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    Electronic patient records in doctors’ offices across the country are being used by brand name drug companies looking to muscle market share away from generic competitors, a Star investigation has found.

    Concerned physicians say a clinical tool they use to write prescriptions and care for patients is being co-opted, and they fear health records are being tapped so drug companies can increase profits.

    In the battle for pharmaceutical dominance, this new tactic, deployed in software used by doctors, has allowed brand-name companies to capitalize on the moment a prescription is written.

    Here’s how it works:

    The patient records are found in EMRs, or electronic medical record software, owned by Telus Health, a subsidiary of the telecom giant. The software is used by thousands of Canadian doctors to take notes during patient visits and to create a prescription to be filled by the patient’s pharmacy.

    To drive business their way, brand-name drug companies have paid Telus to digitally insert vouchers so that the prescription is filled with their product instead of the lower-cost generic competitor that pharmacists normally reach for.

    The vouchers are known in the industry as “patient-assistance programs.” It works like a coupon: If a patient’s insurance does not cover the full cost of the pricier brand name drug, the drug’s manufacturer will cover part or all of the cost difference from its generic equivalent.

    The voucher feature is offered in a number of other electronic medical record systems, Telus said.

    Doctors had to agree to the new feature in the Telus software before it was enabled on their systems, and physicians can opt out at any time.

    But some physicians may not realize the implications of the vouchers when they click to accept the software’s updated features, said Dr. Antony Gagnon, manager of the pharmacy program with the Hamilton Family Health Team.

    “The brand name companies are basically using physicians to redirect their prescriptions of generic drugs to the companies’ brand drugs,” Gagnon said.

    In an internal document obtained by the Star, the head of Ontario’s doctor regulator, speaking generally, said vouchers being included on a prescription is “not appropriate” as they may lead patients to think their physicians favour brand drugs over generics.

    Generics contain the same medical ingredients and can cost as little as one-fifth of the brand price. A former assistant deputy health minister, Helen Stevenson, said the vouchers can pile unnecessary costs on to private drug plans. These costs could ultimately be passed to the patient through higher premiums.

    In an interview, Telus Health President Paul Lepage defended the program, saying thatelectronic vouchers streamline payment assistance programs already “used by millions of Canadians who really use them to reduce the cost of their medication.”

    In the past, drug company reps gave paper vouchers to physicians who in turn could hand them out to the patient.

    With the updated software, the voucher can be printed right on the patient’s prescription.

    “Our physician customers who use these programs have asked us if we can simplify the process,” said Lepage of Telus. “We’re focused on offering cost-effective solutions to physicians and patients.”

    The voucher function has been “very positively received by the majority of our physician users,” a Telus spokesperson said.

    Why do brand name companies offer these vouchers?

    In an effort to keep costs down, many drug plans encourage pharmacists to substitute a cheaper generic drug when filling a prescription for a brand drug, unless the prescribing doctor specifically requests otherwise. Without the voucher, even if a doctor uses the brand name on a prescription, pharmacists may substitute the cheaper generic.

    But when enabled, the Telus software feature detects when a doctor is prescribing a drug by its brand name, such as cholesterol medication Crestor. The voucher is printed on the prescription and the pharmacist takes that as a specific instruction to dispense the brand name. The voucher is not offered if the doctor enters the generic name (rosuvastatin, in Crestor’s case), Telus said.

    The brand companies say the payment assistance vouchers are about giving the patient choice between brand and generic drugs without having to spend more money.

    But for Gagnon, the vouchers are manipulating physicians’ prescribing practices, adding that many physicians use a drug’s brand name when writing a prescription out of habit and aren’t necessarily instructing that a drug be dispensed over its generic.

    The vouchers also reinforce a false premise that generics are inferior in quality to the original brand name drugs, say doctors critical of the program.

    The first time Toronto physician Nav Persaud logged on to Telus’ PS Suite after its recent update, a text box popped up notifying him of the new feature that could “lead to greater choice and lower cost for your patients.”

    But Persaud questioned how much his patients would get out of the vouchers.

    “It wasn’t clear to me who was going to benefit from it. Was it going to further the marketing of brand name products, which I think are prescribed without any clear reason, given that they have the same effects (as generics), and they cost more?” said Persaud, a family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital.

    He disabled the feature.

    A Telus spokesperson said the voucher is offered only after a physician chooses a specific brand name drug to prescribe “so there is no influence on what drug the physician selects.”

    “As a technology provider, we are careful not to influence or restrict the clinical choices made by medical professionals.”

    Telus Health is a dominant player in Canada’s electronic medical record industry. Its seven EMR systems impact more than 25 million patient-physician interactions each year.

    Two of those programs — PS Suite and Nightingale — have the feature offering payment assistance vouchers. Telus plans to expand the feature to all of its EMR programs.

    Brand companies pay on a “fixed-fee basis” for their vouchers being included, Telus officials said, but they refused to discuss the details of their agreement with drug companies, saying it was “subject to commercial confidentiality.”

    About 7,000 doctors across Canada use PS Suite, and roughly two-thirds have chosen to use the voucher function. The company said doctors were involved in designing the feature.

    In the medical practices of the Hamilton Family Health Team, a network of 165 physicians, some doctors were unaware of the voucher feature — nor were they aware that information about those vouchers was being shared with drug companies.

    Some of those doctors send the prescriptions directly from their computers to the pharmacy fax machine and never saw the voucher that was included on the printout, said lead physician Dr. Monica De Benedetti.

    Without the doctors being fully aware, they could not tell their patients about the program, De Benedetti said.

    The health team encouraged its members to turn off the voucher feature. In 2016, De Benedetti, along with Gagnon and the Health Team’s executive director, wrote a complaint letter to Telus Health.

    “There will certainly be a number of physicians who will be concerned that they are inadvertently participating in contributing data to pharmaceutical companies,” the letter read.

    Telus said all doctors had to enable the new voucher feature by clicking “accept” in a pop-up text box.

    Drug manufacturers paying to have their vouchers in the EMR receive “aggregated and anonymized, province-level statistics” on the total number of vouchers printed off for their products, the company said.

    No patient or physician information is shared, Telus said.

    Telus said payment-assistance vouchers are offered in a number of other electronic medical record systems offered by other companies.

    The company behind one of those systems, however, says it will be ditching the vouchers from its software.

    When Loblaw Companies Ltd. purchased B.C.-based QHR and its Accuro software in 2016, it already included a voucher feature, spokesperson Kevin Groh said in a statement. He said they plan to remove the function in the coming months.

    “While some discount vouchers — commonly called ‘brand cards’ — offer valuable financial assistance to patients, many keep patients on higher-priced brand products when more cost-effective generic medications are available,” he said.

    “Brand cards can create confusion for patients, often leading to the perception that generic medications are inferior,” Groh added. “This is a problem for a system reliant on savings from generics.”

    In an internal letter obtained by the Star, Dr. Rocco Gerace, registrar of Ontario’s College of Physicians and Surgeons said vouchers, in general, should not be printed on prescriptions as they “may lead some patients to perceive that the physician is in a conflict of interest, or that they are recommending or endorsing the name-brand formulation of a drug instead of a generic or other alternative.”

    Gerace’s comments were in a July 2016 response to the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association, an industry group that contacted the College asking for the regulator’s view on brand vouchers being included on prescriptions, which it says “appears to be increasing in frequency.”

    Telus says its voucher feature was not introduced until August 2016. That was after Gerace’s comments. A Telus spokesperson said its software follows ethical principles not present in all EMR systems with voucher features, adding that the company sets “the gold standard on how things should be done.”

    In summer 2016, after learning about the voucher feature for Telus’ EMR, clinical pharmacist Cora Van Zutphen crunched the numbers. She estimates that a regular patient with diabetes and heart problems could be billing his private drug plan nearly $3,000 a year in unnecessary costs by using the brand name drugs over their generic equivalents.

    Van Zutphen wrote a letter to her colleagues with the Upper Grand Family Health Team, advising the network of doctors in communities north of Guelph to turn off the vouchers.

    “When insurance companies pay for brand-name drugs over lower-cost generics, billions of dollars are added to the costs of private drug plans,” she wrote to her colleagues. “Ultimately, those costs are passed on to employers and employees.”

    Voucher programs are not designed to add costs to private plans, a Telus spokesperson said. “Private plans choose what costs they will and will not cover,” she said.

    But in some cases, if the patient’s private drug plan doesn’t cover the full cost of the brand drug, then the patient’s spouse’s health plan is tapped as the next payer — not the drug company, an industry expert said.

    “The brand manufacturer is typically the last payer. The claims system looks for every other payer first. It’s a brilliant strategy for brands looking to grab market share but not for drug plans — it can unnecessarily raise costs,” said Stevenson, former head of Ontario Public Drug Programs and CEO of Reformulary Group, a drug plan management company.


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    Police leaders across the country moved quickly to distance themselves from — or to outright condemn — U.S. President Trump’s statements about “roughing up” people who’ve been arrested.

    The swift public denunciations came as departments are under intense pressure to stamp out brutality and excessive force that can erode the relationship between officers and the people they police — and cost police chiefs their jobs.

    Some police leaders worried that three sentences uttered by the president during a Long Island, N.Y., speech could upend nearly three decades of fence-mending since the 1991 Los Angeles Police Department beating of Rodney King ushered in an era of distrust of police.

    “It’s the wrong message,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told Washington radio station WTOP while speaking of the trust-building work that departments have undertaken since King’s beating. “The last thing we need is a green light from the president of the United States for officers to use unnecessary force.”

    Read more:‘Please don’t be too nice’ . . . Trump tells cops it’s fine if suspects hit their heads

    Trump made the comments at a gathering of law enforcement officers at Suffolk County Community College in New York.

    “When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over?” Trump said, miming the physical motion of an officer shielding a suspect’s head to keep it from bumping against the squad car.

    “Like, don’t hit their head, and they just killed somebody — don’t hit their head,” Trump continued. “I said, you can take the hand away, OK?”

    Trump’s remarks came after he spoke about local towns ravaged by gang violence.

    Across the country, police department leaders said the president’s words didn’t reflect their views.

    A tweet from the Gainesville Police Department read: The @POTUS made remarks today that endorsed and condoned police brutality. GPD rejects these remarks and continues to serve with respect.

