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    Ryerson University students who moved into their residences Sunday will be the first cohort to experience the school’s new “all gender” student housing option — the first known of its kind in Canada.

    This month, in a move to introduce housing that accommodates all gender identities, Ryerson announced it is no longer requiring students to identify a gender on its residence application.

    Students had the option of choosing “all gender” housing or not. If they chose that option, they could be assigned roommates from a different gender. If students preferred to disclose their gender and be paired with someone from the same gender, they had that choice as well.

    The school also expanded its gender categories on the application.

    Nearly half of the 750 incoming students who moved into their new dorm rooms this weekend chose the all gender option, according to school officials.

    Camryn Harlick, vice-president of equity for the Ryerson Student Union and a third-year trans student who does not identify as male or female, remembers what it felt like to fill out the old housing application, when there was only the option of selecting one of the two genders.

    “I felt like it was an othering process,” Harlick said Sunday afternoon as students hauled suitcases and bedding into their new homes.

    “I felt like my experience at university was going to be that, continued.”

    Last year, Harlick, 19, and other members of Ryerson’s Trans Collective — a group that focuses on support for trans people on campus — spoke to school officials about having more equitable student housing.

    Ian Crookshank, director of housing and residence life at Ryerson, told the Star on Sunday that the school listened to the concerns about the old “mandatory and binary” system. Crookshank said that while conventionally schools have been accommodating individual students who might have different needs around gender, Ryerson decided instead to change the system altogether. This way, Crookshank said, students wouldn’t feel discouraged upon application, like Harlick did.

    “The system works for everyone now, whereas before, it worked for a lot of students, but not for everyone,” Crookshank said.

    “We’ve put that first question of identifying their gender back on the student,” he said. “It’s a choice rather than being told.”

    Students now identify their gender if they have a need they would like to be met, such as having their gender taken into account for room assignments.

    “We don’t need to ask it because it isn’t important to us. But it may be important to you,” Crookshank said of that shift in priorities, adding he had not received any complaints from students or parents about the changes.

    The move to “all gender” residence was a natural next step, said Sophie Lafleur, president of Ryerson’s residence council. Residences had already been mixed with genders and Ryerson moved to all gender washrooms two years ago.

    By not forcing students to identify a gender on the application, they don’t have to “out themselves” if they don’t want to, said Lafleur, 19.

    “(This) can be students first time in the city, their first time moving away from home . . . It’s a way for students to feel more included and have a safe space on campus.”

    Harlick, who uses the pronouns they and them, added that the fact that this new “all gender” option now exists will also help improve campus culture.

    “I think it sets the tone that transphobia won’t be accepted,” they said.

    “You at least know that if you go to somebody, they’re going to kind of know what you’re talking about.”

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    History is littered with lost civilizations: the Khmer empire that created Angkor Wat, the Mayans who left behind a magnificent step pyramid at Chichen Itza, the Nabataeans who carved breathtaking Petra out of solid sandstone, the mysterious inhabitants of Eastern Island whose enormous enigmatic head monuments delight and puzzle.

    To name just a few.

    They abandoned their great cities and disappeared into the dust.

    But they built things.

    The Taliban have built nothing. Their claim to historical notoriety will be the wilful, pious destruction of precious shrines and statuary.

    Their rabidly puritanical culture will collapse because it cannot stand in a world of modernity that has encroached even into the isolated crevices and defiles of Afghanistan. Cellphones and satellite dishes have brought the outside inside. Afghans understand what they do not have and what the Taliban aspire to take away. There is nowhere for forced ignorance to hide anymore.

    This is the real long war the Taliban are destined to lose.

    What they have in their favour, at this moment in time, is that Afghans, however much they may loathe the Taliban — overwhelmingly they do, even in the Pashtun south — they detest their endlessly corrupt and incompetent national government even more, a government that survives only with propping up by the West.

    Oh, they’ve indeed embraced bureaucracy — how Canada’s then-Brig.-Gen. David Fraser, commanding officer, described the nation-building aspect of the mission to me in 2006 — which is why hardly anything ever gets accomplished as ministry orders and security manifests pass through a multitude of hands, each generously greased, billions of dollars disappearing sideways. That too is Afghan culture, thieving, which is viewed as outwitting.

    The vanishing money is a chronic and losing battle fought by donor nations.

    The other long war — 16 years and counting, a “forever war” that the sons and daughters of today’s deployed solders may still be waging a generation from now — can yet go either way. We don’t even have any idea what “winning” would look like, as the mission keeps changing from White House administration to administration.

    President George Bush, contrary to pillars of Republicanism, talked about nation-building after the Taliban had been trounced. That’s what sold Canada’s troop commitment (apart from special forces, in the unfussy business of killing) to the public; we were redeveloping, winning over hearts and minds. Except that’s never a good fit for any military — they’re soldiers, not diplomats and not humanitarian aid providers.

    But the profile played well to Canadians still in thrall to a Pearsonian peacekeeping ideal: useless when there’s no peace for the blue berets to keep. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau embodies this anachronism.

    It was Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said of Afghanistan in 2008, “we can’t kill our victory.” However seductive the proposition, that’s never been the goal. Bombing the Taliban to the negotiation table has been the goal. With the insurgents — more hardcore militant than ever, merging with the Pakistan-based Haqqani network (the Taliban No. 2, head of military operations, hails from Haqqani) — making significant territorial gains, there’s scarcely any reason to talk peace and reconciliation.

    The Taliban have scuttled back to reclaim much of the territory vacated during the post 9/11 coalition military campaign. Crucially, however, they haven’t been able to get a toehold in Kabul. Or Herat. Or Mazar-e Sharif.

    In broad strokes, the situation is nevertheless grim. Sangin, the strategic town in Helmand that a hundred British troops died trying to defend during the International Security Assistance Force era, fell to the Taliban in March. Vast swaths of Kandahar province, where 137 Canadian combat deaths were recorded, are now controlled by the insurgents.

    According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, “control or influence” of the central government dropped to 65.6 per cent by May 1 from 70.5 per cent a year before. The Taliban “controls, contests or influences” 171 of 400 Afghan districts, mostly in rural areas and superficial in others. They’ve not been able to take and hold provincial capitals.

    That’s the big picture and the Taliban take immense sustenance from it, as if their ascendancy is written in the stars. Because Afghanistan is where empires go to die. Except the Taliban are no more indomitable than invading empires, though they certainly are accommodating to vilified fanatical revolutionaries from Al Qaeda to, in its death throes, Daesh.

    So this is what the Taliban — via spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid — had to say about President Donald Trump’s oratorical doubling down last week on U.S. recommitment to the wars in Afghanistan:

    “Donald Trump is just wasting American soldiers. We know how to defend our country. It will not change anything. . . . For generations, we have fought this war. We are not scared. We will continue this war until our last breath. If the U.S. does not pull all its troops out of Afghanistan, we will make this country the 21st century graveyard for the American empire.”

    The usual rhetoric, conveniently leaving out the part where the Taliban were routed from Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

    “For now,” Mujahid continued, “I can tell you there was nothing new in his speech. It was very unclear.”

    On that point, at least, we are agreed.

    The finest minds in the Pentagon have not been able to figure out how to take the Taliban off the board for keeps, in what has become America’s longest war, though it would indisputably involve some kind of political reconciliation for the insurgents and right now they’re hardline not-in-the-mood. Yet even a child’s mind could grasp how foolishly — in his palpable reluctance — president Barack Obama waged the war during his two terms in the White House, even with his 2009 troop surge, virtually providing the Taliban with a timeline for troop reduction and eventual withdrawal.

    In his speech last week, the otherwise incoherent and quite maddened Trump at least got this much right: “I’ve said it many times how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin, or end, military operations. We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground — not arbitrary timetables — will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out. I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.”

    The thing is, it does not appear that the generals or the president have a clue about their plans either, beyond the 3,900 troops that will be added to the U.S. existing military presence of 8,500 U.S. service members, about half involved in training and mentoring Afghan defence forces and the other gunning for terrorists.

    Trump claimed the American objective in Afghanistan was not nation-building, which comes as jaw-dropping news, given the billions spent on aid to do precisely that.

    I don’t know what “principled realism” means. I don’t know what “our commitment is not unlimited” means. I don’t know what “we will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live or how to govern their own complex society” means, unless women are to be driven back into their cloistered homes, away from education, and beaten with a stick, as the Taliban did when they ruled Kabul.

    “We are killing terrorists,” Trump said.

    Except kill a Taliban fighter and another will replace him, maybe five more.

    “We want (Afghanistan) to succeed but we will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands or try to rebuild other countries in our own image. Those days are now over.”

    Well, not in this America’s image, as she has presented herself over the past eight months or so.

    It is indeed a vague strategy, albeit better left in the hands of the generals than this irrational president.

    There is one solid bottom line: Eventually, even if decades from now, the U.S. will leave Afghanistan, hopefully better than they found it.

    But the Taliban or its descendants and derivatives can wait out even that multi-generational war: They live there.

    It’s Afghans who will ultimately have to conquer Afghans.

    That’s called civil war, which will draw in regional neighbours and non-regional (China, Russia) interests.

    Déjà vu all over again.

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    MONTREAL—The four NDP leadership hopefuls tread carefully on Sunday when they were asked to weigh in on Quebec’s ongoing discussion over religion and identity during a French-language debate in Montreal.

    Manitoba MP Niki Ashton, Quebec MP Guy Caron and Ontario MP Charlie Angus and Ontario legislature member Jagmeet Singh were asked about the Quebec government’s proposed legislation that sets guidelines for accommodating religious requests.

