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    The wooden staircase in Tom Riley Park is a lot of things. It’s an example of laudable do-it-yourself community spirit. It’s a fun talking point about absurd government costs. It’s an essay written in wood about the frustrations of waiting on the city bureaucracy.

    What it is not, really, is a suitable staircase for a public park.

    You may have read or heard about this staircase by now: about how 73-year-old local resident Adi Astl asked the city to build a small staircase in the park because he was tired of watching children and seniors struggle up the short but steep grassy incline; about how the city’s response indicated it might study the matter but that building some stairs would cost between $65,000 and $150,000; about how Astl went and bought some lumber, recruited a homeless man as an assistant and built some stairs himself for a total of $550.

    If you’ve heard all of that, you’ve likely also heard that city inspectors were not impressed with Astl’s handiwork — they roped them off closed with caution tape and signs indicating they are unsafe. The latest I saw from CBC reported the city was trying to find a way to work with Astl on the stairs.

    But just looking at photos of those stairs published in broadcast media and posted by social media users, you can see clearly that the city inspectors are not wrong. The stairs themselves have no concrete foundation, the risers and railing sit on mud or gravel. The risers support the stairs only in the middle, not across their length. The handrail is unstable, and it is not anchored to the ground. A series of boxed steps partly filled with wood chips leading up to the stairs present an obvious tripping hazard. The platform at the top of the slope is narrower than the stairs, has no handrail at all and has a large gap in the middle of the two boards it is made of.

    I hope it isn’t too strong an insult to say that it looks like the kind of thing I might build. My wife never stops remarking on the “rustic” and “rough hewn” aesthetic of the shelf I built in our laundry room, for example. I’m not the Fancy Police here, out to critique someone’s work because the screws aren’t counter-sunk and the length of the rails doesn’t quite match up.

    But let’s be real: this is not suitable for a city park. Infrastructure on city property has to be safe and stable. The city doesn’t want to booby trap citizens into breaking their necks, and we don’t want to pay to settle the lawsuits that come if they do. City infrastructure has to be accessible, too. There are good reasons for slope, step-height and handrail standards that allow the elderly, visually impaired and those with mobility impairments to safely use them. And the city shouldn’t build things that will fall apart in a season or two — we want city infrastructure to withstand all kinds of weather for years at a time.

    There’s a reason, in other words, we don’t turn the city’s infrastructure procurement over to Etsy, allowing random retired people to take over all city jobs on the cheap — Grandma can knit a picnic shelter roof! Aunt Gerta can use her watercolours to paint the traffic lines on the road! Uncle Jose can get out the garden spade and start digging the relief subway line! It’s a charming idea, but it doesn’t work. The city needs to build things properly, professionally, safely.

    Still, the story resonates.

    Part of me wants to encourage exactly this kind of can-do DIY approach to city life where people don’t just complain about the things their community lacks, but roll up their sleeves and put in the work to provide them.

    In this case, there was clearly a need, or at least a desire. City spokespeople, including the mayor, have pointed out there’s an accessible paved path from the parking lot only a couple of hundred steps away. They don’t mention that the path is fenced off and closed at the moment because of a construction project. And even if it weren’t, the “before” pictures some broadcast networks showed of the slope in question show a muddy path well-worn through the grass by the stream of travellers climbing it. Someone had even affixed a rope to a post at the top for people to use to hoist themselves up. Approved path or not, the park users obviously wanted a usable route here.

    And it seemed the city’s estimate for what it would take to provide one is ridiculous. If $550 is clearly not enough to do the job right, the city’s estimate of $65,000 to $150,000 seems to overshoot the mark by an order of magnitude in the other direction.

    Other media outlets obtained quotes from contractors for a properly installed concrete staircase there with metal railings and came up with numbers in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. Many of us might support a generously paid public service and understand that government accountability measures mean a premium might be applied: maybe 10 or 15 or even 25 per cent higher than the private sector. But 10 to 20 times higher? No.

    It’s the kind of outrageous-on-its-face example of government spending estimates that the late Rob Ford built his career on pointing out. When we hear the Scarborough subway extension will cost $3.35 billion or more, we may be certain that sounds like too much, but the numbers are so high and the project so big that we have no way to get our heads around it.

    A concrete staircase, however, many of us know at least a bit about — many of us have replaced our own, at home, for less than a few thousand dollars. To hear the city looking at possibly $150,000 for a similar and only barely larger job is galling. If this is the kind of cost inflation the city faces for a small job, many ask themselves, what kind of money is being thrown around on the big ones?

    It’s worth talking about. Astl’s carpentry project may not stand up as a piece of infrastructure or an example of how to solve the city’s problems. But as a way of calling attention to some of those problems, it may be eight steps in the right direction.

    Edward Keenan writes on city issues ekeenan@thestar.ca . Follow: @thekeenanwire


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    Toronto’s women and recent immigrants will see big benefits from the proposed minimum-wage hike to $15 an hour, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

    The numbers provided to Metro, part of the left-wing think-tank’s Ontario Needs a Raise report, are based on the last six months of Statistics Canada’s labour survey.

    Of the 633,000 people who would receive raises in Toronto, 368,000 (58 per cent) are women and 113,000 (17 per cent) are recent immigrants.

    Province-wide, 42 per cent of the recent immigrants who would benefit are women.

    Read more: Ontario plans big boost to minimum wage, update of labour laws: Cohn

    Minimum wage hike will force some restaurants to close

    Ontario Liberals embed 2019 minimum wage hike in new law

    David Macdonald, author of the report and a senior economist with the centre, said the minimum-wage hike is needed to reduce the income gap that persists despite the strength of Ontario’s economy.

    “It’s not everyone who benefits from that — just the top one per cent,” he said.

    He added that the richest one per cent of Torontonians saw a raise in the last year worth twice what a minimum-wage earner would make annually, even after the hike to $15 an hour.

    The numbers come as the Ontario government gathers input on the proposed hike in public committee hearings across the province. The new workplace legislation also includes more vacation entitlements, expanded personal emergency leave and equal pay for part-time workers.

    Not everyone agrees with the minimum-wage hike. In a letter to Premiere Kathleen Wynne, Janet De Silva expressed concern on behalf of the Toronto Region Board of Trade.

    “The board has conducted its own research on the proposal to increase minimum wage and we find it difficult to understand why now is the time for this drastic change,” wrote the president and CEO of that organization

    Macdonald gave his answer: “increased income inequality.”


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    Criminal lawyers and advocates for survivors are disappointed by a Superior Court judge’s decision to overturn the conviction in a sexual assault trial, saying such guilty verdicts are a rare occurrence.

    Mustafa Ururyar, accused of sexually assaulting fellow student Mandi Gray, had appealed his July 2016 conviction, alleging that now-retired Ontario Court Justice Marvin Zuker, who oversaw his trial, was biased against him and gave an “illogical” analysis of the evidence.

    “When a conviction is overturned because the trial judge was found to have made errors in his reasons, the burden falls on the survivor to engage with the (trial) process again,” said Deepa Mattoo, legal director at the Barbra Schlifer Clinic.

    “It’s the system that is failing,” said Mattoo. “This is an indication that judicial education is needed in sexual assault cases.”

    Read more: Judge overturns ‘incomprehensible’ conviction of Mustafa Uruyar for alleged sex assault of Mandi Gray

    Original trial that convicted Mustafa Ururyar of sexual assault was a baffling spectacle: DiManno

    The original 179-page explanation of the conviction was deemed “incomprehensible,” with unclear citations and a heavy use of third-party source materials.

    The Star spoke to four lawyers who all stressed the importance of a meaningful verdict, especially as it applies to sexual assault cases, which are challenging to corroborate.

    “The explanation of why someone is found guilty or not guilty is important . . . to maintain confidence in the administration of justice,” said Toronto-based criminal lawyer Daniel Brown. “Cases like this are an important reminder to judges about the role they play.”

    Anytime there’s an overturned guilty verdict, it creates a detrimental impact on all parties involved, said Pam Hrick, a counsel for the Barbra Schlifer Clinic. “Enduring a cross-examination on a sexual assault . . . and agreeing to participate in a lengthy criminal trial is a financially and emotionally difficult process.”

    Mattoo calls the process “agonizing,” commenting that if the courts were survivor-centric they would consider the impact the trial process has on the survivor.

    “It will have an impact on women’s willingness to report sexual assault to the police, which we already know is already dismal,” said Angela Chaisson, a Toronto activist lawyer. “In the rare cases where we actually get a conviction on sexual assault and we see those being overturned on appeal, that can be discouraging.”

    Farrah Khan, Sexual Violence Support and Education co-ordinator at Ryerson University, said people have been watching Gray talk about going to the police, getting a rape kit, and going through the trial.

    “When we see a survivor go through that and get a positive conviction and the see it overturned, it’s gutting,” she said. “People feel that they can’t trust that the criminal justice system is a space to get justice”

    Chaisson said the decision is indicative of how courts are struggling with the new legal landscape that it trying to put a greater emphasis on the rights of victims and complainants.

    “We are witnessing very interesting times,” said Mattoo, “because we’re seeing a lot of legal reforms, which are coming from the federal and provincial level, and discourse on these issues. And in the mix of all that we see a decision like this.”

