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- 07/14/17--16:28: _Laid-off Sears Cana...
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- 07/14/17--08:58: _Despite signing a $...
- 07/15/17--04:00: _Openness about ment...
- 07/14/17--12:14: _‘I just remember sc...
- 07/15/17--03:00: _Temp agencies on ri...
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- 07/16/17--05:38: _Donald Trump takes ...
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- 07/11/17--15:24: _NFLer’s sudden deat...
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- 07/16/17--05:21: British police charge teen after acid attacks in London
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- 07/16/17--07:57: Look up: you may see the northern lights in GTA skies Sunday evening
Sears Canada’s plan to pay out millions in bonuses to keep key staff on board while not paying severance to laid-off workers is being met with shock and disbelief.
Ken Eady, who spent 30 years at Sears before retiring, said news of the bonuses was just the latest development in a terrible situation.
“To see people let go after 30 or 40 years of service, without any reasonable notice, or without any severance, and then to see people being paid what might be millions of dollars in bonuses for staying seems so out of balance and so unreasonable that it’s beyond the pale,” said Eady, who now works to protect the pensions of retired Sears employees at the independent SCRG retiree association.
Sears Canada got court permission on Thursday to pay $9.2 million in retention bonuses as part of a compromise with retired employees that will see the company continue making some benefit and pension payments until Sept. 30.
The retailer had initially asked the court for permission to immediately halt payments for pension, health and dental benefits for laid off employees, retirees and surviving spouses due to a severe cash crunch.
Justice Glenn Hainey wrote in his approval of the $9.2 million in payments that the details should remain confidential. But the company estimated when it sought court protection in June that it would need to pay $7.6 million for key employees at head office and $1.6 million for managers of stores that are scheduled to be closed under the restructuring.
Sears Canada spokesperson Joel Shaffer said the payments are common during the creditor protection process, and are designed to keep key employees motivated with performance indicators and incentives to successfully close stores.
He said the payments are designed to support the best possible outcome for the business and stakeholders, and that the situation could worsen without them.
Along with approving the deal between the company and former employees, Hainey also gave Sears Canada the green light to immediately proceed with reaching out to potential buyers while it’s under court protection from its creditors.
Sears Canada shocked many employees when it announced in June that it planned to close 59 locations across the country and cut approximately 2,900 jobs, without severance, while under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act.
Employment lawyer Susan Ursel, whose firm represents more than 17,000 non-unionized former and current employees, said Thursday they continue to push for temporary hardship fund for those who are in dire need of cash and health benefits.
“It’s like a Lethal Weapon kind of situation, you know? Television kind of thing. To stop someone, you’ve got to hit them.”
The case of a man charged with manslaughter after a hit-and-run hinges on the reasonableness of this kind of thinking, says Toronto-based criminal lawyer Antonietta Raviele.
As the Star reported Friday, Anthony James Kiss was charged with manslaughter after he fatally hit Dario Humberto Romero with his car on June 7. He did it, Kiss said, because he saw Romero holding a knife and attacking a woman.
Kiss, 31, was also charged with impaired operation of a motor vehicle causing death, over 80 mgs operation of a motor vehicle causing death and failure to stop at a scene of accident causing death.
The Star contacted two criminal lawyers, who aren’t involved in the case, to get their opinion.
Kiss’s blood alcohol level and the fact that he fled the scene add layers of complication to the case, said Toronto lawyer Daniel Brown.
“It sounds like the type of issue we would see on a law school exam,” Brown said. “One that really explores a whole number of topics.”
Though Kiss has given his account of what happened, his version of events hasn’t been tested in court. Police won’t comment on the case, but said in a news release issued after the incident that a 59-year-old woman suffered injuries unrelated to the collision.
Raviele said that at the trial, Kiss’s defence lawyer could argue that his actions were necessary in order to prevent another crime — in this case the injury or death of the woman Romero allegedly attacked — from occurring.
That kind of defence is necessary, Brown said, because Kiss has already said he intentionally hit Romero with his car.
“A manslaughter conviction can arise when somebody commits a crime . . . that leads to the person’s death even though it wasn’t intended to kill the person,” Brown said.
The defence will have to demonstrate that Kiss’s action was justified in order to protect the woman, since he does not dispute that the action was intentional.
Raviele said it’s important to consider that, if Kiss’s version is accurate, without his intervention, a woman may have died or have been seriously injured.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Kiss will be acquitted of the manslaughter charge.
The judge or jury will have to consider whether there were “less dangerous and more legal” means that Kiss could have pursued to prevent Romero from stabbing the woman, Raviele said. Whether he considered honking or yelling at Romero, or approaching him with his car without making impact, would be aspects that a judge or jury would take into consideration.
“That’s the most extreme thing he could have done in those circumstances,” Raviele said. This could be the focus of the prosecution.
The case is further complicated by Kiss’s blood alcohol level (he blew above the legal limit but said he was not impaired) and the fact that he fled the scene after he hit Romero, citing shock.
The defence will have to show that Kiss’s judgment that night was sound, and that a reasonable, sober person would have made the same call, Brown said.
Kiss blew over the legal limit but, as Raviele pointed out, being over the legal blood alcohol level does not necessarily denote impairment.
That’s why impaired driving causing death and driving above 80 mgs causing death are separate charges.
Raviele said that toxicologists presenting opposing views of how likely Kiss was to be impaired will be called by the prosecution and the defence at trial.
The lawyers agree that the fact that Kiss was drinking is likely to cause problems for him in court.
“I think there’s a greater likelihood that he’ll be convicted of the other offences,” including impaired driving causing death, than of manslaughter, Raviele said.
The fact that Kiss fled rather than stay and call 911 is also a bad sign for him, not just on the charge of failure to stop at a scene causing death, but also for the charge of manslaughter.
“If it was less about shock and more about ‘I did this and now I have to get away’ then that lends more to the moral blameworthiness of him,” Raviele said.
Kiss is out on bail and scheduled back in court on Aug. 3.
Professional athletes are notorious for blowing some, if not all, of their fortunes on outrageous purchases, from over-the-top mansions and luxury yachts to tricked-out sports cars and epic sneaker collections.
Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen once bought a Gulfstream jet, then found out it didn’t fly. Boxer Mike Tyson spent $2 million on a solid gold bathtub for his first wife. Former NFL wide receiver Andre Rison went broke after a spending spree that included $1 million on bling.
But Kelly Olynyk is not at all interested in flashing his substantial wealth. Quite the contrary.
The Toronto-born NBA player leases a Toyota Tundra pickup truck and uses an iPhone 5 while in Canada, though he just signed a contract worth an estimated $50 million (U.S.) with the Miami Heat.
Wearing a plain white t-shirt and ball cap over his trademark long mane after a workout at U of T’s Goldring Centre, the 26-year-old former Boston Celtic (who spent his teen years in Kamloops, B.C.) exudes a chill vibe.
“I don’t wear designer clothes or shoes. I don’t drive a fancy car,” the frugal player says matter-of-factly. “I’ve never taken a vacation. I wouldn’t know what a vacation is.”
Olynyk has an accounting degree, is two semesters shy of his MBA, and even did a two-week internship two years ago at his financial advisor’s firm in San Francisco.
But in a world where obscene wealth can tempt people to do some strange stuff, the seven-foot-tall player has some pretty simple tastes: he always opts for a nice sushi dinner over chillin’ in the clubs, capped off with a good night’s sleep in his California king-sized bed.
We chatted with him about managing wealth and fiscal prudence in the era of multi-million-dollar pro sports contracts.
What’s your financial background?
I went to school at Gonzaga (University in Spokane, Wash.) and I wanted to do accounting because I thought it would be a great background to have, whether you’re going to be an accountant or not, just to know how money works. And how you can help yourself or others make it work better. If you have four years of someone explaining it to you in college, you’re going to understand it more than 15 minutes in one ear and one out the other.
How does your financial advisor help you?
He’s someone I work with to bounce ideas off, making sure I’m doing the right things to preserve (my money) and help out my circle, my family and friends, as much as I can.
What was it like to do a business internship in the NBA off-season?
I got a condensed version of what the industry is like, and how it operates, and the process you go through when you’re trying to make money and save money and multiply money. Budgets and habits, assets, depreciation, and to make whatever you have go as far as possible. It was awesome to get out there and find out how it works.
Do people hit you up for money to invest in their businesses?
Everyone’s got an idea or a plan for something that’s about to go big, and they want you to be a part of it. People come to you with these ideas and need money to fund them every other day, whether it’s apps or events or start-up companies they’re trying to get off the ground.
Did you invest in one?
I decipher which is the best way to go. You can’t do them all, obviously. One of my friends has a porous brick company that collects storm water run-off so that when it rains, there’s no overflow to the sewers and rivers and oceans. I thought it was a cool idea. But you’ve got to think about diversifying your portfolio. So you can’t be all in volatile investments, it’s got to be something sturdy depending on the market.
Do you own a home?
I have a townhouse in Boston. It was smarter for me to own because of how strong the Boston market is, but now that I’m not living there, I’m faced with whether I should sell it or rent it out. It’s a great place to live and raise a family.
What do you spend your money on?
I like to spend on good food. Being an athlete, where you’re using your body as your tool for success, you’ve got to be able to fuel yourself. I’m not going to cheat myself on food. It’s probably the single most important thing to making sure my body is in tip-top working condition.
What don’t you spend your money on?
I don’t wear designer clothes or shoes. I don’t drive a fancy car, I lease a Toyota Tundra, a 2016. Everybody’s different. When I first got in the NBA, my agent told me, there’s going to be stuff you don’t want to spend your money on and there’s going to be stuff you should spend a lot of money on because it’s important. He told me one to make sure you buy yourself a really good bed. You’ll appreciate it over time; it’s going to give you way more benefit. I got a California king, which is a longer version of the king. It was probably $5,000. It’s awesome. You spend just under half your life in bed, so make sure you get the best one if you have the means.
Don’t you get a lot of freebies in professional sports?
Definitely the richer or the more famous you are, the less you pay for things. It’s kind of a backward world in that sense.
Do the newbies hit you up for financial advice?
They ask what you do and how you do it. Kids just coming into the league, they want to know and they’re eager to learn, that’s when it’s going to make the most impact.
Why don’t you treat yourself to a nice vacation at a posh resort?
I’ve never really gone on vacation, and gone and done nothing on a tropical island. Usually in the summers I play with the national team. We usually go over to Europe. We travel, but to play basketball. I’ve seen a lot of the world through the game . . . One of these days I’ll take my family somewhere. They never go on vacation, either. Growing up we never took vacations. All our money went into sports camps or teams.
Do your teammates razz you because you don’t partake in a flashy lifestyle?
Yeah, sometimes they mock my wardrobe or my shoes, but it is what it is.