    The bill attempts to enshrine into law the policy that all people giving or receiving a service from the state must do so with their face uncovered.

    Caron chose to tackle the issue in his opening statement, saying it was important to fight racism and Islamophobia but also to support Quebec’s right to make its own decisions on the issue.

    “Rejecting secularism because we believe it’s just racism is fundamentally misunderstanding Quebec,” he told a packed room at Montreal’s Club Soda.

    Read more:

    Jagmeet Singh calls out NDP opponents on niqab issue in Quebec

    Religious rights may dominate remaining weeks of NDP leadership campaign: Hébert

    Quebec secularism debate jumps to federal NDP race

    Singh, who has said he is against the bill, said he doesn’t believe the state should be able to dictate what people wear, but added he believes the province has laws in place to ensure rights are protected.

    In his opening statement, he also appeared to acknowledge critics’ fears that Quebec voters will reject him due to his own visible symbols of faith.

    “I’m not here to convince you to accept my turban, nor my beard,” said Singh, who is Sikh. “What I want to convince you is that I’m someone who shares the same values as you.”

    Ashton and Angus also disagreed with the idea that the state should be able to dictate what a person wears but refrained from criticizing the Quebec government.

    “It’s absolutely essential that we stand up for human rights and the people’s freedom. It’s also important we respect Quebec,” Ashton said.

    Angus expressed a similar sentiment, saying it was important to understand’s Quebec’s fight for the separation of church and state during the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s.

    “I’m confident that the conversation in Quebec will result in a balance between the rights of individuals and the need to maintain the secularism of society,” he told reporters after the debate, while declining to state exactly where the line should be drawn.

    The question of religion and identity was a thorny issue for the NDP in the last federal election, and one that may have contributed to the party’s slide in a province that had previously helped vault it to official Opposition status.

    Thomas Mulcair’s insistence that women should have a right to wear a veil at citizenship ceremonies is believed by some to have cost the party crucial support.

    The NDP holds 16 seats in Quebec, well below the 59 it claimed in its historic breakthrough in the province in 2011 under Jack Layton’s leadership.

    Early questions focused on the wave of asylum seekers crossing from the United States, the government role in supporting the province’s aerospace industry, and Premier Philippe Couillard’s plan to restart cross-country discussions on Quebec’s role in Canada.

    All four candidates criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for rejecting any possibility of reopening the constitution, with Caron and Singh accusing him of “slamming the door” on the province.

    All of the candidates expressed themselves fluently in French, with Singh and Angus occasionally having to search for words.

    Caron is the race’s only francophone and the only candidate from Quebec.

    Members of the NDP will vote for the successor to Mulcair on Sept. 18.

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    A competitive drama showcase for high schools across Ontario that has run for 71 years faces an uncertain future after learning that main sponsor Sears Canada is pulling out.

    “Knowing how easily dramatic arts get swept under the rug in secondary schools, I just feel sad for future students,” said Taryn Dougall, a theatre artist based in Toronto who took part in the Sears Ontario Drama Festival as a teen.

    The festival, founded in 1946, helped launch the careers of numerous Canadian actors, including such celebrities as Rachel McAdams and Keanu Reeves.

    Since the news came out, “students have come out of the woodwork” to express their dismay, citing their experiences as a highlight of their childhood, said Wayne Fairhead, the festival’s executive director.

    “Funding sponsorships is, unfortunately, not something that we can consider while under operating under CCAA protection,” Vincent Power of Sears Canada wrote in an email.

    The festival’s organizers were alerted to Sears’ decision at the end of June, Power said. The festival is considered an after-school program and not part of any theatre or drama programs taught in schools.

    “We hope the Festival itself can continue at some future time with alternative support,” Power wrote.

    The festival was originally sponsored by Simpson’s until Sears bought the stores in 1980 and took over.

    In seven decades, the festival has grown from three shows to now bringing together 12,000 students annually to perform, compete and take part in workshops. It was the inspiration for sister showcases in B.C. and the Atlantic provinces and offered scholarship money for students aiming to get into performance arts schools.

    Fairhead said the festivals in other provinces have also taken the funding hit.

    The drama festival “has such a track record, being one of the oldest cultural institutions in the country,” Fairhead said. “It’s pretty important for thousands of kids.”

    This isn’t the first charitable program for youth that has suffered since Sears’ financial decline. The company also cut funding for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada after almost 50 years of support.

    For teenagers interested in drama, the Sears festival was a chance to get a taste of what it was like to perform in front of big crowds and be professionally judged, an opportunity for students from all economic backgrounds, whether their school could afford fog machines for elaborate set designs or had only a chair and an aspiring actor.

    Fairhead described the festival as a “lifeline” for those who grew up in smaller communities where art was not a priority, a sentiment Dougall shared.

    “All of our productions used the same repainted flats and whatever props and costumes we had on hand,” Dougall said. “The only reason we got to put on a single spring show each year was due to the immense dedication of our drama teacher.

    “The opportunities afforded to our drama program were very small.”

    She said her school was able to put on more shows after attending the Sears festival and that participating was “definitely” a huge factor in her decision to pursue a career in drama.

    Current theatre performer and administrator Angela Sun, who was involved as a teenager in one of the first Sears plays chosen to be featured in the SummerWorks Festival, also appreciated the escape.

    “I came from an immigrant family of colour that wasn’t very familiar with or embraced by the Canadian theatre scene at the time so (the Sears festival) was my only introduction to being a part of a full production,” she said.

    Both women stressed that, above all else, the Sears festival fostered a real sense of community.

    “(It) gave me the opportunity to see art made by other young artists and begin this process of learning and networking, which is very important when you start thinking about having an artistic career,” Sun said.

    “The young people that I met from other schools participating in the festival are now the young adults shaping the Toronto indie theatre scene,” Dougall said. “The people I met from other schools at Sears remain my friends to this day.”

    Sears Canada was given creditor protection on June 22 and is in the process of cutting 2,900 jobs and 59 stores. Since then, it has been criticized for offering bonuses worth millions of dollars to keep key employees while not paying severance to laid-off workers, and experienced plunging share prices and shakeups in executive positions within the company.

    It is still hoping to find a buyer.

    Sears had always been a “very good” supporter of the festival, said Fairhead, who added that he didn’t want to ruin anyone’s summer by revealing the news until now.

    The drama festival is not giving up just yet. Smaller competitions held in each school district are expected to go ahead, while the festival scrambles to find a sponsor.

    “We were all pretty devastated about it, but we’re quite optimistic that we will find a new sponsor and that we’ll continue in some format,” Fairhead said. “Because it’s just too important.

    “I’m sure we’re going to find someone, I really am.”

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    What do you do if you are the U.S. president and one of your major cities is under water?

    Well, you’d want to start your day promoting a book by a Milwaukee county sheriff who has called Black Lives Matter a hate group, is a known racial profiler and, naturally, is a big Donald Trump supporter. The book foreword was written, of course, by your best bud forever in the media, Sean Hannity.

    Then you would turn your attention to tropical storm Harvey, congratulating yourself on how you saved so many lives — a victory lap even as the water kept rising in Houston and area — but you wouldn’t want to dwell on that, so you would move on to your 2016 electoral success in Missouri, take a shot at the crime rate in Mexico and again vow that it will somehow pay for a border wall, then move on to trade negotiations.

    “We are in the NAFTA (worst trade deal ever made) renegotiation process with Mexico & Canada. Both being very difficult, may have to terminate?”

    Uh-oh. Trump’s thumbs are now typing “Canada” on Sunday mornings.

    Last week, in an infamous stream-of-consciousness meltdown in Phoenix, he said the same thing, telling supporters he would probably end up “terminating the deal at some point,” because “we have been so badly taken advantage of.”

    One can get permanently lost down a rabbit hole trying to make sense of the various tweets and pronouncements from Trump, but the shout-out to Sheriff David Clarke, Trump’s coming rally in Missouri, his ongoing fantasy about a Mexican-financed wall and his continued threats to tear up NAFTA actually do have a common thread.

    They are all campaign preoccupations from a man who has never stopped campaigning and who never really became president.

    The Trump tweet is the cyber-equivalent of the boss walking past the negotiating room banging on a frying pan with a hammer and squeezing an air horn.

    But it is nothing more than that. This is no Art of the Deal. This is the Rant of the Attention-Seeker.

    It’s not about us. It’s all about him.

    Texans, at least those not scrambling atop their homes to save their lives, may want to be reminded that almost 50 per cent of their exports go to their top two trading partners, Mexico and Canada, and they import about 42 per cent of their goods from their NAFTA partners.

    While you’re trying to stay above rising floodwaters, it’s good to know your president is musing about ripping up a trade deal so vital to your state.

    At least a couple of Canadian politicians couldn’t help themselves Sunday.

    “The only thing that needs to be terminated is your presidency,” Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger wrote. “Save yourself and your country. Resign and you will be popular everywhere.”

    NDP leadership candidate Charlie Angus was somewhat more poetic: “A poor player struts/frets his hour on the stage and then is heard no more. A tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”

    He moderated his comments later in the day, pushing the government to keep its eye on the ball.

    That’s what it’s doing.

    Adam Austen, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, is becoming quite practised at tossing out the political equivalent of Xanax.

    “We will work with our partners at all levels in the United States to promote Canada-U.S. trade, which supports millions of jobs across the continent,” he said.

    “As we have said before, trade negotiations often have moments of heated rhetoric. Our priorities remain the same, and we will continue to work hard to modernize NAFTA, supporting millions of middle-class jobs.”

