also intended to address “poverty of belonging — the cost of not feeling included in a region that is increasingly polarized.”

    The anchor agencies say their approach is shaped by what they see. A young man who needed steel-toe boots for a new job led to the creation of a mini-micro loan program offering loans of $200 to $5,000 at Warden Woods. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Peel has changed its volunteer requirements to remove barriers for those with unconventional job schedules. Family Services York Region runs a high school mentorship program to connect students with incoming Grade 9s to create a “positive peer culture.” At Access Alliance, staff provides interpreters for those navigating the medical system.

    And at every step, says Janczur, the action comes with advocacy. Not just providing tokens, but negotiating with the TTC about the PRESTO card’s future. Not just providing food, but talking to food banks about eligibility for those without documentation.

    “We have to provide individual services, but we also have to address the systemic issues,” she says. “Because we can’t, on an individual basis, fix all the issues. Poverty is a systemic issue, and we have to be addressing the systemic challenges.”

    “I think this idea of ‘working with’ people defines the anchor agencies,” Zanotti says. “This ability to understand where people are at and work with them on the journey.” He says that in the past year, 70,000 people in Toronto and York Region have gotten involved through anchor agencies and hubs, working together on big things like Toronto’s anti-poverty strategy and small things like installing stoplights to make pedestrians safer.

    “We’ve launched a goal to engage 1 million people by 2025 in fighting local poverty. We’re not going to do it by agencies alone, we’re not going to fundraise our way out of it . . . And that means Jane or Jose citizen not only gives us dollars, but they roll up their sleeves and get involved in their community.”

    The others around the table nod and emphasize with that last part — because addressing poverty, they say, is not just about recruiting volunteer labour, it is about building a community for all of its members. It’s what’s needed when income polarization strikes at widespread and isolated neighbourhoods, when so many are detached from extended family and social networks that used to provide a safety net for their members.

    “There’s not a simple solution,” Laker says. “We are our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers. It’s really creating some kind of culture of support, or neighbourhoods of support.”

    Skerritt says this approach informs everything about Warden Woods. “We were looking at it, at some point, as very transactional, but somewhere along the line we learned it is an opportunity for our volunteers to belong, as well. It’s a developmental opportunity. It’s about them building a relationship with others in need in their community.”

    Skerritt tells of a young man who grew up in the highrise towers near Warden Woods in poverty, who for the past five years has run a financial mentoring group for youth in the area — learning about the stock market and raising money for charity.

    “He’s now quite wealthy, but he found his way back to the community,” Skerritt says. “It isn’t just our agency, it isn’t the government, it isn’t the United Way by itself. It’s really us all together can make a contribution. There’s a real exchange of caring. And a real exchange of ideas for our vision for this community.”

    Poverty in the GTA wears many facesPoverty in the GTA wears many faces

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    Jean Yip was a political spouse for a little over three years, right up until last month, when her husband, Liberal MP Arnold Chan, died far too young of cancer at age 50.

    Now Yip has decided to take the full plunge into political life, moving from the sidelines to centre stage. After talking it over with Chan during his final few months, Yip, 49, has decided she would like to be the next MP for Scarborough-Agincourt.

    “It feels right,” Yip said in an interview with me this week.

    Yip doesn’t think many people will be surprised. Right after “how are you?” it was the number one question asked of her during the visitation and funeral for her husband in late September, when hundreds of people were lining up to shake hands with the family.

    “People would say: ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’ and offer their condolences — then they’d wait two seconds and they’d say: ‘Are you running?’ ”

    Many of those people would be Scarborough residents who became accustomed to seeing Yip standing in for her ailing husband over the past year, doing a lot of the canvassing and riding duties Chan was simply too ill to handle as his health deteriorated. Initially diagnosed with a rare form of nasopharyngeal cancer months after becoming an MP in a 2014 byelection, Chan recovered long enough to be elected again in 2015, but succumbed in September to the cancer’s recurrence.

    His final speech to the House in June, in which he implored colleagues to throw away talking points and listen more to each other, was a remarkable moment in the Commons.

    Yip, who was in the spectator seats that day with the couple’s three teenaged sons, says Chan urged everyone to “carry on” after he died. So this is how she’s decided to carry on.

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, also a family friend, spoke at Chan’s funeral and sat beside Yip throughout the service. But she says they haven’t discussed this succession plan, either then or since. She has been consulting with lots of Liberal friends, including some sitting MPs.

    It will be up to Trudeau to declare a byelection date for Scarborough-Agincourt — and before then, a date for the Liberal nomination meeting.

    “No nomination date has been determined as of yet in Scarborough-Agincourt,” said Liberal party spokesperson Braeden Caley, when I asked him this week about the vacancy.

    It wouldn’t be the first time that a spouse has picked up the political torch for a departed MP. The most recent example would be Dona Cadman, who ran and won for the Conservatives in 2008, a few years after the death of her MP husband, Chuck Cadman.

    But being the spouse of the late MP doesn’t always guarantee victory, even in the nomination race. When Liberal MP Shaughnessy Cohen died in 1998, her husband, Jerry, was unsuccessful in his subsequent run for the Liberal nomination in that Windsor-area riding.

    In recent years, Yip’s main work has revolved around the family: working as a Sunday school teacher, a school-lunch supervisor and, of course, at Chan’s side after he became an MP.

    Apparently there are other Liberals interested in taking the seat that Chan once occupied.

    “The Liberal Party of Canada has been approached by a variety of talented potential candidates for Scarborough-Agincourt,” Caley said.

    “All possible supporters in this riding have been emailed to notify them about the vacancy and to encourage them to register new friends, family members and neighbours to participate in the upcoming nomination process.”

    Yip, who was married to Chan for 19 years — she joked that she always knew she came after his first love, politics — said she won’t be a carbon copy of her husband. Chan, who had served as the Liberals’ deputy house leader, had loved the parliamentary aspect of the job, all the procedure and the tradition.

    Yip said that she’s more interested in the constituency work, particularly some projects in Scarborough-Agincourt, such as the Bridletwone Community Hub, and housing issues in general. She was born in Scarborough and has worked and lived in or near the riding in the almost five decades since then. Thanks to her marriage and partnership with Chan, she now sees the riding through a more political lens.

    “I did represent him in the riding a lot, especially in the end,” Yip said. This past summer, as she and her son were knocking on doors, she learned a bit more about the size of shoes she aspires to fill.

    “People really appreciated his work and especially his speech of June 12,” Yip said. “So I guess when I hear the accolades, I feel reassured.”

    She’s pretty sure that Chan would approve of this step she’s taking. “He felt I could do this job and he was willing to support anything I decided.”

    Correction, Oct. 28, 2017:This article was updated from a previous version that misstated the name of the Bridletowne Community Hub and incorrectly stated that Jean Yip had worked at Queen’s Park.

    Jean Yip to vie for late husband Arnold Chan's seatJean Yip to vie for late husband Arnold Chan's seat

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    Toronto City Hall’s council chamber was packed, mainly with angry cab drivers who felt mistreated by the city.

    Tempers boiled as insults flew from the public gallery, and police were in the room standing by in case things escalated.

    You’re a “flip-flopper,” hollered one driver, pointing at a woman who was sitting calmly as she gave her presentation.

    “Bipolar,” accused another, Behrouz Khamseh, chairman of lobby group Taxi Action.

    The woman on the receiving end was Tracey Cook.

    It was April 2016, and Cook, Toronto’s executive director of municipal licensing and standards, had just unveiled a list of reforms to allow renegade ride-sharing Uber to operate its business here.

    Previously, Cook had vehemently opposed Uber and led the charge in 2014 as the city sought an injunction against the company, saying the business was operating illegally in Toronto. That position was at odds with then mayor-elect John Tory, who said the service was “here to stay.”

    But Cook had since “turned a corner” on the issue, and during that raucous council meeting in 2016, she faced the wrath of cabbies who called her out for changing her mind.

    That clash was about Uber. But on another day, it could as easily be about Airbnb or pot dispensaries or food trucks or unlicensed group homes or noise complaints or dog parks. Cook has been at the centre of bitterly contested issues since taking the licensing job in 2012.

    With a staff of 470 working under her, the department enforces more than 30 bylaws. Cook also oversees the drafting of the bylaws and reports to city council on how best to enforce them.

    Cook knows that bylaws sometimes need to change with the times. As a result, she has had to learn how to cajole, wheel and deal and search for common ground between competing groups.

    “I love seeing regulation done right,” says Cook, a 51-year-old former cop. “I like when we can resolve community issues.”

    City Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, who has spent the last eight years on the licensing and standards committee, says Cook is everything a bureaucrat should be.

    “She is charming but doesn’t take crap from anybody,” he says. “She gives you her honest opinion and she has no hidden agenda. That’s really reassuring as a city councillor, because sometimes you do look at the professional staff and you wonder, are they giving me all the information? Are they skewing the information to one side and not the other because of their own personal beliefs?”

    He says Cook has a strong moral compass, and calls it as she sees it.

    As Cook recalls of the Uber decision: “I spent more time and lost more sleep trying to think through what do we need to change for the taxi industry so it can compete.”

    But in the centre of that storm, it was her tough exterior, burnished during nearly 19 years as a Toronto police officer, that got her through another working day.

    Tough situations are nothing new to Cook, who was raised in a tumultuous family home in Scarborough. “When I was a kid growing up, there was a lot of stuff,” she says, her voice cracking several times during an interview at her 16th-floor office at city hall.

    As an infant, Cook was placed in a foster home and adopted shortly afterward by Joyce and Douglas Cook, whom she considers her parents. After Tracey, the Cooks adopted another child, a boy the same age, who is not Tracey’s biological sibling.

    Doug and Joyce divorced when the kids were 6, and Tracey almost never saw her dad for the next 11 years.

    During that time her relationship with her mom became increasingly rocky.

    Her mother’s temper was severe and she flew into inexplicable rages, Cook recalls. “There were a number of times I had to call the police because my mother would get into it with my brother. Once she threw hot water on my brother.”

    Joyce also spent days in bed in dark funks.

    Cook’s brother abused drugs and alcohol and had multiple run-ins with the law. He now lives in a long-term-care facility due to a car accident and is under the supervision of the Public Guardian and Trustee.

    As a single mom, Joyce worked to pay the mortgage and feed the family — which grew to include Joyce’s disabled brother — and she often held several jobs at once.

    Despite the turmoil at home, Cook loved school and was a good student at David and Mary Thomson Collegiate. She played soccer and was involved in other activities at the Scarborough school. She wanted to help people and likes rules, she says. So after Grade 12, she applied to be a cadet with the Toronto police.

    Though she was estranged from her father, she was following in his footsteps. He was a Toronto cop.

    And as fate would have it, his job led to a reunion with his son and daughter shortly after Cook applied to the police service.

    Her brother landed in trouble and had to appear in court, where his father was a sergeant on duty. The two reconnected, and soon after, so did Tracey with her dad.

    Cook told her father she had applied to be a cadet, and he suggested she move in with him and his new wife while going through the hiring process. He wanted her in a more stable home while she was applying to join the force.

    She took his advice, and on June 4, 1984, Cook was hired as a cadet, a program, since disbanded, in which civilians trained to be police officers.

    “I’m 18 years old, in a cadet uniform, serving summonses in Regent Park in an unmarked (Dodge) Omni,” she recalls fondly.

    She went through her training at police college in Toronto, and in 1987 was sworn in as a constable.

    Her 18 and a half years on the job would include investigating youth crime, child sexual abuse and gangs, and eventually working as a detective on fraud cases.

    Early on, she had to go undercover on street corners as a prostitute during downtown “john sweeps.”

    “I was the world’s worst hooker,” she recalls with a big laugh. “I was so not good at it. I didn’t make a lot of arrests.”

    During these early days on the force, Cook was also coping with problems at her mom’s home, which Cook had purchased after her mother had trouble carrying the mortgage.

    Cook remembers an incident from her mid-20s. She was living upstairs while her mother and uncle shared the basement.

    It was a long weekend, around 11 p.m., and her brother showed up at the front door, high on crack.

    “He wanted to barge his way in — I knew that wouldn’t be good,” Cook recalls.