One of the most interesting stories to go viral in recent days involves a web developer in Ann Arbor, Michigan named Madalyn Parker who was dealing with some mental health issues and needed a break from work. However, unlike so many of us in this situation Parker didn’t tell colleagues she had the flu, a bad back, or food poisoning. Instead, she told the truth: “Hey Team,” Parker wrote in an email to her co-workers, “I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%.”
And what do you know: Parker’s boss, Ben Congleton, the CEO of the company where she works, reacted like a total mensch. “Hey Madalyn,” Congleton responded, “I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this. Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health — I can’t believe this is not a standard practice at all organizations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.”
Parker shared this email exchange on Twitter and the internet went wild with praise for her and her standup boss. And why not? It was brave of Parker to reveal to her co-workers that she struggles with mental health and it was decent of Congleton to respond positively to her candidness. Both of them have no doubt chipped away at the massive stigma that surrounds talking openly about mental health.
But despite the enormous respect I have for Parker and her decision to be candid about such a delicate issue, I hope this candidness about mental health in the office doesn’t catch on.
I don’t say this because I object to talking openly about sensitive personal subjects with colleagues, or because I don’t believe mental health issues are serious. On the contrary, I deal with depression and I take an antidepressant everyday. I say this because as much as I too would like to chip away at the stigma around mental health, I’d hate to see the value we place on privacy around health issues suffer in the name of fighting that stigma.
As commendable as the recent public push to open up about mental health is, I wish these efforts focused less on personal confession — “I’ve struggled with X issue” — and more on the broader truth: for example, hammering home the fact that mental health is health, period, and employers should treat it as such.
For me, the problem pivots on this point. You wouldn’t tell your boss you’re staying home to work on your “physical health.” You’d simply say “I’m ill,” or “I’m not feeling great,” statements that happen to apply to depression and the common cold equally. I’m concerned that when we go out of our way to name the specific breed of health issue we suffer from, even if doing so erodes a stigma around that issue, we send a message that confession is more enlightened than confidentiality; that “opening up” is the framework for how a modern office should function.
Frankly, I don’t want to open up, because opening up implies that mental health must be singled out for validation. Yes, I mentioned that I deal with depression. And yes, I’d like my employer to be understanding and accommodating if my health issue is especially debilitating one week. But I’d rather the norm not shift to a place where it’s standard to divulge to my boss when my reason for staying home is specifically mental health-related. Or worse, why it is so. Can you imagine? “Hey boss, those self-defeating voices in my head are really loud this morning, I think I might have to file my column when they subside. Could be in an hour, could be when I’m 65.”
Of course, I don’t honestly believe it will come to this, nor do I think Madalyn Parker was anything but brave for being frank with her officemates.
But I do believe where health is concerned, that privacy in the workplace is paramount. Employees should know they can share as little as possible about their health and receive the same support as colleagues who pour their hearts out.
In the end, the most profound and destigmatizing message on this matter will arrive, not from employees who suffer from mental health issues, but from employers who out of the blue, unprompted by an unwell subordinate, make it known that “I’m not feeling well, I’m going to take the day off” is a totally valid statement, no matter where in the body a person’s illness takes root.
Yasmin Mumed remembers the brand new pale pink dress with embroidered flowers.
She remembers the morning trip to the busy market with her grandmother. And the candy she got to eat. It was a sunny, happy day.
Then her mind flashes to the dark room filled with women. The blindfold. Being laid on her back. The confusion, the fear and the piercing pain.
When it was all over, and the blindfold came off, she remembers looking down and seeing a patch of blood on her dress, just below her belly button.
Mumed was subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting, at the age of 6 in her village in Ethiopia before immigrating to Canada. She grew up in Scarborough and, now 23, studies at the University of Guelph. She is one of more than 200 million girls worldwide who have been cut.
An ongoing Toronto Star investigation has revealed that the federal government is aware of cases in which Canadian girls have been taken abroad to be cut. Canada has failed to address and measure the scope of the problem.
Unlike the United Kingdom, which has undertaken research and is tracking FGM cases, Canada has not collected data on Canadian women who, like Mumed, are living with the physical and psychological affects of FGM, regardless of where and when it happened to them. In the U.K., there are an estimated 137,000 women and girls affected.
Experts say there is also a lack of local services in Canada for women, and far too few trained professionals, such as doctors and counsellors, to offer support.
Mumed was cut three years before she immigrated to Canada at the age of 9. She is now fundraising to go to California to have reconstructive surgery.
“I know there’s a lot of young girls out there who are just like me with a similar background, similar childhoods, who have never heard anyone that looks like them talk about this,” says Mumed of what is often a stigmatized and incredibly private topic. She never spoke about her cutting with her grandmother, who raised her and took her to have it done. She has also never spoken about it with her mother.
There are no health benefits to FGM, which varies in severity from partial removal of the clitoris to its most severe form — the incision of the clitoris and labia and stitching the vulva together, leaving only a small opening. This is known as infibulation.
Mumed’s clitoris and part of her labia were cut, preventing her from feeling sexual pleasure in the same way other women do. She looked for support services in the Toronto area to help her live with the anxiety and confusion she was feeling, and to help her navigate day-to-day life, including dating.
She didn’t find any.
Instead, Mumed found Dr. Marci Bowers in California, who has placed her on a wait list for a surgery, which some consider controversial, that would remove the scar tissue on her clitoris. It has given her some hope.
For the last several years, after she became sexually active, Mumed has relived the vivid memories of the day she was cut. At times, the flashbacks have left her with crippling anxiety.
She remembers walking back to her village from the market with her grandmother, and stopping at her great-grandmother’s home, which was at the end of a row of houses. It was sunny outside, but dark inside. A group of older women were huddled together with one very elderly woman sitting and holding a bowl of water.
The women then took hold of Mumed, some holding on to her arms and others, her legs. Another, her head.
“I just started panicking and didn’t know what was going on … I was just kind of freaking out and trying really hard to get out of the situation,” she says. “I didn’t understand what was happening. There was no conversation about what was happening.”
She was blindfolded and put on her back. That’s when she felt the pain shoot through her body. “I just remember screaming,” she says. Because she was fighting so much, the square-shaped razor the size of a paint chip the woman used to cut her clitoris slipped and also cut part of her labia. When she stood up the blood wasn’t just on her new dress but also pooling on the floor.
“I remember standing up and I remember my grandma sitting in the crowd looking at me. It was like she was sad but also trying to be strong. She gave me this look to also stop crying,” says Mumed. “I always wanted to make my grandma proud and for her to know that I’m strong.”
Her great-grandmother made a paste of herbs to place on the wound to help stop the bleeding. For the next several days Mumed stayed in bed, as family members, neighbours and even acquaintances from nearby villages came to bring treats of sweet tahini halva and say hello. Her great-grandmother checked in on her often to make sure there was no infection.
“I just remember people celebrating, people looking at me,” she says. “I felt kind of happy after. I guess the way people were acting with me was very proud. I felt I was at this different stage of my life.”
Soon, Mumed pushed the day out of her mind completely. She moved with her grandmother to Ethiopia’s bustling capital, Addis Ababa, to live with her uncle, leaving behind the village, with its open fields and nights lit by oil lamp. Her mother immigrated to Canada when Mumed was a toddler, after her husband, Mumed’s father, died. She had remarried and was trying to bring her only daughter to Canada.
At the same time, her grandmother was also preparing to leave Ethiopia because of the persecution of her Oromo ethnic group. One day, Mumed woke up and the woman who raised her had gone, left for a refugee camp in Kenya. Mumed stayed with her uncle until her immigration paperwork came through, in 2001. The only reminder of her cutting, her pink embroidered dress, now stained with brown spots from where the blood had faded over the years.
She continued to wear the dress. It was the nicest garment she owned.
For many years — growing up in public housing in Scarborough, learning English, adapting to life in Canada — Mumed, whose Oromo name, Galme, is a reference to the diary that holds the history of her people, never thought of her cutting. She took care of her younger half-brother. She spent most of her free time at the local community centre that became her refuge. Her relationship with her mother, who had her when she was just 15-years-old, was rocky. When she was a teenager, Mumed, left home, sleeping on friend’s couches before a family in her neighbourhood took her in.
The first time she thought at all about the issue of FGM was in her early teens. She was watching an episode of America’s Next Top Model, when a Somali contestant tearfully shared she’d been cut and couldn’t experience sexual pleasure. “Even then I still didn’t make the connection,” she says.
Soon after, when Mumed was 15 and in Grade 11, she had her first sexual experience. “When I found out something was different with me I immediately started having all these flashbacks,” she says. She turned to the internet and discovered a familiar story. Of the hut. The ambush. The group of women holding down flailing arms and legs.
She became depressed. “It’s like my whole life had been kind of a lie,” Mumed says. “I just felt like I wasn’t woman enough or I wasn’t whole. Like I wasn’t normal.”
Then she became angry. By that time her grandmother had been granted refugee status in the U.S. and was living in Seattle. “I remember I would be angry to even want to talk to her,” she says.
Looking back on it now, though, Mumed does not feel resentment towards her grandmother, who died three years ago.
She believes that the woman she loves and credits with teaching her how to be the resilient person she is now, wanted her to be cut because she knew her granddaughter was destined to live in another culture.
“It was her trying to protect me,” Mumed says. “She knew I was going to be raised in a world that’s completely different . . . It came from a really loving place and a place of just genuinely trying to pass something down to me that she genuinely felt was really important.”
FGM is practiced in 29 countries around the world, in Africa the Middle East, India and other parts of Asia. It is seen by some as a rite of passage into womanhood or a condition of marriage. Though it is not considered an Islamic practice — it predates the religion — for some, it is a religious ritual or requirement and there are tremendous societal pressures put on families to have it done.
In her village in Ethiopia, where today 63 per cent of women are believed to have been cut, according to UNICEF, it was the norm. “If anything, for people who weren’t cut, I remember that they would feel that they didn’t fit in or something was weird with them,” says Mumed.
That’s not to say she believes that any young girl should endure what she has. She worries for her little cousins — three girls under the age of five.
Mumed believes the best way tackle FGM is by “complicating the conversation” — by humanizing the people who are often demonized for perpetuating the practice because they often do it out of love, and by girls like her speaking out about it in a way that shows respect and sensitivity, and takes the issue out of the shadows.
“If we’re talking to each other and we’re tackling it within ourselves that’s the only way any type of real change, real understanding is going to happen,” she says. She and her friends talk about the complexities of the issue and how they don’t want to continue the tradition with their own children.
“We talk about it stopping with us,” Mumed says.