    Even if Trump did, in a fit of pique, seek to terminate NAFTA, it’s not certain he could do it.

    Congress, not Trump, is ultimately responsible for giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to any renegotiated deal. There is also legislation on the books that enshrines NAFTA and there could be enough pro-trade, had-enough-of-Trump Republicans to decide the 24-year-old legislation overrides any presidential attempt to kick the pact into the ditch.

    All three countries have agreed to fast-track talks, but the first negotiating session has just ended and the second, in Mexico, doesn’t begin until Friday.

    They have to ignore the bully in the corridor banging on his campaign-era frying pan.

    If you’re Canadian and Trump thinks we’re being “difficult,” there’s only one sane reaction: Good. And pack a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

    Read more:

    Trump tweets threat to pull out of NAFTA talks, calling Canada “very difficult”

    Mexico to Trump: We don’t ‘negotiate’ on social media

    Mexico a tough-minded amigo in NAFTA talks: Olive

    Tim Harper writes on national affairs. Reach him at or on Twitter: @nutgraf1

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    OTTAWA—Canada’s top soldier expressed solidarity with the LGBTQ community Sunday by walking in Ottawa’s annual Pride parade.

    But Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of defence staff, had no word for those awaiting an apology over being forced from the Canadian military for being gay or lesbian in past decades.

    “It’s a wider government of Canada decision, not an Armed Forces decision,” he said following the parade.

    Justin Trudeau’s government has signalled its intention to apologize to former military members as part of its efforts to make amends to those who endured federal discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

    The policies had their roots in government efforts that began as early as the 1940s to delve into the personal lives of employees who were considered security risks.

    The Defence Department said last spring that a painstaking review of personnel files in the national archives may be needed to determine how many people were forced out. Military restrictions on gay people were lifted in 1992.

    Vance, the first defence chief to take part in a Pride parade, said Sunday his participation was a chance to encourage young Canadians to consider a career in the Armed Forces, no matter what community they come from.

    Trudeau and two of his children, Xavier and Ella-Grace, also took part, walking alongside Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

    Trudeau said Vance’s presence emphasizes that Canada is “open to diversity, and we know that it’s one of our strengths, whether it be in the military or everywhere else.”

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    WASHINGTON—The Trump administration is preparing to restore the flow of surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies under a program that had been sharply curtailed amid an outcry over police use of armoured vehicles and other war-fighting gear to confront protesters.

    Documents obtained by The Associated Press indicate President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order undoing an Obama administration directive that restricted police agencies’ access to the gear that includes grenade launchers, bullet-proof vests, riot shields, firearms and ammunition.

    Trump’s order would fully restore the program under which “assets that would otherwise be scrapped can be repurposed to help state, local, and tribal law enforcement better protect public safety and reduce crime,” according to the documents.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions could outline the changes during a Monday speech to the national conference of the Fraternal Order of Police in Nashville, Tenn., a person familiar with the matter said. The person insisted on anonymity to discuss the plan ahead of an official announcement.

    The changes would be another way in which Trump and Sessions are enacting a law-and-order agenda that views federal support of local police as a way to drive down violent crime.

    National police organizations have long been pushing Trump to hold his promise to once again make the equipment available to local and state police departments, many of which see it as needed to ensure officers aren’t put in danger when responding to active shooter calls and terrorist attacks. An armoured vehicle played a key role in the police response to the December 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.

    In 1990, Congress authorized the Pentagon to give surplus equipment to police to help fight drugs, which then gave way to the fight against terrorism.

    Groups across the political spectrum have expressed concern about the militarization of police, arguing that the equipment encourages and escalates confrontations with officers. President Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2015 that severely limited the surplus program, partly triggered by public outrage over the use of military gear when during protests in Ferguson, Mo., after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Police responded in riot gear and deployed tear gas, dogs and armoured vehicles. At times they also pointed assault rifles at protesters.

    Obama’s order prohibited the federal government from providing grenade launchers, bayonets, tracked armoured vehicles, weaponized aircraft and vehicles, and firearms and ammunition of .50-calibre or greater to police. As of December, the agency overseeing the program had recalled at least 100 grenade launchers, more than 1,600 bayonets and 126 tracked vehicles — those that run on continuous, tank-like tracks instead of wheels — that were provided through the program.

    Trump vowed to rescind the executive order in a written response to a Fraternal Order of Police questionnaire that helped him win an endorsement from the organization of rank-and-file officers. He reiterated his promise during a gathering of police officers in July, saying the equipment still on the streets is being put to good use.

    “In fact, that stuff is disappearing so fast we have none left,” Trump said.

    The documents, first reported by USA Today, say Trump’s order would emphasize public safety over the appearance of the heavily equipment. They describe much of the gear as “defensive in nature” intended to protect officers from danger.

    The Justice Department declined to comment on the expected move.

    Most police agencies rarely require military equipment for daily use but see a need to have it available, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum.

    “It is hard to imagine any situation where a grenade launcher or bayonet would be something that a major police department would need, but defensive shields and armoured vehicles kept on reserve will be welcome,” he said.

    Sessions has said he believes improving morale for local law enforcement is key to curbing spikes in violence in some cities. The plan to restore access to military equipment comes after Sessions has said he intends to pull back on court-enforceable improvement plans with troubled police departments, which he says can malign entire agencies and make officers less aggressive on the street. Consent decrees were a hallmark of the Obama administration’s efforts to overhaul certain agencies, sometimes after racially charged encounters like the one in Ferguson.

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    An elderly woman has died following a collision near Markham Rd. and Steeles Ave. E.

    Toronto police tweeted around 9 p.m. that a pedestrian had been struck. Paramedics said that they transported one person to hospital in cardiac arrest.

    Just over an hour later, police confirmed the victim had died.

    The driver remained on scene, police from Traffic Services confirmed.

    Steeles Ave. E. is closed in both directions from Markham Rd. to Tapscott Rd.

    Police did not have an estimated time when the road would reopen. Traffic Services is on scene investigating.

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    BERKELEY, Calif.—A small group of right-wing demonstrators who gathered in a Berkeley park Sunday to rail against the city’s famed progressive politics was driven out, often violently, by an army of anarchist counterprotesters in black clothing and masks whose tactics overwhelmed a huge contingent of police officers.

    Hundreds of officers tried to maintain calm in and around Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park before the 1 p.m. “No to Marxism in Berkeley” rally, putting up barricades, searching bags, and confiscating sticks, masks, pepper spray and even water bottles. The goal was to head off the type of clashes that sprang from similar rallies in the city earlier this year.

    But once again, counterdemonstrators frustrated police efforts. As the crowd swelled, officers stepped aside and allowed hundreds of people angered by the presence of the right-wing rally to climb over the barriers into the park, said officer Jennifer Coates, a spokesperson for Berkeley police.

    The masked counterprotesters, often referred to as antifa or anti-fascists, significantly outnumbered the people who had come for the rally, many of whom wore red clothing supporting U.S. President Donald Trump. The anarchists chased away the right-wingers, in some cases beating them with fists and sticks. They also attacked reporters who documented their actions.

    Read more:

    Two weeks after neo-Nazis marched chanting ‘Sieg Heil,’ Charlottesville Jews try to heal

    Rally in Quebec turns violent after protesters opposing anti-immigrant rallies clash with police

    Torontonians rally against white supremacist violence in Charlottesville

    Police arrested 14 people and briefly detained Joey Gibson, the leader of the conservative group Patriot Prayer, who had cancelled a rally Saturday at Crissy Field in San Francisco after city leaders criticized the event plans as inciting white nationalists. Officials said police did not arrest Gibson on Sunday but instead rescued him after he was chased and pepper-sprayed by his opponents.

    Saturday had been a day of mostly peaceful anti-hate demonstrations across San Francisco. Sunday was different in Berkeley, even though thousands of people who came out to speak against the right-wing rally were not part of the anarchist mob.

    “No Trump, no KKK, no racist USA!” crowds chanted early in the day at Civic Center Park, voicing opposition to the policies of Trump, which many people said had buoyed white nationalists across the country.

    Also early in the day, hundreds of mostly local residents converged at Berkeley’s Ohlone Park to oppose hate speech, racism and white supremacy. They carried signs reading “Berkeley stands united against hate,” “Queers against hate” and “End white supremacy.”

    Jeff Conant, 50, of Berkeley, who helped organize the anti-hate rally, said, “It’s important for people to show up and make it unacceptable for right-wing white supremacists to spew hate and incite violence.”

    He praised Saturday’s “tremendous victory in San Francisco” and said Sunday was about “galvanizing a movement to oppose white supremacy and the structures that support it.”

    Berkeley denied a permit to the organizer of the anti-Marxist rally, Amber Cummings, saying her application was late and incomplete. Cummings later asked supporters not to show up because she feared violence.

    The swamping of right-wing political ideas by left-wing demonstrators has become a recurring theme in Berkeley and other California cities. The tension rose Aug. 12 when a Nazi sympathizer allegedly drove his car into a crowd in Charlottesville, Va., that had been protesting a white supremacist rally, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Trump blamed the violence in Charlottesville on “many sides.”

    Left-leaning demonstrators dwarfed a right-wing rally in Boston on Aug. 19.

    In Berkeley on Sunday, some observers derived satisfaction from watching the counterprotesters beat up and chase off a young man who was apparently at the rally in support of Trump.

    “It’s a good time,” said Tom Martell, 70, of Crockett, who was at Civic Center Park with his girlfriend, Lisa Argento, 53.