    “The Suffolk County Police Department has strict rules and procedures relating to the handling of prisoners, and violations of those rules and procedures are treated extremely seriously,” the department said in an emailed statement. “As a department, we do not and will not tolerate ‘rough(ing)’ up prisoners.”

    Trump’s comments also drew a rebuke from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. In a statement Friday, the group did not specifically mention Trump by name but appeared to respond to his speech by stressing the importance of treating all people, including suspects, with respect.

    Statements from other police leaders followed.

    In a statement to Patch.com, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said:

    “Seattle’s police officers have embraced reform and have worked incredibly hard to build community trust. We do not intend to go backwards. It is truly unfortunate that in today’s toxic environment, politicians at both ends of the spectrum have sought to inflame passions by politicizing what we do. We remain committed to our principles and reject irresponsible statements that threaten to undermine our relationship with the community.”

    Police departments are under increased scrutiny for violent, often fatal interactions with suspects. So far this year, 574 people have been shot and killed by police, according to The Washington Post’s Fatal Force database. Last year, police shot and killed 963 people.

    This year’s killings included the Minneapolis Police shooting of Justine Damond, an Australian woman who called 911 to report a possible rape in the alley near her home and ended up being shot dead by the responding officers.


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    Toronto police have issued a public safety alert after four deaths likely caused by fentanyl overdose in the past three days in downtown Toronto.

    Police said there have been four fatalities and 20 overdose incidents since Thursday.

    The most recent incident was on Saturday when a woman was found dead in a stairwell near Queen St. E and Trefann St.

    A 27-year-old man died on Thursday in the area of Queen St. W. and Bathurst St., where he allegedly overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a powerful opioid that’s about 50 times stronger than heroin.

    Police said they believed the substance was bought in the area of Yonge St. and Dundas St.

    “It’s definitely worrisome to see these clusters of overdose deaths in Toronto, and I think we will see even more,” said Tara Gomes, epidemiologist and principal investigator of the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network.

    “What we’re seeing is the increase of fentanyl contamination of drugs sold on the street, like fentanyl pressed into OxyContin pills, and heroine.”

    Another man was found Friday without vital signs near Bathurst St. and Dundas St. W. He was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead. Police say his death might have been due to a fentanyl overdose.

    “We continue to be extremely concerned about the number of people we are losing to overdoses,” Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, told the Star in an email.

    “These deaths are preventable and this issue is having a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities.”

    Toronto’s Overdose Action Plan, launched in March, provides a list of measuresthe city will be taking on, including the launch of supervised injection sites this fall.

    In Ontario, 734 people died of opioid-related causes in 2015, according to a report by researchers with the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network, St. Michael’s Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.

    Gomes, who is also a scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital, said the most effective ways to respond to the increase of fentanyl contamination includes increased access to supervised injection sites and naloxone kits.

    Naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opiod overdose, is available at various pharmacies and health centres across Toronto.

    Despite Toronto police’s public safety alert, there still no urgency in equipping officers with naloxone.

    “As far as right now, officers are not equipped with naloxone and I haven’t been made aware of any plans for that,” said Const. Craig Brister.

    Toronto paramedics carry naxolone.

    Dr. David Juurlink, head of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Toronto, said he thinks it’s a “mistake” for police to not have naloxone on hand.

    “All first-responders should have it on them. That’s an easy method of precaution.”

    “The appetite and the street market for opioids has gone through the roof. Fentanyl is so potent that you don’t need much to get high or to ward of withdrawal symptoms.”

    Juurlink believes the spike in overdose deaths is a result of a surge of doctors prescribing opioids, which if not done responsibly, can lead to addiction.

    “Every month that goes by, we’re losing more and more people to opiod overdose. And I think it’s fair to say that we will lose more than 3,000 people in Canada this year.”


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    A Toronto man has admitted in court that he killed his mother and two of his brothers out of fear of losing his fiancée three weeks before their wedding.

    Brett Ryan, 36, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the death of his oldest brother Christopher and two counts of second-degree murder in the death of his mother Susan and his younger brother Alexander. He also pleaded guilty to attempting to murder his older brother Leigh.

    He was sentenced to life imprisonment without eligibility for parole for 25 years.

    Ryan’s guilty plea Friday puts an end to the mystery of why a man on the verge of his wedding day would instead commit the grisly killings of three family members with crossbow bolts at their family home in Scarborough on Aug. 25, 2016.

    According to an agreed statement of facts submitted to court, Ryan planned to kill his mother, 66, out of fear she would expose the lies he had told his fiancée, and that his fiancée would then call off the wedding.

    Back in 2009, Ryan pleaded guilty to committing eight bank robberies. He was sentenced to five years in prison but due to pretrial custody, only served three years and nine months.

    In June 2016, Ryan got a job at an IT company, but before he could start he was fired after his employer found out he had a criminal record.

    Days before the murders took place, Ryan admitted to his mother that he didn’t have a job and that he was lying about it to his fiancée, telling her he was working from home while he stayed inside their Queens Quay condo throughout the summer.

    According to the statement of facts, Susan Ryan told her son to admit the truth to his fiancée and that if he did so, she would continue to financially support him for a short time. However, Ryan was worried that his fiancée would break off the relationship if she found out.

    As part of his plan, Ryan placed a crossbow in the garage of their family home on 10 Lawndale Rd. Then he set up electronic devices in the apartment he shared with his fiancée. The devices, a laptop and an iPad and an iPhone, were setup to be activated to create an internet footprint that would serve as an alibi.

    Police later said that they were never activated.

    On Aug. 25, 2016, Ryan arrived at the family home before 1 p.m. to confront his mother.

    According to the statement of facts, Ryan only intended to confront his mother about the threats of exposing him and to convince her to continue supporting him financially until the wedding and until he got a job.

    However, the argument between the two became heated quickly. Susan called her son Christopher, 42, to come and help her. During the argument, Ryan retrieved the crossbow and crossbow bolts from the garage.

    Susan followed him to the garage. As the argument continued, Ryan stabbed his mother with a crossbow bolt and strangled her to death using a yellow nylon rope.

    When Christopher arrived, Ryan shot him in the back of his neck using the crossbow. He moved their bodies into the garage and hid them under a tarp.

    As Ryan exited the garage, he was confronted by Alexander, 29, who had arrived at the house. As the brothers fought, Ryan fatally stabbed Alexander with a crossbow bolt.

    Leigh, 38, who was at home in his bedroom during the altercation, came outside to see what was happening. After seeing Ryan standing over Alexander’s body, Leigh ran back inside the house and called for help.

    Ryan followed Leigh into the house where he assaulted Leigh in an attempt to stop him from calling police. After managing to escape, Leigh ran to a home across the street, where the residents called 911.

    Police arrived at the scene around 1:03 p.m. They found Ryan standing near the steps of the home covered in blood. Ryan told police where his mother and three siblings were. He was later charged with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

    Autopsy reports say Susan died of ligature strangulation, while one of the brothers, Christopher, died from a perforating trauma of head and neck caused by a crossbow bolt and the other brother, Alexander, died from trauma of the neck by a crossbow bolt.

    On top of the life sentence for first-degree murder, Ryan was sentenced to life in prison in the second-degree murders of his mother and his brother Alexander and a 10-year sentence for the attempted murder of his brother Leigh. The sentences will run concurrently.

    With Star files


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    Toronto police are looking for two men suspected of intentionally setting a Yorkville personal injury law firm on fire in June.

    At around 2 a.m. on June 30, investigators say, two men used rocks to break the glass doors of the building on Scollard St., and set it on fire using an accelerant.

    Security footage released by police Sunday shows two men approaching the front doors of the firm wearing hoodies and with their face covered with cloth.

    In another security clip, the two men are seen running away.

    Investigators are asking anyone with information on the incident to contact police at 416-808-5300 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477).


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    MONTREAL—Henry Aguirre, a temporary foreign worker from Guatemala, considered himself lucky when he got a job in Quebec as a chicken catcher, rounding up poultry and handing them over for processing.

    Aguirre, 27, said he was quickly disillusioned when he learned the job paid him by volume instead of full-time, with no pay for time spent travelling from farm to farm.

    He said he and his fellow Guatemalan workers had signed job offers they didn’t understand since they were all written in French.

    “We didn’t understand the work permit. If we had, we wouldn’t have signed,” he said through an interpreter in a recent interview.

    Aguirre was one of a group of foreign workers and activists who attended a small demonstration outside Montreal’s St Joseph’s Oratory earlier this month to call for changes to Canada’s temporary foreign worker program.

    Among other things, they are calling for an end to the practice of issuing closed work permits, which restricts a worker to a single employer.

    Viviana Medina, a community organizer who attended the protest, said closed work permits, language barriers and a fear of losing their jobs means many workers are reluctant to file complaints against their employers.

    “The moment they say something, they’ll be sent back,” she said. “They have to stay in these conditions because they don’t want to lose their jobs.”

    Read more:

    Federal audit finds oversight problems in foreign worker program

    Trudeau government tiptoes back into temporary foreign workers morass: Walkom

    Just 3 employers fined or banned after overhaul of foreign worker program

    A study from the Universite de Quebec published earlier this month found that many Guatemalan migrant workers in the province are charged recruitment fees in their home countries, despite such practices being prohibited.

    The study, which is based on interviews conducted between June and November 2015, found some workers even ended up using the deeds to their homes as a guarantee they’d pay back the money they owed for recruitment fees, according to the spokesperson for a union that helped with the study.

    “The precarity that brings really makes it difficult for a worker to ever take a stand and complain about the working or living conditions or abuses in the workplace or lack of getting the things that were guaranteed to them,” said Pablo Godoy of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

    The federal government says it acknowledges the need for action and has taken a number of steps to reduce exploitation and abuse of temporary workers.

    “Changes include increased inspections, improved information sharing and referrals for criminal investigation, and administrative monetary penalties and bans for employers who violate program conditions,” Julia Sullivan, an official with the department of Employment and Social Development, wrote in an email.

    The government plans to do more in the future by further increasing inspections and making sure workers and employers understand their rights and obligations, she said.