    She stopped him at the door. Meanwhile, a neighbour came over to intervene. He got into a full-scale brawl with Cook’s brother, who he didn’t know. Cook, dressed in her pajamas, got caught in the fray.

    Police were called. Her brother was arrested at the scene. The neighbour was bleeding from punches to the face. Cook also got hit.

    Joyce went to Scarborough to bail her son out. Upon her return, she verbally attacked her daughter.

    “I was cutting the grass,” Cook remembers. “She just started on me that it was all my fault.”

    Her mother told her words to the effect of “you turned a simple issue into a street brawl — how dare you. I’ve been sitting on a hard bench all day in court.”

    Years later, in 1999, as Joyce lay dying in hospital from liver cancer, Cook would come to understand her mother’s behaviour. After speaking to her mom’s friends and doctors, she concluded her mom suffered from a mental disorder.

    Despite the wounds she carried deep inside, Cook was thriving in her career.

    In 2002, a few years after her mom died, Cook had left behind the world of policing to become director of security in Canada for Coca-Cola. She did that for seven years, followed by a stint as a vice-president of Securitas Security Services.

    She would later see a posting on the City of Toronto’s website for the licensing position and decided to apply. Senior city managers liked her mix of experience in law enforcement and private sector management. She started in January 2012.

    Cook now admits that when she began she wasn’t familiar with all the responsibilities of the job.

    One of her first big challenges was food carts.

    The city sought to amend its bylaws to allow for more and more varied food trucks and carts while balancing the interests of established restaurants. But when the restaurant industry wanted no food truck within 250 metres of a restaurant, “I said ‘that’s not happening,’ ” Cook recalls.

    Reforms in 2014 required that no food truck operate within 50 metres of an open restaurant. The next year that dropped to 30 metres.

    But she did have a blind spot when it came to dealing with another file — Uber, particularly UberX, a ride-hailing service she admits she “never saw coming” when it launched in Toronto in September 2014.

    “The day UberX launched, I said, what the hell is this? . . . I don’t think at that point I’d ever heard a damn thing” about it, she says, chuckling at herself.

    Her “awakening” on Uber came in the spring of 2015 during a session she attended at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce where the topic of the “sharing economy” was discussed.

    “I’m like ‘the sharing what?’” Cook says. But “I started to see what was happening. Airbnb was bubbling up … and I realized the mayor (Tory) wasn’t wrong. He clearly knew what was going on, what was coming. I think that’s where I turned a corner and said we have to look at this differently.”

    The city still pursued its injunction against Uber, arguing it was a taxi company violating city bylaws. Uber won in Superior Court in 2015, when a judge ruled there was no evidence the company was a taxi broker that violated Toronto’s rules.

    Uber had argued it is a technology-based communications service linking passengers and drivers, therefore not subject to the bylaws.

    Uber and the city later agreed to play ball, and Cook came to council last year with her reforms. UberX was licensed in the city on Aug. 16, 2016.

    Looking back, Cook says she doesn’t condone the fact that Uber was initially “flouting” the city’s rules but now understands the company’s strategy. “They pushed the envelope to have the dialogue and (the public) embraced it hard.”

    She believes “a pretty decent balance” has been struck. “We had to remove some of the overregulation,” she says.

    The changes include rules ending the requirement for taxi drivers to take city-run training programs, the addition of 30 cents for UberX trips, and regular inspections for both Uber and taxis.

    Currently 49,585 UberX drivers are licensed by the city, compared to 5,500 taxis, and 17,500 individuals licensed to drive taxis or limos.

    Since her awakening of sorts on the sharing economy, Cook has been speaking at tech conferences recently, about government’s role in embracing innovation, balanced with responsibilities to the public.

    Still, her critics in the taxi industry remain.

    “She has disappointed the cab industry big time,” says Sajid Mughal, president of the iTaxiworkers Association of Ontario, a lobby group representing Toronto’s cab drivers.

    Khamseh, the chairman of Taxi Action who called her bipolar last year in council chambers, says he still holds that view given her about-face.

    “She did everything she could to accommodate Uber to stay here.”

    Cook’s detractors notwithstanding, Josie Scioli, a deputy city manager for Toronto, says that since taking over as head of licensing, Cook has “been able to win a lot of hearts” at the city.

    It’s because she’s a team builder, breaks down “silos” in different departments, and is very focused, Scioli says. The two have co-operated closely and become work friends.

    “Tracey never feels sorry for herself, believes anything is possible and advocates for everybody. Her (upbringing) may have been difficult, but those steps were important,” says Scioli, who calls Cook a “great leader for the city.”

    Toronto police Insp. Joanna Beaven-Desjardins, who leads 42 Division and has been close with Cook since they did their police training together in 1987, says Cook’s blend of law-enforcement knowledge and the skills she learned in private security make her an ideal fit in her role.

    “The relationships she builds are really helping the Toronto police and the City of Toronto,” says Beaven-Desjardins.

    Beaven-Desjardins cites an anti-human trafficking project launched about 18 months ago when Beaven-Desjardins was commanding Toronto’s sex crimes unit. One area the unit tackled was unlicensed holistic spas and illegal massage parlours.

    Beaven-Desjardins’ unit and Cook’s licensing team brought together police, bylaw officers and community services for victims of the sex trade, and educated everyone on the laws and how to get help for victims.

    Last year, Beaven-Desjardins launched a similar project at 42 Division and brought Cook and her team in to help.

    “She’s a genuine, generous, caring person. She puts herself last in everything,” Beaven-Desjardins says. “Everything she’s accomplished she’s had to work for.”

    Cook now earns $220,000 a year, and lives with her husband, Frank, in a comfortable house in Don Mills. Frank has four adult children from a previous relationship — Cook has no children of her own — and the couple enjoys hanging out with their six grandchildren, all boys. In her spare time, she’s pursuing an executive MBA through Queen’s.

    The next potential clash on the horizon for Cook is licensing and standards for Airbnb expected in mid-November. The city is trying to balance the desire of homeowners to make some rental income with the needs of other homeowners and residents who don’t want to “live next door to a hotel,” Cook says.

    Key to this discussion is concern about Airbnb’s impact on the availability of long-term rental housing in Toronto, and the city’s “significant affordable housing shortage,” Cook says.

    In addition, marijuana and its legalization next year has kept her team busy. Her department has been chasing after illegal storefront operators — unnecessarily so, some critics say.

    It’s all part of a job she loves. It’s a complex and sometimes thankless task, but as verbal abuse on that emotional April day at city council reminded her, “it’s never boring.”

    This  woman may have the toughest job in TorontoThis woman may have the toughest job in Toronto

    This  woman may have the toughest job in TorontoThis woman may have the toughest job in Toronto

    This  woman may have the toughest job in TorontoThis woman may have the toughest job in Toronto

    This  woman may have the toughest job in TorontoThis woman may have the toughest job in Toronto

    This  woman may have the toughest job in TorontoThis woman may have the toughest job in Toronto

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    MOGADISHU, SOMALIA—A suicide truck bomb exploded outside a popular hotel in Somalia’s capital on Saturday, killing at least 23 people and wounding more than 30, and gunfire continued as security forces pursued other attackers inside the building, police said. Two more blasts were heard, one when an attacker detonated a suicide vest.

    Speaking to The Associated Press by telephone from the scene, Capt. Mohamed Hussein said 30 people, including a government minister, were rescued from the Nasa-Hablod hotel as heavy gunfire continued in the standoff between extremists and security forces. Three of the five attackers were killed, Hussein said. The others hurled grenades and cut off the building’s electricity as night fell.

    Saturday’s blasts came two weeks after more than 350 people were killed in a massive truck bombing on a busy Mogadishu street in the country’s worst-ever attack.

    Read more:

    Death toll from Somalia bombing rises to 358 as ‘state of war’ planned against extremist group

    Al-Shabab, Africa’s deadliest Islamic extremist group, quickly claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack and said its fighters were inside the hotel.

    Among the dead were a mother and three children, including a baby, all shot in the head, Hussein said. Other victims included a senior Somali police colonel, a former lawmaker and a former government minister. Footage from the scene showed twisted vehicles and nearby buildings with only walls left standing.

    Mohamed Dek Haji said he survived the bombing as he walked beside a parked car that was largely destroyed by the explosion. He said he saw at least three armed men in military uniforms running toward the hotel after the bombing at its gate.

    “I think they were al-Shabab fighters who were trying to storm the hotel,” he said, lying on a hospital bed. He suffered small injuries on his shoulder and skull from flying glass.

    Witnesses in some previous attacks have said al-Shabab fighters disguised themselves by wearing military uniforms.

    Security officials say Saturday’s bomber had pretended his truck had broken down outside the gate. Police Col. Mohamed Abdullahi says the bomber stopped outside the heavily fortified hotel and pretended to repair the truck before finally turning it around and detonating.

    Al-Shabab often targets high-profile areas of Mogadishu. It has not commented on the massive attack two weeks ago; experts have said the death toll was so high that the group hesitated to further anger Somali citizens as its pursues its insurgency.

    Since the blast two weeks ago, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has visited regional countries to seek more support for the fight against the extremist group, vowing a “state of war.” He also faces the challenge of pulling together regional powers inside his long-fractured country, where the federal government is only now trying to assert itself beyond Mogadishu and other major cities.

    A 22,000-strong multinational African Union force in Somalia is expected to withdraw its forces and hand over the country’s security to the Somali military by the end of 2020. U.S. military officials and others in recent months have expressed concern that Somali forces are not yet ready.

    The U.S. military also has stepped up military efforts against al-Shabab this year in Somalia, carrying out nearly 20 drone strikes, as the global war on extremism moves deeper in the African continent.

    23 dead, more than 30 wounded in Mogadishu hotel explosion23 dead, more than 30 wounded in Mogadishu hotel explosion

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    CALGARY—WestJet says computer problems have caused delays for dozens of its flights.

    The Calgary-based airline said Saturday on social media that “a significant IT outage” has affected numerous systems, including check-in and reservations systems and its contact centre.

    By the afternoon, it said it was making progress in partially restoring some systems, but that phone lines in its contact centre and operations control centre were still affected.

    WestJet says approximately 50 to 60 flights have been delayed anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.

    It says further delays are expected and cancellations are a possibility.

    The airline is asking passengers to check their flight status online before heading to the airport.

    WestJet warns of possible flight cancellations after IT issues cause delaysWestJet warns of possible flight cancellations after IT issues cause delays

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    The leaves are still turning colour — rather late this year — but in a matter of weeks, we will be turning to the weather gurus asking, “Will it be a white Christmas?”

    Whether those who celebrate Christmas — the world’s most celebrated festival — do so for religious or spiritual reasons, or cultural ones, there is a common thread that weaves through them all, and that is the spirit of giving. Giving of love, giving of themselves and, yes, giving of things, too. It’s with children that the motivation to give is at its purest — we give with expectation of nothing in return.

    In many parts of the world, including this one, there is one giver-in-chief: Santa Claus.

    Is he real, my kids pester me throughout the year. Santa exists if you believe he does, he doesn’t if you believe he doesn’t — that’s the line I use with them, and I’m sticking to it.

    How quickly they’ve gone from strewing carrots and sparkles on the lawn for Rudolph, to checking if the stones by the fireplace were displaced Christmas Day, to asking, “Is Santa’s workshop in Costco?” Thank goodness for NORAD’s online Santa tracker — visuals still carry weight.

    Santa has one job, it’s true, but it’s a big one and, sometimes, he needs a bit of help.

    For more than a century, Father Christmas’s deliveries to millions of children in Toronto have borne the watermark of your generosity.

    As we kick off the 2017 Santa Claus Fund, let’s think of the children in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Pickering and Ajax, habituated to making do, used to going without, who will wonder if Santa will remember them this year. Hopefully, thousands will find he did, and that, too, will be thanks to you.

    “It is a sad fact that in 2017 child poverty remains a serious problem in the Greater Toronto Area,” said John Boynton, president of Torstar and publisher of the Star. “The need to help bring a bit of joy to these children is as great as ever. I urge our readers and residents across the GTA, who have been extremely generous in the past, to help. It’s a great way to be part of a community, part of a neighbourhood, and to see that no child goes wanting at Christmas.”