    “They’ve got to be chased out,” Argento said. “I moved to the Bay Area and pay good money to live here. I don’t want these people here. They need to leave us the f--- alone.”

    Argento said she has mixed feelings about the idea of ignoring members of the political right who rally to drum up support for their views.

    “What are we waiting for?” she asked. “They already hold the White House. They are already dragging people away in the middle of the night.”

    But others thought the actions of the counterprotesters were shameful.

    Linda Fuentes Rosner, 69, a Spanish-language interpreter from Vallejo, stood near the park’s dry fountain glaring at a group that was holding a “Teachers for Thought” banner and chanting anti-Trump slogans.

    “What hypocrites,” Fuentes Rosner said. “They don’t know what they’re talking about. You think it’s OK that a Trump supporter gets beat up? It’s embarrassing. The left has prevented the right from speaking. That’s not American, that despotism.”

    Fuentes Rosner, a Republican, came to Berkeley for a conservative meetup that didn’t happen. Event organizers told her that members of the small group left because they felt intimidated.

    Jay Pino, 23, said he came to Berkeley from New Mexico to protest the right-wing rally, but peacefully.

    “This doesn’t have to be about violence,” he said. “The aggressive people here, I get it. It’s hard to express their anger and it’s also hard to keep it in. I’m here to try to keep the peace. No matter how bad the other side is, we have to pray for them as well.”

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    A year ago, Reena Lal had a typical high school summer job. She made subs for hungry customers who requested “no onions” or complained “you didn’t toast my bread enough!”

    But this July and August, the Bloor Collegiate student had the kind of work most teens hoping for a career in science or health care dream of.

    Instead of taking food orders, Lal learned interactions of a far more sensitive nature — with patients, doctors and researchers at Princess Margaret Hospital where she was part of a team developing a peer support program for men with prostate cancer.

    “It’s a really valuable experience,” says Lal, 17, who last week completed an eight-week pilot project called the summer student clinician scientist program.

    The initiative, launched by the University Health Network, which includes Princess Margaret, and the Toronto District School Board, gave nine Toronto teens a chance to assist a research team in a hospital setting while also earning a paycheque.

    “High school is the time you’re deciding what you want to do, and this gives you more insight into different (career) possibilities,” Lal says.

    The program was “everything I expected and more,” adds Lal, who learned how to gently approach overwhelmed patients and offer them a chance to connect with others who have gone through similar experiences by shadowing her supervisor.

    “I wasn’t expecting to be thrown into clinic and to talk to patients. I was expecting to be put on the sidelines and watch. But they really believed in me.”

    Unlike most summer opportunities for teens in high school, the clinician scientist program is a paid job rather than a volunteer position, which is a first for the hospital. Students earn minimum wage, funded through the Princess Margaret Foundation.

    “They’re learning and earning at the same time,” says Leeanne Bouteiller, who runs the UHN-TDSB partnership, which has placed 2,000 students in school-year co-op placements and summer programs over the last 23 years.

    The first year has been such a success, Bouteiller says she has high hopes the program will continue and expand.

    For many Toronto students, working without pay is not an option, says Bouteiller. This gives those who can’t afford to spend the summer volunteering a shot at valuable experiences on-site.

    “We didn’t want the need for employment to be a barrier,” adds radiation oncologist Dr. Meredith Giuliani, director of cancer education who oversees the hospital’s many educational programs.

    Students this summer came from Bloor Collegiate and Newtonbrook Secondary School. School staff approached teens who’d expressed interest in pursuing health care careers and who they thought would flourish in the pilot.

    Under the tutelage of supervisors at Princess Margaret, they participated on research in such diverse subjects as MRI-guided radiotherapy for liver cancer, cervical cancer biology and the role of family physicians in palliative care.

    The goal was to expose them to the many career paths available in hospitals, which have grown to include medical physicists, wellness chefs, librarians, bioethicists and public health experts, says Giuliani.

    The fresh perspective and energy that youth bring is good for the hospital and “an investment in the future of our specialty,” she adds.

    “Fostering the next generation is very rewarding.”

    In addition to working with a research mentor on a supervised project, they attended weekly seminars and mingled with many medical and graduate students at different phases of their career paths.

    They also participated in a summer student research day, presenting a research poster they had created to a panel of judges.

    “The program was amazing because it was tailored for high school students,” says Kelly Jesalva, who embraced the opportunity and was one of the winners in the research poster competition.

    The 17-year-old Newtonbrook student spent her summer in the world of molecular biology assisting researchers exploring the link between nasopharynx cancer and the Epstein Barr Virus. She got to don a lab coat, peer into microscopes and collect data through a complex lab application that amplifies DNA.

    Jesalva had been thinking about becoming a doctor, and a research job wasn’t on her radar. But after two months at Princess Margaret, it is.

    “It requires a lot of perseverance and compassion,” says Jesalva, citing the dedication, long hours and refusal to give up that she observed in staff. “It touches a part in my heart to be part of the research.”

    Newtonbrook classmate Pooja Parkash worked on a project perfectly suited to a generation raised on social media.

    She spent the summer combing through different online platforms to better understand the perspective and needs of patients with brain tumours called meningiomas.

    “Patients go through their own journeys that doctors aren’t necessarily a part of,” says Parkash, who combed through Facebook posts and comments, Twitter feeds and YouTube accounts to gather data about what patients shared and what they believed might help them.

    She learned how to do a literature review and also spent time in the lab, where cancer cells were stored in liquid nitrogen to keep them alive for research.

    “Not a lot of teenagers can say ‘I worked in a lab and studied brain tumours.’ I learned a lot, made connections and got to see first-hand what working in a health care setting is like.”

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    Mexico “will not negotiate” via social media, the government told U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday, after he accused Mexico and Canada of being “difficult” in negotiations on changing the North American Free Trade Agreement.

    “Mexico will not negotiate NAFTA, nor any other aspect of bilateral relations through social media or news media,” the Mexican Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

    A first round of negotiations for a new NAFTA framework ended last week.

    Trump regards NAFTA as having hurt the U.S. economy, referring in particular to the U.S. deficit in its trade relations with Mexico.

    On Sunday, Trump posted on Twitter: “We are in the NAFTA (worst trade deal ever made) renegotiation process with Mexico & Canada. Both being very difficult, may have to terminate?”

    A statement from U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo after last week’s negotiations was quite different in tone from Trump’s remarks.

    The statement said that the volume and breadth of discussions reflected a common desire to produce “an ambitious outcome.”

    The next round of talks will take place in Mexico Sept. 1-5, followed by meetings scheduled this year.

    As of 2015, the NAFTA zone includes almost a third of the world’s gross domestic product.

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    WASHINGTON—While Donald Trump was running for president in late 2015 and early 2016, his company was pursuing a plan to develop a massive Trump Tower in Moscow, according to several people familiar with the proposal and new records reviewed by Trump Organization lawyers.

    As part of the discussions, a Russian-born real estate developer urged Trump to come to Moscow to tout the proposal and suggested he could get President Vladimir Putin to say “great things” about Trump, according to several people who have been briefed on his correspondence.

    The developer, Felix Sater, predicted in a November 2015 email that he and Trump Organization leaders would soon be celebrating—both one of the biggest residential projects in real estate history and Donald Trump’s election as president, according to two of the people with knowledge of the exchange.

    Sater wrote to Trump Organization executive vice-president Michael Cohen, “something to the effect of, ‘Can you believe two guys from Brooklyn are going to elect a president?’ ” said one person briefed on the email exchange. Sater emigrated to the United States from what was then the Soviet Union when he was 8 and grew up in Brooklyn.

    Trump never went to Moscow as Sater proposed. And although investors and Trump’s company signed a letter of intent, they lacked the land and permits to proceed and the project was abandoned at the end of January 2016, just before the presidential primaries began, several people familiar with the proposal said.

    Nevertheless, the details of the deal, which have not previously been disclosed, provide evidence that Trump’s business was actively pursuing significant commercial interests in Russia at the same time he was campaigning to be president and in a position to determine U.S.-Russia relations. The new details from the emails, which are scheduled to be turned over to congressional investigators soon, also point to the likelihood of additional contacts between Russia-connected individuals and Trump associates during his presidential bid.

    White House officials declined to comment for this report. Cohen, a longtime Trump aide who remains Trump’s personal attorney, and his lawyer have also declined to comment.

    In recent months, contacts between high-ranking and lower-level Trump aides and Russians have emerged. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then a U.S. senator and campaign adviser, twice met Sergey Kislyak when he was Russian ambassador.

    Donald Trump Jr. organized a June 2016 meeting with campaign aides Jared Kushner, campaign manager Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer after the president’s eldest son was promised the lawyer would bring damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help the campaign.

    Internal emails also show campaign adviser George Papadopoulos repeatedly sought to organize meetings with campaign officials, including Trump, and Putin or other Russians. His efforts were rebuffed.

    The negotiations for the Moscow project ended before Trump’s business ties to Russia had become a major issue in the campaign. Trump denied having any business connections to Russia in July 2016, tweeting, “for the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia” and then insisting at a news conference the following day, “I have nothing to do with Russia.”

    Discussions about the Moscow project began in earnest in September 2015, according to people briefed on the deal. An unidentified investor planned to build the project and, under a licensing agreement, put Trump’s name on it. Cohen acted as a lead negotiator for the Trump Organization. It is unclear how involved or aware Trump was of the negotiations.

    As the talks progressed, Trump voiced numerous supportive comments about Putin, setting himself apart from his Republican rivals.