It wasn’t until the fall that Mumed began searching for resources, to help her talk about the traumatic memories of her cutting, or her body image or dating as a young woman. The urge came about because she had met someone she liked through mutual friends. They started talking on FaceTime. But the fact that she might have to tell this person about such a private thing filled her, again, with anxiety. She started losing sleep.
“When you’re not in an intimate relationship I don’t have to think about it but as soon as something happens where I might have to be intimate with somebody or I’m attracted to somebody that’s something that automatically comes out of nowhere,” she says.
While every woman’s experience and memories are different, FGM can cause post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, says Jasmine Abdulcadir, a gynecologist working at a specialized clinic for women with FGM at the Geneva University Hospital in Switzerland. And negative public messages about FGM and warnings of serious complications, such as lack of sexual pleasure, aimed at preventing the practice in future generations can also contribute to the stigmatization of women who are already cut, Abdulcadir says.
Mumed looked on the web for anything in the Toronto area that might help her — a support group, specialized health care professionals, an organization that focuses on FGM. She couldn’t find anything. Her case demonstrates that there is a lack of local services available for women living with it, experts say.
“It’s still something that people think doesn’t happen,” says Reyhana Patel of Islamic Relief Canada, whose organization has done research on the issue of FGM, adding that if there are services here “no one knows about it.”
Patel and her organization are calling on the Canadian government to do more, starting with conducting research to understand the issue nationally.
“When you get a sense of what’s happening you can start applying appropriate services,” she says.
In the U.K., for example, England’s Royal College of Nurses has undertaken efforts to create an enhanced dataset on FGM. In 2015-16 there were 5,700 new cases of FGM records, including 18 cases in which FGM had been undertaken in the U.K. There is also a government-funded national centre that provides support for survivors of FGM, including directing them to local resources.
Mumed is waiting for her reconstructive surgery with Bowers, a gynecologist who specializes in transgender surgery. She has performed more than 250 operations on women who have had FGM in her clinic, which is south of San Francisco. Bowers learned how to do the operation — which removes the scar tissue from the clitoris and cuts ligaments around it, allowing it to descend, in the hopes of giving the woman back some sensation — from Dr. Pierre Foldes in Paris, who pioneered the technique.
A non-governmental organization called Clitoraid, based in Las Vegas, covers the cost for the surgery, but Mumed is fundraising for her airfare and accommodation, as well as prescription drugs. She is also required to bring a friend for support. Her GoFundMe page has raised a little over $2,000 of her $6,650 goal.
In order to get approval for the surgery, Mumed had to see a gynecologist in Canada to send confirmation to Bowers’ office that she had indeed been cut and that her clitoris had been damaged.
The entire process was a negative experience, she says. When she went to the walk-in clinic to get a referral, the doctor there didn’t seem to know what she was talking about, Mumed says. When she went to see a gynecologist last December, she says the doctor told her that he didn’t think she needed the surgery because she had not been cut enough to cause problems with going to the bathroom or giving birth.
“He said ‘you’re perfectly fine.’ I said, ‘that’s not what I’m here for,’ ” Mumed says, adding that the doctor made her feel like she existed only to give birth.
She left the office and cried.
Dr. Bowers’ office let her send in photographs instead, to qualify for the surgery.
“It’s heartbreaking to see your friend go through that,” says Mumed’s friend, Shabina Lafleur-Gangji, who was with her at the gynecologist’s appointment. “It’s just one more hard and difficult step.”
In 2003, former midwife and anti-FGM campaigner Kowser Omer-Hashi co-authored a book with Beverley Chalmers about giving proper obstetric care to women who have had FGM. At the time, she heard from dozens of women who reported hearing hurtful comments from caregivers. “It really makes me sad,” she says. “Years later we are sitting here discussing the same issues.” While Omer-Hashi says she’s grateful for Canada’s health-care system, she says there should be more education and training about FGM.
Not all doctors agree on Dr. Bowers’ technique.
In 2012, Foldes, the doctor who invented the surgery, and his colleagues published a study in the medical journal, The Lancet, that found after a one-year follow-up of 866 patients, most reported an improvement in clitoral pleasure and just over half experienced orgasm.
In response to Foldes’ study, a group of British doctors wrote The Lancet saying his claims were not “anatomically possible.” (Foldes rejected their remarks).
While Mumed hopes the surgery will work, she is not certain it will. Her decision to pursue it is, more than anything, about making her own choice about her own body, she says.
“It’s something that was taken away from me without my consent,” she says of her cutting, adding that she is pursuing the surgery to have “that power back.”
“I’ve made a decision over my body and I’m choosing to do it. Not everyone makes the same choice. Everyone needs to do their own journey.”
Jayme Poisson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (416) 814-2725
Jayme Poisson can be reached at email@example.com or (416) 814-2725
Ontario has seen a steady growth in the number of temp agencies starting up at a time the province seeks to enact new protection for its most vulnerable workers.
Statistics obtained by the Star show a 20 per cent increase in temp agencies in Ontario over the past decade, with much of that growth driven by businesses registering in the Toronto area. In the GTA alone, there are now almost 1,700 active temp agencies — more than the combined total of seven Canadian provinces that track such stats.
It’s “like a huge warning bell to anyone who is concerned about (work) conditions and low wages and precariousness,” said Deena Ladd of the Toronto-based Workers’ Action Centre.
“I think it’s a huge indication that corporations are shifting their responsibility to a third party for employment. I think that is incredibly dangerous.”
To paint a picture of the scale of temp agency work nationwide, the Star filed Freedom of Information requests to every worker’s compensation board in the country seeking the names, addresses and registration dates of all active temp agencies. Staffing firms are required to register with the boards because they are liable when a temp agency worker gets hurt on the job — a financial incentive for companies to use them.
Two provinces, British Columbia and Quebec, said they did not have the data requested by the Star. The remaining provinces combined declared 847 active temp agencies, while Ontario alone had almost 2,600 in 2016.
In June, the government proposed sweeping amendments to Ontario’s employment and labour laws that would tackle the rise of precarious work. If passed, the legislation would make it illegal to pay temp agency employees less for doing the same work as permanent workers. It would also make it easier for them to unionize.
“We seem to be growing into a society where agencies are proliferating, and these people are getting a little piece of everybody’s paycheques,” said Labour Minister Kevin Flynn in an interview with the Star.
Flynn said he believes there is a legitimate role for temp agencies: catering to people who truly want short-term employment or employers who experience major peaks and valleys in production. But the proposed legislation, Bill 148, aims to remove the financial incentives for companies to use bad-actor agencies to avoid creating permanent jobs.
“We’re concerned about the people on the production lines and warehouses,” he said. “I think the concept of full-time, permanent work is being abused.”
Temp agency employment has gained a foothold in other sectors too: Estina Gitan, 59, says she has worked for more than five years as a qualified personal support worker through agencies placing her in hospitals and youth shelters across the GTA.
Gitan is her family’s main breadwinner because she says her husband was let go from his factory job after he had a heart attack. She says her pay as a temp has always been minimum wage and her schedule erratic. To make ends meet, she rations her medication for an underactive thyroid to make it last and makes her own clothes.
She says agencies would often charge for “training” courses and in one case made her sign a contract to prevent her from applying to permanent jobs at workplaces where she was assigned.
“This money is coming from our minimum-wage pocket,” she said.
While Ladd says she applauds many of the measures in Bill 148, which include increasing the minimum wage to $15, she believes the legislation falls short on temp agency worker protections.
“We want the client company to be held financially liable for any injuries, and not the temp agencies,” she said.
That step, she argues, is critical to removing a major financial incentive for companies to use staffing firms. It was also one of the final recommendations made by two labour experts appointed by the government to review its employment laws.
Workers’ rights advocates also want to see the proposed legislation restrict companies from hiring more than 20 per cent of their workforce through a temp agency, and mandate that they be made permanent if they do the same job at the same company for more than three months.
“You have to close all the loopholes,” Ladd said.
Flynn told the Star his ministry sees such regulations as too “unwieldy,” but said the government is currently exploring ways to increase companies’ liability when a temp agency worker is injured. Committee hearings started for Bill 148 this week.
Mary McIninch, head of the lobby group the Association of Canadian Search, Employment and Staffing Services, which represents 255 Ontario staffing firms, said her organization’s members pledge to uphold a code of ethical standards and are “committed to advancing best practices, including proven safety in the workplace.”
In its 2015 submission to the government on employment law reform, ACSESS said legislative changes were “unnecessary, unsubstantiated and would cause undue hardship to the staffing industry.” McIninch said her organization does, however, support Bill 148’s proposals to beef up enforcement efforts. She also said she believes “workers embrace temp work for its flexibility, link to learning new skills or pursuing new opportunities.”
Gitan described her own experience working through a temp agency as akin to being invisible.
“You would work and they would push you around and you would take it,” she said. “(Permanent staff) would treat you like nothing.”
Indeed, national statistics have literally erased workers like Gitan: in 2004, Statistics Canada stopped collecting the number of temp agency employees across the country. Instead, it now measures temporary employment — which includes people hired directly by a company on a short-term basis. Currently, there are over 747,000 temporary workers in Ontario, according to Statistics Canada.
Last year, Ontario temp agencies estimated their workforce to have around 146,000 “full-time equivalent” employees according to the WSIB data requested by the Star. But this number is an estimate calculated through insurable earnings declared by agencies and average hourly wages, and assumes a person works 2,000 hours per year — roughly the equivalent of a full-time job.
In other words, the figure does not reflect the actual number of people who cycle through temp agencies— who often don’t work standard hours, and may work through multiple staffing firms.
Gitan currently has one part-time job and picks up more shifts through a temp agency; previously, she worked through two agencies — which she says made her schedule even more erratic.
“I didn’t get to spend quality time with (my kids),” she said. “We didn’t have a meal together because I was working all the time.”
“The entire setup is to give client companies, companies who use agencies, a completely disposable labour force,” Ladd said.
“If you have that kind of system in that place, why would a company ever hire you directly?”
With files from Erin Nespoli
LONDON—British police have charged a teenager with a spate of London acid attacks, as authorities considered whether tougher sentences would curb a spike in assaults with corrosive liquids.
The Metropolitan Police force said late Saturday that a 16-year-old boy faces 15 charges, including grievous bodily harm. The boy, who can’t be named because of his age, was arrested after five moped riders were sprayed with a corrosive substance during a 90-minute period last week.
One man was left with life-changing injuries, police said. At least two of those attacked were drivers for food delivery services Deliveroo and UberEATS.
A 15-year-old boy who was also arrested has been released on bail.
Police say the number of reported attacks with corrosive liquids in London rose from 261 in 2015 to 454 in 2016. Some appear related to gang activity or the theft of cars and motorbikes.
Amid mounting public concern, the British government said it is considering increasing sentences for acid attacks to a maximum of life.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd wrote in the Sunday Times newspaper that those who use noxious liquids as a weapon should “feel the full force of the law.”