    Aguirre, frustrated with catching chickens, eventually began using a job placement agency to look for other work.

    He and 14 others were subsequently picked up by border services in Oct. 2016 and accused of violating the terms of their work permit, he said.

    The workers have filed complaints with the province’s workplace health and safety board and requested a judicial review of their treatment during their arrest.

    Their lawyer, Susan Ramirez, says she’s met hundreds of workers who have been denied health care or other rights.

    “It’s a systemic problem,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s problematic because they’re under the governance of one employer who ignores their rights, and there’s a language barrier.”

    Aguirre, for his part, has successfully obtained an open work permit until October, when the request for a judicial review will be heard in court.

    He has a new job and hopes to eventually be allowed to stay in Canada permanently.


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    BRIDGEWATER, N.S.—It had all the trappings of a typical teen romance, until it became part of a high-profile case that shines a light on the consequences of mixing digital images and sexuality.

    The 14-year-old girl had known the boy since they were young. When they talked in class, he would compliment her looks and tell her that he liked her.

    The boy would talk about how they could trust each other, according to court documents, then asked her for photos, including full nudes.

    “He asked her repeatedly and explained that it was ‘no big deal,’ ” the documents said.

    The boy is one of six male teenagers in Bridgewater, N.S., who have admitted to distributing intimate images of at least 20 girls between the ages of 13 and 17 without their consent. They will be sentenced in Bridgewater provincial court Monday.

    Read more:

    Trial of Nova Scotia teens accused of sharing intimate photos important: prosecutor

    6 Nova Scotia teens charged with sharing intimate photos of 20 girls without consent

    When the six were charged in July 2016, four of the accused were 15 years old and the other two were 18. However, all were under 18 when the offences were committed, which means their identities are protected from publication under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The victims’ identities are also protected.

    The case is one of Canada’s largest involving a relatively untested law designed to combat the non-consensual sharing of intimate images.

    A Crown attorney said in March that he hopes the case raises awareness about the criminal consequences of this kind of behaviour, but experts say the law may do little to deter teenage sexuality.

    “It’s not clear that the law will be deterrent one way or the other, especially in the world of teenage hormones and sexuality run amok,” said Wayne MacKay, a law professor at Dalhousie University.

    Documents submitted in court said two Dropbox accounts were created for the purpose of sharing dozens of intimate images of girls in various states of undress, including fully nude.

    An agreed statement of facts said everyone who uploaded photos either knew outright or were “wilfully blind” to the fact that the subjects didn’t consent to their distribution.

    In the statement, the photos’ subjects cited a variety of motivations for sending the images.

    Some young women felt pressured by what they described as persistent requests for intimate images, while others said they were vying for boys’ affections or just joking around, the statement said.

    The document said one 13-year-old girl was repeatedly asked for sexual photos by one of the accused over the course of several days, despite persistent rejection.

    “The next day at school (the boy) and his friends were clustered near her locker and gave her the impression that they were talking about her. She felt pressured,” the document said, noting that she ended up sending the photos out of fear that he would spread a rumour about her.

    McKay said it can be hard to draw the line between flirtation and coercion in intimate images cases, particularly when they involve young people.

    He said the Bridgewater case shows the digital distribution of such images can reinforce high school social dynamics — like boys bragging about their sexual conquests, while girls are shamed for theirs — but said technology poses new potential for harm.

    “I still think it’s important that we not minimize too much because that does send the wrong message that this is just boys being boys,” he said. “Some of these things have gone on forever, but because of the nature of social media and technology, the images and the damage is ongoing forever, potentially.”

    The intimate images bill, which became law in 2015, was introduced after the death of Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons, which captured national attention.

    Read more:

    Halifax police implement new trauma policies, training after review of Rehtaeh Parsons case

    The 17-year-old died by suicide in 2013 after a photo — of what her family says was a sexual assault — was circulated among students at her school in Cole Harbour, N.S.

    Lara Karaian, a criminology professor at Carleton University, said in the age of “sexual romance 2.0,” the circulation of intimate images has become the norm, and teens’ attitudes have shifted accordingly.

    “This is not a trend that is going away. This is a new mode of sexual expression for young people,” Karaian said in an interview. “How much are we willing to use the law against so many young people who are doing this?”

    McKay agreed that the legislation on intimate images has lagged behind the pace of technology and said we have to look outside the courtroom to address this growing phenomenon.

    In the Bridgewater case, McKay said the distribution of images appeared to be so “systematic” that he thinks legal consequences could be appropriate.

    He said the six accused could face court-ordered restrictions at the sentencing hearing Monday, including a prohibition on access to the internet.

    “For young people in the modern world, limiting their social media is what they’ll take note of,” he said. “For some, it may even be a bigger deterrent than time in custody.”


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    Mobsters are jostling to fill the vacuum left by the death of an organized crime mega-boss, resulting in about a dozen unsolved violent incidents this year in Ontario — shootings, explosions and killings.

    After Vito Rizzuto, considered by police to be Canada’s most powerful mobster, died in Montreal in December 2013 of reportedly natural causes, a vacancy at the top opened up. And the results have been bloody.

    “Everybody wants to be the next boss now that Rizzuto is gone,” said Paul Manning, a former undercover officer in Hamilton. “There’s a lot of infighting over who will be the next boss.”

    This evolving picture of organized crime in southern Ontario is drawn from interviews with a variety of sources — both investigators and those connected to organized crime — across southern Ontario and Quebec. Most declined to speak on the record for professional reasons.

    The leadership vacuum has attracted tech-savvy newcomers from Ontario and Quebec who are eager to challenge the old guard. It has also triggered vicious infighting inside what’s left of the old Rizzuto organization in Ontario.

    That infighting may explain the murder of Angelo (Ang) Musitano, 39, who was shot at close range May 2, 2017 in the driveway of his suburban Hamilton house in mid-afternoon with his wife and three young children inside.

    It was what Hamilton police Det.-Sgt. Peter Thom called “a very deliberate and targeted attack.”

    Before he went to jail, Musitano’s 49-year-old brother, Pat, was considered to be a long-standing Niagara Region associate of Rizzuto, with a keen interest in illegal gambling, according to a report by the Criminal Intelligence Service Ontario, a multi-jurisdictional police organization.

    Angelo Musitano reportedly found religion since he and Pat pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in the 1997 gangland hit on Carmen Barillaro at the front door of his Niagara Falls home. They were both sentenced to 10 years in prison and were released on parole in October 2006 after serving two-thirds of their terms.

    Read more:

    Move over Tony Soprano, here comes Vito Rizzuto

    Vito Rizzuto became a victim when his eldest son was shot dead

    Vito Rizzuto, Canada’s most notorious mobster, dies suddenly

    Illegal gambling has been particularly contentious over the past few years since Rizzuto’s death and the 2013 dismantling of Platinum Sports Book, an illegal internet-based gambling network.

    “Everyone’s fighting for control of the sports book,” said a GTA police source who specializes in organized crime, but was not authorized to speak on the record.

    Early on the morning of June 27, someone opened fire on the Hamilton home of Pat Musitano.

    The gunman, or gunmen, apparently wanted to send a loud message, as there were about 20 shell casings found in front of the upscale home on St. Clair Blvd.

    Manning suspects it was a message to Pat Musitano that he should shelve any plans of avenging the murder of his younger brother.

    “It’s a warning to leave it there,” Manning said, adding that when Rizzuto was alive he would resolve such disagreements inside his organization like a stern but fair father.

    “Usually, there would be a sit-down, an apology.”

    Some of this year’s violence is blamed on an ongoing culture clash between the old and the new. On one side are the aggressive young computer-friendly newcomers from B.C. and Quebec allied to a gang called The Wolfpack Alliance. On the other side are the old guard — the GTA arm of the traditional ’Ndrangheta family of Cosimo (The Quail) Commisso of Siderno, Italy.

    The Wolfpack Alliance was formed in British Columbia about a decade ago. The alliance pulls together members of existing crime groups, some of which are organized along racial lines, according to Kash Heed, former B.C. solicitor general, minister of public safety and West Vancouver Police chief.

    It’s a rapidly evolving group of organized crime disrupters. Their members don’t have blood or ethnic ties or a code of conduct or a rigid hierarchy. They’re generally young and tech savvy. They have gold pendants with a wolf’s head gold medallion to show membership.

    “It’s a collective of very successful wealthy organized crime guys working together,” Heed said.

    By contrast, the ’Ndrangheta is steeped in a highly structured, quasi-religious criminal tradition that reaches back more than a century to the southern Italian region of Calabria.

    The ’Ndrangheta carries itself like a state within a state, with various councils and titles, like “capo-crimine” for minister of war and “contabile” for treasurer.

    While its titles may sound archaic, the ’Ndrangheta’s profits surpass those of many modern multinational corporations. Italian investigative journalist Giulio Rubino wrote earlier this month that the ’Ndrangheta made $70.41 billion (U.S.) worldwide in 2013.

    The violence between the newcomers aligned with the Wolfpack, and the old guard in the ’Ndrangheta, isn’t expected to end anytime soon, as the Wolfpack has aligned itself with enemies of the GTA ’Ndrangheta, sources say.

    The Star has learned that police have warned two York Region men who are considered to be senior members of Commisso’s family that there are credible threats on their lives. The warnings came over the past month and the men declined police protection.

    Two other men who investigators consider to be senior underworld figures in York Region have chosen to quietly leave town over the past month, sources say.

    One of those departing is related to Commisso. The other is related to Agostino Cuntrera, a former leading member of the Rizzuto crime family in Montreal who was murdered in 2010.

    There was enormous bad blood between the Rizzutos and local ’Ndrangheta at the time of Rizzuto’s death. They were on opposite sides of a mob war in the early 2000s that saw Rizzuto’s father and eldest son murdered.

    At the time of his death, Rizzuto was believed by police to have drafted a “black list” of men in the Commisso family he wanted killed.

    “People are watching their backs now,” the veteran investigator of organized crime said. “People aren’t being as open to meetings now. They’re getting nervous.”

    Newcomer Anastasios (Tassos) Leventis, 39, of Montreal may have been nervous when he was called to a mid-afternoon meeting on Jan. 30, but he went anyway.

    Leventis was connected to the Wolfpack Alliance, even if he wasn’t a member.