    By the end of 2015, Putin began offering praise in return.

    “He says that he wants to move to another, closer level of relations. Can we really not welcome that? Of course we welcome that,” Putin told reporters during his annual end-of-the year news conference. He called Trump a “colorful and talented” person. Trump said afterward that the compliment was an “honor.”

    Though Putin’s comments came shortly after Sater suggested that the Russian president would speak favorably about Trump, there is no indication that the two are connected.

    There is no public record that Trump has ever spoken about the effort to build a Trump Tower in 2015 and 2016.

    Trump’s interest in building in Moscow, however, are long-standing. He had attempted to build a Trump property for three decades, starting with a failed effort in 1987 to partner with the Soviet government on a hotel project.

    “Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment,” he said in a 2007 court deposition.

    “We will be in Moscow at some point,” he promised in the deposition.

    Sater was involved in at least one of those previous efforts. In 2005, the Trump Organization gave his development company, the Bayrock Group, an exclusive one-year deal to attempt to build a Moscow Trump Tower. Sater located a site for the project—an abandoned pencil factory—and worked closely with Trump on the deal, which did not come to fruition.

    In an unrelated court case in 2008, Sater said in a deposition that he would personally provide Trump “verbal updates” on the deal.

    “When I’d come back, pop my head into Mr. Trump’s office and tell him, you know, ‘Moving forward on the Moscow deal.’ And he would say, ‘All right,’ ” Sater said.

    In the same testimony, Sater described traveling with Trump’s children, including joining Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. on a trip to Moscow at the future president’s request.

    “They were on their way by themselves, and he was all concerned,” Sater said. “He asked if I wouldn’t mind joining them and looking after them while they were in Moscow.”

    Alan Garten, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, told the Washington Post last year that Sater happened to be in Moscow at the same time as Trump’s two adult children. “There was no accompanying them to Moscow,” he said.

    Neither Sater or his attorney responded to requests for comment.

    Trump has repeatedly tried to distance himself from Sater, who served time in jail after assaulting a man with the stem of a broken margarita glass during a 1991 bar fight and then pleaded guilty in 1998 to his role in a organized crime-linked stock fraud. Sater’s sentencing was delayed for years while he co-operated with the federal government on a series of criminal and national security-related investigations, federal officials have said.

    During that time, Sater worked as an executive with Bayrock, whose offices were in Trump Tower, and brokered deals to license Trump’s name for developments in multiple U.S. and foreign cities. In 2010, Trump allowed Sater to briefly work out of Trump Organization office space and use a business card that identified him as a “senior adviser to Donald Trump.”

    Still, when asked about Sater in 2013 court deposition, Trump said: “If he were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.” He added that he had spoken with Sater “not many” times.

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    LAS VEGAS—Undefeated superstar boxer Floyd Mayweather and UFC champion Conor McGregor sold roughly $80 million worth of tickets for their boxing match, while a surge of buyers overwhelmed capacity at some U.S. pay-per-view providers. Factor in spectators in sports bars and cinemas, and Saturday’s bout will become the most-watched fight ever.

    Creating demand like that requires selling something besides a fistfight. It means selling characters, and Mayweather and McGregor are the most outlandish in their sports.

    It also means selling seductive ideas, like the enduring and lucrative notion that Mayweather, a brash braggart who spent a summer in jail for domestic assault, had incurred a karmic debt only defeat could repay.

    Or that McGregor’s mixed martial arts acumen would transfer to the ring and befuddle a boxing specialist.

    And the idea that McGregor — the walking, trash-talking embodiment of the Great White Hope cliche — would succeed where a roster of elite, mostly Black and Latino boxers had failed at taming Mayweather’s ego.

    Mainstream sports fans should have figured Mayweather, the master boxer, would teach the newbie McGregor a bruising lesson in the sweet science, but viewership numbers and betting lines suggested they believed something besides skill could propel McGregor to victory.

    The two fighters cultivated record revenue in the space between what the public believed, and what it should have known.

    Mayweather has exploited that formula since 2007, when good guy Pretty Boy Floyd rebranded as a heel nicknamed Money ahead of a win over Oscar De La Hoya. With each outclassed opponent, hope would grow that the next one — Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley or Manny Pacquiao — could humble Mayweather and ruin his perfect record.

    And with each win, the obsession with seeing Mayweather suffer any type of defeat deepened.

    That’s why apocryphal tales of his massive gambling losses gain social media traction after sports upsets, an old photo of him beside a stack of cash repurposed with fake reports that he had bet big on the loser. And it’s why the internet gleefully spread rumours Mayweather couldn’t read after he stammered through a radio promo, even though threatening text messages to his ex-girlfriend prove he is literate.

    Mayweather has, in fact, lost outside the ring.

    For years he accrued domestic violence accusations but dodged serious consequences. But in 2012 he pleaded guilty to beating up ex-girlfriend Josie Harris, and spent two months in county jail.

    Many of the fighter’s supporters stuck with him, while detractors felt he deserved further retribution. If Pacquiao couldn’t deliver it in 2015, maybe McGregor could, especially since he’d face a 40-year-old Mayweather coming off a two-year retirement.

    At 29, with size and reach advantages, the Dublin-born McGregor promised he’d knock Mayweather senseless. After all, he had flattened several mixed martial artists in winning his UFC titles.

    Bettors bought in.

    Odds that opened at 25-to-1 in Mayweather’s favour had shortened to 3½ -to-1 by Saturday, with a reported 90 per cent of wagers at in Vegas backing McGregor.

    The groundswell of McGregor support, along with earnest speculation he could actually win, recalled the optimism surrounding Irish-American heavyweight Gerry Cooney heading into a 1982 title fight against Larry Holmes promoted along nakedly racial lines.

    Holmes, the 8-to-5 favourite, pummelled Cooney in a 13-round TKO win.

    It also echoes the way white Americans rallied behind Jim Jeffries when the former champ unretired in 1910 to challenge Jack Johnson, the first Black fighter to hold the heavyweight title. Johnson’s win over Canada’s Tommy Burns spurred a scramble to find a white contender to dethrone him, and introduced the term “Great White Hope” into the lexicon.

    Johnson toyed with the favoured Jeffries before finally stopping him in the 15th.

    The social media feud leading to Saturday’s bout started in early 2016, when Mayweather said racist double standards led media to praise McGregor’s grandstanding while demanding Black athletes remain humble.

    And race lingered at the periphery of a fight that ended with Mayweather pounding McGregor into a 10th-round TKO.

    The UFC fighter belittled Mayweather with the racially-freighted term “boy,” while Mayweather pledged to win for “all the Blacks” insulted by McGregor’s antics.

    Though Mayweather attracted a multicultural group of supporters to Las Vegas, African-American fans formed the core of his fight week constituency. Most of McGregor’s fans, meanwhile, were white.

    Pre-fight marketing didn’t position the bout as a Johnson-Jeffries type proxy race war, but the power of the Great White Hope archetype helps explain why so many people thought McGregor could prevail in a fight that facts suggested he’s lose badly.

    Add in the long-standing fixation with seeing Mayweather humbled, and organizers hit on a formula for record sales and fighter paydays.

    Promoters expect Saturday’s fight to eclipse the 4.6 million pay-per-view buys Mayweather and Pacquiao attracted in 2015. And the fighters split an unprecedented $130 million purse, with $30 million for McGregor and the rest going to Mayweather. His haul can more than triple thanks to ancillary revenue.

    While a 50-0 record and $350 million payout complete Mayweather’s legacy as boxing’s greatest moneymaker, the desire to see him whipped remains unrequited.

    Saturday night reporters asked Mayweather if he’d consider yet another comeback. He thwarted those queries as forcefully as he did McGregor’s challenge.

    Normally the notion of a 40-year-old fighter retiring with rich and healthy wouldn’t merit questioning, but Mayweather leaving unbeaten galls a sports public heavily invested in seeing him crushed.

    For a decade, fans who don’t normally follow boxing have tuned in, hoping somebody would make him pay for his arrogance, misogyny, and refusal to humble himself.

    Canelo Alvarez couldn’t collect on that debt. Neither could Mosley or Pacquiao. McGregor didn’t come close. Faith in Great White Hopes and karmic avengers might sell fights, but skill and execution win them.

    Since 2015 Mayweather has grossed more than half a billion dollars because he understands both sides of that equation.

    One day sports fans might get it, too.

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    A Toronto man is facing three charges after allegedly threatening to blow up a train earlier this month.

    Toronto police said they responded to a call for a bomb threat on Aug. 13 at Bloor-Yonge station, where a man allegedly announced to the people on board a southbound train that he had a bomb and would blow up the train.

    The train and station were evacuated. The suspect was believed to have fled the scene along with the crowds leaving the station.

    Subway service was suspended on Line 2 from Broadview to St. George stations and on Line 1 from Union to Eglinton stations.

    Jonathan Fox, 30, was arrested and charged with threatening death and two counts of mischief: interfering with lawful use of property under $5,000, and interfering with lawful operation of property over $5,000.

    He is scheduled to appear in court Monday.

    With files from Star staff.

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    Montreal police say they have arrested a man who was sought in connection with alleged drug offences in Ontario and was also on a list of most wanted criminals in the United States.

    They say they apprehended Katay-Khaophone Sychanta, 35, and another man on a cycling path last Wednesday for alleged drug possession.

    Ontario Provincial Police were looking for Sychanta, who was the subject of a Canada-wide arrest warrant.