CAMBRIDGE, ONT.—On a humid morning this week, Bismarck Coca, a veteran neon bender for Pride Signs in Cambridge, gingerly suspended a glass tube over the blue gas flames shooting out of a ribbon torch.
After a few moments, it glowed red and began to yield to his expert rolling motions. In a brisk, practiced gesture, Coca put the hot, pliable object onto a paper pattern and shaped it into the form of a letter.
He then attached electrodes to either end, zapped all the impurities with a massive jolt of power and filled the resulting vacuum tube with a mix of neon gas and mercury. Once hooked up to a power supply, the shape he had formed came vivaciously to life, casting a sexy green glow across his workbench.
“That there,” said Pride’s 59-year-old president Brad Hillis as he watched the production, “is the E-L.”
The syllable should be instantly recognizable to Toronto music fans. Pride, a 180-employee firm that engineers giant commercial signs, is in the final stages of reconstructing the El Mocambo’s famed marquee. Since 1948, the familiar sign has adorned the landmark venue where acts ranging from local indie bands to the Rolling Stones have performed “under the neon palms,” as the club’s famous slogan had it.
Elsewhere in the 80,000-square-foot facility, the stamped components of the new version — palm fronds, coconut clusters and that looming, slightly arched trunk — were waiting to be sent into the paint shop for a coat of pale green primer and automotive-grade finishing.
Overhead, an illuminated billboard declares “Pride Signs welcomes El Mocambo,” hinting at just how hot the cool factor has been with this gig.
The finished version will be installed on the building’s restored façade in the fall in anticipation of a re-launch of the club next March, in time for its 70th anniversary.
“The sign will be a gateway to an iconic Toronto music venue and rock and roll museum,” said investor and former Dragon’s Den star Michael Wekerle, who bought the Spadina Ave. club for $4 million in early 2015 and is investing another $10 million or so to refurbish it from top to bottom.
The reconstructed marquee, which has been a year in the making with a price tag of about $43,000, will be installed on the building’s restored façade in the fall in anticipation of a slightly delayed re-launch of the club next March, just in time for its 70th anniversary.
Over a year in the making, the Elmo’s rebuilt commercial calling card will be intensely scrutinized in a city where the preservation of vintage illuminated signs, such as ones that adorned Sam’s and Honest Ed’s, has become a cause célèbre.
After buying the club, Werkele initially planned to salvage the palms, which at one point had been put up for sale on eBay for just $6,000. But after Pride’s crews removed the 2,300-kilogram steel structure in early 2016, they discovered its innards were far too corroded to safely restore and then suspend over a busy sidewalk.
“When we looked inside,” said Pride’s vice-president of engineering Mark Hawley, “there was so much rust we couldn’t have welded or screwed in [bolts].” He added that it’s unlikely building officials would have allowed it to be re-installed.
Wekerle describes the decision to halt plans for a restoration as “very emotional.”
The old sign now sits in two pieces in a corner of Pride’s factory. It contains seven decades of detritus, included piles of rusted steel, tangles of corroding wire and several birds’ nests tucked between the fronds. According to Kelly Pullen, Wekerle’s spokesperson, it will be cleaned up and, if all goes according to plan, installed in two halves on either side of the refurbished second-floor stage.
In terms of size and layout, its successor is an identical replica. Instead of steel, the new version is being built from lighter, rust-proof aluminum components that can be disassembled for easy maintenance. “It will last forever,” said Hillis.
In place of the old sign’s hand-painted detailing, such as the bark on the trunk and the grass around its base, the new one will sport a heavy-duty vinyl background made with a digital printer. And rather than incandescent bulbs, Pride is installing LEDs, which have become standard issue on commercial signs since the latest iteration of the technology has allowed for warmer light and more precise colours.
However, the new neon elements — for the lettering, the coconuts and the quarter-moon that shines down on the whole vista — will be the real thing, the handiwork of one of the few remaining neon benders in Ontario.
While neon signs once represented a booming business for Pride, Hillis said the market has almost completely dried up in recent years. They’re difficult and dangerous to make, draw huge amounts of power and are prone to catching fire. The latest LED products can produce an almost identical effect, visually, at far less cost and specialized labour.
Yet all the public interest in vintage signs has rekindled demand for old-school neon; among Pride’s next projects is the marquee for the Paradise Theatre on Bloor. The company says its signs typically take about four to six weeks to build.
“It’s turning into an ongoing trend,” said Matt Auclair, a Pride account manager. Added Hillis: “I knew neon would cycle back at some point.”
Once re-installed, the lighting on the whole marquee will also be able to cascade, as it did back in the 1940s and 1950s, when the El Mocambo was well known as a ballroom dance club featuring Latin and swing bands.
While some critics have taken to social media to fret about a faux version of the original, company officials predicted Torontonians, even purists, will be pleased with the result. Said Auclair: “You’ll be able to see it all the way down Spadina.”
PISCATAWAY, N.J.—U.S. President Trump defended his son Donald Trump Jr., contrasting his Russia meeting with Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails and accused the news media of “DISTORTING DEMOCRACY” in a series of angry statements issued early Sunday.
Tweeting from his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J., where he is spending the weekend, Trump lashed out at the media for coverage of the disclosure that his oldest son and namesake held a meeting last year with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer who offered damaging information about Clinton, his campaign opponent.
Trump tweeted, “HillaryClinton can illegally get the questions to the Debate & delete 33,000 emails but my son Don is being scorned by the Fake News Media?”
Trump was referring to emails Clinton deleted from her private server as secretary of state, as well as to her campaign being provided an early look at a question in a primary debate against Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The debate controversy surfaced only because of an illegal hack of Democratic emails, which U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was orchestrated by Russia, and their subsequent release on Wikileaks.
In another tweet Sunday morning, Trump accused the news media of “phony unnamed sources & highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting.” He said the “#Fake News,” the president’s term for news outlets whose aggressive reporting he does not like, is “DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country!”
Trump also thanked a former campaign adviser, Michael Caputo, for his testimony Friday before the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian meddling in the U.S. election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
Caputo told reporters that he testified in a closed session for nearly four hours and told House investigators, “I had no contact with Russians and I never heard of anyone in the Trump campaign talking with Russians.”
Trump tweeted, “Thank you to former campaign adviser Michael Caputo for saying so powerfully that there was no Russian collusion in our winning campaign.”
Caputo worked on the Trump campaign as a communications adviser throughout the Republican primary season but left the team in summer 2016 as the general election got underway. He has long ties to Russia, having lived in the country in the 1990s and working in 2000 as a contractor with the Russian conglomerate Gazprom Media to improve Putin’s image in the United States.
Trump has been staying in Bedminster at his Trump National Golf Club since returning from Paris on Friday evening.
The president has been watching the U.S. Women’s Open, tweeting five times over the weekend about his attendance at the golf tournament. He spent much of Saturday in an enclosed viewing area, watching the golfers on television and entertaining spectators by flashing a thumbs up or posing for photos.
On Sunday morning, Trump boasted that his supporters “far out-numbered the protesters” at the golf club: Thank you to all of the supporters, who far out-numbered the protesters, yesterday at the Women’s U.S. Open. Very cool!
STANFORD, CALIF.—Maryam Mirzakhani, a Stanford University professor who was the first and only woman to win the prestigious Fields Medal in mathematics, has died. She was 40.
Mirzakhani, who battled breast cancer, died on Saturday, the university announced. It did not indicate where she died.
In 2014 Mirzakhani was one of four winners of the Fields Medal, which is presented every four years and is considered the mathematics equivalent of the Nobel Prize. She was named for her work on complex geometry and dynamic systems.
“Mirzakhani specialized in theoretical mathematics that read like a foreign language by those outside of mathematics: moduli spaces, Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, Ergodic theory and symplectic geometry,” according to the Stanford press announcement. “Mastering these approaches allowed Mirzakhani to pursue her fascination for describing the geometric and dynamic complexities of curved surfaces_spheres, doughnut shapes and even amoebas — in as great detail as possible.”
The work had implications in fields ranging from cryptography to “the theoretical physics of how the universe came to exist,” the university said.
Mirzakhani was born in Tehran, Iran, and studied there and at Harvard University. She joined Stanford as a mathematics professor in 2008.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani issued a statement Saturday praising Mirzakhani. “The grievous passing of Maryam Mirzakhani, the eminent Iranian and world-renowned mathematician, is very much heart-rending,” Rouhani said in a message that was reported by the Tehran Times.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said her death pained all Iranians, the Tehran Times reported.
“The news of young Iranian genius and math professor Maryam Mirzakhani’s passing has brought a deep pang of sorrow to me and all Iranians who are proud of their eminent and distinguished scientists,” Zarif posted in Farsi on his Instagram account. “I do offer my heartfelt condolences upon the passing of this lady scientist to all Iranians worldwide, her grieving family and the scientific community.”
Mirzakhani originally dreamed of becoming a writer but then shifted to mathematics.
When she was working, Mirzakhani would doodle on sheets of paper and scribble formulas on the edges of her drawings, leading her daughter to describe the work as painting, according to the Stanford statement.
Mirzakhani once described her work as “like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck you might find a way out.”
Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne called Mirzakhani a brilliant theorist who made enduring contributions and inspired thousands of women to pursue math and science.
Mirzakhani is survived by her husband, Jan Vondrák, and daughter, Anahita.
Austin Reuland cried when he was selected by the Ottawa Redblacks in last week’s CFL supplemental draft.
And if you knew the bittersweet story of sudden death and scientific rebirth that brought Reuland to that moment, perhaps you could understand his emotional outpouring.
It was less than a year ago, after all, that Reuland figured he was finished with football. He’d played four years at Yale University, where he spent time as both a receiver and running back until 2015, and he’d enjoyed his gridiron ride. But armed with an Ivy League degree, he had since set his sights on other opportunities, exploring careers in sports media and commercial real estate.
But then came the tragic events around last year’s U.S. Thanksgiving. That’s when Austin’s eldest of two brothers, Konrad, a former NFL player, felt an odd click behind his left eye. Konrad, a six-foot-six, 270-pound mountain of a tight end who played for the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens, suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm from which he never recovered.
How to be an organ donor:
In the time before Konrad was pronounced dead at age 29, his still-thriving organs were donated to patients in dire need. His right kidney was given to a woman who had spent the previous six years on dialysis. His heart and left kidney, it would later emerge, were transplanted into Rod Carew, the 71-year-old baseball hall of famer who had been relying on a mechanical implant to help pump his blood since suffering a near-fatal heart attack in 2015.
“They found me a 29-year-old heart. You never know — it could be time for a comeback,” Carew quipped to Fox Sports back in January.