    Leventis moved to downtown Toronto from Montreal more than a year ago to collect drug debts owed to Montrealers, the police source says.

    Not long before his death, he had a confrontation with a York Region ’Ndrangheta Mafia boss connected to Commisso over a drug debt.

    On the afternoon of his death, Leventis realized something was horribly wrong almost immediately after stepping out of the condo complex on George St. near Adelaide St. E. in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood. He bolted in front of students, passersby, construction workers and area residents.

    Moments later, a gunman stood over him, pumping bullets into his body.

    “The victim knew his killers,” the police officer familiar with the case told the Star. “The killers were waiting for him outside his condo. He was chased down the street.”

    “He certainly got set up,” the police source said.

    Toronto police investigators declined several requests to comment on the case.

    Leventis was an enthusiastic gambler who trained as a computer programmer. Computer skills are vital as organized crime groups reach out across borders, journalist/ academic Luis Horacio Najera said in an interview.

    Mexican drug cartels connect with the new small aggressive groups like the Wolfpack Alliance with encrypted messaging systems as they push into Canada.

    “In today’s world, there’s a lot of resources as personal information, contacts, instant communications — even hiring a hit man, or buying guns — that you can access through the web,” said Najera, who worked as a journalist covering drug cartels in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico before he was forced to leave the country as a refugee.

    Domenic Triumbari, 58, of Woodbridge, was related to the Siderno ’Ndrangheta boss Commisso, which meant he wasn’t a man to be trifled with.

    Certainly, Triumbari didn’t appear to worry when he went out to play cards on the evening of March 31 in an industrial plaza that featured a social club and a banquet hall on Regina Road in Vaughan, less than five minutes drive from the Highway 7 and Martin Grove Road intersection.

    “He loved to play cards,” said a police officer who knew him. “He was involved in a whole series of games.”

    Despite all of the conflict around him, Triumbari seemed like a lucky man in the days before his murder.

    The longtime York Region resident was basking in the afterglow of a $150,000 win at Casino Niagara when a gunman rushed out from a parked car in the plaza and shot him dead.

    “He’s not a guy that you would just casually decide to take out,” a retired organized crime investigator said.

    Violence hasn’t abated since the murder of Leventis six months ago. Much of it has been in York Region, and includes the massive explosion early in the morning of June 29 that knocked a wall out of the Caffé Corretto on Winges Rd. near Highways 400 and 7.

    That blast showered brick and gaming machine bits down onto a nearby black BMW.

    The café had been targeted in a police sweep of illegal gaming machines in January 2016.

    This violence appears to be directed against the Commisso network, but no clear victor has emerged in the conflict, which isn’t expected to end any time soon.

    Both sides are strong and motivated and there’s no one with the power of Rizzuto to order a cease fire.

    “Everybody’s taking a hit,” the veteran police office said. “It was never like this.”

    Peter Edwards is the author 10 books on organized crime and writes regularly on the topic for the Toronto Star.

    pedwards@thestar.ca


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    MOSCOW—Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday the United States would have to cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by 755 under new sanctions from Moscow.

    In response, the U.S. State Department deemed it “a regrettable and uncalled for act.”

    Russian’s Foreign Ministry on Friday ordered a reduction by Sept. 1 in the number of U.S. diplomatic personnel in Russia. It said it is ordering the U.S. Embassy to limit the number of embassy and consular employees in the country to 455 in response to approval of a new package of sanctions by the U.S. Congress. The White House has said U.S. President Donald Trump would sign those sanctions into law.

    “We had hoped that the situation will somehow change, but apparently if it changes, it won’t be soon,” Putin said in an interview televised on Rossiya 1, explaining why Moscow decided to retaliate. “I thought it was the time to show that we’re not going to leave it without an answer.”

    Russia is open to co-operating with the U.S. on various issues, including terrorism and cybercrime, but instead it “only hears unfounded accusations of meddling in U.S. domestic affairs,” he said.

    Read more: GOP-led House set to pass Russia sanctions bill limiting Trump’s authority

    Putin said more than 1,000 people are currently employed at the Moscow embassy and three U.S. consulates in Russia. They include both Americans and Russians hired to work in the diplomatic offices.

    The Russian leader did not explain how the figure of 755 positions was calculated.

    In a statement, the State Department said: “This is a regrettable and uncalled for act. We are assessing the impact of such a limitation and how we will respond to it. We have no further comment at this time.”

    The State Department declined to give an exact number of American diplomats or other U.S. officials in Russia, but the figure is believed to be about 400, some of whom have families accompanying them on diplomatic passports.

    The vast majority of the more than 1,000 employees at the various US diplomatic missions in Russia, including the embassy in Moscow and consulates in St. Petersburg, Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg, are local employees.

    Asked about the potential for additional sanctions against Washington, Putin described the reduction in diplomatic staff as “painful” and said he currently opposes further measures.

    “We certainly have something to respond with and restrict those areas of joint co-operation that will be painful for the American side, but I don’t think we need to do it,” he said, adding that such steps could also harm Russian interests.

    Putin mentioned space and energy as the main areas where Russia and the United States have successfully pursued projects together.

    Along with the cap on the size of the U.S. diplomatic corps in Russia, the Russian foreign ministry on Friday said it also was closing down a U.S. recreational retreat on the outskirts of Moscow as well as warehouse facilities.

    The diplomatic tit-for-tat started under former U.S. President Barack Obama. In response to reports of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and shut down two Russian recreational retreats in the U.S.


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    REGINA—A Canadian Tire staff member who physically removed an Indigenous man from a store in Regina is no longer with the company, a spokesperson said Sunday.

    Kamao Cappo of the Muscowpetung First Nation posted a video to social media last week that appears to show him being pushed by a store employee who accused him of shoplifting.

    A spokeswoman for Canadian Tire said the employee in the video “has not been working in the store since the time of the incident and he is no longer with (the company).”

    Cappo, 53, said he was relieved to hear the news.

    “I feel that Canadian Tire is starting to make some movements in the right direction,” he said.

    “At least it sends a message to other people who think they can manhandle their customers.”

    The incident sparked online outrage and about 40 people staged a demonstration outside of the store Friday to show support for Cappo, who has said he was discriminated against because he is Indigenous.

    Read more: Indigenous man live-streams altercation with Canadian Tire employee

    Cappo was in the store buying a chainsaw, an extra chain and oil. But when he was at the checkout, he realized he had the wrong model and took the goods to customer service where he put the chain and oil inside the saw box for ease of handling by the clerk.

    Cappo has said that when he went to look for the right model he was approached by an employee who accused him of trying to shoplift, pushed him against some shelves and physically removed him from the store when he wouldn’t leave.

    He said he has a heart condition and was injured in the confrontation. He said he filed a complaint with police and is hoping the employee will be charged.

    Cappo said he’ll continue to press the issue in the hopes of making a difference for other Indigenous people.

    “Do you know how damaging it is to our children to be treated in this manner? And nobody’s doing anything about it,” he said. “We need to start doing something.”

    Bobby Cameron, the chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, says racial profiling against Indigenous people still happens regularly.

    “It happens every day,” Cameron said in a phone interview. “The second a First Nation walks into a door, there’s eyes on them — accusing eyes.”

    While he’s happy the Canadian Tire employee is no longer with the company, he says all sectors of society need more cross-cultural awareness training to address wider issues of profiling and discrimination.

    “We need all those customer outlets such as Canadian Tire, (as well as) gas stations, hotels, police, health, education, the justice system — all those people and individuals need a serious crash course on First Nation traditions and protocols,” he said.


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    PARIS—Emmanuel Macron is a master of persuasion.

    In his youth, he seduced his married high school drama teacher, the woman who is now his wife. In middle age, with no government experience, he cajoled a sitting president into giving him a coveted cabinet position. Then — with no support from any established political party — he dazzled a nation, becoming, at 39, the youngest-ever president of France, a country where tradition is a way of life.

    Nearly 100 days into Macron’s presidency, there are already indications that the French are increasingly skeptical of their new president. While a majority still approve of him, Macron’s initially sky-high approval rating dropped by 10 per cent this month, mostly because of his refusal to back down on commitments to slash government spending. He has also come under fire for failing to aid migrants, sparred with France’s chief military officer, who later resigned, and pushed to expand the state’s powers to fight terrorism in ways that critics fear will permanently curtail civil liberties.

    Read more:

    Emmanuel Macron meets with Rihanna about education initiative

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    Judging from the new president’s calendar, however, the dip in domestic popularity is of little concern, for his roving political eye seems to have identified a new conquest. Macron may be the president of France, but now he seems to be running for a different office altogether: the leader of the free world.

    Following the election of Donald Trump — who ran on promises of “America First” isolationism — commentators worldwide immediately began referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the de facto defender of the liberal world order. With her famously stoic demeanour, Merkel appeared the natural replacement. Throughout her long career, she has advocated diplomacy and international law, and has defended an embattled European Union.

    But in his first three months in office, Macron has dared to tread where Merkel hesitates to go. In keeping with his youthful image, he makes bold statements in defence of global causes such as climate change action, as evidenced in his Twitter campaign to “Make Our Planet Great Again.” And in the style of the “French Obama,” he hosts international celebrities in the Élysée for “conversations” on hot-button issues — including both Bono and Rihanna last week.

    In any case, the major plot points of his young presidency have all featured him in the international spotlight, either attempting to charm or stand up to powerful world leaders, often those unpopular in France.

    This is not to say that nothing has happened on the domestic level since his election in May. Macron, a relative political outsider even a year ago, ultimately succeed in carrying out an almost unthinkable overhaul of French political life. The new centrist party he founded, République En Marche (Republic on the Move), now has an absolute majority in Parliament.

    But in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, his principal ambition to date seems to be casting himself as a master negotiator in a new world where all roads somehow lead to Paris.

    “To some extent, France is back again,” said Pierre Vimont, a former French ambassador to the United States and the EU, in an interview. “You have France pushing forward its interest, but doing so in a way that makes it take a central position on the world stage, because France likes to lead and likes to be seen as leading.”

    This defence of French interests has taken forms large and small, including a last-minute move to temporarily nationalize France’s largest shipyard on Thursday — to save French jobs from a potential Italian takeover. But so far, it has mostly been the world stage on which Macron has set his sights.