    Montreal police say he was on the list of the top 10 criminals wanted by the Homeland Security Investigations unit of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

    Sychanta was arraigned in Montreal last Thursday on charges of drug possession, obstructing the work of police officers and using false documents.

    He is expected to be sent to Ontario before possible extradition proceedings.

    The most-wanted list states Sychanta was born in Laos and was first indicted in 2005 in Michigan.

    It says he evaded capture and continued to supervise a drug-smuggling organization based near Windsor, Ont.

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    HOUSTON—Floodwaters reached the rooflines of single-story homes Monday and people could be heard pleading for help from inside as Harvey poured rain on the Houston area for a fourth consecutive day after a chaotic weekend of rising water and rescues.

    The nation’s fourth-largest city was still mostly paralyzed by one of the largest downpours in U.S. history. And there was no relief in sight from the storm that spun into Texas as a Category 4 hurricane, then parked itself over the Gulf Coast. With nearly 61 centimetres of rain expected on top of the 76 centimetres in some places, authorities worried about whether the worst was yet to come.

    Harvey has been blamed for at least three confirmed deaths, including a woman killed Monday in the town of Porter, northeast of Houston, when a large oak tree dislodged by heavy rains toppled onto her trailer home.

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    A Houston television station reported Monday that six family members were believed to have drowned when their van was swept away by floodwaters. The KHOU report was attributed to three family members the station did not identify. No bodies have been recovered.

    Police Chief Art Acevedo told The Associated Press that he had no information about the report but said that he’s “really worried about how many bodies we’re going to find.”

    According to the station, four children and their grandparents were feared dead after the van hit high water Sunday when crossing a bridge in the Greens Bayou area.

    The driver of the vehicle, the children’s great-uncle, reportedly escaped before the van sank by grabbing a tree limb. He told the children to try to escape through the back door, but they were unable to get out.

    The disaster unfolded on an epic scale in one of America’s most sprawling metropolitan centres. The Houston metro area covers about 25,900 square kilometres, an area slightly bigger than New Jersey. It’s criss-crossed by about 2,700 kilometres of channels, creeks and bayous that drain into the Gulf of Mexico, about 80 kilometres to the southeast from downtown.

    The storm is generating an amount of rain that would normally be seen only once in more than 1,000 years, said Edmond Russo, a deputy district engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which was concerned that floodwater would spill around a pair of 70-year-old reservoir dams that protect downtown Houston.

    The flooding was so widespread that the levels of city waterways have either equalled or surpassed those of Tropical Storm Allison from 2001, and no major highway has been spared some overflow.

    The city’s normally bustling business district was virtually deserted Monday, with emergency vehicles making up most of the traffic.

    Rescuers continued plucking people from the floodwaters. Mayor Sylvester Turner put the number rescued by police at more than 3,000. The Coast Guard said it had also rescued more than 3,000 by boat and air and was taking more than 1,000 calls her hour.

    Chris Thorn was among the many volunteers still helping with the mass evacuation that began Sunday. He drove with a buddy from the Dallas area with their flat-bottom hunting boat to pull strangers out of the water.

    “I couldn’t sit at home and watch it on TV and do nothing since I have a boat and all the tools to help,” he said.

    They got to Spring, Texas, where Cypress Creek had breached Interstate 45 and went to work, helping people out of a gated community near the creek.

    “It’s never flooded here,” resident Lane Cross said from the front of Thorn’s boat, holding his brown dog, Max. “I don’t even have flood insurance.”

    A mandatory evacuation was ordered for the low-lying Houston suburb of Dickinson, home to 20,000. Police cited the city’s fragile infrastructure in the floods, limited working utilities and concern about the weather forecast.

    In Houston, questions continued to swirl about why the mayor did not issue a similar evacuation order.

    Turner has repeatedly defended the decision and did so again Monday, insisting that a mass evacuation of millions of people by car was a greater risk than enduring the storm.

    “Both the county judge and I sat down together and decided that we were not in direct path of the storm, of the hurricane, and the safest thing to do was for people to stay put, make the necessary preparations. I have no doubt that the decision we made was the right decision.”

    He added, “Can you imagine if millions of people had left the city of Houston and then tried to come back in right now?”

    The Red Cross quickly set up the George R. Brown Convention Center and other venues as shelters. The centre, which was also used to house Hurricane Katrina refugees from New Orleans in 2005, can accommodate roughly 5,000 people. By Monday morning, it was nearly full.

    At the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, the Army Corps started releasing the water Monday because water levels were climbing at a rate of more than 15 centimetres per hour, Corps spokesperson Jay Townsend said.

    When Army Corps officials asked hundreds of residents to evacuate, they explained that the release could flood subdivisions near the reservoirs, which were built after devastating floods in 1929 and 1935. The reservoirs are designed to hold water until it can be released downstream at a controlled rate.

    The move was supposed to help shield the business district from floodwaters, but it also risked flooding thousands more homes in nearby subdivisions. Built after devastating floods in 1929 and 1935, the reservoirs were designed to hold water until it can be released downstream at a controlled rate.

    In the Cypress Forest Estates neighbourhood in northern Harris County, people called for help from inside homes as water from a nearby creek rose to the same level as their eaves. A steady procession of rescue boats floated into the area.

    Harvey increased slightly in strength Monday as it drifted back over the warm Gulf of Mexico, according to the National Hurricane Center.

    Forecasters expect the system to stay over water and at 72 kph for 36 hours and then head back inland east of Houston sometime Wednesday. The storm is then expected to head north and lose its tropical strength.

    Before then, up to 51 centimetres of rain could fall, National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini said Monday.

    That means the flooding will get worse in the days ahead and the floodwaters will be slow to recede once Harvey finally moves on, the weather service said.

    Sometime Tuesday or early Wednesday, parts of the Houston region will probably break the nearly 40-year-old U.S. record for the biggest rainfall from a tropical system — 121 centimetres, set by Tropical Storm Amelia in 1978 in Texas, meteorologists said.

    The amount of water in Houston was so unprecedented that meteorologists had to update the colour charts on the weather service’s official rainfall maps to indicate the heavier totals.

    In Louisiana, the images of the devastation in Houston stirred up painful memories for many Hurricane Katrina survivors.

    “It really evoked a lot of emotions and heartbreak for the people who are going through that now in Houston,” Ray Gratia said as he picked up sandbags for his New Orleans home, which flooded during the 2005 hurricane.

    In Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration assured Congress that the $3 billion balance in FEMA’s disaster fund was enough to handle immediate needs, such as debris removal and temporary shelter for displaced residents. Trump planned to visit Texas on Tuesday, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump.

    Harvey was the fiercest hurricane to hit the U.S. in 13 years and the strongest to strike Texas since 1961’s Hurricane Carla, the most powerful Texas hurricane on record.

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    SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — North Korea fired a ballistic missile from its capital Pyongyang that flew over Japan before plunging into the northern Pacific Ocean, officials said Tuesday, an aggressive test-flight over the territory of a close U.S. ally that sends a clear message of defiance as Washington and Seoul conduct war games nearby.

    Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile travelled around 2,700 kilometres and reached a maximum height of 550 kilometres as it flew over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The launch, which appears to be the first to cross over Japan since 2009, will rattle a region worried that each new missile test puts the North a step closer toward its goal of an arsenal of nuclear missiles that can reliably target the United States. It appeared to be the North’s longest-ever missile test, but South Korean officials couldn’t immediately confirm.

    North Korean missile launches have been happening at an unusually fast pace this year, and some analysts believe that the North could have such an arsenal before the end of U.S. President Donald Trump’s first term in early 2021.

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    The South Korean military said it is analyzing the launch with the United States and has strengthened its monitoring and preparation in case of further actions from North Korea. Analysts speculate that the North may have tested a new intermediate range missile that Pyongyang recently threatened to fire toward Guam. This missile landed nowhere near Guam, which is about 2,500 kilometres south of Tokyo, but the length of Tuesday’s launch may have been designed for the North to show it could follow through on its threat. Seoul says the missile was launched from Sunan, which is where Pyongyang’s international airport is, opening the possibility that North Korea launched a road mobile missile from an airport runway.

    The launch was North Korea’s 13th ballistic missile launch this year, said Roh Jae-cheon, spokesman of Seoul’s JCS.

    North Korea will no doubt be watching the world’s reaction to see if it can use Tuesday’s flight over Japan as a precedent for future such launches. Japanese officials said there was no damage to ships or anything else reported. Japan’s NHK TV said the missile separated into three parts. “We will do our utmost to protect people’s lives,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters. “This reckless act of launching a missile that flies over our country is an unprecedented, serious and important threat.”

    Tuesday’s launch comes days after the North fired what was assessed as three short-range ballistic missiles into the sea and a month after its second flight test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which analysts say could reach deep into the U.S. mainland when perfected.

    South Korea’s Foreign Ministry warned that the North will face a “strong response” from the U.S.-South Korean alliance if what it called nuclear and missile provocations continue. The ministry also urged Pyongyang to accept talks over its nuclear program and acknowledge that abandoning its nuclear ambitions is the only way to guarantee its security and economic development.

    South Korea also said its air force also conducted a live-fire drill involving four F-15 fighters dropping eight MK-84 bombs that accurately hit targets at a military field near the country’s eastern coast. Park Su-hyun, spokesperson of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, said Moon’s national security director Chung Eui-yong called U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster to discuss the launch.