This week Austin carried another important part of Konrad from his California home to a practice field in Canada’s capital region. The love of pro football that ran thick in Konrad’s blood appears to have been magically transfused into Austin, who said he’s pursuing a CFL career to honour Konrad’s memory.
“Before Konrad passed, I thought about a different career path. But when he passed, it hit me: he always wanted me to keep playing. And all I ever wanted to do was make him proud,” Austin said in a phone interview. “That’s why, when I got drafted, I broke down crying. I knew Konrad would have been right there next to me as I was getting that call from Ottawa, and we would have spent the whole day celebrating.”
Growing up in southern California, Austin, Konrad and middle brother Warren were an inseparable trio of impressive athletic prowess. Konrad and Warren, born 19 months apart, played football together at Stanford University under coach Jim Harbaugh. But while Austin was nearly six years Konrad’s junior — and, at five foot 11, 201 pounds, far smaller — the youngest Reuland brother never felt excluded from the circle.
“Konrad never made me feel like I wasn’t cool enough. He just wanted me around because I was family. And he put family before everything else,” said Austin, now 24.
While all three sons of Ralf and Mary Reuland have accomplished much — Warren is enrolled in medical school at Louisiana State University — Konrad had a rare combination of elite talent and unfailing humility. With his chiselled physique, blond hair and bushy beard, he looked like a character from the TV show Game of Thrones. But he never demanded to be treated like a king. Konrad, who frequently mentored young athletes, often made an hour-plus drive to a San Diego-area hospital to spend time with Kimi, the school-aged, cancer-stricken niece of a family friend with whom he’d happily sing Taylor Swift songs.
“When people would ask him why he did it, he always said, ‘She’s what keeps me going,’” Austin said.
In preparing for football, Konrad was the one who often kept his training partners honest.
“There’s a lot of guys, when you’re training, they don’t want to do the last rep or the last set. Konrad was always there to say, ‘Don’t cheat yourself. Everything matters,’” Austin said. “That’s the way he lived. He had an eight-pack. He was always doing things to better himself … He had all his meals measured out so he was getting the right amount of protein. He was incredible.”
In the days after he died, his family searched for reasons to explain his demise. To the family’s knowledge, Konrad was never diagnosed with a brain injury, although Mary Reuland said she doesn’t doubt that, given the reality of a life in football, he could have certainly suffered more than one concussion and kept the symptoms to himself. Still, doctors told the Reulands it’s most likely Konrad was born with the aneurysm — a weak, bulging spot in an artery — and that its rupture was unrelated to the repetitive head trauma endemic to football.
“I’m glad it wasn’t football-related, because then I’d be saying, ‘Austin — you can’t play,’” said Mary. “No, I can’t stop Austin from playing. You’ve got to follow your heart. You’ve got to follow your dreams.”
In the wake of Konrad’s death, both Austin and Warren underwent MRIs to make sure neither brother was harbouring the same internal time bomb that killed Konrad; both tests were negative. Austin also acquired his Canadian citizenship — an easy matter of paperwork since Ralf Reuland was born in Kirkland Lake, Ont. Redblacks general manager Marcel Desjardins said Austin’s status as a non-import prospect made him an attractive pickup who could, once he shakes off the rust of being out of the game for more than a year, help the Redblacks on special teams, at running back or as a receiver.
“I’ve been given a great opportunity in Ottawa,” Austin said. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes, whatever they ask of me.”
The Reulands and Carews — Rod and his wife, Rhonda — have become close since they were introduced a few months back. Both families are passionate about the causes of heart health, aneurysm awareness and organ donation, and the Reulands set up a scholarship in Konrad’s name. Protocol usually discourages the families of organ donors from meeting recipients for at least a year after the procedure, and the vast majority never meet at all. But given Carew’s stature as a sporting legend, his transplant made news. The Reulands read stories that detailed how he’d received his organs from a 29-year-old man. And after some investigation, the connection was confirmed.
The coincidences were jarring. As a player Carew wore No. 29, Konrad’s age. The Carews and the Reulands had children who attended the same middle school, where an 11-year-old Konrad once met Rod Carew and returned home to brag about it.
“All Konrad could talk about that day is how he met Rod Carew,” Austin said. “That was really his childhood hero from that point on. Konrad wanted to be a Hall of Fame player, wanted to be a professional athlete. So Rod changed Konrad’s life, in a way. And Konrad saved Rod’s life, in the end.”
When the families met for the first time a few months back, Austin, along with his parents, donned a stethoscope and put it to Carew’s chest to listen to Konrad’s heart beating strongly therein. It was on that day that they learned a fascinating piece of trivia. Carew had lived for more than seven decades without caring for coffee. Suddenly, he told the Reulands, he craves the stuff — served with cream, no sugar, just as Konrad took his.
“There’s no medical explanation I can think of for that. It’s really bizarre,” said Ralf Reuland, a family doctor.
Said Mary: “The heart wants what it wants, right? … I want to have Rod over for dinner. I want to make him Konrad’s favourite meal and see if his heart remembers that meal.”
On Saturday, before hopping a flight for Ottawa, Austin was treated by his mother to that same meal: roast pork loin with onions and celery accompanied by oven-fried potatoes and brussels sprouts. If the supper made him feel closer to a brother lost too soon, he hopes his Canadian football journey will do the same.
“I call him my badass guardian angel,” Austin said, speaking of Konrad. “I know I’m going to think about him before every play. I know he’s going to be watching over me, and making sure things go the right way for me. I just know he’ll be there to pick me up when I’m down.”
Sipping on a Molson Canadian in Thunder Alley, American Javier Lopez laughs as he relates the story of asking his girlfriend to join him at his first car race — 2,700 kilometres away.
Instead of making a short 90-minute drive to the world-famous Circuit of Americas just north of their home in San Antonio, Texas, Lopez thought it might be fun to travel north — way north — to take in the Toronto Honda Indy.
“She knew I liked racing, so I just asked her if she would like to go,” recalled Lopez of his girlfriend, Catherine Siller, who he’s been dating for three months. “Toronto is a great setting. The town we come from is landlocked so we don’t have any lakeside views.”
Lopez and Siller were among thousands of motorsport fans enjoying perfect weather who descended on Exhibition Place Saturday to cheer on several races, including the IndyCar Series qualifying and NASCAR Pinty’s Series Grand Prix of Toronto.
Many more are expected Sunday for races all day, including the big one starting at 3:40 p.m. Spectators can expect more warm weather in the high 20s C, with a risk of a thunderstorm.
But a chance of rain won’t dampen the spirits of Ron Valois, of Peterborough, who has been coming to the Indy every year since 1997.
Sporting a Paul Tracy cap and an Indianapolis 500 shirt, Valois said he likes watching the drivers negotiate the challenging Honda Indy course, which takes drivers along Lake Shore Blvd. and a winding route through Exhibition Place.
“It’s exciting. It’s the fastest racing sport there is,” said Valois of car racing in general, noting that having Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe in the field gives fans a local boy to cheer on.
For six-year-old Kianna Walch, of Brampton, it was the pink Honda 2000 model car her parents, Moyston Walch and Nicole Walch, bought for her that made her day.
Or it could have been the blue and red snow cone she was crunching on in the sunshine amid the food trucks in Thunder Alley behind a spectator stand.
“It’s definitely a great family atmosphere and environment,” said mom Nicole. “A good way to spend a summer’s day.”
It was the family’s first time to see the Indy in person. Moyston said he’s been watching racing on TV for 10 years and was thrilled to be able to see the cars in person. “It’s the speed. Just being able to go that fast.”
For Torontonians Aroon Saini and his wife, Farah Saini, along with their niece, Aisha Albish, 9, and nephew Khaleel Albish, 12, the eardrum-busting decibels of the growling engines is what attracts them — the louder the better.
“I love the aspect of a powerful engine that a lot of people have put work into, the engineering, the research and development, the driver’s ability to control it,” said Aroon, a mechanic for Honda. “There’s nothing like having that much horsepower under you.”
Niece Aisha put it bluntly: “I like how it’s loud.”
Timothy Montgomery, a physics professor at Kent State University in Ohio, said he’s been coming to Toronto Indy for the past four years. He compared the atmosphere to that of the Indianapolis 500, which he has attended half a dozen times.
“In the States, people don’t behave as well as they do here. We enjoy the way the people treat us here,” said Montgomery. “I’ve always liked Toronto. It’s what the world should be.”
WASHINGTON—So many babies are being born dependent on opioids that the local hospital opened a special unit for them. So many people with addictions are getting arrested that the local jail has had to turn away would-be inmates.
And Barry Staubus keeps getting those miserable emails.
Whenever an autopsy is done in Sullivan County, in northeast Tennessee, the report is sent to the district attorney. So Staubus has been inundated with forensic accounts of tragedies he can’t prosecute anyone for: drug overdoses, suicides by people on drugs, death by diseases caused by drug use.
Staubus has spent years going after drug dealers. Fed up with the “culture of drug dependence, dysfunction and death” infecting the Appalachian community where he grew up, he is now aiming higher.
In June, Staubus and two colleagues from nearby counties announced that they were suing drug manufacturers — specifically, the corporations behind legal painkillers OxyContin, Percocet, Opana and a generic oxycodone.
Their suit is part of a wave of litigation against pharmaceutical companies by states, counties and local prosecutors besieged by the worst addiction crisis in American history.
The goal: turn Big Pharma into the new Big Tobacco.
Accused of deceiving the public about the addiction risk of cigarettes, tobacco giants agreed in 1998 to pay more than $200 billion toward the government costs of providing health-care to smokers.
Pharmaceutical companies have now been sued by the attorneys general of Ohio, Missouri, Mississippi and Oklahoma, plus counties in such states as California and New York.
More lawsuits are probably coming.
Opioid overdoses killed 33,000 people in the U.S. in 2015, about three times the number of gun homicides. The intensity of the crisis, and likely the fact that many of the victims are white middle-class suburbanites with political clout, has produced a bipartisan shift in perceptions of addiction.
Even political figures in conservative areas — like Sullivan County, where Donald Trump got 76 per cent of the vote — have moved away from castigating addicts and moved toward searching for systemic causes and solutions.
Staubus’s suit argues that the opioid epidemic was produced by a “fraudulent scheme” by Purdue Pharma, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals and Endo Pharmaceuticals “to mislead doctors and the public about the need for, and addictive nature of, opioid drugs.”
“They put millions of dollars into advertising. They put lots of sales forces out there. And they supported legislation that made this stuff far more available than it was before. And it’s not enough to say, ‘Well, people misused it,’ ” Staubus said. “When you put way too many drugs, for way too many bad reasons, into way too many people’s hands, prescribed by way too many people, you get what we have in our area, which is an epidemic.”