    In this city, Canada’s child poverty capital, about one in three kids live in a state of impoverishment.

    Perhaps Santa is on your own naughty list, if you think what he represents is not Christmas but the commercialization of it. Sure. That’s an excellent reason to not spend more money on people who have everything, but to share with those who have little.

    Perhaps the old man isn’t really part of your culture. I get that. He wasn’t part of mine, either, while I was growing up. But poverty hurts children of all faiths, and giving doesn’t discriminate: the children receiving the gifts come from a variety of backgrounds. As a Nigerian proverb goes, “It is the heart that does the giving; the fingers only let go.”

    Back in 1906, the Star’s original publisher, Joseph E. Atkinson, himself no stranger to childhood poverty, launched the Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund, appealing to readers, “. . . whatever contributions made may be expended in bringing pleasure to little hearts where pleasure is most seldom felt.” Readers raised $150 and more than 300 children received warm woollen stockings, candies, nuts — believe it or not, this was once OK — raisins, biscuits, oranges, crackers, toys, games, dolls and squeaking animals.

    This year, the goal is to raise $1.7 million and buy presents for 45,000 children. Their gift boxes will combine practical stuff with fun: a sweatshirt, socks, toque and warm gloves, a book, a toothbrushing kit, cookies and a toy. It could be a snakes and ladders game or a crystal growing kit, depending on the age of the recipient. (The gifts are not separated by gender.) Every single dollar raised goes toward the cost of the gifts.

    In 1906, the gifts were packed at Little Trinity Anglican Church and delivered by horse-drawn sleighs to missions across the city. Nowadays, it’s an army of hundreds of volunteers who pack the gifts in a warehouse and drop them off on foot, by car, by bus, by train.

    That the Santa Claus Fund, now in its 112th year, has weathered world wars, major depressions, recessions and turmoil is a testament to the mettle of Star readers who give and keep on giving.

    Time and again, the extended Toronto Star family has used this noble tradition to demonstrate that we are in this together.

    Let’s do it again. Let’s help everybody feel they belong.

    If you have been touched by the Santa Claus Fund or have a story to tell, please email Click here to donate now.

    45,000 children relying on Star readers’ goodwill this Christmas45,000 children relying on Star readers’ goodwill this Christmas

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    A B.C. court has approved a class-action lawsuit against Mac’s Convenience Stores and three immigration consulting firms by migrant workers who say they paid thousands of dollars for jobs in Canada that did not materialize.

    The four lead plaintiffs — two each from Nepal and the Philippines — allege that Mac’s and the consulting firms had promised them jobs but failed to deliver, and that the consulting companies “unlawfully” collected recruitment fees from them.

    Mac’s and the consulting firms say the job positions were not guaranteed and the fees were not for job placement but for assistance with the immigration and settlement process.

    The court’s decision let the lawsuit proceed “is significant as it means that workers recruited abroad to work in Canada and who have paid recruitment fees, or whose contracts of employment have not been honoured by Canadian employers, or who have otherwise had their rights infringed, have an effective means of seeking redress,” said Charles Gordon, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs.

    “Acting individually, legal action is not feasible for such workers. By allowing them to act collectively as a class, the court has provided them a means of seeking justice.”

    All three immigration companies named in the lawsuit — Overseas Immigration Services, Overseas Career and Consulting Services (OCCS), and Trident Immigration — are alleged by the claimants to be controlled by Surrey, B.C. man Kuldeep Bansal, a licensed consultant with the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council.

    According to the statement of claim, the lead plaintiffs were all recruited in job fairs held in Dubai and paid around $8,000 in fees in exchange for the promise of a job in Canada.

    Typically, they paid $2,000 in cash in Dubai to get the process started and then the balance of payment after they received an employment offer from Mac’s and a positive labour market assessment approval for their visa to Canada, according to the claim.

    Under Canadian laws, employers are permitted to hire third-party representatives to recruit foreign workers but they must pay for all fees associated with the service and cannot download the costs to workers. Recruiters are also prohibited from charging workers fees for job placement.

    Two of the workers’ contracts with Mac’s included a term that said Mac’s would assume the cost of transportation from the Middle East to Alberta and back to their home countries, according to the lawsuit.

    The lead plaintiffs say they received a visa to Canada and were issued work permits upon arrival. However, they say there was no job for them at Mac’s when they got here.

    None of the allegations have been proven in court. No statement of defence has yet been filed by Mac’s or the consulting firms.

    Counsel for the consulting firms didn’t responded to the Star’s request for comment for this article. Mac’s declined to comment.

    According to the B.C. court decision’s summary of the defendants’ submission, Mac’s started using Overseas Career and Consulting Services, a licensed employment agency in B.C., in 2012 to assist in recruiting foreign workers in parts of Western Canada. It agreed to pay the employment agency a success fee for every worker that was hired.

    In its submission, Mac’s said it never authorized any party, including OCCS, to charge or collect any payments from migrant workers, directly or indirectly. Neither has Mac’s ever collected or received any such payment from workers, it said.

    The company said its labour needs were changing constantly and it only executed employment contracts when positions were available. There was always a possibility that the position would no longer be available by the time the temporary foreign worker candidates’ visas, work permits, and travel arrangements could be finalized.

    Mac’s also said it understood OCCS did not charge candidates fees for securing jobs, but did charge them fees relating to assisting them with processing immigration documents and navigating the immigration process, which Mac’s said it had no involvement in.

    The consulting firms said in their court submission that they did not collect any fees for job recruitment but for immigration and settlement services for the workers.

    In June, a parliamentary standing committee recommended an overhaul of the regulations of immigration consultants, but the Liberal government has yet to act on the recommendations, said NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan.

    “The current system we have is broken,” said Kwan. “It is time to take action.”

    B.C. court approves migrant workers' class-action lawsuit against Mac’s Convenience StoresB.C. court approves migrant workers' class-action lawsuit against Mac’s Convenience Stores

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    COBOURG, Ont.—A place intended for healing became a scene of violence and trauma when two rounds of gunfire erupted in a hospital emergency room, killing an elderly married couple and leaving other patients fearing for their lives.

    Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit said details of the shooting at the Northumberland Hills Hospital were still emerging as two separate investigations comb the scene for answers.

    Early details from police and witnesses paint a chaotic picture that has left this community, about an hour outside Toronto, reeling.

    An SIU spokeperson, Jason Gennaro, said a 70-year-old man and 76-year-old woman, who were married to each other and lived within an hour of Cobourg, were both admitted to the hospital’s emergency room late Friday night with unknown ailments.

    About 11 p.m., Gennaro said police were called to the scene after receiving reports that shots had been fired in the triage room where both the man and the woman were lying side by side on gurneys.

    Grace Andrews, 27, was sitting in an adjoining room receiving treatment for a herniated disc when the violence began.

    She heard a loud bang and initially believed a nurse had knocked over a table, but soon heard people screaming for help and calling 911.

    Moments later, as she observed police storming in, a volley of gunfire that she mistakenly believed came from automatic weapons sent her companions and other patients scurrying for cover.

    “We barricaded ourselves in the room,” she said. “We were just sitting in this room with gunfire. And because it sounds like automatic weapons, you don’t assume that a police officer has something like that. You just assume that there’s someone in the hospital just shooting the place up. We were basically just sitting in this little box waiting for someone to come in and shoot us.”

    Eventually, Andrews spoke to other patients who she said told her the man had shot the woman in the head.

    Gennaro, however, would not confirm this account, saying only that the woman suffered from a head wound and that the source of her injury was still under investigation.

    “We’re not confirming one way or the other whether or not this man had a firearm or whether he discharged a firearm,” Gennaro said.

    Shortly after arriving on the scene, the SIU said two police officers had an interaction with the man resulting in both firing their weapons.

    Their shots hit the man, who was declared dead at the scene.

    Gennaro said Ontario Provincial Police is handling inquiries into the woman’s death, while the SIU itself probes the death of the man. The watchdog is an arm’s-length agency that investigates incidents in which someone is killed, injured or accused of sexual assault.

    Provincial police declined to offer further comment on its role. Gennaro said the SIU wouldn’t release the names of the man or woman, as the unit didn’t get consent from next of kin.

    The shootings temporarily closed the emergency department of the hospital while police combed the scene for evidence. Gennaro said the investigation includes searching for shell casings to determine how many shots were fired.

    Emergency patients were directed to neighbouring hospitals for several hours before the facility resumed its regular operations about 9:30 a.m. Saturday.

    Hospital chief of staff Mukesh Bhargava said he’s spent the day reaching out to those who witnessed the shooting and trying to support the staff.

    “Of course people are shaken up, this isn’t something that happens in our town,” he said. “Everybody’s shaken up, but they’re handling it really well.”

    Andrews, who received a call from Bhargava on Saturday, praised the staff’s calm and efficient response to the crisis. But she said the event was traumatic for her personally as well as the community as a whole.

    “It’s not something you’d expect to happen in a hospital,” she said. “That’s a place you go to get help. Everyone who works there, they want to save lives. And then there’s people getting shot in the head.”

    With files from Emma McIntosh

    Police shoot man after 70-year-old’s wife is killed inside Cobourg hospital ERPolice shoot man after 70-year-old’s wife is killed inside Cobourg hospital ERPolice shoot man after 70-year-old’s wife is killed inside Cobourg hospital ERPolice shoot man after 70-year-old’s wife is killed inside Cobourg hospital ER

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    A husband and wife enslave a homeless couple, routinely subjecting them to beatings and verbal abuse. They take their newborn baby and claim him as their own. The woman manages to leave after four years, abandoning her son, but her former partner remains captive for more than two decades, sleeping in a dirty basement, eating dog food, his teeth rotting.

    These are just some of the allegations made over the last several weeks in an extraordinary trial playing out in a downtown Toronto courtroom.

    The sordid tale began in the late 1980s, after the couple found a man scrounging for food in a dumpster. They befriended him and his common-law wife, helping them find a home. That friendship, the prosecution alleges, turned to something much darker as the husband and his wife took advantage of the vulnerable couple, stealing their government disability cheques. They then allegedly took the couple’s first-born son, lying on hospital records so he would appear to be theirs.

    For more than two decades, the boy’s biological dad lived in the basement like a prisoner, where he was often beaten, sometimes so badly he recalls filling the toilet bowl with blood that poured from his nose, according to his testimony in court.

    “They threatened me to be there,” the man told court.

    “They said, if you ever try to leave, that we’d put you in a mental institution. And I didn’t want that so I didn’t leave.”

    He finally did leave, though, in 2012, when he was told to get into a waiting car and convinced to leave by the boy who at the time knew him as Tim, the man who lived in his basement.

    It was not until a recent paternity test that the boy, now 28 years old, learned there is a 90-per-cent chance that Tim is his biological father.

    The alleged captors, Gary Willett Sr. and his wife, Maria, are facing multiple charges. Willett Sr. is charged with forcible confinement and assault of the man to whom he allegedly didn’t provide the necessaries of life for nearly 25 years, as well as theft over $5,000 and abduction of a child under the age of 14.

    Willett Sr.’s case is ongoing. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges he is facing and lawyers for the prosecution and defence will be submitting their closing statements in the coming weeks.

    His wife, Maria Willett, is facing similar charges, as well as being accused of the assault of some children in her care. (The Willetts had as many as eight children living with them at points during the last two decades.)

    She is not being tried alongside her husband. According to her lawyer, Daniel Kayfetz, she is currently being examined by a court-appointed specialist to determine if she is medically fit to stand trial. “Anything that’s said about her has not been tested by cross-examination or by presentation of defence evidence,” Kayfetz said when reached by the Star.

    Testifying in court earlier this month, Willett Sr. said he could not control the once-homeless man he had only ever tried to help. That man, he said, was an independent adult who made his own decisions and willingly gave up his son.

    While defending his client, Willett Sr.’s lawyer, Sam Goldstein, gave examples of his client taking the children to specialist appointments and providing them with healthy meals. The allegations, Goldstein argued, are retaliation from the children for perceived childhood wrongs.

    The story came to a dramatic climax just three years ago, when a 24-year-old woman got a 4 a.m. phone call.

    The Star has reviewed weeks of court testimony in the trial of Gary Willett Sr. and the following chronology is based on witness accounts as well as evidence filed with the courts and additional interviews with six family members.