    Last week, for instance, he hosted Libya’s two rival leaders for talks in a chateau outside Paris. The mission was tentatively successful: the meeting led to a conditional ceasefire agreement between Fayez al-Sarraj, Libya’s UN-backed prime minister, and Khalifa Haftar, the military leader who controls much of eastern Libya.

    For France, the issue of Libya holds particular significance, given the country’s past difficulties in negotiating any functioning resolution in the region, as in the joint Franco-British 2011 operation.

    “The cause of peace has made great progress today,” said Macron at the end of discussions, heralding the “historic courage” of the two leaders he invited.

    Likewise, Vimont said, Macron has positioned himself as a similar mediator between Israel and Palestine and even between the United States and Russia.

    Macron has hosted — separately — Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    In each of these meetings, Macron has used his considerable charm to play both sides, even while blasting Putin for Russia’s state-owned media being “organs of propaganda.” With Abbas, he opposed settlements, calling them “illegal under international law.” With Netanyahu, he decried anti-Zionism, which, for Macron, is “the reinvented form of anti-Semitism.”

    But nowhere was Macron’s ability to seduce more on display than in the case of Trump, whom he invited to Paris after the two had a tense first meeting in Brussels in May. The entire affair was dominated by a six-second handshake widely interpreted as a display of Gallic machismo — and that Macron later told a French newspaper was “a moment of truth.”

    In their second encounter, however, Macron was all smiles, outwardly embracing Trump, who enjoys an approval rating of just 14 per cent in France, according to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center. Even after Trump commented on the “good physical shape” of Macron’s 64-year-old wife, Brigitte, the young president referred to his American counterpart as “dear Donald” and flattered him while the cameras were rolling.

    But Macron’s flattery began long before the visit, Trump revealed in an Oval Office interview with the New York Times this month. Trump — who has refused to visit Britain until Prime Minister Theresa May can “fix” a warm welcome for him — initially asked Macron whether there would be protests in Paris, he told the Times.

    “I said, ‘Do you think it’s a good thing for me?’ ”

    Trump said Macron was quick to say that protests would not be a problem, and that a lavish spectacle of French military pomp would await him on the storied Champs Élysées. Trump arrived, and there were no protests in sight. He now extols his “great relationship” with Macron.

    For Dominique Moisi, a French foreign policy expert at the Paris-based Institut Montaigne, a think tank with ties to the Macron campaign, there is potential danger in Macron’s having “put himself in the limelight.”

    “At the same time, the devil is in the details,” Moisi said. “By receiving these leading opposite forces in Paris, he’s taking a risk. What if he fails?”

    In Macron’s official presidential portrait — whose heavy symbolism France’s chattering classes have taken to scrutinizing in the manner of a Holbein or a Rembrandt — he appears near a stack of books, one of which is opened on the desk behind him.

    Among them is Stendhal’s The Red and the Black, Le Monde revealed, a classic 19th-century novel that tells the story of Julien Sorel, a young provincial who, like Macron, comes to Paris to seek his fortune and, as it happens, seduces an older woman along the way.

    In the novel, things do not end particularly well for Julien, but one thing is sure: He is the slave of a staggering ambition, and nothing can stand in his way. Among the novel’s most famous lines: “Each man for himself, in that desert of egoism which is called life.”

    Macron’s young presidency has not yet experienced a major domestic crisis or attack. Likewise, none of his major policy proposals have yet been implemented — including his controversial push to liberalize France’s highly regulated labour market. Those reforms are due to be introduced in Parliament this fall, and could inspire massive protests.

    With an absolute majority in Parliament — populated with deputies Macron hand-picked, all of whom represent a new political party that bears his own initials — Macron is not yet used to opposition. As he said to French troops, in the midst of a dispute over military budget cuts, “I am your boss . . . I need no pressure and no commentary.”

    For some, Macron’s overt allusion to Stendhal evinces a sense of humour on his part, an ironic self-awareness. For others, it represents a different kind of irony, almost an inadvertent foreshadowing.

    As Moisi put it, “The hard times are yet to come.”


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    OTTAWA—It’s the plan the federal government doesn’t want you to see and doesn’t want to talk about.

    Details of Canada’s special forces operations in Iraq? Nope. The inside scoop on Canada’s negotiating strategy for upcoming trade talks with the United States? Not that, either.

    Instead, the document kept under wraps outlines some of the planning for how the Canadian government will respond to the death of Queen Elizabeth.

    Yet the Privy Council Office — the bureaucrats who support the Prime Minister’s Office and cabinet — has refused to reveal the internal plan meant to guide the government’s actions in the hours and days after the Queen dies.

    That plan is a cabinet confidence, reserved for the eyes of cabinet ministers and senior advisers, the office said in response to an access to information request by the Star.

    The office even refused to discuss whether bureaucrats have been meeting to discuss the topic. Asked for details about any committee established to oversee the planning, the Privy Council Office delayed its response, saying it needed four months to consult “other government institutions.”

    The Star appealed the office’s decision to withhold all records to the information commissioner of Canada. But after a review, commission investigators deemed that the documents are indeed cabinet confidences that will be kept under wraps.

    It’s no secret that the health of the Queen, age 91, has been on the minds of Canadian bureaucrats and politicians.

    In announcing in April that Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, would be visiting Canada for July 1 celebrations, Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly said the Queen’s health did not allow her to make the trip.

    “I understand that, of course, the Queen is ill,” Joly told CTV’s Power Play. She then clarified to say, “Well, not necessarily ill, but doesn’t have the capacity, the health, to come to Canada.”

    Documents obtained from the Canadian Heritage Department reveal that backroom planning for the Queen’s death has been underway for several years, with broad consultations that have included the Canadian Armed Forces, Rideau Hall, the Privy Council Office, Buckingham Palace and Canada’s High Commission in London.

    In 2012, Kevin MacLeod, at the time the Canadian secretary to the Queen, reviewed the “Succession of the Crown Plans.” In an email to Stephen Wallace, the secretary to the Governor General, MacLeod said he was “most impressed with its thoroughness.”

    MacLeod passed along several suggestions to Wallace — all of them censored from the material released to the Star — but said, “all in all, this is a very strong document and, again, congratulations on a great effort.”

    That planning has continued, with meetings and email exchanges, including several in 2016 with the subject line “Succession to the Throne” that included officials in the Heritage Department responsible for major events and commemorations.

    Emails were also exchanged with the office of the Earl Marshal, who has a role in planning state ceremonies in the United Kingdom, including organizing the funeral of a monarch and the coronation of the new one.

    Exact details of all those discussions and decisions were kept from the Star’s view. Dozens of pages provided under access to information were censored in their entirety on the grounds that their contents constituted advice to a cabinet minister.

    The Privy Council Office declined to comment Friday on any of the planning, saying only that arrangements “concerning succession to the throne will be announced at an appropriate time” and conveying a wish for the Queen’s continued good health.

    “PCO will work closely with Rideau Hall and all implicated government departments to ensure that appropriate measures are in place. The Government of Canada wishes Her Majesty the Queen a long and prosperous reign,” a council office spokesperson, Stéphane Shank, told the Star.

    Rideau Hall, the home of the Governor General, was equally tight-lipped. “It will not be possible to share with you, at the present moment, details and the sequence of events pertaining to the death of Her Majesty the Queen,” said a spokesperson, Marie-Ève Létourneau.

    The reluctance to comment is understandable, said one person familiar with some of the government’s work on the file.

    “People don’t want to cast a lot of light on the subject because no one wants anyone to believe that the Queen is about to die,” the source said.

    But the source, who spoke on background because of the sensitivity of the topic, said that developing contingency plans was simply good practice.

    The source noted, for example, that when members of the Royal Family travel abroad, they pack mourning clothes with them, just in case. “If a death occurs in London, they have to be prepared,” he said.

    Just as Ottawa has planned for the deaths of past prime ministers and governors general — often in consultation with those personalities themselves — it has laid plans for the death of the Queen.

    “When the news comes that so-and-so has passed, there is an awful lot that has to be done in a very short prescribed period of time. The more planning you can do in advance to know who has to be called when and what happens in what order, so much the better,” the source said.

    “The key players who will be involved know that they will have roles to play and I presume they are talking to each other on a fairly regular basis.”

    That planning is almost certain to include the offices of the lieutenant-governors, who serve as the Queen’s representatives in each of the provinces.

    The death of the Queen — who has reigned for 65 years — will have a profound effect on Canadians, predicted Garry Toffoli, vice-chairman and executive director of the Canadian Royal Heritage Trust.

    “Most of us have never known any other monarch. It has defined our lives,” he said.

    “Traumatic might not be the right word, but it will be emotional when it happens,” Toffoli said in an interview.

    Given that her mother lived to 101, the Queen could have another decade ahead of her, he said. But he said it’s understandable that plans have been laid.

    As for guidance on what to expect when she dies, Toffoli suggested looking to the death of the Queen’s father, King George VI, on Feb. 6, 1952 — the last time a reigning British monarch died.

    The Heritage Department documents provided to the Star included an annex detailing some of the activities that unfolded on the Canadian end that year.

    Within an hour of the official announcement of the king’s death in London, notifications went out to the prime minister and cabinet officials in Ottawa. The CBC was quickly instructed to ensure that radio programs would “immediately be altered in a manner suitable for the occasion.” That meant no ads, only “appropriate” music, news and announcements.

    Public Works was contacted to ensure flags were lowered to half-mast on federal buildings. Work was started on proclamations: one to announce the death of the king and another to mark the accession of the Queen. The senior judge of the Supreme Court and the prime minister took oaths of allegiance to the new monarch.

    The Canadian representatives at the king’s funeral included the Canadian high commissioner, Vincent Massey, who was the incoming governor general, as well as the minister of national defence and the secretary of state for external affairs. Prime minister Louis St.-Laurent did not attend the funeral.

    A national day of mourning was declared and a ceremony held in Ottawa at the National War Memorial on the day of the funeral.

    Toffoli expects some of those activities will occur in the wake of the Queen’s death, too. “There are things that will happen automatically and then there will be things that will be up to the government of the time to decide what to do,” he said.