    The launch over Japan isn’t a total surprise. Earlier this month, when threatening to lob four Hwasong-12s, which are new intermediate range missiles, into the waters near Guam, North Korea specifically said they would fly over Japanese territory. North Korea in June also angrily reacted to the launch of a Japanese satellite it said was aimed at spying on the North and said Tokyo was no longer entitled to fault Pyongyang “no matter what it launches or whether that crosses the sky above Japan.”

    North Korea typically reacts with anger to U.S.-South Korean military drills, which are happening now, often staging weapons tests and releasing threats to Seoul and Washington in its state-controlled media. But animosity is higher than usual following threats by Trump to unleash “fire and fury” on the North, and Pyongyang’s stated plan to consider firing some of its missiles toward Guam.

    Kim Dong-yub, a former South Korean military official who is now an analyst at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said that the early flight data suggests the North Korean missile was likely a Hwasong-12. Other possibilities, he said, include a mid-range Musudan, a missile with a potential 3,500-kilometre range that puts much of the Asia-Pacific region within reach, or a Pukguksong-2, a solid-fuel missile that can be fired faster and more secretly than weapons using liquid fuel.

    South Korea’s military didn’t immediately confirm whether the North Korean missile was fired from Pyongyang’s airport. Moon Seong Mook, a former South Korean military official and current analyst for the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, said the airport’s runways could provide the ideal space to launch a road-mobile missile like the Hwasong-12. By launching from its capital, the North might have been trying to demonstrate the ability to launch its missiles from anywhere, Moon said.

    “The launch doubled as a threat to Washington, not only because of the U.S. military bases in Japan, but also that the North showed it has the real capability to fire missiles to waters near Guam if it chose to shoot them in that direction,” Moon said.

    North Korea first fired a rocket over Japanese territory in August of 1998 when a multi-stage rocket that outside experts called “Taepodong-1” flew about 1,500 kilometres before landing in the Pacific Ocean. The North later said it launched a satellite.

    North Korea flew another rocket over Japan again in April 2009 and said that, too, was carrying a satellite. The North claimed success, but the U.S. North American Aerospace Defence Command says no satellite reached orbit. The United Nations has repeatedly condemned North Korean satellite launches as covers meant to test banned long-range missile technology. Some parts of a space launch vehicle reportedly flew over Okinawa last year after separating from the rocket.

    Pyongyang regularly argues that the U.S.-South Korean military exercises are an invasion rehearsal, although analysts say the North’s anger is partly because the impoverished country must react with its own expensive drills and weapons tests. The allies say the war games are defensive and meant to counter North Korean aggression.

    North Korea’s UN ambassador, Ja Song Nam, wrote recently that the exercises are “provocative and aggressive” at a time when the Korean Peninsula is “like a time bomb.”

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    The provincial transportation ministry pressured Metrolinx leadership to approve a new $100-million GO Transit station in the minister’s riding, according to documents obtained by the Star.

    The ministry, led by Liberal MPP Steven Del Duca, also intervened to secure support for a new station that is part of Mayor John Tory’s “SmartTrack” plan and that would cost the public $23 million to build.

    As the Star has previously reported, analysis commissioned by Metrolinx, an arm’s length agency of the provincial government, determined that both stations would have a negative effect on the rail network and recommended they not be built.

    However, documents obtained through a freedom of information request reveal the behind-the-scenes story of how Metrolinx ignored this analysis and approved the two contentious stations after Del Duca’s ministry interceded.

    The documents, which include more than 1,000 pages of emails sent by Metrolinx and ministry officials as well as draft agency reports, show that on the advice of agency staff, the Metrolinx board approved, at a closed-door meeting in June 2016, a list of new stops that did not include Kirby or Lawrence East.

    A day later, Metrolinx officials were shocked to receive copies of draft press releases from the ministry indicating that the following week Del Duca would announce that stations the board hadn’t approved were going ahead.

    In the ensuing days, following conversations between Metrolinx executives and ministry officials, agency staff revised a board report to support Kirby and Lawrence East.The board then reconvened in public and voted to build the two stops.

    The Star emailed a list of questions to Del Duca’s office, which included questions about whether he overstepped his authority to ensure Metrolinx approved the stations.

    Del Duca did not directly respond to the questions, but in an emailed statement said the approval of all the new GO stations was based on “initial business case analysis, extensive consultation with municipal and regional representatives, community engagement, and collaboration between the ministry of transportation and Metrolinx.”

    He said he believed the population density around Kirby justified a station but that all the new stations require further analysis before they are built.

    In an emailed statement, Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said station selection “is a collaborative process that requires many inputs, including from public servants and elected officials, which must be blended together in final judgments.”

    She said agency officials changed their recommendations before the final vote after receiving new information that showed the two stops were justified.

    Kirby, which is on the Barrie line in Del Duca’s riding of Vaughan, as well as the Lawrence East stop on the Stouffville line in Scarborough, were two of dozens of sites Metrolinx spent a year-and-a-half analyzing for potential inclusion in GO Transit’s $13.5-billion regional express rail (RER) expansion program.

    Analysis commissioned by Metrolinx recommended that neither Kirby nor Lawrence East be considered for at least 10 years in part because they would lead to decreased ridership on the GO network.

    That’s because adding stops to the rail lines increases travel times for other riders on the network, discouraging some from taking transit. The initial business cases conducted for Kirby and Lawrence East determined that while the stops met some strategic planning objectives, neither would attract enough new riders to offset the passengers lost to the longer travel times.

    Draft board reports from early June 2016 show that Kirby and Lawrence East were not on Metrolinx’s shortlist of 10 stations proposed for approval.

    On June 9, 2016, three weeks before the board was scheduled to vote on the stations, Metrolinx briefed Del Duca about the stations.

    In an email later that day to Metrolinx board chair Rob Prichard, then-president and CEO of Metrolinx Bruce McCuaig reported that the meeting with the minister was “so-so.”

    “My interpretation is that he is disappointed” that Kirby wasn’t on the list, McCuaig wrote.

    The emails show McCuaig asked Metrolinx staff for an “alternative analysis” of the stops. He told Prichard he was “trying to see if there is a credible way to improve the business case” for stations in Vaughan.

    Even in the “alternative” analysis, however, Kirby still performed badly and McCuaig wrote that staff would recommend it be left off the list.

    McCuaig resigned from Metrolinx in April to take an advisory role at the federal government’s Canada Infrastructure Bank. He declined to answer questions for this story. Prichard also declined to answer questions. The Metrolinx spokesperson replied on his behalf.

    The emails obtained by the Star detail how, on June 15, 2016, Metrolinx board members, who are appointed on the recommendation of the minister, convened a special closed-door meeting to discuss the new stops.

    A public vote was scheduled for June 28, but in an email to the board Prichard explained that the earlier meeting was necessary because Tory and Del Duca wanted to announce SmartTrack stations the following week.

    “We did not want the minister doing so without the input of the board in advance,” he wrote. The board would “revisit the same issues” at the public session, Prichard explained, but he stressed that “the real substantive meeting is this one” on June 15.

    Metrolinx has never previously acknowledged the meeting took place. But the documents indicate the board voted to support the staff-recommended list of 10 stations, which did not include Kirby or Lawrence East.

    But the day after the meeting, Metrolinx received draft copies of press releases that the ministry planned to use to unveil the new stations. Agency officials were taken aback to see that they indicated the minister would announce Kirby, Lawrence East, and two other stations the board hadn’t approved.

    “Are you hearing anything like this?” Metrolinx chief planning officer Leslie Woo wrote to McCuaig after learning of the ministry’s plan.

    “Nope,” he shot back.

    McCuaig wrote to a policy adviser at the ministry to ask why unapproved stops were in the announcements. “Has a decision been made that I’m not aware of?” he asked.

    On the afternoon of June 17, McCuaig wrote to Prichard to say he had spoken to the adviser again. “M apparently wants us to include Lawrence…Kirby” and two other stations, McCuaig wrote.

    McCuaig would not confirm to the Star that “M” referred to Minister Del Duca, or the ministry.

    Prichard replied that Lawrence East “will probably be ok” — city of Toronto staff had performed their own analysis that showed the station performed better — but, he asserted “deferral is right for Kirby.”

    Prichard wrote that he told the ministry adviser that “we would need a call with the minister if they can’t accept the deferral.”

    Whether that call took place is not clear.

    However, two days later, on June 19, McCuaig emailed agency officials with a “proposed revision” to the report that would go to the board at the public meeting on June 28. Kirby and Lawrence East were now recommended for approval.

    In a series of news conferences the week of June 20, 2016, Del Duca announced that the Ontario government intended to build 12 new GO stations, including Lawrence East and Kirby.

    The following week, the board met in public and approved all 12 stops.

    Metrolinx didn’t release the business case analyses for any of the potential new GO stations until last March, almost nine months after the board vote. The conclusion of the public version of the Kirby analysis was altered from earlier drafts to remove references to its “poor results.”

    The agency never publicly released a separate report drafted before the board vote that explicitly recommended against proceeding with Kirby and Lawrence East. The Star obtained a copy in June.

    In an email, Aikins, the Metrolinx spokesperson, said the Metrolinx board is permitted by legislation to meet behind closed doors to discuss certain issues.

    She said that, at the closed-door meeting, “the board received management's preliminary advice including advice that there might be updated information following further stakeholder consultations.” During the public meeting management provided its final advice, she stated.

    “All of this was done in accord with the board’s governance procedures and the Metrolinx Act.”

    According to Aikins, the agency’s leadership recommended Lawrence East be approved after Toronto city officials made the case that “it was an important part of the city’s overall transit network plans.”