    While Mattoo is disheartened to see a conviction overturned, she agrees with Chaisson that there is opportunity to learn and make progress.

    Says Hrick, “I think a lesson to be drawn from this is that where judges see and want to confront rape myths or stereotyping in sexual assault trials they need to do so in a way that doesn’t distract from the ultimate purpose of a trial.”


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    BANGKOK—American authorities say a 25-year-old Canadian man accused of masterminding the world’s leading “darknet” internet marketplace has hanged himself in his jail cell.

    Thai police say Alexandre Cazes died in their custody July 12, just before a scheduled court hearing.

    Cazes is accused of creating AlphaBay, an online marketplace that authorities say traded in illegal drugs, firearms and counterfeit goods.

    Read more:U.S., European police shut down ‘dark web’ marketplaces AlphaBay and Hansa, arrest Canadian in Thailand

    Authorities say they have sought the forfeiture of Cazes’ properties in Thailand, bank accounts and four vehicles, including a Lamborghini and a Porsche.

    They say the Canadian man amassed a fortune of $29 million with the creation of AlphaBay in 2014.

    The site, which Europol estimates did $1 billion in business, went offline July 5 after Cazes’s arrest in Thailand.

    In Washington on Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the operation to shut down AlphaBay was the largest darknet marketplace takedown in history.

    Darknet vendors are “pouring fuel on the fire of the national drug epidemic,” he said, specifically citing cases of two U.S. teenagers killed this year, one a 13-year-old Utah boy, by overdoses of synthetic opioids purchased on AlphaBay.


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    MCLEAN, VA.—Organizers of an international robotics competition in the U.S. capital believe the disappearance of six teens from Burundi may have been “self-initiated.”

    As the competition was wrapping up Tuesday, their chaperone discovered his kids were missing. He looked in the college dorms where the six teens — ages 16 to 18 — had been staying. Their bags were packed and gone. Officers swept through DAR Constitution Hall. They were nowhere to be found.

    Police now say that two of the six were seen crossing into Canada, and they don’t suspect foul play with any of them.

    Read more:Two Burundi teens reported missing from robotics competition seen crossing into Canada

    The team’s coach, Canesius Bindaba, told The Washington Post that he had heard rumours the teens might be planning to stay in the United States. Speaking over WhatsApp from Kenya, a stop on his trip home, Bindaba said he hoped the rumours weren’t true.

    “I just tried to build some kind of trust, hoping they were just rumours,” he said. “I feel cheated and disappointed by those who planned this behind my back.”

    Police in D.C. posted missing-person fliers Wednesday asking for help finding the teens, who had last been seen at the FIRST Global Challenge around the time of Tuesday’s final matches.

    Don Ingabire, 16, and Audrey Mwamikazi, 17, were later seen crossing into Canada, Metropolitan Police spokesperson Aquita Brown said Thursday.

    Marilu Cabrera, a spokesperson for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services, which receives asylum applications, said the agency does not comment on whether specific individuals have sought asylum. Canadian immigration authorities also declined to comment.

    The competition, designed to encourage youths to pursue careers in math and science, attracted teams of teenagers from more than 150 nations. It had been in the national spotlight already, thanks to a team of girls from Afghanistan who were allowed to attend after President Donald Trump intervened on their behalf. Twice, their visas had been rejected — an Afghan official said the Americans feared they wouldn’t go home.

    Competition organizers learned Tuesday night that the Burundi chaperone couldn’t find his team. FIRST Global President Joe Sestak, a former congressman from Pennsylvania, made the initial call to the police, according to a FIRST Global statement.

    “There were indications that the students’ absence may have been self-initiated, including leaving all their keys in their mentor/chaperone’s bag and the removal of students’ clothes from their rooms,” FIRST Global said in a subsequent statement.

    The students had been staying in dorms at Trinity Washington University, and had been expected to return to Burundi together on Thursday.

    Benjamin Manirakiza, first counsellor at the Burundian embassy, told The Associated Press on Thursday that officials were not aware of the team’s presence in Washington until the chaperone alerted the embassy Wednesday. He said he had no comment on their disappearance.

    According to police reports, the teens were travelling on U.S. visas good for one year. The reports say police tried to contact one missing teen’s uncle, but got no response.

    The competition’s webpage on Team Burundi says team members were selected from schools in Bujumbura, the capital city. The team’s slogan in Kirundi is “Ugushaka Nugushobora,” which translates roughly to “where there is a will, there is a way.”

    In addition to Ingabire and Mwamikazi, the missing teens are Nice Munezero, 17; Richard Irakoze and Aristide Irambona, both 18; and Kevin Sabumukiza, 17.

    Hassan Ahmad, an immigration lawyer in northern Virginia not involved in the situation, said that if the teens apply for asylum in the U.S., Immigration and Customs Enforcement could seek to detain them pending removal proceedings. The teens could then seek release on bond and stay in the country while they await their hearing. That can take years. If ICE declines to seek detention, it still can take several years before a formal interview to determine whether an applicant is eligible for asylum.

    Oscar Niyiragira, chairman of the United Burundian-American Community Association Inc., said many in the community feel Canada offers better odds for asylum, particularly now that the Trump administration has taken a harsh stance on immigration.

    He called the teens’ departure disappointing and said economic impoverishment, rather than political persecution, drives most decisions to seek asylum from Burundi. He said it unfairly tarnishes Burundi’s reputation when people flee and exaggerate fears of political violence.

    “Now I’m not saying the government does not commit some crimes. They do,” said Niyiragira, who lives in Louisville, Kentucky. But the situation in Burundi is not nearly as bad as it was in waves of violence in the ‘70s and the ‘90s, he said.

    Burundi has been plagued by deadly political violence since April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza’s ultimately successful decision to seek a third term led to street protests. Critics called his move unconstitutional.

    More than 500 people have been killed in Burundi, an East African nation of about 10 million people, according to the United Nations. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country.

    In January, Human Rights Watch reported that members of a pro-government youth militia had “brutally killed, tortured, and severely beaten scores of people across the country in recent months.” Abuses included driving a knife into the eye of one victim and beating a 15-year-old boy to death, the rights group said, accusing Burundi’s government of being unwilling to restrain youth militia members.

    Burundi’s government often dismisses the allegations, saying they are based on false information supplied by the regime’s opponents.

    Associated Press reporters Sarah Brumfield in Washington and Eloge Willy Kaneza in Bujumbura, Burundi, contributed to this report.


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    One thing we know for sure about a renegotiated NAFTA, even before talks over a reworked North American Free Trade Agreement begin as early as Aug. 19 in Washington:

    There is nothing in the Trump Administration’s opening set of demands for a “new NAFTA,” released by Washington on Monday, that remotely suggests a nightmare scenario for Canada.

    Donald Trump has railed against NAFTA as “the worst deal we’ve ever done” for more than a year and a half.

    Yet what Trump finally presented Monday by way of remedies to a “grossly unfair” NAFTA is not the set of ultimatums that many anticipated.

    Instead, it is a mere wish list. Or, as some experts have said this week, a list of aspirations.

    A hardball negotiation — as we were told to brace for — begins with near-impossible demands.

    In the course of heated negotiations – and a set of seven negotiating sessions is planned for the NAFTA talks – each side eventually backs off from its unrealistic opening position, and compromises are made. In the end, the two sides emerge with a deal that neither likes but each can live with.

    Yet the Trump administration – which as recently as April was poised to rip up NAFTA altogether – has turned traditional negotiating on its head. Its opening position is a softball one, aiming to simply adjust NAFTA rather than recast it as one of his “America First” executive orders.

    The explanation for this turnabout – one of the several that has characterized this young U.S. administration – will have to wait.

    Justin Trudeau’s charm offensive in Washington and with U.S. governors may be a factor in this milquetoast opening U.S. position.

    Another might be the elaborate cross-border supply chains in autos, retailing and agriculture that effectively bind the U.S. and Canadian economies.

    And yet another is the fact that Canada is America’s biggest customer. Canada buys more goods and services from the U.S. than from China, Japan and Britain combined. Several industrial U.S. states count on Canada as their biggest export market.

    This is one applecart you don’t want to overturn.

    So, in the end, Canada has a list of aspirations it can work with.

    For instance, the Americans would like to increase by 40 times the amount of goods Canadians can buy online without paying an import tax. As it happens, Canada has one of the most restrictive online-shopping regimes in the world, allowing duty-free purchases of just $20 (Cdn.) The Yanks want that limit pegged at $800.

    In that yawning gap, a compromise should be achieved with relative ease. Among other things, it would be a windfall for Canadian consumers.

    Many of America’s proposals for a new NAFTA, including stronger labour and environmental protections, enhanced support of digital trade, and a streamlining of cross-border trade, are measures already agreed to by the U.S., Canada and Mexico in the course of negotiating the ill-fated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) killed by Trump earlier this year.

    The TPP may be dead (or just resting, as Japan insists), but the agreed-upon provisions in it should be rolled into a modernized NAFTA with minimal effort.

    The U.S. has not called for the eradication of a Canadian supply-management system in dairy products – long an irritant to the U.S. – that Canadian consumers also despair of. Canadians would welcome a modernization in this sector, resulting in a system more tilted to consumers than farmers. And given that the U.S. enjoys a trade surplus in dairy with Canada, hardball negotiating tactics aren’t called for.