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    Over the past 19 years, the Canadian government has spent more than $150 million maintaining Pickering land it seized in the 70’s — for an airport that’s never been built.

    And while $59.2 million of that sum is listed for site repairs and maintenance, a group of local advocates say they’ve watched as properties under federal management were left to rot and the tenants evicted before the buildings were demolished.

    “Many of those were perfectly livable houses if they had been maintained by the landlord as they should have been,” Mary Delaney, a resident of the land and chair of the anti-airport advocacy group Land over Landings, told the Star.

    The saga began in 1972, when the government of Pierre Trudeau expropriated 7,530 hectares of land in Markham, Pickering and Uxbridge to build an airport, to take pressure off what is now Pearson International airport.

    But after waves of fiery protest made national headlines, the plan was cancelled.

    The federal government kept control of the land, and to this day, politicians at all levels of government — municipal, provincial and federal — are wrestling with what to do and whether an airport will finally be built.

    In the meantime, according to information obtained via an Access to Information request and follow-up with the federal Ministry of Transport, the unplanned land is costing up to tens of millions per year, on top of unknown costs for the expropriation itself and maintenance pre-1998.

    Transport Canada spokesperson Julie Leroux said that the maintenance of properties on the land — a legal obligation for Transport Canada post-expropriation, as they rent out the homes left on the land — can rack up “considerable expenses.”

    The homes average 80 years of age, she added, saying it’s especially difficult to maintain properties in a privately serviced rural area. The land in question doesn’t have municipal sewers, operating on wells and septic systems.

    However, to Delaney, a $7.89 million cost for mould assessment and abatement from 1999 to 2010 raises questions about the quality of site maintenance at the time.

    “In those days, that was the big thing. The houses have mould,” she said. “Why, only right here, did all these houses have mould? … if they did, and some did, it’s because they weren’t being maintained properly.”

    She cited poorly maintained roofs, wells and eaves leading to the mould.

    Upkeep in recent years has been significantly better, she said, giving credit to Ajax (former Ajax-Pickering) MP Mark Holland for advocating the issue.

    In 2009, Holland released a damning statement about Transport Canada’s 2005 attempt to demolish a property on the Pickering lands under a mould claim. He wrote that, after his office pressured for a third-party assessment, no evidence of mould could be found on the property.

    “Transport Canada has a history of resorting to deceptive tactics when carrying out evictions and demolitions in order to avoid public backlash,” his statement reads.

    Speaking to the Star, Holland said there was “a real cost to the mismanagement of those lands,” noting that the price tag on maintenance got “exorbitantly high” as a result of poor oversight over properties.

    “It’s easy to say it was when I was in opposition, but look, it’s been happening a long time,” he said. “Whether or not it was planned negligence, or whether it was just negligence, the homes that were being maintained on those lands were allowed to get into a terrible state of repair.”

    Since 1999, $5.5 million has been spent on demolition.

    But, even as some tenants have left the land, the federal government is responsible for paying a sum of money to local municipalities in lieu of taxes. That money, since 1999, has totalled $36 million.

    Environmental assessment and abatement has cost an additional $26.3 million over the last 19 years, though environment-related costs have been significantly lower since 2011-2012 — the same year the government announced the creation of Rouge National Urban Park, later allotted some 21 square km of the expropriated space.

    Salaries for those working on the Pickering file have gone up over the years, going from a collective of around $200,000 a year in 1999 to approximately $900,000 collectively in 2016.

    Additional staff was assigned starting in 2011-12, Leroux said, to work on major Canadian government projects related to the site. These included planning for the Rouge National Urban Park, and policy and paperwork like zoning regulations, land use identifications and site orders.

    Since 1999, the salaries of those working on the Pickering project have cost the government $9.8 million. Other costs incurred over the years include $3 million in capital projects and $2 million in green space improvement.

    The final cost category, aviation forecast and planning, only cropped up in 2005-06 — racking up the smallest overall total at $1.6 million. Leroux says Transport Canada is committed to maintaining the lands in the most “fiscally prudent manner” possible as the debate over the land continues.

    But, as Land over Landings fundraises $85 thousand for their own agricultural study, Delaney says the millions the government has spent on the land without a concrete plan for the future is disappointing.

    “The waste here is at ground level,” she said.


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    After ruling that a Toronto police officer assaulted a drunk driving suspect and told him to urinate in the back seat of a police cruiser, a judge threw out an impaired driving charge this month.

    Const. Amanpreet Gill, a police officer for 15 years, showed a “lack of honesty” with the court about what happened that night, Ontario Court Justice Joseph Bovard said in his decision.

    “Officer Gill’s evidence about the incident and about what happened afterwards was vague and at times evasive,” Bovard said, finding that Gill assaulted Jong-Won Jung and thereby violated his charter rights.

    “An assault on a person in custody while handcuffed to a bench to try to persuade him to do something that he has no obligation to do is indeed a grievous breach of the person’s rights under Section 7 of the charter.”

    Jung was arrested at a RIDE stop after midnight on Feb. 28, 2016, after he failed a roadside breathalyzer test, according to the ruling. His girlfriend was in the car with him. His first breath test at the police station showed a level of 140 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood (the legal limit is 80), Bovard said.

    As a result of the charter breach, the breath test results were excluded as evidence and, since there was no other evidence, Bovard found Jung not guilty.

    Jung had one hand cuffed to a bench at 41 Division police station and was waiting for his second breath test at about 1 a.m. when Gill said Jung’s girlfriend was being disruptive at the front desk, according to the ruling.

    Gill testified he asked Jung to speak to her on the phone and calm her down. He said he put the phone to Jung’s ear but Jung pushed his hand away causing him to accidentally hit Jung with the phone receiver.

    Jung, however, testified Gill shoved him repeatedly, causing his head to hit the wall five or six times, and hit him in the head with the phone receiver six or seven times. His left collarbone was injured.

    He said Gill saw his rookie partner, Const. Corey Sinclair, coming to take Jung for his second breath test and stopped. Jung said the assault lasted 10 or 15 seconds.

    “I was in a state of shock,” he testified, according to Bovard’s ruling. “I mean, it’s not like I said anything to — to cause this. I wasn’t being repulsive, I wasn’t being violent. I tried to stay as compliant as I can. I mean, I’m handcuffed to a bench, in a police station, there’s nothing I can do. And the fact that this whole thing happened, it just — like I just didn’t know why.”

    Jung told the officer conducting the breath test he was subjected to “police brutality” and “almost punched,” according to the video from the breath test room.

    He said he wasn’t able to be clearer because he was in shock. He also mentioned the “police brutality” to Sinclair before he was released.

    Sinclair denied seeing an assault take place. Though he acknowledged Jung made allegations of “police brutality,” he did not follow up, he told the court.

    Jung said he did not complain again while at the station because he felt there was no point given the lack of response up to that point — a feeling Bovard said was entirely valid.

    “His account of the assault is completely plausible,” Bovard said. “I find that the conduct of the police further exacerbates the (charter breach) . . . . Officers Sinclair and Gill were not forthright with the court. None of the officers responded responsibly to Mr. Jung’s report that Officer Gill had assaulted him. They did nothing to follow up, investigate, or even report the allegation to their superiors.”

    A Toronto police spokesperson, Meaghan Gray, said the court’s decision is being reviewed by the internal Professional Standards Unit.

    Gill’s and Sinclair’s testimony also “lacked candour” when it came to what happened in the police cruiser until confronted with the in-car video, Bovard found.

    The video shows Jung saying he really needs to go to the washroom while waiting in the cruiser to enter the booking area at 41 Division. Gill responds by telling Jung to hold it and that he needed to be processed first.

    Then “Gill went further and demonstrated a belligerent and demeaning attitude toward Mr. Jung,” Bovard said. “He told him to urinate in the police cruiser.”

    Both officers said they arranged for Jung to use the washroom prior to the start of the booking process.

    Speaking generally about cases involving charter violations like this one, Jung’s lawyer, Heather Spencer, said video has been a game-changer.

    “One of the main concerns is cases slipping through the cracks where people plead guilty because they are not sure they will be believed over what the officers have to say,” she said. But the presence of video can make these cases less challenging, she says.

    Jung did not respond to a request for comment through his lawyer.


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    Premier Kathleen Wynne is suffering the loss of a key member of her cabinet with the surprise departure of Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray, the Star has learned.

    Murray, 59, who has been out of the country and was unavailable for comment, will announce Monday at Queen’s Park that he is set to resign from provincial politics.

    The Toronto Centre MPP, also a former mayor of Winnipeg and one-time Star columnist, has been Wynne’s point person on climate change.

    He will step down immediately from cabinet, forcing the premier to do a minor shuffle of her executive council on Monday morning, but will remain as an MPP for a few more weeks to wind down some local constituency business.

    However, his resignation will not trigger a byelection in what has been a traditionally safe Liberal seat both provincially and federally — his seatmate is federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

    That’s because under Ontario law, a byelection must be called within six months of a vacancy unless a province-wide election is imminent.

    With voters going to the polls on June 7, 2018, there was concern about Elections Ontario spending an estimated $500,000 to conduct a byelection.

    Sources, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal party matters, said Murray is leaving for a high-profile job outside politics. His successor as environment minister was not immediately known.

    Internationally respected on environmental issues, he was first elected in a February 2010 byelection after then-deputy premier George Smitherman left to run for mayor of Toronto and lost to Rob Ford.

    Former premier Dalton McGuinty elevated Murray to cabinet just six months later where he served as minister of research and innovation. After the 2011 election, he was promoted to minister of training, colleges, and universities.

    After McGuinty stepped down in October 2012, he launched a Liberal leadership bid, but dropped out to support Wynne shortly before the party’s convention in January 2013.

    The new premier rewarded him for his timely endorsement, which gave her campaign momentum, by making him transportation and infrastructure minister in February 2013.

    Following her majority victory in June 2014, Wynne moved him to the Ministry of the Environment and added “Climate Change” to his title to underscore its importance as Ontario was joining Quebec and California in a cap-and-trade system.

    In a move some Liberals felt demonstrated petulance, Murray responded to being shuffled by taking to Twitter that June 25 and saying: “Today it sunk in the last election was my last.”