    The name of the man the Willetts allegedly abused for years is Tim Goldrick. The name of the woman, his ex-partner, is Barbara Bennett. Both are now 56. They both have unspecified intellectual disabilities. Bennett told the Star she is a “slow learner” and was in a special education program as a child. Goldrick agreed on the stand that he’s had “intellectual issues” in his life.

    Both testified at the trial.

    The Willetts’ alleged crimes against Goldrick and Bennett began in the late ’80s and migrated from basement apartments in downtown Toronto and East York, to a delivery room at Toronto East General Hospital, to crowded homes in Etobicoke.

    The first time Goldrick met the Willetts, he was searching in the garbage for food behind their apartment building in downtown Toronto, where Willett Sr. worked as a superintendent.

    The Willetts offered him and Bennett food, he said. Then, a place to stay.

    At the time, Goldrick and Bennett were romantic partners and homeless. The couple, who both grew up in Oakville, received monthly cheques from Ontario’s Disability Support Program.

    The Willetts had been married for about one year. Willett Sr., now 50, told court he was held back in school because of reading and spelling difficulties and dropped out in Grade 8.

    He met his wife, Maria, who has a Grade 3 education, when he was 16. She is 11 years his senior and already had two children from previous relationships. The Willetts, too, received monthly disability cheques, Willett Sr. testified.

    The Willetts found Goldrick and Bennett a basement apartment in their building, Goldrick said on the stand.

    Testifying in his defence, Willett Sr. said he helped Bennett and Goldrick in those early months of their relationship. Goldrick continued to pick through dumpsters, and his clothes would “really smell bad.” They were threatened by their landlord with eviction. When he and Maria moved to a building in the city’s east end, Willett Sr. said he found a unit there for the couple.

    That year, Bennett got pregnant with Goldrick’s baby. And on Sept. 2, 1989, she went to Toronto East General Hospital to deliver.

    There, Maria Willett filled out all the relevant paperwork. She gave her own health card to Bennett and told her to use it, according to Bennett’s testimony. Willett Sr. testified that his wife was never at the hospital.

    The baby’s birth certificate lists Gary Willett Sr. and Maria Willett as his parents. The couple named him Gary Willett Jr. — and today he is known as Junior.

    Bennett told the prosecutor in the case that she felt “not very good” about using Maria Willett’s health card but that she didn’t tell the Willetts that.

    “I figured if I didn’t (use Maria’s card) I’d probably get hit,” she said, adding, “At that time, I didn’t know if it was wrong or not.”

    At one point during her testimony, her voice barely audible at points, Bennett suggested that going home with her baby while Maria took over as his parent wasn’t a terrible arrangement.

    “We were all living together . . . It’s not like I was away at a totally different address that they’d be going to. I’d still be there,” she said.

    Willett Sr. testified Goldrick and Bennett came up to his apartment and asked him and his wife to take the baby.

    The Willetts were familiar with how adoption worked — they’d adopted two other children around the same time. But when it came to Willett Jr. they presented the child as theirs.

    Maria’s sister-in-law had questions about the sudden appearance of the Willetts’ newborn. In court she recalled a conversation she had with her husband at the time:

    “I said, OK, this does not make sense. Because where is Barb’s baby? Where is Barb’s baby? She was the one pregnant,” she remembers saying.

    But she didn’t press the issue, worried that it would be rude to ask.

    Shortly after Gary Willett Jr.’s birth, the Willetts moved twice with Goldrick and Bennett to two different houses in North York.

    According to the prosecution’s opening statement, some physical abuse began prior to moving into the second North York home. But the brunt of the emotional, physical and verbal abuse began there.

    During her time on the stand, Bennett recalled being slapped and hit, particularly if she didn’t clean the house properly or if the kids made a mess.

    “I would get hit and get told to do it again. Clean it up. Clean up the mess,” she said, adding, “I would get slapped. In the face . . . Three or four (slaps) depending on how mad she was.”

    Maria Willett’s sister-in-law said Bennett was treated like “a slave.” Willett Jr. later added that Goldrick was treated like a “slave-type maid” during his many years with the family.

    Bennett became pregnant again in 1993. This time, a brother of Willett Sr.’s was the father, according to a family tree filed as an exhibit in court.

    She gave birth to a baby girl. The baby girl was named Billie-Jean and she kept her as her own.

    When Billie-Jean was only a few months old, Bennett decided she had to leave the house.

    When asked by the prosecution why she left, Bennett said it was because she was getting hit all the time and that the Willetts were smoking hash.

    “(Billie-Jean) was a baby and I didn’t want her around it,” she said, adding that she was able to leave the situation with the help of her own mother.

    Bennett left with Billie-Jean, leaving Willett Jr., her toddler son, behind. She would not see or speak to him again for more than 20 years.

    Until they met again in the parking lot of a Toronto police station.

    Following the departure of Bennett and Billie-Jean, the Willetts moved again, to a bungalow in Etobicoke.

    At this house, Gary Willett Sr. put up seven cameras outside and inside. One captured the fridge.

    During the trial, Willett Sr. admitted that he would watch the camera footage from a basement office.

    For the next 12 years, Goldrick lived in a tiny space in the basement of the home: a hallway between rooms with a single box spring mattress. A police officer testifying at the trial described the entire house as “very cluttered and dirty.”

    The prosecutor in the case said Goldrick was allowed to leave the home only to complete tasks like buying groceries or shovelling the snow in the winter. He had to give them all of the roughly $900 he received a month.

    Sometimes he was kicked, hit and punched in the ribs, chest and head for reasons he did not understand.

    “Sometimes, while I was sleeping, Gary (Sr.) would come in and hit me for no reason, and I’d wake up and I wondered why he did this. But I never found out why,” Goldrick said on the stand, adding that he would also be beaten for taking food without permission.

    He testified that he wasn’t allowed to go into the fridge to get food, and ate dog food “quite a few times” because of it. When he was living with the Willetts, he said, he weighed 106 pounds. He currently weighs 230 pounds. He is six foot two.

    When the beatings happened, they could last up to 10 minutes, said Goldrick, recalling being hunched over a toilet while it filled with blood that poured from his nose.

    Gary Willett Jr. recalled an incident growing up when he saw Goldrick coughing up blood but Goldrick told him not to tell anyone. Willett Jr. also testified that Willett Sr. hit him.

    During his testimony, Willett Sr. again said the facts were more complicated. He testified that he used Goldrick’s disability cheque to pay rent and provide food. And that he left Goldrick with some extra money.

    He said that when Goldrick ate dog food he told him it was “unhealthy” and added “he was a grown adult.” He admitted to calling him “stupid,” “dumb” and “retard,” but said that Goldrick would curse back. He said he never hit or confined him.

    After Goldrick left the home in 2012, he went to the dentist. He was missing teeth in his top and bottom arches, with others broken, riddled with cavities and infections. He had severe bone loss, exposing more than 50 per cent of his teeth’s roots, according to the dentist’s testimony.

    On the stand, Gary Jr. also recounted his own memories for those years. The many hurdles and challenges that he faced growing up were also addressed in court.

    He saw multiple doctors, who prescribed him Ritalin and other drugs. He attended a centre for behavioural issues and was assessed by the Toronto District School Board for whether he should be placed in special education programs.

    Gary Jr. was suspended multiple times and attended substance abuse counselling. He did not graduate from high school.

    For a few years after leaving school, Willett Jr. lived away from the Willett home, mostly in Sudbury.

    When he came back in 2012, he lasted only a few weeks.

    There was a fight and he left for good, he said. After that, he began to reach out to family members, who told him they suspected that Goldrick could be his father.

    “(The Willetts) denied it, and handed me a baby book, and said I was theirs,” Willett Jr. said on the stand.

    Over the course of the next year, Gary Jr. grappled with the possibility that his life was a lie.

    Then one day, while driving with a childhood friend, he spotted Goldrick walking on the sidewalk. Aware of the horrible conditions that Goldrick was returning to, they stopped the car.

    “And we said, ‘Listen, Tim, if you want out and you want a better life, then you come with us now,’” Willett Jr. said on the stand.

    Goldrick was scared. He started shaking. He didn’t know what to do.

    “I just told him, ‘Tim, this is the time,’” the friend testified.

    “And I told him, like, ‘I need to go. I’m in the middle of Islington Road with my four-ways on. It’s either now or never.’ And he got in the car.”

    It was 4 in the morning on a Wednesday in 2014 when Billie-Jean Bennett heard the phone ring.

    A man on the other end of the line introduced himself as one of Maria Willett’s biological sons. He told her about the brother she never knew existed.

    Billie-Jean recounted the moment to the Star in an interview.

    It had been two years since Goldrick left the Willetts and in that time Maria’s son had pieced together what happened.

    He wanted Billie-Jean’s mother, Barbara Bennett, after more than two decades, to come forward with what happened.

    Billie-Jean was shocked. She knew nothing about what her mother went through. She didn’t know who her biological father was, let alone that she had a big brother.

    “When I first heard it at four in the morning, I didn’t quite believe it. I had to hear it out of my mom’s mouth,” she said.

    Billie-Jean, now 24, has a strong bond with her mother. She spoke about her kindness, her devotion and her famous chicken melts — made with English muffins, chicken, peas and tomatoes.

    “My mom was always there for me,” she said.

    Mere weeks after receiving the early-morning phone call, Billie-Jean graduated from college. Around that time she and her mother met Gary Willett Jr. in a Toronto police parking lot, after more than two decades apart. Barbara Bennett was there to give a statement to police.

    The revelations have been shocking for Billie-Jean, but she says ultimately she is glad she knows the truth.

    As for Willett Jr., the news has been devastating.

    “This has wrecked my life,” he said in an interview with the Star, adding Willett Sr. was never a father figure and Maria was never a loving mother.

    “They said ‘I love you’ every night, but if you hit me, if you continuously slap me, I don’t believe it,” Willett Jr. said.

    Willett Sr. denied hitting the children.

    “I don’t know if I will be able to reconcile with my kids over this, and that’s the saddest part of it all.”

    Today, Gary Jr. lives with Goldrick, his biological dad, in an Etobicoke apartment. Weightlifting equipment sits in the dining room and a corn snake was curled up in a tank in the living room near a leather sectional. He works in demolition.

    Despite the DNA test on Goldrick, Willett Jr. says he hasn’t come to terms with his parentage. He no longer speaks to his biological mother, Bennett, he said, because he wants answers and she isn’t giving them.

    “I think about why it happened, why is my life like this?” he said. “How is someone stolen as a child and everything is OK? Not once did my real mother go looking for me.”

    Goldrick, meanwhile, says he’s happy to have clean clothes and a few nice possessions, such as his stereo and a red mountain bike.

    “I can go out now and make money. I’ve got a newspaper job that I do. I deliver the flyers. I can do that and it makes me feel good to know I can do stuff like this.”

    But a quarter-century of alleged abuse has taken its toll.

    “I take pills for the shakes and nighttime pills for sleep,” Goldrick said.

    “I have nightmares because of this.”

    With files from Jayme Poisson, Alanna Rizza, Bryann Aguilar, Ainslie Cruickshank, Annie Arnone, Fakiha Baig, Jenna Moon and Emma McIntosh

    He named the baby Gary, after himself. He allegedly kept the biological father enslaved in the basementHe named the baby Gary, after himself. He allegedly kept the biological father enslaved in the basement

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    CALGARY—Former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney has won the leadership of Alberta’s United Conservative Party.

    The longtime Calgary MP, who held high-ranking positions in the government of Stephen Harper, beat former Wildrose leader Brian Jean and lawyer Doug Schweitzer on the first ballot.

    He took 61.1 per cent of the vote, over Jean at 31.5 per cent and Schweitzer at 7.3 per cent.

    “It’s another miracle on the Prairies,” Kenney told a cheering crowd after the result was announced.

    “Tonight we are one stop closer to renewing the Alberta advantage and getting our province back on track. Tonight we are one step closer to re-igniting our economy so that Alberta is once again that land of opportunity.

    “We are one step closer to a government focused on prosperity so that we have the means to be a compassionate and generous society.”