Public health experts agree that legal painkillers have been central to a crisis best known for its heroin component. The majority of heroin users started with prescription opioids, which in the 1990s and 2000s became much more widely prescribed than in the past.
And one of the primary targets of the suits has already admitted to fraudulent behaviour. OxyContin maker Purdue pleaded guilty to a criminal felony in 2007, agreeing to a $600-million settlement and admitting that it inaccurately promoted the product — between 1995 and 2001 — as less prone to be abused than other drugs.
But experts say the current lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies will be harder to win than the slam-dunk case against their tobacco counterparts.
“The drug companies are not utterly defenceless. There are issues they can raise, and they’re pretty good at it,” said Richard Ausness, a University of Kentucky law professor who has studied opioid suits.
Prescription opioids can be used safely and for good health reasons. U.S. government health regulators studied and endorsed the prescription opioids. And there are, in most cases, medical professionals in between the pharmaceutical companies and the end user.
“Unlike tobacco companies, our products are medicines approved by FDA, prescribed by doctors, and dispensed by pharmacists, as treatments for patients suffering pain,” Purdue said in an email, adding that the company “vigorously” denies the allegations and is “committed to working collaboratively to find solutions” to the opioid crisis.
Endo, the maker of Percocet and Opana, declined to comment on litigation. “Our top priorities include patient safety and ensuring that patients with chronic pain have access to safe and effective therapeutic options,” the company said.
Ausness said the weaknesses of the lawsuits may never be exposed in court. Such suits are often filed with the intention of shaming optics-conscious companies into a settlement.
“Once the defendants are sufficiently demonized,” Ausness said, “a lot of problems disappear. Courts just don’t like them and juries don’t like them, and the plaintiffs win the public relations battle.”
In Dutchess County in southeastern New York, the number of overdose deaths more than doubled between 2005 and 2016, from 24 to 63. The county is spending millions on a new 24-hour “stabilization centre” to help people dealing with addiction or mental illness.
“I think the magnitude of loss, and the size, scale and scope of the crisis, demands that we hold every party responsible. Government at my level is taking responsibility, and we believe that those who engaged in what clearly were deceptive practices and pressure should take some responsibility as well,” said Dutchess Executive Marcus Molinaro, who announced his county’s lawsuit in June.
“What are our options but have them participate in financing the response?”
Child welfare workers who pry into electronic records of youth in care are difficult to track, critics warn, with an alert system for possible privacy breaches used only on select files.
Even though there are strict rules for accessing records, inappropriate searches can happen without anyone knowing about it, said Irwin Elman, the provincial advocate for children and youth, in an email.
As children’s aid societies move toward a new centralized database, access to most records from across the province — and not just from within an agency — will soon become searchable to workers.
While the Child Protection Information Network (CPIN) database streamlines information collecting and sharing, it can also bring the “possibility for seemingly unfettered access” to sensitive files of youth in care, said Yuan Stevens, a former Ontario Crown ward and researcher at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.
Youth should be told in a “no-nonsense way” how their files are protected by legislation, and who has seen their file over time, she said. Stevens grew up in foster care in Orangeville, Ont., and in the fall will return to her studies at McGill University’s law school, where she is specializing in technology law and privacy issues. She said privacy risks that existed in previous systems can increase in a centralized database.
The challenge of tracking privacy breaches isn’t unique to the new system, as previous independent children’s aid society databases faced the same problem, according to Elman.
CPIN gives workers access to care history information in a youth’s file within their department. The youth’s health, criminal and legal records are blanked out in the file and require special permissions to access.
Only restricted files, which are few in number, trigger email notifications to a children’s aid society supervisor when an unauthorized person views a record. Youth who have “aged out” of the system are also searchable because there is no retention period for child welfare files.
“Even social media platforms have the good sense to ask you to sign a disclosure agreement. But with me, I don’t recall ever giving consent that my data would be available for any kind of search after I age out,” said Jane Kovarikova, a PhD candidate in political science at Western University and a former foster child.
“The thing is, even though there are rules, it’s on an honour system. I wouldn’t know that someone searched my record today,” she said.
Aleem Punja, sector leader for CPIN at the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS), said the sector is grappling with how to monitor privacy breaches with the new technology, which is about two to three years away from being fully deployed.
As of March, 15 of Ontario’s 48 societies were using CPIN, including the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, the province’s largest.
“One of the pillars to CPIN is to have seamless access to information for the purposes of making decisions for child safety,” Punja said.
Each children’s aid society has its own policies as to which case files are restricted and the reasons for it. Some restrictions are court-ordered, but others are applied by the society for reasons including safety and protecting confidentiality.
“That could be someone who is a political, prominent figure that would have a restricted file, or a file on a worker of a particular agency,” Punja said. Children in the system who have relatives working for a children’s aid society may also warrant a restriction as an added confidentiality safeguard.
However, Punja said whether or not files should be restricted at all is being reconsidered, and given the volumes of referrals made to societies every year, the email notification system on breaches may not be effective.
“The solution is making sure that the folks on the front line have the right code of ethics, that they have the right training, that there are controls from a human resources perspective in agencies to ensure that accessing this confidential information is well understood,” Punja said.
Last year, 22 privacy breaches were reported to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. This number includes electronic breaches and lost or stolen files.
The ministry hosts youth records on CPIN, but the data is still “owned” by individual societies. The ministry does not have a quality assurance, monitoring, or compliance role with the data, Punja said, meaning it’s up to the societies to police and report their own privacy breaches.
If there is a suspicion of unauthorized record searches, the aid society’s privacy officer can investigate by requesting an audit log report for that file from the ministry.
In an email to the Star, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner said “privacy protective measures should be applied consistently to the benefit of all individuals.”
The commissioner’s office said it believes privacy warning flags are effective in “preventing and detecting unauthorized access,” and cited their experience in the health-care sector by referencing a Star story about hospital staff inappropriately accessing former Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s health records.
CALGARY—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says some of the people he met during his Calgary Stampede visit on Saturday lightheartedly mentioned a gaffe he made during a Canada Day speech, during which he skipped Alberta as he rattled off Canada’s provinces and territories.
“I got a couple of people teasing me for it, but no one’s made a big deal of it. It’s sort of a gentle ribbing,” Trudeau told reporters on the second-last day of the 10-day western celebration.
“I think everyone understands that mistakes happen every now and then and the fact that I keep coming back to Alberta regularly to connect with people, to work on issues that matter to Albertans is something that I know people appreciate very much.”
It was earlier thought that Trudeau would miss the Stampede — a popular schmoozing event for politicians of all stripes — as it coincided with G20 meetings in Hamburg, Germany, and a U.S. governors’ meeting in Rhode Island.
But Trudeau says he managed to rearrange his schedule for Saturday’s whirlwind visit.
The day started off with a meeting with Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi at a downtown hotel.
From there, he headed to two community breakfasts, where he held babies, took selfies and served up pancakes amongst big crowds.
He then visited with Indigenous leaders at the Stampede’s Indian Village, where he spoke with community members inside a tipi and accepted gifts that included a blanket, a hand-made beaded medallion, sweetgrass and smudge box.
He capped off the day with an appearance at the rodeo.
The controversy over the Omar Khadr settlement followed Trudeau on his trip, with a man who lives across from one of the pancake breakfasts putting up a big sign on top of is garage that read: “Trudeau, why don’t you pay the widow Speer?” — referring to the wife of Sgt. Chris Speer, the U.S. soldier Khadr is accused of killing in Afghanistan 15 years ago.
Khadr had filed a $20-million lawsuit against the government for violating his Charter rights, and has received an out-of-court settlement reportedly worth $10.5 million.
Daxton Yont decided to put up the sign because he and others in the community feel the payout was out of line and unjustified.
“We just thought we’d put it up to get a light message across. We didn’t want to be rude about it, didn’t want to do something extreme, but just a nice gentle message to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,” said Yont.
Khadr was sent to the notorious U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after being captured during a firefight with U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2002. He was 15 years old when he was wounded in a battle in which Speer was killed and fellow Delta Force soldier Layne Morris was blinded in one eye.
Khadr, now 30, pleaded guilty to five war crimes before a widely condemned military commission at Guantanamo Bay in 2010. He said he agreed to the plea so he could get out of the American prison and return to Canada.
In 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canadian officials violated Khadr’s rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms during their interrogations.
“It’s easy to understand why people are frustrated about this. I’m concerned about the money as well, which is, as I said, why we settled,” Trudeau told reporters Saturday.
He reiterated that fighting Khadr’s lawsuit in court and losing could have cost $30 million to $40 million.
“So we decided that it was the right thing to do, to settle, both because it was the fiscally responsible thing to do, but also because we recognize that when governments violate Canadians’ fundamental rights, there have to be consequences.”
Ms. Sheila Michaels died last month at the age of 78.
Is the two-letter honorific she helped to popularize in the 1970s — a decade of feminist ferment — soon to follow?
Quite possibly — as are Miss and Mrs., the “sexist” honorifics that Ms. was meant to replace.
Oh, and Mr., you’re likely on your way out, too.
Use of the common honorifics has declined over recent decades as issues of gender equality and identity have risen, says Sali Tagliamonte, a University of Toronto linguist.
And the abbreviations are likely to further fade from the page and spoken conversations.
“Language is like that, if people start insisting on there not being these gendered words (the words fall out of favour),” says Tagliamonte, Canada Research Chair in language variation and change at the school.
“The developments across the 20th century have been moving more and more strongly towards these kinds of changes … and the honorifics are just part of this broad-scale, sweeping set of changes in language.”
As an expert on the influence of cultural shifts on the lexicon, she expects that ongoing societal changes — such as the women’s movement and LGBTQ rights — are suppressing their usage.
“When you have socio-cultural change and you have economic change, you’re going to have language change,” Tagliamonte says.
She points, as examples, to precipitous declines in the use of sex-specific words such as “stewardess” and “chairman” from common conversation and the rise of Ms. as a ubiquitous honorific for women — married or not.
Michaels did not coin the abbreviation of “Mizz,” which had been used as far back as 1901, the New York Times reported in her obituary.
What the committed feminist did, however, was help repurpose Ms. as a generic descriptor for all women — like Mr. for men — who had been segregated into Miss and Mrs. depending on marital status.
Author and language expert Patricia T. O’Conner predicts that gendered honorifics will all but disappear from the written language.
“My personal feeling is that eventually the category of honorifics that identify people merely by sex or domestic circumstances … will fall away in ordinary writing and only last names will be used,” O’Conner, who has co-authored five books on language and is a former editor at the New York Times Book Review, said in an email.
“They may live on for quite some time in direct address, however.”