    “Promised that if I couldn’t make a difference in 8 or 10 years I couldn’t make a difference,” the minister tweeted more than three years ago.

    “First openly gay person elected in Canada. I have to thank Winnipeggers for electing me councillor and mayor and TO for electing me MPP and minister,” he continued.

    “Minister of Environment in Ontario is the best political position I have ever had the privilege to hold. I was not demoted. Kathleen Wynne put me in a position where I can fight to ensure we can survive climate change.”

    While his prophecy turned out to be true, Murray had indicated to allies more recently that he planned to run again next year, so his exit is blindsiding the governing Liberals.

    A strong performer in the legislature, where he usually deflects opposition questions skilfully, he has emerged as one of Wynne’s better known ministers.

    Last month, Murray announced the government would spend $85 million to clean up the mercury-poisoned Wabigoon River that has poisoned people of the Grassy Narrows First Nation and the Whitedog First Nation for decades.

    “I have never seen a case of such gross neglect. I am embarrassed as a Canadian that this ever happened and I can’t understand how people for 50 years sat in that environment office knowing this was going on as a minister and simply didn’t do anything about it,” he told the Star on June 27.

    In 2016, Murray unveiled the government’s ambitious five-year, $8.3-billion plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which included a push for motorists to park their gas and diesel cars and replace them with electric vehicles.

    As part of the climate change strategy, gasoline prices rose by 4.3 cents a litre and natural gas bills by an average of $5 a month, some of which was offset by incentive programs to encourage conservation.

    Yet Murray stared down critics, warning the price of doing nothing to curb greenhouse gas emissions was far more costly, and that Ontarians appreciate the gravity of the situation.

    “People are very concerned about their children and the kind of planet they’re going up on and they want to do know to do,” he said last year.


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    The Toronto Islands are bracing for another flood.

    This time it’ll be waves of visitors arriving at the city’s lake oasis, bringing the sweet waft of sunscreen and the laughter of summer fun.

    Toronto Island Park opens again Monday. Flooding had shuttered the islands since mid-May — it was so bad, carp were swimming over one submerged baseball diamond — but our island in the sun is open for business once again.

    “I’m expecting a bit of a crazy day on Monday,” says longtime Algonquin Island resident Linda Rosenbaum. “I think we’ve all been quite amazed at what a major event the closing of the island has been for Torontonians and how people are looking forward to coming back.”

    The ferries will begin chugging from the mainland at 6:30 a.m., the first off to Ward’s Island. At 8 a.m., escapees from the city’s summer’s heat can begin returning to Centre Island. Ferries have been running to Ward’s — a largely residential island — during the clean up but with limited access.

    The islands aren’t perfectly dry. Some pools of water remain where there were none before. And some patches of grass are quite soggy, definitely too wet for a picnic.

    But there are also large swaths of lush green lawn that look just as visitors remember from previous summers. Oddly, the sprinklers were turned up full blast near the Centre Island Boat House on Sunday.

    Olympic Island remains closed and there will be some other areas that are clearly marked as inaccessible due to groundwater.

    It’s taken a monumental effort to get the park ready again. The city used 27 pumps, including nine industrial-sized units, 24 hours a day to remove surface pooling. There are pumps still in operation on the islands. They also moved earth, used more than 45,000 sand bags — many of which are still visible — and dumped gravel in some areas in a race to get the park open by Monday’s self-imposed deadline.

    At peak flooding, water covered more than 40 per cent of the island’s surface as Lake Ontario recorded its highest water level in decades. Even now, the beaches appear as if much of the sand has been removed for the bags used to stem the push of lapping waves.

    The beach on Ward’s Island, for example, is about a quarter of what it once was.

    “Better get there early if you want a spot,” said Susan Roy, another longtime resident.

    Crews continued to work Sunday, raking landfill into wet spots along the roadway between Ward’s and Centre Islands.

    “We’re trying our best,” said one worker. “We’re trying to stay half a step ahead; there’s a lot to do still but it’s a huge difference already. We want the park to be beautiful. That’s why people come here.”

    Centreville Amusement Park will open at noon Monday but spokesperson Shawnda Walker said there will be no fanfare to mark the occasion.

    “People want to just get on those rides so we’re just going to open the grounds, get those rides going and, hopefully, there’ll be great crowds,” she said.

    While Centreville management has no idea how many people to expect, Walker senses a pent-up demand based on the volume of emails from the public — sometimes as many as 50 in a day — asking when the theme park would reopen.

    “We’re going to be prepared for a busy day,” she said.

    Not all the rides will be operational. Some of the track for the train remains underwater and will need to be replaced. It won’t run this summer. The docks for the swan ride and bumper boats are also submerged making boarding unsafe. Walker said there is still hope those rides will open before the summer is over. And the barns and pens at Far Enough Farm, a petting zoo, remain sodden so the animals are staying at farm in Schomberg.

    The shutdown has been understandably hard on island businesses. The Star earlier reported that Centreville has lost more than $6 million in revenue and ownership sold its iconic carousel for $3 million to offset some of that money. The 110-year carousel will be in operation for the remainder of the season.

    Brandon Sherman of The Otter Guy water taxi service says boat operators have been “hemorrhaging” carrying about 10 to 20 cent of the passengers that normally ride to the islands.

    “We have no idea what to expect (Monday) but we’re all hoping for good things,” he said.

    The flooding also prompted the owners of The Rectory Café, on Ward’s Island, not to continue their lease beyond this year. After a 14-year run, they are helping to identify a new ownership group to take over the restaurant.

    That the park is open now won’t be make up for lost revenue says Ken McAuliffe, one of the owners

    There is “a lot of built up demand” to return to the islands, he wrote in an email, but “unfortunately it will not be sufficient to counteract the loss of business over the last two and a half months for most of the Toronto Island businesses.”

    This summer, Rosenbaum and Roy started a business together — Walk Ward’s Island — taking visitors for guided tours. Rosenbaum concedes the timing might not have been the best.

    But beyond the impact on her new endeavour, she’s just excited visitors are about to return to the islands in big numbers.

    “It has been like a ghost town,” she says. “In some ways, it’s been quiet and peaceful and there’s never any lineups and we don’t have to jostle through crowds just trying to get home. But we miss people.

    “I was down at Centre (Island) where the formal gardens are and the Parks department has been pruning the gardens and the flower beds are absolutely beautiful. But it’s bizarre because there’s not one person looking at them. It’s so strange.

    “It’s so beautiful and there’s so much to see, it’s a shame people couldn’t come but it really was flooded. It was bad and it was dangerous. You wouldn’t be able to keep people safe. Now people will be safe.”


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    Mayor John Tory has called four overdose deaths over the weekend tragic but preventable as advocates call on the city to do more.

    “It’s such a tragedy to see this number of people dying,” Tory said Monday during a trip to Toronto Island for its official re-opening.

    Toronto police put out a safety alert on Saturday as the city saw four deaths and 20 overdoses since Thursday.

    Tory said the city is moving forward with its overdose action plan, but warned that those using drugs and those around them need to be “vigilant” during an ongoing fentanyl crisis.

    “These are preventable deaths,” he said. “I’m troubled by it because it is a devastation to families, to communities.”

    Fentanyl is a powerful opioid which experts across the country say is being cut into other drugs with frequency, often unbeknownst to those using them.

    There were 730 opioid-related deaths in Ontario in 2015, the most recent provincial data available, 137 of which were in Toronto. That number has risen steadily since 2012 when there were 585 deaths in Ontario, 85 of which were in Toronto.

    Toronto police have faced recent criticism because there are no plans for frontline officers to carry the powerful antidote naloxone. Toronto paramedics already carry the drug proven to save lives in the event of an overdose and distribution to firefighters is planned this fall.

    Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash has said it is their policy that officers can only administer the epiPen medication.

    Naloxone blocks the effect of opioids in the brain, reversing the effects of an overdose.

    Related story: Sherbourne Health Centre latest to offer naloxone in midst of opiate crisis

    The mayor said the city’s first responders are “doing their part” when it comes to the deadly drug’s toll on the city.

    “We have relied on the advice of all of these different people, including public health, first responders and others,” Tory said of the city’s response. “I’m willing to consider anything that those people who know more than I do about this are willing to think are reasonable and is going to save lives.”

    Two of the recent victims died within steps of the Queen West Central Toronto Community Health Centre, one of three locations that will see supervised injection services opened this year.

    Advocates have been pushing for such sites for the past decade. Necessary federal approval and provincial funding were finalized last month.

    With files from David Rider


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    The TTC was jubilant Monday night as crowds packed into Union Station and later on to a subway train to celebrate Emancipation Day — the day slavery was abolished in the British Empire.

    Now in its fifth year, the Underground Freedom Train Ride is a symbolic subway ride commemorating the experience of escaping slaves who made the harrowing journey to Canada along the Underground Railroad.

    “It is recognition of a historic date, Emancipation Day, and it is a celebration of the power and potential of people of African descent,” said organizer Itah Sadu, who called the ride a way of connecting the past and the present.

    Drums played as the crowd gathered at Union Station for the opening ceremonies Monday night before a subway train traveled to Sheppard West, arriving in the early hours of Emancipation Day on August 1.

    The ceremonies included drumming, dancing, songs, speeches and spoken word, “all in the spirit of liberation and celebration through a difficult time in our history,” said Louis March, one of the organizers.

    Mayor John Tory spoke at the ceremony, but was interrupted by journalist and activist Desmond Cole, who spoke out about how Cole was treated at a July 27 police board meeting. That meeting was temporarily halted when Cole demanded to speak about the Defonte Miller case. Cole was then escorted from the building where the police board meeting was held, fined and warned not to return.

    “I don’t think that anybody here should be stopped from riding the liberation train, not even you,” he said at the Monday event. “But if you’re going to be here tonight you have to hear and see what black liberation actually means.”

    Tory responded that he agreed there are many people in our society who are not “fully free,” and said he is committed to eradicating anti-Black racism.

    The crowd briefly erupted into a chant of “Black lives matter,” before the ceremony continued.

    The event is presented by A Different Booklist bookstore, and is the brainchild of Sadu. It is supported by the TTC and drew a crowd of all ages and ethnicities.