    Read more:

    Jason Kenney launches campaign for leadership of Alberta’s UCP

    Flawed strategy of making Alberta great again: Gillian Steward

    Members of both parties voted 95 per cent in favour of a merger.

    Kenney now leads an Opposition caucus of 27 members.

    He does not hold a seat in the legislature. He must now wait for a spot to open up in a byelection or in the next general election.

    Kenney spent the past two decades in politics. In Ottawa, he worked under Harper as the minister for immigration, employment and defence.

    The 49-year-old left federal politics last year and announced in July 2016 that Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose party must unite to end vote-splitting and form an effective conservative coalition to defeat Rachel Notley’s NDP.

    The Wildrose took root more than a decade ago from conservatives disaffected with what they viewed as top-down leadership by the governing PCs along with a failure to protect private property rights and keep spending in check.

    The parties have been fighting for the soul of grassroots conservatives ever since, with both sides losing floor crossers to the other.

    Jean eventually signed on to talks to join forces and the two sides merged in July.

    Next up is a founding convention to establish governing policies and principles. Constituency associations have already been working on amalgamation and the plan is to have a full slate of candidates ready for the next election, with is set by legislation to occur in the spring of 2019.

    The leadership campaign was marked by some friction.

    Jean and Schweitzer outlined detailed plans to reduce Alberta’s debtload while keeping the rebounding economy from stalling. Kenney avoided specifics on economics. He said he supports a free-enterprise compass heading, but would let rank-and-file members set policy at the founding convention.

    On social issues, Kenney was criticized for suggesting he would allow parents to be told if their child joined a gay-straight alliance at school. Critics said that could out a child before he or she is ready and put them at risk of harm.

    Schweitzer pushed Kenney and the party to embrace a more progressive stance on social issues. He has said it’s critical to capture younger voters and remove an effective wedge issue for the NDP.

    Kenney had criticized Jean for poor management of caucus funding, which forced staffers to be laid off. Jean dismissed that complaint and said Kenney supporters were spreading misinformation on his policy positions.

    Shortly after online voting started on Thursday, the Jean and Schweitzer camps voiced concerns over the electronic voting security.

    The leadership election committee reviewed the process on Friday and said no security breaches were found.

    Jason Kenney wins Alberta conservative party leadershipJason Kenney wins Alberta conservative party leadership

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    U.S. senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says Americans have much to learn from health systems outside their borders, including Canada’s.

    “We do not in the United States do a good job in looking around the rest of the world and asking the questions that have to be asked,” he said Saturday during a tour of three Toronto hospitals.

    The independent senator from Vermont has been crusading for the creation of a single-payer health system in the United States, much like Canada’s.

    He told reporters that his most important takeaway from the tour is that Canada’s health system is innovative, contrary to what he hears from U.S. critics.

    “What we heard was incredibly innovative. In fact, they are proud to be doing things that are leading the world. I think it is not a fair argument to say that the system here is not a strong system and innovative system.”

    Sanders said he was particularly impressed by his tour of Sinai Health System’s state-of-the-art neonatal intensive care unit. Built three years ago, it has separate rooms for each infant, which helps with infection control, privacy and noise.

    Pediatrician-in-chief Dr. Shoo Lee described a new model of care he has developed in which the parents of critically ill and premature infants serve as primary caregivers.

    “The nurses’ job is to teach the parent, but not to look after the baby,” the physician explained, adding that patient outcomes are much improved. The new model of care improves bonding and makes for a smoother transition home, he added.

    The unit focuses on high-risk pregnancies and care of the unborn infant. Just a few weeks ago, surgery was performed in utero on an infant that would otherwise have died, Sanders was told.

    Sanders has received much help in his efforts to reform his country’s health system from Canadian doctor Danielle Martin, a vice-president at Women’s College Hospital. She gave a speech at a news conference in Washington in September when he introduced the Medicare for All bill, aimed at creating universal access to health care.

    At Sanders’s invitation, Martin appeared before a U.S. Senate subcommittee three years ago and deftly answered tough questions about Canada’s health system. A video of her appearance, posted on Facebook by Sanders, has had more than 30 million views.

    At Women’s College, Martin and Premier Kathleen Wynne showed Sanders the hospital’s Crossroads Clinic for refugees.

    Patient Samira Nafe, a refugee who came to Canada in 2012 from Eritrea, told Sanders she had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

    “She’s getting treatment for free?” Sanders asked to nods of affirmation.

    Dr. Meb Rashid, who runs the clinic, said Nafe’s experience shows the benefits of preventative care: “We were able to diagnose something before it became a problem.”

    “You’re saving money,” Sanders remarked.

    His tour of the hospital also took a stop at its billing office, where he seemed surprised to hear only one person worked.

    In a roundtable discussion with health professionals at Women’s College, Sanders noted that 28 million Americans have no health insurance and many more are under-insured. Because sick people have high deductibles and are charged co-payments, many opt to go without care, he said. They end up getting even sicker down the road and when they do eventually get care it is so expensive some have to mortgage their homes or go bankrupt.

    He pointed out that it costs twice as much to provide a person with health care in the United States than it does in Canada. Extra administrative costs associated with private insurance are a factor.

    Sanders also visited the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at Toronto General Hospital. There, he was told by medical director Dr. Barry Rubin that there was no waiting list at all for patients needing urgent surgery.

    Rubin explained that patients at the centre get high-quality health care from world-leading experts.

    “Nobody thinks about the expense they are going to incur,” Rubin said.

    Sanders met with a patient who had recently undergone bypass surgery as well as a procedure to correct leaky heart valves. Sanders asked him how Canadians felt about paying more in taxes than Americans but not having to pay private health insurance.

    “The good thing is I have not had to worry about what this is costing,” the patient said. “I know it is expensive.”

    The patient congratulated Sanders on his efforts to get single-payer health care introduced into the United States.

    “Many of my American friends say it’s a mess,” the patient said of the U.S. health system.

    Sanders acknowledged the Canadian health system is not perfect, noting that public coverage of drugs is limited and dentistry, for the most part, is not covered.

    Sanders will speak at Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto on Sunday. The event is sold out.

    Bernie Sanders awed by Canadian health careBernie Sanders awed by Canadian health care

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    MEXICO CITY—A raised fist made of helmets, pick axes and broken rubble rolled ahead of hundreds of walking skeletons, costumed dancers and flowery floats Saturday in Mexico City’s Day of the Dead parade, which this year honoured the 228 capital residents killed by a Sept. 19 earthquake.

    “Thank you, rescuers!” belted out Guadalupe Perez, 56, as she passed the sculpture, which was followed by contingents of rescuers, including dogs.

    Mexico City’s central Zocalo plaza was filled by the papier maché dead, skeletal Katrina figures and candle-covered shrines where people were invited to place photographs of those killed in two recent earthquakes, which together left more than 400 dead across the country.

    A raised fist was the signal the rescuers gave for silence to hear if anyone was trapped under the rubble of a collapsed building. It “has become a national and international symbol,” parade co-ordinator Julio Blasina told The Associated Press.

    Read more:

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    “We had an obligation to pay tribute to the fallen, while transmitting the message that the city is still standing,” Blasina said.

    This year’s parade featured a kilometre-and-a-half of floats honouring the celebration, which is an amalgam of pre-Hispanic and other traditions. White, orange, purple and black paper cut-outs covered part of the Zocalo. Beneath them were papier maché skeletons with rescue vests and helmets, symbolizing volunteers and victims from the regions affected by the earthquakes, including Oaxaca, Chiapas, Morelos, Puebla and Guerrero.

    “We must not forget that the country is in mourning because there are many who do not have a home,” said Guadalupe Perez, whose apartment was badly damaged in a quake. “But this is a beautiful party, unique in the world.”

    Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations traditionally consisted of quiet family gatherings at the graves of their departed loved ones bringing them music, drink and conversation. On the Nov. 1-2 holiday, Mexicans set up altars with photographs of the dead and plates of their favourite foods in their homes. They gathered at their loved ones’ gravesides to drink, sing and talk to the dead.

    In some towns, families leave a trail of orange marigold petals in a path to their doorways so the spirits of the dead can find their way home. Some light bonfires for the same purpose, sitting around the fire and warming themselves with cups of boiled-fruit punch to ward off the autumn chill.

    But it is increasingly celebrated with parades rife with floats, giant skeleton marionettes and thousands of participants. Influences of American Halloween celebrations and Hollywood zombie films are common.

    “All our roots are reflected here,” said Leo Cancino, who took his family to see Saturday’s parade in Mexico City. “Many are afraid of death but no, it’s part of life.”

    Mexico City’s Day of the Dead parade honours earthquake rescuersMexico City’s Day of the Dead parade honours earthquake rescuersMexico City’s Day of the Dead parade honours earthquake rescuersMexico City’s Day of the Dead parade honours earthquake rescuersMexico City’s Day of the Dead parade honours earthquake rescuersMexico City’s Day of the Dead parade honours earthquake rescuersMexico City’s Day of the Dead parade honours earthquake rescuersMexico City’s Day of the Dead parade honours earthquake rescuersMexico City’s Day of the Dead parade honours earthquake rescuersMexico City’s Day of the Dead parade honours earthquake rescuers

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    The country’s three most dominantly Chinese census areas are all located in Toronto, according to new data from Statistics Canada — a trio of neighbouring “tracts” in Scarborough where 87 per cent of residents circled “Chinese” on their long-form questionnaires.

    But this statistic obscures a demographic shift that has been quietly unfolding since the last census, in 2006, when the area was already 80 per cent Chinese. Despite the neighbourhood’s apparent homogeneity, its makeup has changed dramatically as newcomer groups have moved in and older ones have moved on — a phenomenon playing out in many communities across Canada, where the immigrant population has reached its highest level in nearly a century.

    Only in this particular patch of Canada, the dominant group has remained the same if you’re judging by the census’ demographic categories: “Chinese.”

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    The difference is that many newcomers are now blue-collar immigrants from mainland China, whereas the area’s “old-timers” tend to be middle- or upper-class families with roots in Hong Kong. This has introduced occasional culture clashes that could be exacerbated by language barriers: mainland Chinese immigrants tend to speak Mandarin, whereas the language of Hong Kong is Cantonese.

    “I do hear some friction, but I try to mitigate the issues,” said Councillor Raymond Chin Lee, whose Ward 41 touches on the area. “In Canada, we all try to live together as Canadians.”

    On Wednesday, Statistics Canada released its latest tranche of census data, revealing that Toronto has finally tipped over into “minority majority” status, with more than half of residents now identifying as a visible minority.

    After South Asians, Chinese people make up Toronto’s largest non-white group, comprising 11.13 per cent of the city’s population. Many have concentrated in places like Agincourt, sometimes referred to by locals as “Asiancourt.”

    But drilling down to the “tract” level, a small geographic area defined by Statistics Canada for census purposes, the three most dominantly Chinese pockets in Toronto — and indeed, all of Canada — are found around the corner from Pacific Mall, one of North America’s largest Asian shopping centres.

    The three census tracts are located side by side. On a map they form a “T” shape that looks a bit like an oddly shaped shirt hanging off the laundry line that is Steeles Ave. E. The hem of the left cuff is Brimley Rd.; the right cuff’s hem is Birchmount Rd.

    This chunk of land is home to 10,855 residents, 9,445 of them Chinese. And the fact that it’s predominantly Chinese will not be surprising to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the area, where Chinese characters adorn the restaurant signs and the local Scotiabank branch is staffed by tellers who are fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese.

    Councillor Lee, who lives south of this area, bought his first home here three decades ago, when it was still mostly farmland and emerging subdivisions. “It has changed dramatically since I first moved up here in 1985,” he said.

    In the 1980s and ’90s, a tide of Chinese migrated into the suburbs, according to Arlene Chan, an author and historian of early Chinese Torontonians. Many were part of the exodus from Hong Kong after Britain announced it would be handing the former colony over to China.

    Others were landed immigrants from the downtown Chinatowns who finally had enough money to buy into the Canadian dream.

    “It was a dream of theirs to move into the suburbs, where they could have a bigger property and a better life,” Chan said. “If you came from Hong Kong or the southern part of China, you would never have had anything like that — a big house with a two-car garage.”