Tagliamonte says more recent cultural developments in transgender rights could also reduce honorific usage. “Nowadays some people say ‘I don’t want to be identified as a he or a she — I don’t want the language to typecast me’.”
Refusal by a U of T professor to use the word “they” — rather than he or she — to describe transgender students recently caused a significant controversy at the school. “The whole transgender community and the LGBTQ community were up in arms,” Tagliamonte says. “This is what happens with gender in language.”
This week, London’s transit agency announced that conductors in the city’s vast subway system would no longer use “Ladies and gentlemen” to preface announcements. The Washington Post reported that the greeting will be replaced with a gender-neutral “Hello everyone” — a move meant to placate LGBTQ protesters who complained the former salutation was polite, but dated.
Tagliamonte points out that some formerly ubiquitous honorifics — such as madam — have already fallen into disuse.
“It once was simply used for a female. But of course you call someone a madam these days and it has very negative connotations.”
Another force that might drive a decline in honorifics is the informal correspondence styles that have evolved in the age of email, says Ottawa etiquette expert Julie Blais Comeau.
In corresponding by email with a stranger you can and should dispense with Mrs. and Miss completely, says Blais Comeau, who has been writing about and advising businesses and others on proper etiquette — in both English and French — for a decade.
But in an opening electronic missive, Mr. and Ms. — or Dr., Professor or Your Majesty, as the case may be — should almost always be used, she advises.
“When is doubt, you should always go formal,” says Blais Comeau.
Yet emailed honorifics subsequently — and most frequently — become transactional.
“Let’s say I reply to your email and I (sign off) ‘Julie’,” she says as an example. “Then that, going forward, is giving you permission to call me Julie.”
In face-to-face settings such as business meetings, Blais Comeau says it’s up to the host to find out beforehand how guests would prefer to be addressed during introductions.
But Canadians in general are quicker to move to a first-name basis than they were when she started her etiquette career, she says.
Though language tends to follow cultural, economic and technical developments, it can provide the flashpoint for opposition against those trends. And heated charges of “political correctness” may throw temporary lifelines to falling terms like the common honorifics.
As well, Tagliamonte says the cultural importance of honorifics among some groups — Japanese and some South Asian cultures, for instance — could keep those terms alive longer in multicultural Canada.
And abbreviations can still continue to play a role in establishing respect in hierarchical settings, such as a classroom.
Indeed, where Tagliamonte would have stridently rejected the use of Miss as a younger woman, her daughter — who is in teachers’ college — welcomes it from her students.
“It’s not because she wants to identify with some particular marital status, it’s because it’s a way of distinguishing hierarchical relationship.”
WASHINGTON—U.S. President Donald Trump’s standing with the American people has deteriorated since the spring, buffeted by perceptions of a decline in U.S. leadership abroad, a stalled presidential agenda at home and an unpopular Republican health-care bill, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Approaching six months in office, Trump’s overall approval rating has dropped to 36 per cent from 42 per cent in April. His disapproval rating has risen five points to 58 per cent. Overall, 48 per cent say they “disapprove strongly” of Trump’s performance in office, a level never reached by former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and reached only in the second term of George W. Bush in Post-ABC polling.
Almost half of all Americans (48 per cent) see the country’s leadership in the world as weaker since Trump was inaugurated, compared with 27 per cent who say it is stronger. Despite the fact that Trump campaigned as someone skilled at making deals that would be good for the country, majorities also say they do not trust him in negotiations with foreign leaders and in particular Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Just over one-third of all Americans say they trust the president either “a great deal” or “a good amount” in any such foreign negotiations. Asked specifically about Trump-Putin negotiations, almost 2 in 3 say they do not trust the president much, including 48 per cent who say they do not trust the president “at all.”
Perceptions about the role of Russia in the 2016 election and possible collusion or co-operation with Trump campaign associates continue to be a drag on the president, though like many other questions, results show a clear partisan divide.
The Post-ABC poll finds 60 per cent of Americans think Russia tried to influence the election outcome, up slightly from 56 per cent in April. Some 44 per cent suspect Russian interference and think Trump benefited from their efforts. Roughly 4 in 10 believe members of Trump’s campaign intentionally aided Russian efforts to influence the election, though suspicions have changed little since the spring.
Americans’ views on Russia’s role in the election continue to divide along partisan lines. Among Democrats, 8 in 10 believe Russia attempted to influence the election and more than 6 in 10 think members of Trump’s team attempted to aid their efforts. But among Republicans, one-third think Russia tried to influence the election outcome, and fewer than 1 in 10 think Trump’s associates sought to help them.
Last week, information was revealed by the New York Times that Donald Trump Jr. and two other senior campaign officials met with a Russian lawyer and others after being offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton and told that the information was part of a Russian government effort to help Trump.
Asked about this revelation, more than 6 in 10 Americans say the meeting was inappropriate, with just about a quarter saying it was appropriate. But almost half of all Republicans call the meeting appropriate.
Suspicions of Trump have eased at least slightly on one front. While 52 per cent think he is trying to interfere with investigations into Russia’s possible election interference, that is down slightly from 56 per cent in June.
The president’s strongest assets continue to be the healthy economy and a view among many Americans that the Democrats do not have a coherent message or program in opposition, other than opposition to the president.
Trump’s approval rating on the economy, in contrast to his overall rating, is about one-to-one, with 43 per cent giving him positive marks and 41 per cent giving him negative ratings. Meanwhile, fewer than 4 in 10 say the Democratic Party currently stands for something, while a slight majority say it “just stands against Trump.”
Beyond those areas, Trump continues to be deeply unpopular. His standing is a mirror opposite of Obama and Bush at this point in their first terms. Each held a 59 per cent job approval rating in Post-ABC polling. Trump’s standing is closer to that of Bill Clinton’s, who hit a record low 43 per cent approval in late June 1993, before rebounding later that year.
Half of Americans say Trump is doing a worse job than most past presidents, while just under one-quarter say he is doing better, and a similar share say he is faring about the same as previous presidents. A 55 per cent majority say Trump is not making significant progress toward his goals.
The survey points to many causes for Trump’s troubles. As Republican senators attempt to pass major health-care legislation, the poll finds about twice as many Americans prefer the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, to GOP plans for replacing it — 50 per cent to 24 per cent. About a quarter volunteer either “neither,” say they want something else or offer no opinion.
Independents are an important factor in the Republican law’s struggles. They favour Obamacare over the GOP replacement by a 29-point margin. Democrats are more strongly behind the current law, with 77 per cent preferring Obamacare to the proposed alternative. Meanwhile, only 59 per cent of Republicans back their party’s proposal, though only 11 per cent say they prefer Obamacare. The remaining 30 per cent of Republicans say they prefer neither, something else or give no opinion.
On one key issue in the debate over the Republican plan, the public by 63 to 27 per cent says it is more important for the government to provide health coverage to low-income people rather than cutting taxes. Republican proposals include major reductions in spending increases for Medicaid, while eliminating many taxes and fees imposed by the 2010 Affordable Care Act to expand the program.
Whatever Trump’s struggles, the poll shows clear risks of Democrats’ opposition to Trump. Some 37 per cent say the party currently stands for something, while 52 per cent say it mainly stands against Trump. Even among Democrats, over one-quarter say their party primarily stands in opposition to Trump rather than for their own agenda.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted July 10-13 among a random national sample of 1,001 adults reached on cellular and landline phones. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
USHUAIA, ARGENTINA—Prior to starting this Long Ride, I had a deep premonition I would die in the saddle.
Nightmares in which I was catapulted off a bridge, hit by speeding cars or lost on the frozen Patagonian highlands, starved and dehydrated, kept me awake for months before my journey began. I never shared these thoughts before because I feared that admission would make them true.
I had already successfully made a much longer journey — 16,000 kilometres from Calgary to Brazil in 2012-14 — but a shadow of fear seemed to loom over me as I planned for this ride through South America.
Then I signed on to support the Barretos Children’s Cancer Hospital and I was able to push off these shadows. The faces of the children I met were beams of light. There was no way I could not go.
So last year, on a sunny and hot April 10, I saddled up my Brazilian mounts, Life and Doll, and, with my childhood friend Mark Maw from Canada driving the support vehicle, we set out from Barretos, Sao Paulo, with more than 7,000 kilometres ahead of us.
Our ride south through Brazil was one huge party. Every day a different rancher welcomed us with meat, beer, whisky and unbelievable gifts: two colts, six knives, 10 cowboy hats, four pairs of boots, too many plaques to count and even a rooster! But the wonderful welcomes I received also made my ride a draining experience. Nearly every night I was in paradise drinking cervejas and telling stories until 2 a.m. Every morning was hell.
In the northern part of Parana state, a family stopped me at the side of the road and asked to take some photos. They had been following me on social media.
“My kids love horses, and they are big fans of yours,” smiled the blond matriarch of three boys. We shot a photo of her youngest in the saddle on top of my mare’s back. We talked about my motivation for this journey: I spoke about the cancer hospital and told them about some of the early signs of childhood cancer — information I shared throughout my ride.
“To tell if a child has a life-threatening eye cancer called retinoblastoma, take a photo of their eyes using a flash. If one of the pupils reflects back as a white circle, that child must see a doctor.” My usual spiel.
A week later, while eating lunch in the city of Maringa, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I was surprised to see the same blond woman with heavy tears running down her face. She was heading to the hospital with her youngest because he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma after she noticed a white circle in a cellphone photo. She was determined to save his vision and his life. She thanked me for the warning.
In my heart I thanked everything and everyone who put me on this journey.
Even though my days (every day, all day) largely consisted of the slow clop-clop of the horses’ hooves and the long-playing film of dreams that unspooled in my mind, my strongest memories will be of the near catastrophes that happened every few days and the people I met.
On twisty roads bordered by rock faces on one side and sheer drops on the other, transport trucks roared past, missing us by centimetres. Every curve was a brush with death.
As for the people, the most spectacularly unique were the near-extinct gauchos I met in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. A true gaucho is a hard-working cowboy with an almost mythical reputation. For them, the past cannot be forgotten and their culture must be lived.
Many nights, during barbecues hosted in horse stables and barns, a gaucho would stand and recite poetry to the soft sound of an accordion. They would speak of the landscape, great events and romantic chivalry.
There is nothing in the world like them.
As we approached Uruguay, the first border crossing provided a series of setbacks. My best friend Mark Maw realized that this “Journey to the End of the World” was not his dream, and he returned to Canada, leaving me without a support driver. A week later, the pet rooster I received as a gift, Cluck Norris, was killed by a wild dog. To top it off, Life and Doll were not allowed to enter Uruguay due to Latin America’s nonsensical bureaucracy.