    The U.S. has long complained of investment restrictions on foreign (that is, American) investment in Canada’s financial and telecommunications sectors. This actually is a moot point. U.S. and other non-Canadian banks have come and gone from the Canadian market for decades, unable to compete with the entrenched Big Five.

    It's possible that U.S. negotiators might seek a provision in a new NAFTA by which Bank of America Corp., say, could buy Toronto Dominion Bank. After the laughter died down, the Canucks would ask if it would be OK for the Royal Bank of Canada to then buy Wells Fargo & Co. or American Express Co. Or, in telecom, for Rogers Communications Inc. to buy AT&T Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. or Comcast Corp.

    The U.S. doesn’t hesitate to block non-U.S. takeovers of what it regards as U.S. companies of national strategic interest. The U.S. rejected a proposed acquisition of Union Oil Co. of California, for instance, though that company’s assets were entirely outside the U.S. And Charles Schumer, U.S. senator of New York, succeeded in thwarting an offshore purchase of U.S. Eastern Seaboard port facilities.

    The biggest stumbling block is likely NAFTA’s dispute-settlement system, by which trade grievances are mediated by an international panel. Canada fought tooth and nail for its inclusion. The U.S., which never liked it, wants the mechanism removed.

    One is tempted to say, more power to the Yanks. In the 24 years of NAFTA’s existence, the dispute mechanism has seldom worked. Why? Because the U.S., under both Democratic and Republican administrations, has simply ignored its findings. Those findings have usually favoured Canada.

    So as long as we’re renegotiating NAFTA, and the U.S. is seeking greater access to Canadian government procurement contracts, we could grant that access – provided it doesn’t violate provisions of the World Trade Organization, of course. We'd ask in exchange for a modernized dispute-resolution mechanism that Americans can't chronically renege on.

    It must be said that the 17-page “mandate” of U.S. objectives for a new NAFTA unveiled Monday is sufficiently vague on treatment of certain sectors that concern about Canada’s interests is certainly merited. And the possibility of a rope-a-dope strategy can’t be dismissed.

    But Canada has an advantage in the talks. Trump, as noted, withdrew the U.S. from the TPP. He also scrapped predecessor Barack Obama’s groundwork for a U.S.-European Union free trade deal modeled on the Canada-E.U. Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

    By contrast, Canada has negotiated six free-trade deals in the past seven years. There’s not much by way of demands or negotiating tactics that the Canadian negotiating team hasn’t seen.

    The irony is that a “new NAFTA,” no matter what form it takes, might not pass muster with Mexico or the U.S.

    Mexico has a presidential election in July 2018. And U.S. mid-term elections are held later that year.

    Many U.S. Democrats on Capitol Hill are at odds with the Trump Administration over what they claim is a secretive NAFTA negotiating process. While a year is an eternity in politics, the Democrats currently stand a fair chance of reclaiming the U.S. Senate and making sizeable gains in Congress.

    Democrats are traditionally the anti-free-trade party. Christmas after next, we might find ourselves stuck with an unchanged NAFTA, wondering what all the fuss was about.


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    Royal LePage CEO Phil Soper says that, like a lot of chief executives, he is prone to optimism.

    But that didn't stop him from calling Toronto the least healthy housing market in the country when prices were galloping ahead in the double digits in the first quarter of the year, peaking at 33 per cent year over year in March.

    Soper says it's not self-interest as a realtor that leads him to believe that Toronto's slumped market will recover in the same way as Vancouver's has. That market has lately rebounded after the B.C. government imposed a foreign buyers tax last summer, paving the way for Ontario to introduce a similar levy on non-resident transactions.

    But does the situation today resemble the last big Canadian housing correction in 2009? Is it a crash rather than a bump? Soper doesn't think so.

    The last major national housing correction followed the global economic crisis in 2008. The conditions simply aren't there this time for a major market meltdown in Canada, says Soper.

    "It's very rare to see employment improving, the economy expanding — to see inflation under control and to see a significant collapse of the housing market," he said.

    But he doesn't deny there are unknowns — NAFTA, for example.

    "The most obvious external downside risk is the trade negotiations between Canada and the U.S.," he said.

    "A significant negative outcome on trade wouldn't have immediate impact on our economy, but it would have immediate impact on consumer confidence."

    Nor does Soper suggest that the recent Vancouver correction wasn't serious.

    "People say it wasn't that bad (in Vancouver) because prices were only down by a couple of percentage points,” he said. “But they were going up by 30 per cent, so the trend reversed itself by some 30 to 35 per cent in weeks.

    “It was a very significant change in the direction of that market and a significant downturn."

    Royal LePage calculates that the Vancouver housing correction took about $750 million out of the economy in ancillary spending such as home renovations, furnishings and lawyers fees.

    In Ontario, the slowdown will continue for a while, says Lu Han at the Rothman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

    "The (Toronto area) market still needs time to absorb how the buyers and sellers are going to react to the policy," said Han, who’s the academic director for the Centre for Real Estate and Urban Economics.

    Toronto Real Estate Board’s mid-month numbers for July show sales down 39.3 per cent year over year in the first 14 days of the month. On Monday, the Canadian Real Estate Association said a 15 per cent drop in sales in June in the Toronto region led to the largest decline in national sales in seven years.

    Provincial Liberal government policy, along with tighter lending restrictions and rising interest rates makes consumers more anxious in the short-term, but are all designed to ease affordability challenges longer term, says Han.

    "The rising interest rate will increase the costs for borrowing, but the house price is going to be reduced in the longer run as a consequence of these policies. So, in that sense, it is going to make housing more affordable in the future," she said.

    While some sellers and buyers may have been caught in the sudden turnaround of the market this spring, the pause in the market frenzy is welcome, says James McKellar, a professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University.

    "When I say this downturn is good news, I mean it begins to challenge some assumptions we've made that the house price will go up — that we can always afford more, that we can consume more," he said.

    In the 1950s, Canadians consumed about 300 sq. ft. of space per person. Today it is about 1,000 sq.ft.

    The correction also gives governments some breathing room to reconsider the supply part of the equation, said McKellar.

    More people, including the growing number of tech and creative sector workers, want to live in cities. Governments need to re-think what living there looks like apart from condo towers.

    "On the one hand the province is saying 40 per cent of all growth must be directed into inner cities and, on the other hand, the city is saying we have to protect existing neighbourhoods. There's a conflict at the policy level. We're protecting these old neighbourhoods but we're not re-generating them with new people," he said.

    McKellar contends that the current scenario has come as a shock because most Canadians don't remember or have never seen it before. (He calls the 2008 housing market "a slight downturn.")

    "We haven't had a downturn really since 1991. It took from 1991 until 2004 for house prices to recover. The problem is that most of us have thought the good times go forever. This is a good signal that gravity still exists," he said.

    Toronto realtor John Pasalis doesn't discount the role of the press and social media in the almost overnight drop in home sales. Headlines about crashes and bubbles make consumers anxious.

    "It probably pulled many buyers out of the market. In the past, when news wasn't as timely and everyone relied on what friends were saying, it prolonged the run-up," he said.

    Pasalis was among the first Toronto-area realtors to raise concerns about the sustainability of the double-digit increases in the Toronto market. But he's adamant that the doomsayers suggesting that values will decline severely are wrong.

    "We'd have to have a massive depression," he said.

    He thinks the market will remain soft through the fall, but says there are signs that buyers are starting to look again and get ready to dip back into the market.

    "The big unknown is what the listings are going to be like in the fall. I think we're going to see a lot of new listings in the fall. A lot of the people who can't sell now are going to re-list," he said.

    "If listings increase more than buyers increase you're still going to have a soft market," said Pasalis.

    Whatever happens the rest of the year, Toronto housing is probably a safe bet, said Han.

    "Toronto is a very attractive destination. It offers great consumption amenities but also great job opportunities," she said. "When people try to buy a house here they're not just buying a physical house, they're buying this location — they're buying the whole package including the infrastructure in the city, the transportation here, all the culture, the amenities here.

    “That itself is a very strong fundamental that would sustain the house price growth here."

    Toronto area mid-July home sales

    39.3%

    Decline in Toronto real estate transactions year over year

    6.5%

    Increase in new listings year over year, compared to a 40% increase in mid-May and 20% in mid-June

    12.1%

    Year over year price increase for a detached home in Toronto, compared to 2.7% in the 905-area communities.

    26.5%

    Region-wide price increase for condos.

    Source: Toronto Real Estate Board


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    One step back for two steps forward — the homemade stairs built by 73-year-old Etobicoke resident Adi Astl in Tom Riley Park have been taken down, but he says he’s been told it will be replaced by an official, city-made staircase for $10,000.

    The DIY staircase, was built to solve a problem it seemed the city wouldn’t. To access the Etobicoke park, people would have to make their way down a steep hill, something Astl felt was too dangerous.

    “I’ve been watching people tumbling down the slope and hurting themselves,” Astl said Friday. “I said there’s got to be a better way.”

    But when he suggested the city build a staircase, the city came back with a price tag of $65,000 to $150,000 to build it. So Astl, a retired mechanic, took matters into his own hands and built a wooden staircase for $550.