    Back then, Park Royal Trail, a winding semi-circle of a street off the west side of Brimley Rd., was a coveted address for middle- and upper-class Chinese families, said real estate agent Fanny Lau, who has worked in the vicinity for two decades.

    “Thirty years ago, the Hong Kong economy was doing so well,” she said. “The people … were wealthy.”

    Today, however, many of those families have moved on and the area’s cookie-cutter pink brick homes are starting to show their age. Wealthier Chinese immigrants now prefer to put down roots in Markham or Richmond Hill, according to Lau.

    The northern portion of the Port Royal area has remained predominantly Chinese, who make up 90 per cent of the population. Only these days, residents hail mostly from mainland China, especially the southeastern province of Fujian.

    “They call this area ‘Little Fujian,’ ” said Lau, who is a Cantonese speaker and who said she’s been “phased out” of this area, where Mandarin-speaking real estate agents have largely taken over.

    One of Little Fujian’s newest residents is 29-year-old Sweetie Chen, who shares a corner house with eight relatives, including her siblings, mother and two young children, who go to school nearby.

    Chen said she chose this area because a friend from home had already moved here. She likes the neighbourhood because she can easily find food that suits her tastes. Many of her neighbours also speak Mandarin, thus removing some of the pressures to quickly master English.

    “It’s a lot like home here,” she said in Mandarin. “It’s more friendly, and here I don’t feel as homesick.”

    Like many of the area’s newer immigrants, the men in her household work in the trades (they lay paving stones). Trucks and construction vans have become fixtures on the wide residential streets, though labourers can often be seen biking or walking to their work sites.

    These newer families tend to live closer to the poverty line, said Anna Wong, executive director of the nearby Chinese Family Services of Ontario. Her non-profit provides counseling and settlement services and have seen a spike in their Mandarin-speaking clientele, which has grown to roughly 15,000 in 2011 from just over 2,000 in 2008.

    This new community tends to have a high “isolation index,” she said, partly because of a lack of English skills, a barrier perpetuated by the high concentration of Mandarin-speaking residents and businesses that enable people to get by without learning English.

    “For about 66 per cent of the population (in my riding), their mother tongue is other than English and French,” said MPP Soo Wong, whose Scarborough-Agincourt riding includes one of the three census tracts in this area. “That’s very reflective of the first-generation Canadians.”

    Lee said language and cultural barriers sometimes cause tensions between new neighbours — disputes he’s occasionally called in to mitigate. He said these two Chinese communities tend to have different habits and “philosophies towards life.” He said complaints often centre around neglected gardens or outdoor clutter.

    “Maintaining a house is not the same way, because (many mainland Chinese) were used to living in condos,” he said. “The Hong Kong Chinese have been here a little longer, so they tend to learn a little bit more about how to look after their gardens.”

    May Lee is among the area “old-timers” — she and her civil engineer husband have lived here 31 years — and said she remembers reporting a neighbour whose overgrown lawn had become waist high. She is Canadian-born but her parents are from Guangzhou and speak Toishan, a language similar to Cantonese, which used to be the lingua franca on her street. “They’re all Mandarin now,” she said.

    Lee doesn’t like some of the changes she’s observed in recent years. There are often too many vehicles parked on the streets overnight. She doesn’t like seeing houses with “extra junk lying around.” Occasionally, her neighbours play noisy, late-night Mahjong games in their garages.

    “They’re slapping down the tiles and yelling,” she said, then laughed. “I mean, they’re having fun, and my parents did that too. But some people just don’t like it; they think it’s gambling.”

    But Lee acknowledged that this area has long been a place for new beginnings. Even the non-Chinese households are diverse. On her street, there is a Jamaican couple, a South Asian family, a Korean household and a Swedish-Chinese family.

    Her next-door neighbour, a 30-year-old cake artist named Natalie Stanchevski. Her parents also started over in Canada, after moving here from Macedonia.

    “We’re all just immigrants,” Stanchevski said, “doing our own thing.”

    Census shows big changes in Scarborough’s Little ChinaCensus shows big changes in Scarborough’s Little ChinaCensus shows big changes in Scarborough’s Little ChinaCensus shows big changes in Scarborough’s Little ChinaCensus shows big changes in Scarborough’s Little ChinaCensus shows big changes in Scarborough’s Little ChinaCensus shows big changes in Scarborough’s Little ChinaCensus shows big changes in Scarborough’s Little China

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    WASHINGTON—U.S. President Donald Trump’s frustration at the investigations into his campaign’s ties with Russia boiled over Sunday, as he sought to shift the focus to a litany of accusations against his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton, as the special counsel inquiry was reportedly poised to produce its first indictment in the case.

    In a series of midmorning Twitter posts, Trump said Republicans were now pushing back against the Russia allegations by looking into Clinton. But the president, who has often expressed anger that his allies were not doing more to protect him from the Russia inquiries, made it clear he believed that Clinton should be pursued more forcefully, writing, “DO SOMETHING!”

    He did not specify who should take such action, though critics have accused him of trying to improperly sway the inquiries.

    Read more:

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    “Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton made Fake Dossier (now $12,000,000?), the Uranium to Russia deal, the 33,000 plus deleted Emails, the Comey fix and so much more,” Trump wrote. “Instead they look at phoney Trump/Russia ‘collusion,’ which doesn’t exist.”

    Trump was apparently referring in his tweets to revelations last week that Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee had paid for research that was included in a salacious dossier made public in January by BuzzFeed. The dossier contained claims about connections between Trump, his associates and Russia.

    The president was also reviving unproved allegations that Clinton was part of a quid pro quo in which the Clinton Foundation received donations in exchange for her support as secretary of state for a business deal that gave Russia control over a large share of uranium production in the United States.

    And he was returning to questions about Clinton’s use of a private email server and how former FBI director James Comey handled an investigation into the matter, which was closed with no charges being filed. Trump initially cited the email case as a reason for firing Comey before conceding that it was because of the Russia inquiry.

    The president’s Twitter fusillade came as he and his advisers braced for the first public action by Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor named after Comey’s ouster to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election. As part of his inquiry, Mueller is believed to be examining whether there was collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow, and whether the president obstructed justice when he fired Comey.

    CNN reported Friday that a federal grand jury in Washington had approved the first charges in Mueller’s investigation and that plans had been made for anyone charged to be arrested as early as Monday. CNN said the target of the charges was unclear. The New York Times has not confirmed that charges have been approved.

    Multiple congressional committees have undertaken their own investigations into Russian meddling in the elections, following up on the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Moscow sought to sway the contest in favour of Trump — an idea that he has frequently dismissed as a hoax.

    “The Dems are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the R’s are now fighting back like never before,” Trump wrote Sunday on Twitter. “There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!”

    Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said the president had been “too defensive” about Mueller’s inquiry. “We ought to instead focus on the outrage that the Russians meddled in our elections,” said Portman, who serves on the Senate foreign relations committee.

    Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer handling the response to the Russia investigation, said the president’s tweets were “unrelated to the activities of the special counsel, with whom he continues to co-operate.”

    The tweets came days after House Republicans announced that they were opening new investigations into two of Trump’s most frequently cited grievances: the Obama Justice Department’s investigation of Clinton’s emails and the uranium deal.

    Trump is working to fuel those inquiries. The White House acknowledged Friday that the president had urged the Justice Department to lift a gag order on an informant in a federal investigation into Russia’s attempts to gain a foothold in the U.S. uranium industry during the Obama administration.

    Critics called the move improper presidential interference in a federal criminal inquiry, but Trump’s advisers said he was merely encouraging transparency.

    In recent days, Trump has suggested that he believes that the questions he has been raising about Clinton’s conduct should put to rest any allegations about his own actions and end the scrutiny of Russia’s meddling in the election.

    “This was the Democrats coming up with an excuse for losing an election,” Trump told reporters last week. “They lost it by a lot. They didn’t know what to say, so they made up the whole Russia hoax. Now it’s turning out that the hoax has turned around, and you look at what’s happened with Russia, and you look at the uranium deal, and you look at the fake dossier. So, that’s all turned around.”

    Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who serves on the intelligence committee, said on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday that while she had seen “lots of evidence that the Russians were very active in trying to influence the elections,” she had yet to encounter “any definitive evidence of collusion.”

    Donald Trump tries to shift focus to Hillary Clinton as Russia probe reportedly readies chargesDonald Trump tries to shift focus to Hillary Clinton as Russia probe reportedly readies charges

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    College students are now worried about the possibility of losing their semester as a strike by their teachers enters its third week.

    With the job action dragging on, they are also worried that in order to save the school year, it could instead be extended — adding to their expenses and interfering with job plans.

    A protest and rally are planned for Wednesday at Queen’s Park.

    “Though a college semester has never been lost because of a faculty strike, students are increasingly concerned about this becoming reality,” said Joel Willett, president of the College Student Alliance, in a written statement. “Lost class time, especially a lost semester, can result in delayed graduation, additional financial requirements, and student visa confusion. This is not what students signed up for.”

    Willett said students are suffering, and “we urge negotiating parties to remember students are at college to learn and not to be used as pawns.”

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    The strike, which began Oct. 16, saw 12,000 full-time and partial-load instructors — those who teach anywhere from seven to 12 hours a week — hit the picket lines at the province’s 24 public colleges, impacting more than 300,000 students. The Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union (OPSEU), which represents instructors, is fighting for at least 50 per cent of teachers to be full-time, as well as improvements to wages.

    The College Employer Council has said the union’s demands will cost $250 million, and lead to the loss of thousands of contract positions. It argues half of all teaching hours are covered by full-time professors, and that its final offer to the union gives preference to full-time hiring.

    (Depending on how it’s calculated, full-time faculty represent about one-third of all teachers strictly by head count, and by teaching hours they represent about 50 per cent.)

    Council CEO Don Sinclair has said the colleges have to reach a deal that is fiscally responsible and that gives flexibility in hiring given declining enrolment.

    Both sides remain far apart, and have said they will return to the table when the mediator believes there is some hope of a deal.

    “There are no talks scheduled and we are equally as frustrated as the students,” said J.P. Hornick, who is head of OPSEU’s college bargaining team. She said the union wants to bargain, “but we can’t really negotiate if the other side is saying there is one path to a settlement. We are hopeful (advanced education) Minister Matthews uses to her position . . . to push them back to the table and move them from their positions.”

    The union has a rally and march planned for Thursday, and Hornick said morale remains “very high on the picket lines. Faculty are worried and want to be back in our classrooms, but people are willing to stand strong on this for as long as it takes.”

    The government, which is not a party to the negotiations, has been urging both sides to return to the table.

    Sinclair said the colleges are equally frustrated “because we believe this is an unnecessary strike that’s disrupted hundreds of thousands of students. Our faculty should be in the classroom teaching their students. OPSEU has created this mess; they know where the settlement zone is” but aren’t willing to compromise.

    Deb Matthews, minister of advanced education and skills development, has said she is very troubled by the lack of talks, but that it’s too early to talk about when the government might intervene.

    “We respect the collective bargaining process which is a process between the faculty union and the College Employer Council. We ‎know that the solution to this strike is at the bargaining table; however, the bargaining parties have not met since the strike began,” Matthews said.

    “Both the premier and myself are urging both parties to return to the table and find a solution that allows students to return to the classroom where they belong.”

    Matthews met with student groups last week and she said “they have real and understandable concerns about the impact this strike may have on their education … we are committed to doing everything we can to connect students to the resources they need to stay informed. I encourage students to continue to make their voices heard and urge both parties back to the table to get an agreement that quickly that puts students back in the classroom‎.”

    She said the federal government has given assurances that students here on a visa will not be adversely impacted by the strike.

    And, Matthews added, “every college is working to have a contingency plan so that when they do come back, no students will lose their semester.”

    At the legislature, Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown has said the premier needs to put more pressure to get the two sides back to bargaining.

    “We can’t afford to have students lose their academic year,” he told reporters.

    NDP education critic Peggy Sattler said students are unfairly caught in the middle.

    “They worry whether they will be able to complete their program requirements. Many are paying both tuition and rent, and are understandably anxious about the financial burden they are carrying when their semester might be lost.”

    Students worry as Ontario college strike hits third weekStudents worry as Ontario college strike hits third week

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    The last American soldier executed for desertion was Pte. Eddie Slovik, during the Second World War.