    Each year organizers select a conductor for the train, and choose a woman leader in the community who represents the spirit of renowned Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman. This year’s conductor was Zanana Akande, the first black woman elected to Ontario’s legislative assembly and the first black woman to serve as a cabinet minister. Akande called the event an opportunity to look back and “remember the issues that we have been able to overcome.”

    “You say, well we’ve come this far, we can certainly go further,” she said. “We can achieve those things which we still need to achieve.”

    A plaque commemorating the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was presented at the opening ceremony. A permanent Heritage Toronto plaque, sponsored by the Coalition of Black Trade Unions, will be mounted at Union Station once renovations are complete.

    Beyond celebration, the ride is also an opportunity for education, said March.

    “The history books have not really done justice to the full scope of the African Canadian experience. Everybody talks about the Underground Railroad, but it’s not personalized, it’s not humanized,” he said.

    “There was courage, there was conviction. There was still family. There were still emotions. All of this stuff has been sort of left out.”

    The TTC provided the subway car for the train ride. Tory and TTC Chair Josh Colle joined in after the opening ceremony.

    “Emancipation Day gives us an opportunity to explore and celebrate the rich African-Canadian history that has helped build our city,” said Tory in a press release. “It is also a day to recognize their struggle for human rights.”

    The Slavery Abolition Act took effect on August 1, 1834, and abolished enslavement in most British colonies.


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    The family of a man who has been missing since Friday is appealing to the public for help locating him.

    Domingos Martins, 83, was last seen on July 28 at around 4:30 p.m. in the Lawrence Ave. W. and Jane St. area.

    His family said they are worried about him because he needs his medication for Alzheimer’s disease.

    “We are asking the public to please check your sheds, check the backyard, bushes, surrounding parks and green spaces because that’s where he’d gravitate too,” said Martins’ daughter-in-law Samantha Martins in a news conference Monday.

    She said Martins, who only speaks Portuguese, also goes by the name “Bronco.”

    Police have received several leads regarding Martins possible location but nothing has come up.

    Martins is described as five-foot-four, 180 to 200 pounds, bald, and has difficulty walking. He was last scene wearing a black shirt with “Martins” written on it.

    Anyone with information is asked to contact police or Crime Stoppers.


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    On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, U.S. President Donald Trump’s advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump’s oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril.

    The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged.

    But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed.

    Read more:

    Trump campaign was eager to accept campaign help from Russian government, emails show

    Russia urges U.S. to show ‘political will’ to fix ties as it cuts U.S. diplomatic staff

    Donald Trump Jr. farce makes Russia story more ridiculous, more serious: Analysis

    Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared a story, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”

    The claims were later shown to be misleading.

    Over the next three days, multiple accounts of the meeting were provided to the media as public pressure mounted, with Trump Jr. ultimately acknowledging that he had accepted the meeting after receiving an email promising damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.

    The extent of the president’s personal intervention in his son’s response, the details of which have not previously been reported, adds to a series of actions that Trump has taken that some advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy.

    As Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigates potential obstruction of justice as part of his broader probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, these advisers worry that the president’s direct involvement leaves him needlessly vulnerable to allegations of a coverup.

    “This was ... unnecessary,” said one of the president’s advisers, who, like most other people interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. “Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead. Somebody can argue the president is saying he doesn’t want you to say the whole truth.”

    Trump has already come under criticism for steps he has taken to challenge and undercut the Russia probe.

    He fired FBI Director James Comey on May 9 after a private meeting in which Comey said the president asked him if he could end the investigation of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.

    Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats told associates that Trump asked him in March if he could intervene with Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on Flynn. In addition, Trump has repeatedly criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the FBI’s Russian investigation — a decision that was one factor leading to the appointment of Mueller. And he has privately discussed his power to issue pardons, including for himself, and explored potential avenues for undercutting Mueller’s work.

    Although misleading the public or the press is not a crime, advisers to Trump and his family told the Washington Post that they fear any indication that Trump was seeking to hide information about contacts between his campaign and Russians almost inevitably would draw additional scrutiny from Mueller.

    Trump, they say, is increasingly acting as his own lawyer, strategist and publicist, often disregarding the recommendations of the professionals he has hired.

    “He refuses to sit still,” the presidential adviser said. “He doesn’t think he’s in any legal jeopardy, so he really views this as a political problem he is going to solve by himself.”

    Trump has said that the Russia probe is “the greatest witch hunt in political history,” calling it an elaborate hoax created by Democrats to explain Clinton losing an election she should have won.

    Because Trump believes he is innocent, some advisers explained, he therefore does not think he is at any legal risk for a coverup. In his mind, they said, there is nothing to conceal.

    The White House directed all questions for this story to the president’s legal team.

    One of Trump’s attorneys, Jay Sekulow, declined to discuss the specifics of the president’s actions and his role in crafting his son’s statement about the Russian contact. Sekulow issued a one-sentence statement in response to a list of detailed questions from the Post.

    “Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate and not pertinent,” Sekulow’s statement read.

    Trump Jr. did not respond to requests for comment. His lawyer, Alan Futerfas, told the Post that he and his client “were fully prepared and absolutely prepared to make a fulsome statement” about the meeting, what led up to it and what was discussed.

    Asked about Trump intervening, Futerfas said, “I have no evidence to support that theory.” He described the process of drafting a statement as “a communal situation that involved communications people and various lawyers.”

    Peter Zeidenberg, the deputy special prosecutor who investigated the George W. Bush administration’s leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity, said Mueller will have to dig into the crafting of Trump Jr.’s statement aboard Air Force One.

    Prosecutors typically assume that any misleading statement is an effort to throw investigators off the track, Zeidenberg said.

    “The thing that really strikes me about this is the stupidity of involving the president,” Zeidenberg said. “They are still treating this like a family-run business and they have a PR problem ... What they don’t seem to understand is this is a criminal investigation involving all of them.”

    The debate about how to deal with the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting began weeks before any news organizations began to ask questions about it.

    Kushner’s legal team first learned about the meeting when doing research to respond to congressional requests for information. Congressional investigators wanted to know about any contacts the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser had with Russian officials or business people.

    Kushner’s lawyers came across what they immediately recognized would eventually become a problematic story. A string of emails showed Kushner attended a meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in the midst of the campaign — one he had failed to disclose. Trump Jr. had arranged it and then-campaign chairperson Paul Manafort had also attended.

    To compound what was, at best, a public relations fiasco, the emails, which had not yet surfaced publicly, showed Trump Jr. responding to the prospect of negative information on Clinton from Russia: “I love it.”

    Lawyers and advisers for Trump, his son and son-in-law gamed out various strategies for disclosing the information to try to minimize the fallout of these new links between the Trump family and Russia, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

    Hope Hicks, the White House director of strategic communications and one of the president’s most trusted and loyal aides, and Josh Raffel, a White House spokesperson who works closely with Kushner and Ivanka Trump, huddled with Kushner’s lawyers, and they advocated for a more transparent approach, according to people with knowledge of the conversations.

    In one scenario, these people said, Kushner’s team talked about sharing everything, including the contents of the emails, with a mainstream news organization.

    Hicks and Raffel declined to comment. Kushner lawyer Abbe Lowell also declined to comment.

    The president’s outside legal team, led by Marc Kasowitz, had suggested that the details be given to Circa, an online news organization the Kasowitz team thought would be friendly to Trump. Circa had inquired in previous days about the meeting, according to people familiar with the discussions.

    The president’s legal team planned to cast the June 2016 meeting as a potential setup by Democratic operatives hoping to entrap Trump Jr. and, by extension, the presumptive Republican nominee, according to people familiar with discussions.

    Kasowitz declined to comment for this article, as did a Circa spokesperson.

    Circumstances changed when the New York Times began asking about the Trump Tower meeting, though advisers believed the paper knew few of the details. While the president, Kushner and Ivanka Trump were attending the G-20 summit, the Times asked for White House comment on the impetus and reason for the meeting.

    During breaks away from the summit, Kushner and Ivanka Trump gathered with Hicks and Raffel to discuss Kushner’s response to the inquiry, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. Kushner’s legal team joined at times by phone.

    Hicks also spoke by phone with Trump Jr. Again, say people familiar with the conversations, Kushner’s team concluded that the best strategy would be to err on the side of transparency, because they believed the complete story would eventually emerge.

    The discussions among President Trump’s advisers consumed much of the day, and continued as they prepared to board Air Force One that evening for the flight home.

    But before everyone boarded the plane, Trump had overruled the consensus, according to people with knowledge of the events.

    It remains unclear exactly how much the president knew at the time of the flight about Trump Jr.’s meeting.

    The president directed that Trump Jr.’s statement to the Times describe the meeting as unimportant. He wanted the statement to say that the meeting had been initiated by the Russian lawyer and primarily was about her pet issue — the adoption of Russian children.

    Air Force One took off from Germany shortly after 6 p.m., about noon in Washington. In a forward cabin, Trump was busy working on his son’s statement, according to people with knowledge of events. The president dictated the statement to Hicks, who served as a go-between with Trump Jr., who was not on the plane, sharing edits between the two men, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.

    In the early afternoon, Eastern time, Trump Jr.’s team put out the statement to the Times. It was four sentences long, describing the encounter as a “short, introductory meeting.”

    “We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up,” the statement read.

    Trump Jr. went on to say, “I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”

    Over the next hour, word spread through emails and calls to other Trump family advisers and lawyers about the statement that Trump Jr. had sent to The Times.

    Some lawyers for the president and for Kushner were surprised and frustrated, advisers later learned. According to people briefed on the dispute, some lawyers tried to reach Futerfas and their clients and began asking why the president had been involved.

    Also on the flight, Kushner worked with his team — including one of his lawyers, who called into the plane.

    His lawyers have said that Kushner’s initial omission of the meeting was an error, but that in an effort to be fully transparent, he had updated his government filing to include “this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr.” Kushner’s legal team referred all questions about the meeting itself to Trump Jr.

    The Times’ story revealing the existence of the June 2016 meeting went online around 4 p.m. Eastern time. Roughly four hours later, Air Force One touched down at Joint Base Andrews. Trump’s family members and advisers departed the plane, and they knew the problem they had once hoped to contain would soon grow bigger.


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