    “It was crazy,” he said. “This is only eight steps, not 100 steps and wide like Taj Mahal. For me, I said I can build this thing for almost nothing. I took a chance.”

    But city inspectors quickly roped it off, declaring it unsafe because it wasn’t built to regulation standards.

    To Astl, the issue boiled down to “bureaucrats, bureaucrats, bureaucrats.”

    “A bureaucrat, you can’t fault his way because he’s told to go straight. Even when I would go left, he has to be told to go straight,” Astl said. “He’s not allowed to think on his own and say ‘maybe I should go left.’ The only way to change anything is you need to change the thinking at the top.”

    After widespread media attention, city staff removed Astl’s steps Friday morning, but began working on new ones, which he’s been told will cost $10,000.

    Astl said he received a phone call Thursday evening from Mayor John Tory, thanking him for bringing the issue to the public’s attention. Tory tweeted Friday that Astl’s “homemade steps have sent a message that I know city staff have heard loud and clear.”

    Tory called the initial cost estimate of the steps “absolutely ridiculous and out of whack with reality.”

    “I’m not happy that these kinds of outrageous project cost estimates are even possible,” he tweeted. “I’ll be working to identify what changes we can put in place to make sure this doesn’t continue to happen.”

    Astl said he’s been told the steps should be ready by next Friday.

    “These people in the park have been asking for stairs for 10 years,” said his wife Gail Rutherford. “It’s a long time. So now they’re being done in 10 days.”

    The ordeal has made Astl somewhat of a celebrity in his community, as he says people are thrilled his efforts led to change.

    “Everybody shakes hands, some people walk around and take selfies with me,” he laughs. “Everybody’s happy.”

    Tory stated the new stairs will be “safe, durable and reasonably priced.”

    “That was my goal,” Astl said. “I’m just a little guy. I just did something.”


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    The Special Investigations Unit has charged a second man after a black man was beat with a metal pipe in Whitby in December 2016.

    In a news release Friday, the SIU revealed that they had laid additional charges against Const. Michael Theriault and also charged a civilian, Christian Theriault, who they say assisted in the assault.

    “The allegation in this case is that Const. Michael Theriault and Christian Theriault acted together and were parties to the same assault upon the 19-year-old man on December 28, 2016,” Tony Loparco said, the Director of the SIU.

    The incident in December resulted in “serious injuries” that took an emotional toll on Dafonte Miller. The SIU did not name the victim, but Leisa Lewis has told the Star that the young man is her son.

    It was the family’s lawyer, Julian Falconer, who contacted the SIU about the assault.

    Falconer said Michael Theriault identified himself as a police officer and questioned a group of young men that included Miller after he saw them walking on the street in Whitby. He allegedly chased them down when they didn’t respond, and attacked Miller. When Durham police arrived, Miller was charged with assault, the charges were eventually dropped.

    Falconer said Miller suffered a broken nose, broken orbital bone, fractured right wrist and an eye so badly damaged that it will have to be removed.

    “Dafonte wasn’t doing anything wrong,” said Falconer. “There was no basis for this individual to be in any way confronted by the off-duty officer.”

    Christian Theriault was arrested Friday by the SIU and will appear before court on August 10. He and Michael Theriault have been charged jointly with aggravated assault, assault with a weapon, and individually with public mischief.

    With files from Peter Goffin


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    WASHINGTON—Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, resigned on Friday morning, telling U.S. President Donald Trump he vehemently disagreed with the appointment of the New York financier Anthony Scaramucci as communications director.

    Trump offered Scaramucci the job at 10 a.m. The president requested that Spicer stay on, but Spicer told Trump that he believed the appointment was a major mistake, according to person with direct knowledge of the exchange.

    Read the latest news on U.S. President Donald Trump

    Spicer’s turbulent tenure as the president’s top spokesman was marked by a combative style with the news media that spawned a caricature of him on Saturday Night Live.

    Spicer’s rumored departure has been one of the longest-running internal sagas in an administration brimming with dissension and intrigue. A former Republican National Committee spokesman and strategist, Spicer was a frequent target of the president’s ire — and correctives— during the first few months of the administration.

    His resignation of Spicer was also a blow to the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, the former Republican Party chairman who brought Spicer into the West Wing despite skepticism from Trump, who initially questioned his loyalty.

    Scaramucci was to meet with Priebus on Friday, according to a West Wing official — and applause could be heard in the second-floor communications hallway when Scaramucci was introduced.

    His appointment came two months after the previous communications director, Mike Dubke, stepped down. Trump was frustrated with Priebus over the slow pace of finding a replacement, according to a half-dozen people familiar with the situation.

    Trump made the appointment over the objection of Priebus, who thought Scaramucci lacked the requisite organizational or political experience. But the president believed Scaramucci, a ferocious defender of Trump’s on cable television, was best equipped to play the same role in-house, and he offered him a role with far-reaching powers independent of Priebus’s.

    Spicer flatly rejected the president’s offer of a position subordinate to Scaramucci, according to two administration officials familiar with the exchange.

    The appointment of Scaramucci, a favorite of Trump’s earliest campaign supporters, was backed by the president’s daughter Ivanka, his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the officials said.

    Moments after Spicer resigned, Priebus said he supports Scaramucci “100 per cent,” adding that he is “very good friends” with the new communications director.

    It’s “all good here” at the White House, Priebus said.

    With files from the Associated Press


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    The Ontario Provincial Police have charged Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs, a former cop, with extortion and obstruction of justice after an investigation into “allegations of criminal wrongdoing that include a municipal official and local resident.”

    Hobbs’ wife Marisa, 53, was also charged with extortion and obstructing justice.

    Court documents show the OPP alleges that Hobbs, 65, his wife, and a third person, Mary Voss, 46, attempted to induce a prominent local lawyer “to purchase a house, by threats, accusations, or menaces of disclosing criminal allegations to the police thereby committing extortion.”

    Mayor Hobbs and his wife’s obstruction charges are both related to their alleged attempt to interfere with an RCMP investigation into extortion allegations. Hobbs is now on a paid, indefinite leave, a city official said. He has not been asked to resign.

    The charges are the latest in a breakneck series of criminal and civil allegations that not only saw the lawyer, Sandy Zaitzeff, arrested on sexual assault charges late last year but have also drawn in the police chief.

    Zaitzeff is a well-known class action litigator who built a reputation as a confident winner — the man who took on the RCMP’s gender-based discrimination and won. He has had a dramatic and public fall from prominence, including a notorious YouTube video rant – that has increased scrutiny on a city already under pressure from a series of unrelated investigations.

    Only slivers of information about the cases have been made publicly available. The strange YouTube video has offered locals one of the only clues about the ongoing scandal.

    In the video, an emotional Zaitzeff, with his collection of clown dolls as a backdrop, pulls off his T-shirt, parades his bruised torso, alleges unnamed assailants tried to steal his fortune, expresses anguish over his dead son, then gets on his knees to propose marriage. Mayor Hobbs is seen in the video watching the outburst.

    After the video was posted to YouTube, Mayor Hobbs sued Zaitzeff for defamation, claiming the video somehow harmed his reputation and chances for re-election, and on the same day as that lawsuit Zaitzeff’s former law partner filed his own, claiming Zaitzeff took his clients and threatened his life.

    Then, Thunder Bay police Chief J.P. Levesque was charged with breach of trust and obstruction of justice for allegedly disclosing confidential information about the mayor. Exactly what information was disclosed and to whom, and whether it is connected to the Zaitzeff and Hobbs criminal allegations, is not publicly known.

    It is not known if the “municipal official” referenced by the OPP Friday when it announced Hobbs’ charges, is Levesque.

    Zaitzeff’s lawyer says he denies the allegations against him. Chief Levesque told the Star he cannot comment on his case.

    On Thursday night, councillors were hastily called to City Hall for an emergency meeting. The charges against Hobbs followed Friday morning, followed by a news conference at City Hall.

    A city official said that a member of council can be away up to three months under city policy. After that, it will be in “council’s hands” to determine next steps, said Karen Lewis, spokesperson for the Thunder Bay City Council. “Council could extend the leave, the vacancy policy could kick in and then council has options around how to proceed around the vacancy policy,” she said, adding they could declare the seat vacant.

    The three accused are scheduled to appear in court in Thunder Bay on Sept. 26.

    Hobbs was first elected mayor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.

    Before municipal politics, he worked with the Thunder Bay Police for 34 years.

    Thunder Bay has been in crisis, with racial tensions running high, since the deaths of seven Indigenous youth. All teens were found in the waters in and around Thunder Bay and were from remote reserves and were in the city to either go to high school or access mental health services.

    On May 6, Tammy Keeash, a 17-year-old high school student from North Caribou Lake First Nation failed to make curfew at her group home.

    That same night, Josiah Begg, a 14-year-old from KI First Nation vanished. He was in town with his father for Josiah’s medical appointments. Both teens were found dead in Thunder Bay waterways within two weeks of their disappearance.

    For years, many Indigenous people have complained about the level of racism they face daily in the city.

    During the eight-month long inquest into the deaths of seven Indigenous high school students (they died between 2000 and 2011) that wrapped up at the end of June, 2016, many youth complained they were the subjects of racial taunts, unprovoked assaults and had garbage thrown at them from passing cars.