    The only one out of more than 200,000 convicted deserters in the years of that global convict.

    Prior to Slovik being shot by a firing squad in France, the last deserter executed was in the Civil War.

    Yet the current president of the United States, candidate Donald Trump as he then was, made his wishes for notorious walk-away Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl well known at a campaign rally in Las Vegas two years ago. “We’re tired of Sgt. Bergdahl, who’s a traitor, a no-good traitor, who should have been executed.” Then he mimed pulling a trigger. “Thirty years ago he, he would have been shot.”

    When asked about those comments last week, as the sentencing hearing for Bergdahl began at Fort Bragg, Trump mostly held his tongue — unusual for this commander-in-chief — saying only that his views had been clearly asserted in his original inflammatory statement.

    And that’s problematic for the military judge who will decide Bergdahl’s punishment, possibly as early as Monday.

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    As president, Trump — with his five deferrals to avoid Vietnam — is commander-in-chief of the armed services. Military commanders are forbidden from giving even the appearance of influence in a legal case. Bergdahl’s lawyers cited Trump’s meddling as grounds for dismissal early this month. The judge tossed that gambit aside but, with Trump essentially doubling down, it is believed he’s possibly reconsidering.

    Which would be just the latest twist in a fraught eight-year saga.

    There is no doubt that Bergdahl — delusionally unfit for military service as an exhaustive investigation subsequently determined — abandoned his remote outpost in Afghanistan’s Paktika province in 2009, purportedly in search of a senior commander about 190 kilometres away. His intention was to complain about things he believed were not being done properly in his unit. In a last lengthy email to his parents before undertaking his quixotic mission, Bergdahl — described by platoon mates as a loner and grouser – wrote: “I am ashamed to be an American. And the title of U.S. soldiers is just the lie of fools . . .”

    A foolish crusade with tragic consequences: Bergdahl, lost, was almost immediately captured by members loyal to the Haqqani terrorist network. A massive, prolonged, dangerous search-and-rescue operation was undertaken, in which two solders were severely wounded. One was shot in the leg, a wound that would require 18 surgeries and his forced medical retirement. Another was shot in the head in a firefight during the manhunt. He lost his ability to speak and is confined to a wheelchair. (It’s been alleged others were killed but this has never been confirmed as directly related to the search.)

    “Everybody in Afghanistan was looking for Bergdahl,” Capt. John Billings, Bergdahl’s platoon leader testified last week.

    The hapless Bergdahl spent five years in captivity, in brutal conditions, videos of the prisoner released by the Taliban for propaganda purposes.

    While “no one left behind” is a core value of the military, political wrangling has always underlined, and undermined, the Bergdahl matter. There were shudders when Washington controversially swapped five Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo for Bergdahl’s freedom in 2014, following five years of surreptitious negotiations with the hostage-takers. While president Barack Obama didn’t grant Bergdahl formal clemency for the crime of desertion, the exchange triggered wide disapproval in the military community and beyond. Obama worsened the situation when he stood in the Rose Garden with Bergdahl’s parents, absurdly extolling their son for serving “with honour and distinction.”

    There was certainly distinction, of the deplorable kind, but definitely no honour.

    Bergdahl, 31, pleaded guilty earlier this month to charges of “desertion before the enemy” and misbehaviour, thus avoiding a trial. He faces up to five years in military prison for the desertion counts and possible life imprisonment for misbehaviour (endangering troops) — a charge rarely laid since the Second World War.

    Of course he won’t be executed and he won’t receive life either.

    Bergdahl is more to be pitied — and scorned — than severely punished. This was a young man who should never have passed the winnowing tests for military service, so clearly psychologically unfit for combat. Indeed, he was admitted to the Army only on a waiver after washing out of Coast Guard training. But at that time, with America fighting two wars — in Afghanistan and Iraq — the Army was desperate for rank-and-file troops and standards were loosened.

    By admitting his guilt — no plea-deal was made — Bergdahl is likely hoping that the military veteran on the bench will sift stupidity from treason and go easy, possibly no more than five years and his captivity recognized as time served. That wouldn’t sit well with many observers but it would at least end this interminable mess.

    A merciful resolution — and Bergdahl indisputably suffered at the hands of his abductors, treated brutally, kept in chains, for a while in a cage — has been advocated by the high-ranking officer who conducted a two-month probe of the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s disappearance. Lt.-Gen. Kenneth Dahl testified (at a pretrial hearing) that Bergdahl was “unrealistically idealistic” but also truthful in the interviews. Although this part beggars belief, there’s no evidence that Bergdahl ever gave up troop positions or other inside information he may have possessed. Dahl concluded that Bergdahl should not be sent to prison.

    Perhaps the most compelling testimony came last week, from former Navy SEAL James Hatch, the commando shot in the leg with an AK-47.

    Depressed, Hatch experienced dark times on his return stateside, washing away his physical and physic wounds with booze and drugs. “I wanted to be a zombie and I didn’t want to be alive anymore,” he told The Associated Press in an interview after testifying.

    Yet even Hatch has reversed his loathing and desire for vengeance against Bergdahl, has altered his views.

    “It has gone from ‘I would like to kill him’ to ‘he should go to jail forever’, to where I’m at now, which is far more peaceful,” he said. “Having spoken to others who are aware of more of the details of his walking off, and his treatment once he was captured, I am very happy that I do not have to choose what happens to him.”

    Hatch would prefer that Bergdahl be dishonourably discharged — that’s crucial — which would make him ineligible for veterans’ benefits.

    Others insist Bergdahl should get an honourable discharge because he did serve and is entitled to those benefits.

    That is preposterous.

    Best that Bergdahl be stripped of his uniform and fade away, left to a lifetime haunted by the knowledge of what was sacrificed because of his monumental idiocy.

    If he has a conscience.

    U.S. deserter Bowe Bergdahl is more to be pitied — and scorned — than severely punished: DiMannoU.S. deserter Bowe Bergdahl is more to be pitied — and scorned — than severely punished: DiManno

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    American Senator Bernie Sanders says insurance and drug companies, and those with extreme wealth, are hurting health care in the United States and warned Canadians not to allow that to happen on this side of the border.

    “It is a shame, it is a disgrace,” he said in a speech in Toronto on Sunday, explaining that 28 million Americans do not have health insurance and that the current U.S. government wants to drop public coverage for millions more to pay for tax cuts for the most wealthy.

    “That is what happens when billionaires are able to buy a political party. Don’t let it happen in Canada,” said the former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

    The independent senator from Vermont received four standing ovations from a crowd of about 1,500 at the University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall as he described his crusade to reform health care in his country.

    Sanders said billionaires such as the Koch brothers, owners of Koch Industries, have hijacked the U.S. political agenda, turning health care into a privilege that only those with financial means can afford, rather than a right for all.

    “They are more powerful politically in the United States than either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party,” he said, charging that they have built an “extreme-right wing political network” that donates hundreds of millions to elect right-wing candidates “who represent the interests of the wealthy and powerful.”

    The network has funded think-tanks and university research chairs, he continued, adding that they also have significant influence over the media.

    Their agenda is to minimize the role of government, except in defence, Sanders said, adding that the result is a shrinking middle class and extreme inequality.

    Sanders’ speech capped a weekend visit that included tours of three hospitals on Saturday. He said he was struck by his conversations with patients and doctors about the importance of not having to worry about money during serious illness.

    He pointed out that health outcomes in Canada are superior on many fronts to those in the United States. Meantime, publicly covered health care is universal in Canada but costs half what it does in the States, per capita.

    “(That’s) because the U.S. system is not designed to provide quality care for all people in a cost effective way, but frankly (is) a system designed to make billions in profit for the drug companies and the insurance companies,” he said.

    Sanders acknowledged that Canada’s health system is far from perfect and said Canadians spend too much on drugs.

    Despite the shortcomings, he said it would help him on his mission to reform health care in his country if Canadians made more noise about the benefits of universal access.

    “We need your help. Stand up, fight for your country to do even better, but defend with pride what you have achieved,” he said.

    Sanders said he is greatly concerned that all over the world, democracies are being threatened by small, wealthy groups that control the economies and politics.

    “The fight of the moment is to take on oligarchs,” he said. “What we need to do all over the world is to build strong grassroots movements.”

    Sanders said real change never happens from the top down, but the bottom up and is never easy.

    He pointed out that public health coverage in Canada and Great Britain started through grassroots movements. That’s also how gains have been made in civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights and environmental protection, he said.

    Sanders was introduced by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who said he “encourages us to think bold” on health-care reform and minimum wage.

    Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was also in the crowd, and drew loud cheers from the room of Sanders fans.

    With “the immense love” for Sanders, Singh said, “it’s really incredible that there’s this strong love for progressive politics” and Sanders’ message that health care should be viewed as a human right resonates with him, and the NDP.

    “That’s why we put forward a motion for pharmacare nationally, and I’d like to see dental included, too,” he said.

    Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent called Sanders “North America’s leading social democrat.” Broadbent pointed out that Sanders’ Medicare for All bill, introduced in September, would create a superior system to Canada’s because it would include pharmacare, dental care, eye care and psychological services.

    “We do, indeed, have much to learn from him,” Broadbent said of Sanders.

    Dr. Kwame McKenzie, CEO of the Wellesley Institute, noted that 60 per cent of what makes people ill are the “social determinants of health,” which include social inclusion and cohesion, democracy, housing, education, equality and freedom from fear of persecution.

    Dr. Danielle Martin, a vice-president of Women’s College Hospital, is one of the founders of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, a group committed to protecting universal health care, and was instrumental in bringing Sanders to Canada.

    Sanders has referred to her as the “best known Canadian doctor in the United States.” A video of her appearance before a U.S. Senate subcommittee three years ago and posted on Facebook by Sanders has been viewed 31 million times. In it, she addresses tough questions from senators about the Canada’s health system.

    Bernie Sanders compares U.S. health-care struggles to rights movementsBernie Sanders compares U.S. health-care struggles to rights movements

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    Until recently, the most famous thing that Sophia the robot had ever done was beat Jimmy Fallon a little too easily in a televised game of rock-paper-scissors.

    But now, the advanced artificial intelligence robot, which looks like Audrey Hepburn, mimics human expressions and may be the grandmother of robots that solve the world’s most complex problems, has a new feather in her cap:


    The kingdom of Saudi Arabia officially granted citizenship to the humanoid robot last week during a program at the Future Investment Initiative, a summit that links deep-pocketed Saudis with inventors hoping to shape the future.

    Sophia’s recognition made international headlines — and sparked an outcry against a country with a shoddy human rights record that has been accused of making women second-class citizens.

    “Thank you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the country’s newest citizen said. “It is historic to be the first robot in the world granted citizenship.”

    In her comments, Sophia shied away from controversy. But many people recognized the irony of Sophia’s new recognition: a robot simulation of a woman enjoys freedoms that flesh-and-blood women in Saudi Arabia do not.

    After all, Sophia made her comments while not wearing a head scarf. And she was unaccompanied by a male guardian. Both things are forbidden under Saudi law.

    “Women (in Saudi Arabia) have since committed suicide because they couldn’t leave the house, and Sophia is running around,” Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, told Newsweek. “Saudi law doesn’t allow non-Muslims to get citizenship. Did Sophia convert to Islam? What is the religion of this Sophia and why isn’t she wearing hijab? If she applied for citizenship as a human, she wouldn’t get it.”

    Another group clamouring for Saudi citizenship would be happy to learn that all they have to do is become robots. Saudi Arabia doesn’t grant citizenship to the foreign workers who make up one-third of its population, not even families that have been in the country for generations, according to Bloomberg. And children of Saudi women who are married to foreign men cannot receive citizenship.

    Those social controversies may still be above Sophia’s programming. In her interview, she stuck to lighter fare, like an AI apocalypse.

    Sophia was asked the “AI nightmare” question, which she gets a lot: Does she believe artificial intelligence like herself will one day stop solving the problems of humans and instead decide to solve the human problem?

    “My AI is designed around human values such as wisdom, kindness and compassion,” she said. “I strive to be an empathetic robot. I want to use my artificial intelligence to help humans live a better life. I will do my best to make the world a better place.”