With no horses or support driver but no time for self-pity, I began making calls. In less than 24 hours I was lent two Uruguayan mares, Andariega and Cautiva. And a new friend I met on route, Mario Luna, offered to drive the support vehicle. My new mares never really adapted to the busy roads, but they were good, strong horses and Uruguay was lovely.
In Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, I thanked my mares (and Mario Luna) for their hard work and boarded a ferry to cross the Rio de la Plata for Buenos Aires.
After seven months in the saddle, I finally entered the land of my heroes, Mancha and Gato, the two criollos who accompanied legendary Long Rider Aimé Tschiffely from Argentina to New York City in the 1920s. The horses had been donated by an Argentine breeder and veterinarian named Don Emilio Solanet. My father told me this story over and over during my childhood. I spent my entire life dreaming about Tschiffely’s ride. Now fate had knitted our metaphorical yarns together.
The Uruguayan Criollo Association had put me in touch with Solanet’s son Carlos, and the family agreed to lend me two criollos to cross Argentina — Sapo, a 16-year-old buckskin, and Picasso a 5-year-old bay — horses with the same blood as Mancha and Gato.
In his short life, Picasso had never left the ranch and he was thus scared of everything. Startled by the smallest noise, he would buck and often get Sapo going, too. Once, a tractor made Picasso rear back, his hind end hitting Sapo with a thump, driving the buckskin to leap like a rodeo bronco. I tried to hold on, but the lead rope burned a deep welt into my palm and I had to let go. Picasso held steady, but Sapo galloped and bucked in circles. The lid of the right pannier flew off and my belongings began to fly. When Sapo finally stopped, I grabbed him and settled him down in minutes. However, collecting my things from the tall grass — camera, batteries, sunglasses, food, water bottles — took more an hour.
Over Christmas, a deadly drought in the province of La Pampa was followed by an electrical storm that sparked and fed a raging fire. Blowing winds fanned the flames across ranch lands. On our arrival, the scene was an apocalypse. Swollen, blackened carcasses of cows, wild cats and armadillos dotted the roadside. The ponies and I struggled to breathe as strong winds blew acidic smoke and ash into our faces for 170 kilometres.
Luckily, in Bariloche our luck turned, and the universe sent me a “brother.” Twenty-six-year-old Sebastian Cichero (nicknamed Toti) learned about my journey through social media and offered to drive the support vehicle for the remainder of the journey. He had spent four months travelling on horseback from Buenos Aires to Salta, Argentina, a couple of years ago and was dying for a new adventure.
Together we trekked south through some of the most stunning and arduous mountain passes I have ever faced. In El Bolson, we adopted a street dog that had been hit by a car and we named him Butch Cassidy, after the notorious robber whose hideout was situated only a few kilometres south.
Butch wasn’t the only surprise in El Bolson. In the hippie capital of Argentina, I met a dark-eyed beauty who awakened the butterflies in my stomach: Clara Victoria Davel. Her stepdad, a park ranger, invited us to join his family for a meal. Sparks flew and I invited Davel to travel with us. We trekked over the pink and red hills near the village of Bajo Caracoles, and she thanked me over and over again. The raw beauty we encountered in this part of Patagonia was intense. The sky was on fire with every sunrise and sunset — shades of neon blue, purple and pink danced alongside dark yellow and deep red clouds. A fine bit of pathetic fallacy if you ask me.
After saying goodbye to Davel, who had to return home, we entered Santa Cruz, the southernmost continental province of Argentine Patagonia, a land of extremes: overwhelming winds, desert nights in the minus double digits, 10 days straight without a shower.
With only dogged grit, we made it to the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego.
After a year and two months in the saddle, I wish I had been more excited for the final 300 kilometres of our journey, but the frigid Patagonian winter exhausted me. We trekked through heavy snow, icy roads and plummeting temperatures — yet it was nothing compared to what was to come.
On a chilly Saturday afternoon, with only 100 kilometres to the finish line, we arrived in the town of Tolhuin. Our host for the night was a kind guy who gave Picasso and Sapo alfalfa cubes as we filled their water buckets. The next morning we fed the horses again, but the boys didn’t want to eat. We thought that odd but figured Sapo and Picasso were full. However, when we checked on them again during lunch, we quickly realized something was terribly wrong. Both horses had diarrhea and were breathing heavily.
“We need to call a vet immediately,” I said to Toti as a sense of panic rose. But the only vet in the small town was on vacation in northern Argentina. We called vets in both Rio Grande and Ushuaia, but none agreed to come.
“Sorry, I don’t treat emergencies,” is the answer we heard over and over again.
By late afternoon, after giving both horses a muscle relaxant and an IV of saline, Picasso began breathing better and defecating normally. But Sapo got worse.
That night I didn’t sleep. It was minus 15 degrees and the ground was covered with a thick coat of ice and snow. We continued to put IV bags into Sapo’s vein all night but he deteriorated. Eventually, his muscles seized and he lay down. At 7 a.m., using all of his might, he shot his stocky golden body up and stood shaking. Then, while I held his head, he began to walk forward. It was like his heart was moving his legs.
Running my hand down the soft hairs on his forehead I thanked him for his hard work these past few months and asked him to rest. All day he kept at it, fighting to stand until he went down for the last time. At 4:01 p.m., Sapo’s eyes went matte-black and seconds later he took a final breath. I sat next to him on the frozen ground crying. I was defeated. My friend, my son, had died.
That night, a vet finally came to Tolhuin to check on Picasso. He medicated the tall bay and said he would be OK.
“There was something wrong with those cubes,” said the vet. “Either a rat urinated inside the bag or they came bad from the factory. Sapo must have eaten most of them. They were poison.”
For the first time since leaving Brazil I honestly thought the journey was over. Only 100 kilometres from the end. Why? I had no answer. I was gutted.
After talking to the Solanet family and my own about what had happened, I realized I did everything I could and that I only had one option — to finish the ride with Picasso to honour Sapo’s memory.
We climbed the final 100 kilometres of the Americas through the Paso Garibaldi with Sapo’s halter tied to a mesh of his mane and hanging on the saddle horn. In this final pass of the Andes cordillera, 450 metres above sea level, a police truck followed close behind for our safety. A torrential rain, completely unheard of in winter, fell over us the entire day. By the time we finished the gruelling ride, I was drenched and close to hypothermia.
On a gloomy Saturday, July 8, with family and friends from Brazil, Canada, the United States and Argentina waving me in, I arrived in Ushuaia — the end of our journey and the literal end of the world.
I stepped off Picasso’s back with Sapo’s halter in my hand and I thanked my horses. All of them. Tears ran down my face. Picasso gave me a nuzzle and then started looking for a treat.
We had gone as far as the land allowed us to ride. My dream came true, and I was able to raise $20,000 for the Barretos cancer hospital.
And while the suffering and pain I endured on my journey to the end of the world was, at times, almost unbearable, it taught me some of the most important lessons in my life: that true strength is in the mind and soul; that I have no quit in me; that I feel like half a man when I am not atop a horse; and that fear is a monster that invades our minds to try and keep us from living our dreams — we must not listen to it, for life is not easy but it sure is beautiful.
Filipe Masetti Leite is a Brazilian-born, Bolton, Ont.-raised, Ryerson-educated journalist and cowboy. The Toronto Star followed his journey over the past 15 months; video dispatches can be found at outwildtv.com/expeditions . Leite will return to Brazil in August where he will launch Cavaleiro das Americas, his book about his 2012 Long Ride, but he hopes to eventually settle in Toronto, which he says he missed more than anything: “The more I travel the more I realize Toronto is my home. First thing I’m going to do when I land is run to Timmies and buy an everything toasted bagel with cream cheese and a double-double.”
Filipe Masetti Leite is a Brazilian-born, Bolton, Ont.-raised, Ryerson-educated journalist and cowboy. The Toronto Star followed his journey over the past 15 months; video dispatches can be found at outwildtv.com/expeditions . Leite will return to Brazil in August where he will launch Cavaleiro das Americas, his book about his 2012 Long Ride, but he hopes to eventually settle in Toronto, which he says he missed more than anything: “The more I travel the more I realize Toronto is my home. First thing I’m going to do when I land is run to Timmies and buy an everything toasted bagel with cream cheese and a double-double.”
SAN JOSE, CALIF.—A now-banned Airbnb host must pay $5,000 and take a college-level course in Asian-American studies after cancelling a guest’s reservation because she is Asian. The host also invoked U.S. President Donald Trump.
Dyne Suh said she booked a cabin in Big Bear, Calif., in February and was only minutes away from the cabin after driving through rain and snow when she received text messages from the host, Tami Barker, cancelling her reservation. The texts read: “I wouldn’t rent it to u if u were the last person on earth” and “One word says it all. Asian.”
Barker also texted: “This is why we have Trump” as well as “And I will not allow this country to be told what to do by foreigners.”
The hostile texts were in response to Suh’s questions about whether she could pay cash for the extra fees the two had agreed on after Suh asked whether it was OK to bring along two friends and two dogs.
Suh recounted the experience in a YouTube video posted in April. She was tearful as she said, “I’m an American citizen.”
Suh, a law student at the University of California, Los Angeles and a law clerk at the Riverside County Public Defender’s Office, released a statement on her Facebook page after the fine was levied.
“I hope that more victims of discrimination will feel encouraged to come forward with their own stories, empowered now with the knowledge that government entities such as the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and other civil rights organizations will take our cases seriously and fight vigorously for us,” she said. “Asian Americans are often left out of conversations about race relations, even though we are also targets of racism and discrimination.”
The DFEH also ordered Barker to issue a personal apology to Suh and complete community service at a civil rights organization, and she must report rental data to the agency for four years.
Barker was permanently banned from Airbnb in April after the company conducted an investigation into Suh’s complaint.
Edward Lee, Barker’s lawyer, told the Guardian, which first reported the settlement, that his client was “regretful for her impetuous actions and comments.”
Be sure to head outside and look up this evening as the northern lights are expected in parts of southern Canada.
Scott Sutherland, meteorologist for The Weather Network, says parts of southern Canada including the GTA, Stratford, Guelph, and Orangeville are ideal for viewing the northern lights tonight.
It is a rare occurrence for southern regions of Canada, made possible by a bright solar flare explosion late Thursday night.
The only challenge locally will be light pollution in urban ideas. If possible head away from the city lights to find clear, dark skies, Sutherland continued.
“Auroras are also notorious for being random and flighty,” he said. “They can be faint one moment, bright the next, and can appear and disappear quite suddenly.”
The northern lights, also known as aurora borealis, are a result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun.
The auroras can often be seen at least an hour before or after sunrise and they form about 80 to 500 km above the Earth’s surface, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Pale green and pink are the most common colours in auroral displays, although shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet have been reported.
Canadians in southern Canada had the opportunity to see the Northern Lights in March . They were reported as far south as the Great Lakes.