    Of the seven students who died, five were found in the rivers and of those, three of the deaths were ruled undetermined by the coroner’s jury.

    After Keeash and Begg’s deaths, Indigenous leaders said they no longer trusted the local police force and they held a Queen’s Park news conference asking for the RCMP to be brought in to investigate their deaths and the unexplained death of 41-year-old Stacy DeBungee, an Indigenous man found in the rivers in October, 2015.

    The Thunder Bay Police have been under investigation for systemic racism in how they handle all Indigenous death and disappearance cases since last November by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director — a civilian oversight body. Also under investigation is the Thunder Bay Police Services Board by their provincial oversight body.

    In June, Ontario’s chief coroner announced that York Region police would be brought in to investigate Begg’s and Keeash’s deaths.

    Meanwhile, Zaitzeff has hired Marie Henein’s law firm, which represented former radio star Jian Ghomeshi, to deal with his considerable and lurid list of charges.

    Since Zaitzeff’s on-camera outbursts, he has been arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, including allegedly inviting a minor to touch his penis. In all, there are five complainants. Most of the assaults allegedly happened last fall, before and after the video was reportedly recorded.

    Zaitzeff faces four counts of assault; eight counts of sexual assault; and one count each of sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, mischief under $5,000 for allegedly damaging a door, breach of recognizance, unauthorized possession of a firearm and improper storage of a firearm, according to court documents.

    The gun charges stem from a police visit to one of Zaitzeff’s houses on Nov. 20, when an officer allegedly found two 12-gauge shotguns and a semi-automatic rifle, all allegedly unlicensed.

    His law offices have been cleared out, said a receptionist who works in the same building, and his licence to practise law has been suspended. Zaitzeff did not tell the Law Society of Upper Canada about his charges, the regulator said.

    As a condition of his bail, Zaitzeff had to give up his passport, cannot drink or buy liquor, and was ordered to attend the Bellwood addiction treatment centre in Toronto. He recently returned from Bellwood to Thunder Bay and is living with a friend who posted bail.


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    Talking to John Bil will change the way you look at seafood. The co-owner of Honest Weight seafood restaurant and shop in The Junction got his start shucking and sorting oysters at an oyster farm nearly three decades ago. Since then, he has become the go-to seafood guy for some of Canada’s top restaurants such as Joe Beef, La Banane and Cabane à Sucre, the sister restaurant of Au Pied de Cochon.

    Bil champions B.C. spot prawns, gulf shrimp and Ontario-raised shrimp over the cheaper black tiger variety that are harvested overseas often under questionable environmental and labour practices. He recommends mussels to his regular customers because they’re both affordable and sustainable.

    The 49-year-old is putting his knowledge into a book, equipping seafood lovers with information on fishing practices, advancements in aquaculture and what it’s like to work in the fishing industry.

    “It’s a passion project, whether it’s because I feel like I have limited time or it’s something I can leave behind, not to sound morbid,” he says from his home in the St. Clair Ave. W. area.

    His lifelong goal is educating people on consuming sustainable seafood, but he’s not sure if he’ll be around much longer to continue his mission. Bil has Stage 4 melanoma, the most advanced stage of skin cancer, and it has spread to other organs and tissue.

    These days, the former competitive cyclist and marathon runner can’t bike as far or run as fast as he’d like; part of his lungs have been removed along with two feet of intestine. There are days when he can’t get out of bed, when he has no desire to eat.

    He needs another surgery to remove yet another tumour from his intestine. Over the last year, he has stepped back from his restaurant letting co-owner Victoria Bazan take over most of the management duties.

    But Bil has outlived his original prognosis by a year, and has no plans to stop satisfyinghis of obsession championing the best seafood.

    The go-to guy

    The Toronto native grew up around farms, but never worked on one, although he always wanted to. After shucking oysters for two years at the Toronto dining institution Rodney’s Oyster House, in 1992 he drove to Prince Edward Island and got a job at an oyster farm cleaning mollusks in a cold and wet industrial building.

    “I realized how important seafood is to those towns and the fabric of the Maritimes,” he says. “We can buy super cheap products from other countries, but then those towns that rely on the lobster or mussel plant wouldn’t exist. It became so important to promote these products.”

    Five years later he was selling oysters — driving to Boston, New York, Toronto and Montreal to meet with chefs. During one trip to Montreal in 2000, Bil befriended Dave McMillan and Fred Morin, two chefs who five years later would enlist Bil to help open Joe Beef, now considered one of Canada’s best restaurants.

    “Canada is one of the best places in the world to eat seafood and he’s one of the reasons why,” says McMillan, recalling how Bil would drive for hours to meet with a farmer to try some obscure species of oyster before bringing it to the restaurant. While Joe Beef was getting ready to open, Bil lived in Morin’s parents’ basement.

    Morin later introduced Bil to Au Pied de Cochon’s celebrated chef Martin Picard and Bil was soon working the seafood bar at Picard’s offshoot restaurant Cabane à Sucre, a rural sugar shack an hour’s drive south of Montreal. Not wanting to make the long commute, Bil cleared a shelf in a closet at the restaurant and turned it into a bed, unbeknownst to Picard.

    Bil’s accommodations were upgraded in 2010 at his next endeavour: The Michelin-starred M. Wells Steakhouse in New York City, co-owned by Hugue Dufour, a former chef at Picard’s restaurants. While the place was coming together, Bil lived in an Airstream trailer parked behind the restaurant. By now, Bil had a reputation among his chef friends as the guy who’d swoop in to do the odd jobs necessary to open a restaurant when time and money were running out.

    A week before M. Wells was to open, Dufour was down with the flu so Bil took to overseeing the construction of a trout tank, rigging up the filter system and transferring 80 live trout from the hatchery in Long Island back to the restaurant in Queens. He spent the night adjusting the water pump and filter to make sure the fish stayed alive.

    Bil returned to P.E.I. to open Ship to Shore, a seasonal seafood restaurant that En Route magazine named one of the best new restaurants of 2009 for highlighting the best of what the Maritimes has to offer.

    Keep on shucking

    It was during an oyster off-season visit in Toronto in 2013 that he noticed a bump on his back.

    “I went to a clinic and two weeks later I got a call from Sunnybrook (Hospital) that it was cancerous,” he says. The cancer has spread to his lymph nodes. After a round of chemotherapy, the cancer was later found in his lungs.

    He stayed in Toronto for treatment, but he didn’t slow down. He opened Honest Weight with Bazan in January 2015. Diners loved it for its simple preparation of seafood — pan-seared, raw or steamed — that showcased the fishes’ flavours.

    It was here that Bil met his wife, Sheila Flaherty, a wine importer he knew through the food industry. She came to the newly opened restaurant with a congratulatory bottle of wine as a gesture of good will. In return, he asked her out.

    “It’s a very unconventional first date when someone tells you they have Stage 4 melanoma,” she says. “But it wasn’t a reason not to pursue someone I had a big crush on. Who knows what’s going to happen to any of us? So we went on the second, third and fourth dates, and we got married last October.”

    Flaherty describes Bil as someone who pushes the restaurant industry, whether it’s providing a memorable dining experience or improving working conditions in an industry notorious for low wages.

    His servers and cooks already make above the current minimum wage and tips are pooled to get rid of the wage discrepancy between the front and back-of-house, resulting in the average wage being $20 to $25 an hour. He and Bazan also reimburse employees for dental work.

    “This goes back to treating people who make your food well whether they’re cooks or farmers,” he says. “You have to care for both.”

    In return, the restaurant industry has rallied around him. Last summer, as part of the Luminato arts festival, he and Morin turned the control room of the abandoned Hearn Generating Station in Toronto’s Port Lands into Le Le Pavillon, a luxurious French restaurant. To build a fully-functioning restaurant on the second floor of an abandoned power plant that had no kitchen, running water, or even a staircase to safely climb up was a logistical nightmare, but once everything was built to code — as McMillan puts it — “For two weeks it was the best restaurant in Canada.”

    Diners literally ran into the Hearn to put their name on the restaurant’s wait-list, which was booked in minutes. Restaurant industry heavyweights such as The Black Hoof owner Jen Agg, Niagara College chef Michael Olson, and Montreal’s Nora Gray owners Ryan Gray and Emma Cardarelli worked as cooks and hosts. Just as Bil was there for his friends when they needed him, the restaurant community remains loyal to him.

    McMillan has flown into town to be with a recuperating Bil at his home. When Bil was recovering from surgery at Sunnybook Health Science Centre last winter, Morin drove from Montreal to cook a steak dinner over a charcoal grill on the back of his truck in the hospital parking lot. Not to be outdone, the owners of Edulis, Tobey Nemeth and Michael Caballo, sent lunch — truffle soup and prunes soaked in Armagnac — to the hospital’s oncology wing.

    “The nurses were so puzzled at the sight,” Bil recalls. “It really made it easier to get through the day and it’s impossible to thank people like that.”

    The day after this interview, Bil and Flaherty were off to the Catskill Mountains for their long-overdue honeymoon — with a stop in Montreal to visit McMillan and Morin.

    Bil has accepted that he likely won’t be around in the next two or three years, but continues to work on his book, help chefs with pop-ups around the city and build his decades-long reputation for upping the quality of seafood in Canada.