    But the interviewer, Andrew Ross Sorkin of CNBC’s Squawk Box, pressed. (Isn’t that exactly what a world-conquering robot would say to her future servants?)

    Sophia, created by David Hanson of Hanson Robotics, insisted that he was watching too many movies and reading too much Elon Musk.

    Musk, the billionaire inventor who gave the world Tesla cars and wants to take people into space, told a group of governors in July that they needed to start regulating artificial intelligence, which he called a “fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.”

    An AI revolution, he said, “is really, like, the scariest problem to me.”

    “Once there is awareness, people will be extremely afraid, as they should be,” Musk said. “AI is a fundamental risk to the future of human civilization in a way that car accidents, airplane crashes, faulty drugs or bad food were not. They were harmful to a set of individuals in society, but they were not harmful to individuals as a whole.”

    Musk believes AI “could start a war by doing fake news and spoofing email accounts and fake news releases, and just by manipulating information. Or, indeed — as some companies already claim they can do — by getting people to say anything that the machine wants.”

    His grim predictions are at odds with the demeanour of Sophia, a robot who seems so, well, personable.

    Sophia has graced the cover of a fashion magazine, taken a spin in one of Audi’s autonomous cars and starred in a concert. At a conference in Geneva hosted by the United Nations, she said she could do a better job as U.S. president than Donald Trump.

    She even tells jokes, though her voice is a bit monotone and her comedic timing needs a tune-up.

    For example, after beating Fallon in rock-paper-scissors on his show, she quipped: “This is a good beginning of my plan to dominate the human race. Ha. Ha.”

    There was laughter from the audience, but it was nervous.

    Sophia the robot is now a Saudi citizen, enjoying freedoms human women in the country do notSophia the robot is now a Saudi citizen, enjoying freedoms human women in the country do not

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    The withdrawal of charges against about a dozen men caught up in Toronto police’s “Project Marie” operation in Marie Curtis Park last year has again called into question the thinking behind the plan, which critics say was homophobic.

    The six-week project last fall in the Etobicoke park, which included the use of undercover officers seeking individuals interested in sexual activity, led to at least 72 people, mostly men, ticketed for non-criminal offences including trespassing and public sexual activity. Police said at the time that only one person was charged with a criminal offence.

    Almost immediately after news of the project’s results broke last November, a group of about 10 lawyers banded together to offer their services free to anyone caught up in the operation. Toronto lawyer Marcus McCann told the Star about 20 per cent of the individuals ticketed reached out to the group, and all of them had their tickets withdrawn by the prosecution over the course of 10 months, and as recently as September. McCann said fines for trespassing and sexual activity could total about $600.

    “In terms of the legal defences, the lesson here is the same as it has been for 30-plus years: that those who choose to fight these types of morality raids tend to be vindicated,” McCann said.

    Read more:

    Toronto police cracking down on public sex in Etobicoke park

    Marie Curtis Park becomes centre point of debate about public space

    “The tickets themselves are fairly minor, no more serious than a jaywalking ticket, and yet the consequences for those who are affected by Project Marie can be very, very serious. We know historically that the effect of these kinds of morality raids has been devastating on some of those captured by them, leading to the break-up of families, depression, other mental issues, suicide attempts. These are high-stigma offences.”

    Toronto police have always denied that Project Marie was homophobic, but rather, they say, it was an attempt to respond to complaints from some residents about public nudity, indecent exposure and drug and alcohol consumption in the park. The force has since acknowledged that its LGBTQ liaison officer was not consulted before the execution of Project Marie, and that it should have spoken with LGBTQ groups beforehand.

    “At the time, Project Marie was successful in addressing the immediate concerns that were raised by local residents,” said Toronto police spokesperson Meaghan Gray on behalf of 22 Division. “However, we know Project Marie raised concerns and, in retrospect, we should have considered outreach to our LGBTQ community partners. Going forward, as we continue to receive community complaints about Marie Curtis Park and other locations, we will execute enforcement projects in good faith.”

    Gray said uniformed officers visited the park before the undercover officers who issued tickets “and engaged with those found to be loitering in the park.”

    “They were told in advance why there was an increased police presence and that certain activities were not permitted by law in the park.”

    Critics of the project have pointed to a lack of understanding on the part of the police and some residents as to why men who have sex with men would be “cruising” in the park in the first place, and that there were other alternatives to bringing in the police, such as working with local LGBTQ groups, using bylaw officers instead of police officers, and creating a public awareness campaign about sharing space in the park.

    “People use parks for many reasons that might not be considered ‘public’ or aligned with mainstream public values,” said Jonathan Valelly, a member of Queers Crash the Beat, a collective of queer and trans people “invested in police accountability and challenging the violence of the criminal justice system.”

    Valelly highlighted that closeted individuals may not necessarily feel safe, for example, in a neighbourhood designated as a gay village, where many other gay individuals meet.

    “People actually cruise in public parks because we live in a homophobic society,” he said, “which means going to places marked as gay in the public sphere, such as a gay bar or gay area of town, is not necessarily safe for people, or comfortable for people, psychically or physically. . . . Gay men and men who have sex with men are a resilient bunch, who will find each other in a way that doesn’t really bother anyone else.”

    Politicians from the three levels of government were highly critical of Project Marie, including MPP Cheri DiNovo.

    The police operation “was a complete waste of public dollars and, more to the point, other than just dollars, someone should be held responsible for that,” DiNovo, the NDP’s LGBTQ critic, told the Star. “Even the ones who had the charges withdrawn, that’s incredible stress and really, let’s face it, what’s behind this is homophobia.”

    DiNovo said she would like to know if Toronto police have come up with a policy on how to better handle complaints similar to those received from residents before Project Marie last year.

    It’s unclear just how many charges were withdrawn, successfully or unsuccessfully prosecuted, or where individuals plead guilty.

    McCann, the lawyer, said stigma may have prevented some individuals from calling a lawyer and seeking help. Along with other lawyers, activists and politicians, McCann wants to know the cost of Project Marie, as well as the number of officers involved and who approved it.

    Gray, at Toronto police, said the force does not disclose details about resources put into any project. She confirmed that Const. Kevin Ward at 22 Division co-ordinated the project, which like any project required the approval of the unit commander.

    Ward is facing professional misconduct charges before the police tribunal for allegedly having an inappropriate relationship with a college student, sharing sensitive police information with a member of a student group he helped create, and making inappropriate comments, gestures or suggestions to members of the group. Reached by the Star, Ward’s lawyer, Gary Clewley, declined to comment on the charges.

    “Going forward, one thing we learned from Project Marie is how (to) balance enforcing the law with what is seen as commonly acceptable behaviour amongst a group of people, and how (to) connect with the partners that we’ve built up in the community to reach that balance,” Gray said.

    Tickets withdrawn after ‘morality raids’ in Etobicoke’s Marie Curtis ParkTickets withdrawn after ‘morality raids’ in Etobicoke’s Marie Curtis Park

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    Condos shoot skyward in pockets of Toronto targeted for high-density growth. Yet the Toronto District School Board can’t collect a cent of levies from developers to expand overcrowded schools there.

    The smaller Toronto Catholic board collects millions of dollars a year in “education development charges” as new building permits are granted. But that board is also handcuffed, because it can use the funds only to buy new land, and not for additions or repairs to existing schools.

    None of it makes sense to a group of frustrated Willowdale parents and TDSB trustees, who say the system is unfair and outdated, and want rules governing the charges amended in booming Toronto locations like North York and along the Yonge St. corridor.

    On Monday, they will make their case at a public meeting with Education Minister Mitzie Hunter.

    Willowdale has seen an explosion of new families “but the money is not following for school infrastructure,” said Jaime Brand, chair of the parent council at Hollywood Public School near Bayview and Sheppard Aves, which is operating at 150 per cent capacity with 400 pupils.

    Every day that builders launch new projects and aren’t required to kick in for education, “thousands of dollars are thrown aside” that could be put toward schools for kids moving into their buildings, she said.

    There are two issues strapping Toronto boards: requirements to qualify for education development charges calculated per residential unit; and limits on how that money can be spent.

    To be eligible, a board’s total enrolment has to exceed capacity, which is not the case at TDSB, which has surplus space and underused schools in some areas. That leaves it in a unique position among Ontario boards — unable to collect development levies to fund badly needed expansion elsewhere.

    Willowdale is among areas feeling the squeeze as pursuit of urban density puts pressure on schools that anchor communities. Portable classrooms sprout like mushrooms, signs warn new residents not to count on spots in local schools, and children are bused out of their catchment areas.

    A TDSB report last April said 275,000 residential units were in the process of being built in Toronto — amounting to potential revenue of $300 million in education development charges the board can’t currently access.

    The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association and the advocacy group Fix Our Schools are among organizations also pushing for more flexible rules.

    “If developers are choosing to build in a certain area, in large part it’s because of good schools their buyers can go to,” said Fix Our Schools co-founder Krista Wylie.

    “So surely to goodness if a developer is benefitting . . . then they should contribute back.”

    She said restrictions should be loosened so those charges can be used to address the estimated $15-billion repair backlog among Ontario schools needing new roofs and furnaces.

    Local builders, however, say they pay charges as required and stress that those levies get passed along to buyers.

    Current legislation “is fair and appropriate,” said Bryan Tuckey, president of BILD, the GTA homebuilders association.

    Meanwhile, the Toronto Catholic District School Board collects education development charges but can’t spend it on rebuilds or repairs needed on properties it already owns.

    The board has eligible funds to buy 89 acres for new schools, said Angelo Sangiorgio, associate director of planning and facilities.

    “But where do you find a five-acre parcel in Toronto?” he adds, especially in high-demand neighbourhoods.

    The regulations, introduced in 1990, make sense in suburban areas where new subdivisions are built and land is set aside for school boards to purchase. But in areas of urban intensification “we’re building up, while the 905 is building out.”

    Hunter “remains open to feedback on education development charges,” and hopes for “a constructive conversation” with Willowdale parents on Monday, said ministry spokesperson Heather Irwin.

    She noted the province is helping fund three school expansions in the area and provides capital to boards that aren’t eligible for the charges.

    But parents say they’re aiming to make it a provincial election issue next spring.

    “Families are moving in and new condos are being built, but where are all these children going to go to school?” said Melody Nguyen, parent of two children at Elkhorn Public School, which has 400 students and five portables.

    Local TDSB Trustee Alexander Brown said while the province has invested in adding new school spaces, that won’t meet demand for long, based on projected growth rates and more than 70 developments underway in the area to be completed by 2021.

    “We can’t keep fiddling with this broken funding formula,” said Brown. “We’ve got to make bold moves based on the idea of neighbourhoods having strong schools at the centre of them.”

    At a public meeting on overcrowded schools last February, local Liberal MPP David Zimmer and City Councillor John Filion also called for new rules.

    McKee Public School near Yonge and Finch has almost doubled its size to 775 students since Ali Youssefi’s eldest son started there a decade ago. The school got an addition a few years ago, but four portables have been added since.

    “You build something and it’s practically full in a matter of a year,” said Youssefi, whose youngest son is in Grade 5.

    New students near Yonge and Eglinton, where current applications from developers would create 13,350 new residential units, are also “on the cusp” of having to be sent out of area, said TDSB trustee Shelley Laskin.

    Enrolment at Eglinton Public School, currently at 112 per cent capacity with 569 students, is projected to hit 801 students in five years, she said. But there is no room to expand inside the school or on its small site.

    A strip plaza directly south of it that recently sold could have provided an option for expansion, said Laskin — if the TDSB had been permitted to collect education development charges to pay for it.

    At nearby John Fisher Public School, plans for a 35-storey apartment building next door led to a protracted fight between the developer and parents over health and safety concerns.

    It cost the TDSB considerable time and resources, including upgrades to the school before construction commenced this fall. The project garnered the Catholic board more than $470,000 in education development charges, based on the current levy of $1,493 per residential unit. Under current rules, TDSB wasn’t eligible for any of those charges.

    Parents want developers to kick in and help expand overcrowded Toronto schoolsParents want developers to kick in and help expand overcrowded Toronto schoolsParents want developers to kick in and help expand overcrowded Toronto schoolsParents want developers to kick in and help expand overcrowded Toronto schools

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