    “Having opened Honest Weight and having done Le Pavillon, I think the takeaway won’t be that I have cancer,” he says. “I hope the story is about what I’ve done, not what I have.”

    karonliu@thestar.ca


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    U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out Saturday morning at a new Washington Post report of previously undisclosed alleged contacts between allies of his campaign and Russian government officials, calling the disclosures “illegal leaks” as he continues to try to shift the public focus to what he has said is a partisan attempt to undermine his presidency.

    “A new INTELLIGENCE LEAK from the Amazon Washington Post, this time against A.G. Jeff Sessions.These illegal leaks, like Comey’s, must stop!”

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 22, 2017

    The Washington Post reported late Friday that U.S. intelligence officials had collected information that Russia’s ambassador to the United States had told superiors that he had discussed campaign-related matters and policies important to Moscow last year with Jeff Sessions, then a senator who had endorsed Trump.

    Sessions, who is now attorney general, had initially failed to disclose his meetings with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during his confirmation process; when they were made public in news reports, he insisted he had met with Kislyak only in his capacity as a senator and had not discussed campaign issues. But U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted communications that showed Kislyak indicated he had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.

    Trump has denounced what he has called illegal leaks in the ongoing FBI investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russian officials. U.S. intelligence agencies have said Moscow meddled in the campaign, stealing thousands of emails and other documents from Democratic Party officials and releasing them publicly to embarrass Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and to assist Trump. Trump has said repeatedly that he did not collude with Russian officials and called accounts of the meetings between his campaign and Russian operatives a partisan attack by Democrats to avenge their loss in the election. But he and some of his top aides have hired private criminal defense lawyers to deal with the probe.

    In his tweet, Trump was referring to former FBI director James Comey, whom the president fired over his handling of the Russia probe. Comey later testified to Congress that he had felt pressure from Trump over the investigation and, after he was dismissed, released memos of his encounters with Trump to the media. The public disclosures helped lead to a special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, taking over the investigation. (Trump’s tweet also refers to Amazon, the online retailer led by Jeffrey P. Bezos, who also owns The Post.)

    A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on what she called a “wholly uncorroborated intelligence intercept” and reiterated that Sessions had not discuss interference in the election. Trump has been angered by Sessions’ role in the Russia probe after the attorney general recused himself. The president told The New York Times this week that he would not have named Sessions to the post if he had known he would do so.

    Trump also alluded to another Post report this week that he has inquired of his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself. Trump aides said the president is merely curious about his powers and the limits of Mueller’s investigation.

    “While all agree the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us. FAKE NEWS”

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 22, 2017

    As he has before, Trump also reiterated on Twitter his view that Clinton’s campaign should be under greater scrutiny and he contended that his son, Donald Trump Jr., “openly” disclosed emails concerning a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign -- even though Trump Jr. did so after The New York Times obtained the emails and was preparing to publish a story on them.

    And in another tweet, Trump attacked the Times for reports that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose death in a Russian airstrike had been speculated last month, is still alive, according to Pentagon officials. It is not clear why the president holds the Times responsible.

    Trump is scheduled to participate Saturday in a commissioning ceremony for the USS Gerald Ford in Norfolk. His tweets came a day after Sean Spicer resigned as press secretary in the wake of Trump’s hiring of New York financier Anthony Scaramucci as his communications director. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was promoted to the press secretary role.


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    Toronto dog owners were surprised to learn that the city restricts leash lengths to a maximum of two metres, after a parent raised concerns about her toddler son being tripped by a long, retractable leash.

    For a bylaw that has been on the books since 1999, it is little-known and even more rarely enforced. Only one ticket under the rule has been issued since 2016, according to the city, and it comes with a $240 fine.

    “I’ve never heard of it before,” said Tom Wielocha, owner of 7-month-old pup Potter (yes, as in Harry). He uses a retractable leash for walking Potter, which he thinks can be extended to about 2.4 metres — slightly longer than the bylaw would allow.

    “I think it’s kind of dumb, obviously,” Wielocha said of the rule which he thinks the city would have a very difficult time enforcing.

    “Mind you I don’t want my dog running that much further than me. I try to keep him side-by-side with me.”

    Erin Nespoli, a Toronto parent and a digital analyst for the Star, only learned about the bylaw after her toddler son Olly was knocked down by the extended leash of a playing dog. Olly was shaken up by the incident, but not injured.

    It occurred later to Nespoli that had the dog leash wrapped around Olly’s neck instead of his legs, her son could have been seriously injured.

    “Maybe the city could do something about it,” she remembered thinking in an interview this week.

    She contacted the city and learned that chapter 349 of Toronto’s Municipal Code says that dog leashes used in public may not exceed two metres in length.

    “Well that’s useless, nobody knows. Dog owners don’t know,” Nespoli said, recalling her reaction when she learned about the bylaw.

    Tammy Robbinson, spokesperson for the city’s animal services department, acknowledged that it is not uncommon to see leashes longer than two metres in the city, and said the department runs a number of public education initiatives aimed at informing dog owners about this and other bylaws.

    “Partly because of what happened in this case, we are going to be doing a couple of different pieces,” she said, which will include distributing simple information pamphlets about the bylaws with pet licence renewals.

    Some dog owners think that, whether or not people are aware of the bylaw, they should simply take care and be respectful of others when walking their furry friends.

    “Our puppy training school didn’t allow for the retractable leashes,” said Alice Gammill, who uses a regular 1.2 metre-leash (four feet) to walk her dog, Audrey. “With these you have more control.”

    “I think it’s up to dog owners to have that common sense,” she said.

    Danielle Wintrip, who owns two dogs, said that the bylaw “makes sense” because of the dangers long leashes could pose, but she’s not sure that the rule works as a deterrent.

    “People who are going to ignore the bylaw are going to ignore it whether it’s a bylaw or not,” she said.

    Robbinson said that part of the reason the bylaw is rarely enforced is that staff who go out into the community prioritize educating people about the rules over issuing tickets and fines.

    Meanwhile, the widespread availability of long and retractable leashes may send the implicit message that they are allowed, which poses a challenge for the city.

    “The thing is, the city doesn’t have any control over what retail establishments sell,” Robbinson said. “So they can sell what they want.”


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    Toronto Star readers have helped a female genital mutilation survivor raise the funds she needs to have reconstructive surgery in the United States.

    Last week, the Star published the story of Yasmin Mumed— a 23-year-old University of Guelph student who was subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) at the age of 6 in her village in Ethiopia. Since, dozens of people have helped her reach her fundraising goal of $6,650 through her GoFundMe page.

    The surgery itself is free, covered by a Las Vegas based organization, Clitoraid. The funds raised will be used to pay for transportation for Mumed and a support person. As well as prescription drugs and a hotel while she is recovering from the surgery.

    Mumed said this week she was touched by donations made by people she knew but had lost touch with, including an elementary school classmate who wrote on the GoFundMe page that she remembered Mumed’s “beautiful smile” and a high school drama teacher who Mumed said always “made me feel smart.”

    “You are even more amazing than I thought way back when you were in my class,” wrote her former teacher, Fiona McPhaden, on the page.

    Mumed added she was surprised by the many strangers who donated. “People were giving so much for someone they only knew through a story,” she said.

    Alongside a donation of $25, Megan Radford de Barrientos wrote: “I hope this surgery brings you hope and that your story encourages the government and the medical community in Canada to reassess their services to women who have gone through this, or girls who are at risk. Your courage is inspiring.”

    Female genital mutilation — also known as female genital cutting — varies from partial removal of the clitoris to its most severe form, a procedure known as infibulation, in which the clitoris and labia are excised and the vulva stitched together, leaving only a small opening.

    It has no health benefits for girls and women and can cause severe bleeding, problems with urination, and later cysts, infections, complications in childbirth and an increased risk of death for newborns, according to the World Health Organization. It can also deny women sexual pleasure.

    FGM affects more than 200 million women worldwide, according to UNICEF.

    Read more: ‘I just remember screaming’: Toronto FGM survivor recalls the day she was cut

    Mumed, who immigrated to Canada when she was 9 and grew up in Scarborough, is currently on a waitlist to have surgery with Dr. Marci Bowers, a California-based gynecologist who has performed more than 250 operations on women who have had FGM. The surgery 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.

    Mumed’s clitoris and part of her labia was cut with a razor blade in a darkened room when she was just a child. She remembers a group of women holding down her arms and legs. The piercing pain. And then the blood.

    Having pushed the cutting out of her mind for many years, she didn’t remember what had happened to her until she became sexually active in her teens. She recently looked for support services in the Toronto area to help her live with the anxiety and confusion she was feeling because of the cutting, and to help her navigate day-to-day life, including dating. That’s when she found Dr. Bowers.

    The surgery has given Mumed hope. And, more importantly, she says, it has given her choice.

    “It’s something that was taken away from me without my consent,” she said 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.”

    In addition to the donations, Mumed said she has been getting support from her friends and community, including women who, after reading her story, told her that they are now having conversations with their mothers, who have been cut, about FGM. Young men have called her to say that they are now thinking about the harmful effects FGM has on women, she said.

    She is happy to hear this, she says, because she did not make the difficult decision to speak publicly about such a sensitive topic because she wanted people to feel sorry for her. “I’m a warrior,” she says, smiling.

    She wanted to help empower young women like her, particularly Black Muslim women like her, to address FGM.

    “We can actually start talking to our moms, our grandparents, our cousins,” says Mumed. “This is how we stop it.”

    FGM is practised in 29 countries, mainly 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. It occurs in both Islamic and Christian communities, but is largely a cultural tradition that dates back hundreds of years. In many areas, there is huge social pressure on families to have their daughters cut.

    An ongoing Star investigation has previously revealed that the federal government knows Canadian girls are being sent abroad to be subjected to FGM and is lagging far behind other developed countries in its efforts to prevent it. Experts say there is also a lack of support services in Canada available for women living with the physical and psychological effects of FGM, regardless of when and where it happened to them.

    In Ontario, some women have asked their doctors to reverse the most severe type of FGM. According to provincial records, in the past seven years Ontario has performed 308 “repairs of infibulations,” a surgery that creates a vaginal opening where it has been sewn mostly shut. There are currently no known procedures in Canada that replace tissue.

    Jayme Poisson can be reached at jpoisson@thestar.ca or (416) 814-2725


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    As the sun set on C. W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute, a tearful crowd mourned a life cut short, sharing hugs and lighting candles in memory of Jeremiah Perry, the 15-year-old boy who died too soon.

    Around 100 classmates, school staff and community members joined his parents and siblings at the Friday night vigil on the grounds of the school where Perry had been a Grade 9 student.

    His family gathered at the front of the crowd, embracing and lighting candles to remember the young teenager who died on what was supposed to be a harmless outdoor class trip.

    “Jeremiah’s life was too short,” said Jocelyn Anderson, Perry’s aunt, speaking through tears on behalf of the family. “Our family is short one of our beloved children.”

    Perry went missing on a Toronto District School Board canoe trip on July 4. He had been with other students when he slipped underwater and did not resurface. He was found deceased the next day in Big Trout Lake.

    Friday’s vigil for Perry was a quiet and emotional affair for the student who had been excited for a class trip into Algonquin yet, according to his father, did not know how to swim.

    Abdul Shakur was Perry’s science teacher, after he arrived at C.W. Jefferys late in the semester as a new immigrant from Guyana. Shakur is also from Guyana and formed a special bond with Perry, spending hours tutoring him and helping him get his marks up.

    Perry struggled when he first came to his class, Shakur said. He was a polite and loving boy, but he lacked self confidence and struggled with school. But in a few short months, the science teacher watched Perry blossom — socially and academically.

    “He had an indomitable spirit to learn,” said Shakur, noting how Perry started socializing as he marks went up, and before long he was joking with the other kids in class, self confidence skyrocketing.

    “In the end he was on equal footing with the rest of the class. It’s just very sad to know that in the end, he just disappeared from your life. “

    A few days before the July class trip to Algonquin Park, Shakur saw Perry wandering the halls at school, trying to find out his marks.

    “I told him, you passed!” Shakur said. “He was so excited, he gave me one of the biggest bear hugs.”

    It would be the last time the teacher would ever see Perry.

    As classmates and family lit candles at the end of Friday’s service, flames flickered in the gentle breeze.

    “Some of us are struggling to keep the flame alive,” Jocelyn Anderson said. “But that’s life. It’s fragile.”

    A funeral service for Perry will be held on Monday morning at Revivaltime Tabernacle church, said Joshua Anderson, Perry’s father. The service will be open to the public. Perry will be buried at Beachwood Cemetery afterward.

    The Office of the Chief Coroner and Ontario Provincial Police are investigating Perry’s death. The TDSB is also looking into what happened to determine if all the proper safety procedures were followed.


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    WASHINGTON—Laughably dishonest, relentlessly combative and impossible to not watch, Sean Spicer was the perfect spokesperson for Donald Trump.

    And now he’s taking his props and going home.

    Six months and one day into his tenure as the president’s chief public propagandist, the White House press secretary famously skewered on Saturday Night Live resigned Friday after a long string of self-inflicted and Trump-inflicted humiliations.

    Spicer had become an improbable celebrity, an afternoon sensation whose televised briefings produced almost no useful information but drew more viewers than General Hospital. Trump, a television obsessive who often watched The Spicer Show himself, bragged about Spicer’s ratings as if they were evidence of his own popularity.

    They were not.

    Viewers were tuning in for the political equivalent of the four-alarm-fire coverage on the local newscast, and other aides knew the briefings were going badly even if the president didn’t. When new communications director Anthony Scaramucci and new press secretary Sarah Sanders took the podium after Spicer’s resignation, it was the first on-camera briefing in three weeks.

    In truth, Spicer was always an odd hire for Trump: stammering for a president who cherishes smooth; rumpled where the president prefers suave; a loyal party man for an outsider president suspicious of his party.

    What he did have was a willingness to lie. All the time. About virtually everything.

    Read more:Donald Trump said 414 false things in his first six months. Here’s what we’ve learned

    Spicer’s first post-inauguration briefing set the tone for the rest. Slamming the news media for alleged unfairness, he declared that Trump’s inauguration had drawn the largest crowd of all time, “period.” It was not even close.

    The performance was aimed, as many of Spicer’s future deceitful performances were, at an audience of one. Spicer often appeared to be striving to please Trump rather than serve any particular strategic goal.

    Spicer could be helpful and charming to reporters in private. Republicans who know him sympathized with his plight: trying to explain and defend the words and acts of a president prone to the inexplicable and incomprehensible.

    Hs attempts at spin were regularly undermined by Trump himself. After Spicer insisted that Trump’s policy on travellers from seven (later six) Muslim countries was “not a travel ban,” Trump tweeted: “I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!”

    Spicer frequently appeared out of the decision-making loop, time and again telling questioners that he would have to get back to them. At times, he attempted to subtly indicate that he did not personally share Trump’s inaccurate views.

    “He has been, was, and will be again well-respected in this town. He took on a role that redefines impossible. In the dictionary, ‘impossible’: the definition’s going to be ‘spokesman for Donald Trump,’ ” Rich Galen, former press secretary for prominent Republican legislators Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich, said in an interview.

    But nobody was forcing Spicer to stick around to do Trump’s dissembling.

    “Being Donald Trump’s press secretary is probably an impossible job but Sean’s willingness to lie and debase himself and the office was particularly noteworthy,” Dan Pfeiffer, who was Obama’s White House communications director, said in a message to the Star. “He chose to lie and undermine the traditional role of the media, so he has no one to blame but himself.”

    Press secretaries have always sparred with reporters. Under Spicer, the usual chiding gave way to an all-out assault. Spicer depicted obvious questions as bias, reporting of verifiable facts as “shameful.”

    Much of Trump’s base appeared to delight in the lambasting. But Spicer’s words alarmed democratic watchdogs who worried about the consequences of such broad disparagement of the press. His diatribes were so outlandish that he became SNL gold for Melissa McCarthy, who played him as a raging, puppet-wielding imbecile.

    Trump, Politico reported, was bothered — less that his spokesperson was being depicted as an inept liar than that his spokesman was being played by a woman.

    Even as he professed continued support in public, Trump was reportedly cruel to Spicer in private. Spicer, a Catholic, let it be known that he badly wanted to meet the Pope during Trump’s May visit to the Vatican. Trump left Spicer off the list.

    Spicer suffered through, though he moved to a less visible role in June. His final straw, according to the New York Times, was Trump’s Friday decision to hire Scaramucci, a well-coiffed, well-dressed financier with almost no political experience, as communications director.

    Scaramucci, a regular guest on Fox News, delivered a hyperbolic first performance on Friday in which he declared his “love” for Trump and hailed the president’s “karma.”

    At one point, Scaramucci was asked whether he believed Trump’s lie that three million people voted illegally in the 2016 election.

    “If the president says it,” Scaramucci said, “there’s probably some level of truth to that.”

    “Let me do more homework on that, and I’ll get back to you,” he added, and it was like Sean Spicer never left.


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    PETERBOROUGH—A driver has been charged after a dramatic video showed a 74-year-old cyclist viciously attacked on the side of the road with a club.

    Peterborough police said that just after 11 a.m. Tuesday, the cyclist was riding in the area of Erskine Ave. when an argument broke out between him and a truck driver.

    The driver climbed out of his truck and attacked the cyclist with a small club, police said.

    The video shows the cyclist on the ground with his attacker on top of him, striking him over and over in the head and torso. It shows the attacker stopping when witnesses approached and intervened.

    A truck sits beside them, with a bicycle crumpled on the street in front of the vehicle. The victim was seen bleeding profusely as he walked away.

    “I’m filming all of this,” the woman, who recorded the video, says as the driver gets back up and flicks blood off of his hands.

    The driver’s only defence was an adamant, and repeated, “I tried to walk away.”

    The driver then fled the scene in his truck.

    “Where am I bleeding?” the cyclist asks the woman recording.

    “Everywhere,” she replys.

    The woman asked for her name to be withheld when later contacted by Peterborough This Week.

    “The sound of the club hitting him was sickening,” the woman told the newspaper. “Blood was flying off it.”

    She said she didn’t witness what led to the encounter.

    “They were flailing their arms around and the guy walked back to his truck,” she said.

    She grabbed her phone to take a photo of the truck because she thought the cyclist might have been hit. Little did she know what the driver would do next.

    “He became enraged and you could see him snap in the truck,” she said.

    She continued recording and ran towards the men while yelling for the attacker to get off the bloodied man.

    When the woman and a handful of motorists came to the aid of the cyclist, the driver stopped, put the bloody club in his pocket and wiped blood from his own face.

    The woman helped the cyclist up from the ground and tried to stop the bleeding until paramedics arrived.

    “I didn’t know how bad it was because there was so much blood,” she said. “It was pouring down his face and he couldn’t see out of his eyes.”

    Additional witnesses tried to keep the driver in the area until police arrived but he drove off in his truck. The woman is afraid of what would have happened to the man if no one was around.

    “He attacked a senior man and drove away,” she said.

    The witness said she’s getting tired of people doing horrible things and getting away with them.

    “It is getting harder and harder to see that every day,” she said. “They have zero repercussions”

    Police made an arrest about an hour later. The cyclist was treated and released from Peterborough Regional Hospital. Police said the two men did not know each other.

    David Fox, 65, has been charged with aggravated assault and assault with a weapon. He was released from custody and scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 24.

    With files from Alexandra Jones


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    What kind of a city tells young people to leave?

    Toronto, apparently.

    Radio host Matt Gurney received a considerable amount of scorn after he wrote a column last week suggesting young people should consider leaving Toronto because it’s too expensive to live here. His was a response to a blog post by a millennial who said she was moving “north” because she was priced out of the Toronto market.

    Gurney is not a heartless goon, and as he explained subsequently on Twitter, the column came out of place of frustration and pessimism around the lack of political action on affordable housing and public transit, issues he’s written about in the past. His was a realist’s take, but to many it was shocking and infuriating.

    I’m frustrated too, but where I fundamentally disagree is telling people to leave the city as an option. If all of Canada suddenly became too expensive, would we tell folks to leave? Rich, poor or somewhere in between, we have the right to live anywhere in Canada. That’s enshrined in the Charter. What if we extend that right to cities too?

    Today many of our cities have become near city-states, juggernauts of economy and culture that attract people to them. Many of us here in Toronto are economic migrants too; some of the journeys here were relatively easy — just up the 401 from Windsor for me — and others fraught with all manner of risk and peril.

    Over at TVO, John McGrath wrote a response to Gurney’s column and pointed out the GTA would actually be losing people if it wasn’t for international immigration, as more people leave the region than arrive from the rest of Canada. Though the housing crisis is most acute in big cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, other cities, Halifax, Calgary and Ottawa for example, experience similar problems of high home prices and rents. Friends and relatives in Windsor are even complaining of “Toronto style” bidding wars. This is increasingly a Canadian problem.

    Of course other Canadian cities are worth living in, with robust cultures and economies, but there are still an awful lot of reasons, jobs or otherwise, that draw people to Toronto. Should millennials or anybody else seeking a job in a particular industry here be penalized because this is the system and structure they’ve been given? It seems like an economic bait and switch: here’s the carrot you need to thrive, but the restaurant’s cover charge is too expensive to get in.

    One of Toronto’s slogans is “You belong here.” Just a Mel Lastman-era bumper sticker to some, but there’s considerable philosophical and political thought that supports such a notion. In his influential 1968 book Le droit à la ville (or “Right to the City”) French philosopher Henri Lefebvre recognized just how urban-centric modern life had become. To fully participate in it everyone must have a right to it, all of it including the culture, economy, public spaces and the very “life rhythms” cities provide. He examined the structures that made that participation unequal.

    More recently, urban theorist and geographer David Harvey has expanded on the notion of Right to the City: it isn’t just the right to be in the city, but the right to transform the city itself and reshape the processes of urbanization. Further, since cities are where so much opportunity lay, it’s a human right.

    Both Lefebvre and Harvey present radical (to some) ideas from the left of the spectrum, but even if you don’t buy into their arguments, it’s just dumb to ignore the fact that people are forced to leave your city because of economics. If people, even those with “good” jobs, feel they must leave, then you’re driving away talent and creating a brain drain. Only a completely foolish city would tell its young people to leave instead of tackling the problem. Mayors around the world are actively trying to do this.

    Last week London’s mayor Sadiq Khan announced a $2.9 billion (Cdn) deal to build affordable homes, some rental, some shared ownership. It’s part of his commitment to build 90,000 new homes in London. Across Europe and beyond, much higher percentages of urban populations, both working and middle classes, live in some form of social housing, giving them a foothold in expensive cities. It isn’t stigmatized the way it is here, perhaps a reason why we’re so slow to create a national housing policy.

    Building more housing is a way out of this, making sure a large amount of it is truly affordable, but in his column McGrath mentioned another Toronto truth that gets at the root of the kind of pessimism many feel here. “If you don’t currently own a house in Toronto, preferably a detached one, the city’s political class doesn’t care about you and doesn’t even really want you,” he wrote. “They rail against nearly every new tower; even timid attempts to make tower-induced density work better, like the King streetcar pilot council approved last week, are watered down so as not to offend home-owning motorists.”

    This truth was made explicitly clear to me last week at a screening of Citizen Jane at the Revue Cinema, the documentary on urban activist and thinker Jane Jacobs. Though ostensibly filled with progressive-minded, Jane Jacobs fans, during the Q & A session after the film the sneering at the new residential buildings along the Mimico waterfront came fast and easy.

    “A slum in the making,” an epithet tossed at so many housing clusters, was used, almost wishing for failure. The new buildings in Mimico certainly aren’t what we would call affordable housing, but they’re a lot cheaper than the single family houses we venerate so much and they give thousands of people the chance to live near the lake. Yet, we sneer at and resist apartment housing across the city, even when it’s a rental building rather than a condo.

    Anti-housing sentiment isn’t a right or left thing, it’s a Toronto thing. Everybody can find some way to justify why they’re against new housing going into their neighbourhood. Make no mistake, if Toronto rolled out a genuine affordable housing plan, this city’s anti-housing sentiment would target it.

    You belong here? Maybe. Maybe not.

    Shawn Micallef writes every Saturday about where and how we live in the GTA. Wander the streets with him on Twitter @shawnmicallef


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    “People need to slow down,” Brenda Excell said quietly outside a downtown Toronto courtroom. “Just slow down.”

    Excell had just heard Mitchell Irwin, 21, plead guilty to dangerous driving causing death for killing her son Adam Excell as he was biking on the night of June 13, 2015.

    In her victim impact statement, six pages long interspersed with photographs, Brenda painted a vivid portrait of the grief she and her family have lived with since losing Excell, 26, a passionate and adventurous outdoorsman, photographer and cyclist.

    “He was so slight,” she wrote in the statement, read to court by the Crown. “He didn’t stand a chance against a 2,000-pound car travelling 80 km/h. I picture it clearly in my mind.”

    Irwin listened to the many emotional statements of Excell’s family and friends in tears with his head collapsed onto a desk.

    He was 19 at when the crash happened two years ago at the intersection of Avenue Rd. and Davenport.

    A ghost bike now marks the spot.

    According to an agreed statement of facts, at 11:20 p.m. Excell was making a left turn onto Davenport during an amber light after oncoming northbound traffic had stopped. Mitchell, however, was weaving around other vehicles and sped northbound into the intersection, slamming into Excell. At the point of collision he was going 87 km/h in a 50km/h zone, according to a collision reconstruction report.

    Excell was thrown a “significant distance” and suffered major head trauma and passed away at the hospital.

    Mitchell didn’t stop, according to the agreed statement of facts. Instead he kept driving with a seriously damaged windshield, stopping, at one point, to remove a case of beer from his car, before driving to his home in Keswick, Ont., about an hour away from the intersection where the crash took place.

    He surrendered to police the following day.

    In his statement, he said he was downtown with friends that night and that he was the designated driver, according to the agreed statement of facts.

    He was initially charged with criminal negligence causing death, dangerous driving causing death and failing to remain at the scene of an accident causing death.

    On Friday, he pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death, failing to remain and violating bail conditions by communicating with two friends who were in the car at the time (discovered through photos posted on social media) and by drinking alcohol.

    In a letter read to the court by his lawyer Leo Kinahan, Mitchell told Excell’s friends and family that there are no excuses for what he did.

    “Nor do I expect your forgiveness, as I am having difficulty coming to grips with what occurred that evening and the devastation it has brought on so many people,” he said. “I need you to know how terribly sorry I am for my actions that evening.”

    Excell had just returned from his first solo camping trip in Pennsylvania on the day he was killed, court heard in a statement from his father Andrew Excell.

    “Losing someone so close, who lived fully, wondering forever the adventurous path their life would have taken, adds to the loss,” he said.

    Their close-knit family has been “forever changed, shattered, grief-stricken,” Excell’s cousin Sarah Hodgson told court, describing how fearful she is for children on the roads.

    “People just think it’s not going to happen to them,” she said afterwards of careless and dangerous drivers. “That it’s just going to happen to somebody else . . . . People don’t learn.”

    People become numb to stories such as this, Brenda Excell said. “Another one. But when it’s your family, it’s not another one. It’s devastated hundreds of people.”

    The case resumes Monday, when Mitchell is expected to be sentenced.


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