    She said Metrolinx leaders recommended Kirby after “municipal officials, community stakeholders and Minister Del Duca collectively made the case” that the area around the stop would exhibit higher population growth than the numbers contemplated in the Metrolinx business case.

    Aikins said it was a precondition for proceeding with both stops that the respective municipalities enact policies to encourage greater density around the station sites. She said all the proposed new stations will undergo further analysis before they are built to ensure they’re warranted.

    In June, Prichard told reporters that to his knowledge Metrolinx had never analyzed the higher growth figures for Kirby.

    The Star asked Del Duca’s office if he could provide any Metrolinx or ministry analysis to support the position that Kirby would benefit the transit network. He did not.

    Tory’s office said, “City staff have recommended Lawrence East as a stop for SmartTrack and as an important part of the Scarborough transit network plan.”

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    OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled cabinet changes Monday that he said would reset the federal government’s “paternalistic, colonial” approach to Indigenous affairs in favour of eventual self-government for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

    The bigger-than-expected cabinet shuffle will, in the months ahead, create two departments out of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada — with two Toronto-area MPs in charge — and will eventually see legislation drafted to replace the Indian Act, government officials say.

    And the Trudeau government is making new efforts to get the troubled inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) back on track because it is convinced the families don’t want to start over again.

    “We are working very hard in support of the inquiry to make sure that it delivers on the important mandate it has to provide justice for the victims, healing for the families and to put an end to this ongoing national tragedy once and for all,” Trudeau said.

    Carolyn Bennett (Toronto—St. Paul’s), who had sole responsibility for the sprawling department, will now be in charge of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. Her job is to draft new laws, policies and operational practices that will explicitly recognize the relationship of Ottawa to Inuit and Métis as well as First Nations people. The Indian Act, first enacted in 1876, does not mention Inuit and Métis. Bennett will handle the recommendations that come out of the MMIW inquiry and continue to answer questions related to it in the Commons.

    The day-to-day delivery to Indigenous peoples of real services — health, education, food security, housing and clean water — falls to another trusted Trudeau minister, Jane Philpott (Markham-Stouffville), who has the title of minister of Indigenous services.

    Trudeau said the split was recommended by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples about 20 years ago. He said there will always be a role for Crown-Indigeneous affairs, but he hoped that by next spring new legislation to end the old department will be tabled, and that “within decades or a few generations” Indigenous people and governments will themselves deliver services to their communities.

    Trudeau said the existing department is the legacy of a different era when dealings with Indigenous peoples “was very much looked at in a paternalistic, colonial way.

    “This is the next step in building a future in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians have the same kinds of opportunities, and everyone’s rights are fully respected and understood,” the prime minister said.

    Yet even as he touted a new approach to Indigenous concerns, Trudeau shut down any suggestion the federal government would ditch the name of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. Trudeau had earlier stripped the name of Hector Langevin, a Macdonald cabinet minister who was a proponent of the residential schools policy, off the building housing the Prime Minister’s Office.

    Trudeau said such debates are “extremely important to have to reflect on our past and to build the right future forward together, but I can say unequivocally there are no plans by the federal government to change the name John A. Macdonald off of anything in our responsibility.”

    Both Philpott and Bennett praised the changes as historic, portraying the existing department structure as an impediment to the Liberal goal of resetting relations with Indigenous peoples.

    Philpott said the change is “undoing structures that were designed to dominate Indigenous cultures, to force assimilation of Indigenous peoples into a culture that was not their own.”

    The government’s direction was welcomed by Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde who said it “signals a new approach to increasing action across our agenda.”

    “First Nations are working to move beyond the Indian Act and reasserting our jurisdiction and sovereignty over our own lands, title and rights.”

    The Conservatives had no comment Monday on the changes, but NDP MP Romeo Saganash, the party’s critic for Indigenous Affairs, said that change is an acknowledgement that the Liberals have so far “failed to comprehensively address the formidable challenges Indigenous communities face in Canada.

    “The long-standing injustices cannot be addressed by any symbolic change,” Saganash said in a statement that called on the Liberals to provide equal health care for Indigenous children.

    Others too were critical. “They’ve just doubled the colonial structures,” Pam Palmater, an associate professor and the chair in Indigenous governance at Ryerson University, said in a CBC interview.

    The cabinet shuffle retained gender parity among ministers — 15 men and 15 women — not counting Trudeau, who retains the youth portfolio for himself.

    While Indigenous issues were the big focus of Monday’s shuffle, other moves signal the government’s attempts to bolster efforts in other areas.

    Trudeau promoted Ginette Petitpas Taylor, a parliamentary secretary to finance who got a big promotion to step into Philpott’s role as health minister.

    A francophone New Brunswicker, Petitpas Taylor now has the task of steering the marijuana legalization project. She said Monday, “I have smoked pot on a few occasions when I was at university, and that was it.”

    The shuffle was prompted by the resignation of Newfoundland MP Judy Foote, who was the minister of public works.

    Carla Qualtrough was named to take Foote’s place. She had been the minister of sport and persons with disabilities. She takes over a department wrestling to fix problems with the Phoenix pay system that has left bureaucrats without their salary. Problems with defence procurement are another perennial headache for the department.

    Trudeau promoted his close friend Seamus O’Regan into cabinet to take the place of Kent Hehr as veterans affairs minister and associate minister of national defence.

    The post combines both the symbolic — helping to represent the government at public commemorations — and a significant administrative role, overseeing a department that has been criticized for how it dispenses assistance to veterans, notably those who are ill and injured.

    O’Regan sought help for alcohol abuse in 2015 — a problem Trudeau’s key campaign team was unaware of. On Monday, Trudeau pronounced him fit for office, and O’Reagan himself declared that he “felt great.”

    “I’ve just never been better in my life,” he told reporters.

    O’Regan said the stresses of “purposeful work” are “completely invigorating and keep me very healthy.

    The cabinet shuffle serves as a re-boot of the government, but sources say there is no plan to prorogue Parliament and bring in a new Throne Speech or agenda to outline shifting priorities. Much of the government’s attention remains focused on dealing with an unpredictable U.S. administration.

    Read more:

    Judy Foote resigns cabinet to help family face cancer

    Justin Trudeau supports MP Seamus O’Regan’s decision to adopt ‘alcohol-free lifestyle’

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    After more than 150 humanitarian trips to North Korea, a speech in the U.S. made Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim’s last journey there far different.

    He told an American audience that “you should not serve Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il like a God.”

    This was seen by the North Korean government as a crime against the state, and defamation of the Kim dynasty, which has been in power for almost seven decades, with Kim Jong-un now at the helm.

    Read more:

    ‘I ate 2,757 meals in isolation’: Hyeon Soo Lim’s address to his church after more than 2 years in North Korean prison

    Pastor greeted with cheers, chants at his Mississauga church after over two years in North Korean prison

    Freed Mississauga pastor will be back in church for Sunday service

    In his first interview with the Star since he was released from a North Korean jail earlier this month, Lim described the events leading up to his arrest more than two years ago.

    When Lim arrived in the northern city of Rajin in January, 2015, a senior officer approached him and asked for help.

    Lim said the officer told him: “We’ll talk about how you can help us more.”

    Soon after, Lim was arrested and detained in a hotel before he was taken to a detention centre, where he stayed for 10 months.

    At the detention centre, he went through series of interviews, and anyone in North Korea with ties to him was investigated. It was there that he was asked about his speech in the U.S.

    At Lim’s trial, he was sentenced to life in a hard-labour camp. He spent winters digging holes in the frozen ground, and the warmer months farming corn, potatoes, hot peppers and beans.

    At all times, two guards would watch him while he was working, and they would rarely speak to him. Only sometimes would an older guard make small talk with Lim, but his time in North Korea was mostly quiet and isolated.

    Lim’s spokesperson Lisa Pak, who was also at the interview at Light Presbyterian Church in Mississauga where he preaches, said the hard labour was to reform Lim.

    “There was no real purpose except to make his life difficult,” she said.

    Lim wore a gray uniform, which had more padding in the winter to accommodate the weather. His meals were either rice or noodles, but usually rice. The portions were small, until he lost 50 pounds over two months.

    “Then they gave me a little more rice,” Lim said.

    His routine was the same nearly every day.

    Wake up at 6 a.m.; clean and eat breakfast until 8 a.m.; work until 6 p.m., with an hour-long lunch and a half-hour break in the morning and afternoon; eat dinner at 7 p.m. From 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., he was permitted “culture time.”

    “No TV, no radio, nothing,” he said, laughing.

    He spent that time reading the Bible. Then he would sleep at 10 and start again.

    He also had Sundays off, where he worshipped by himself.

    Lim spent time in the hospital while in North Korea, suffering from frostbite and soreness from the labour. He said that rest helped, and he did receive some medical care, like antibiotics and physiotherapy.

    On Aug. 9, Lim was freed, notified only 15 minutes in advance. North Korean officials did not speak to him when he left. Freedom felt like a miracle.

    “All of a sudden . . . he was being released, so to him it’s like the hand of God intervening because all these human efforts failed,” said Pak, referring to efforts from the Canadian government and Swedish officials, who act as Canada’s protecting power in North Korea since Ottawa has no embassy there.

    Lim expressed extreme gratitude to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and national security adviser Daniel Jean, who he said were instrumental in getting him home safely. He said Canadian officials did not ask him for many details about his experience.

    On his way home, Lim spent a night in Guam to keep his travel confidential. There, he began to catch up on current events. Guam was in the middle of an international crisis with North Korea threatening to strike American military targets there amid rising tensions with the U.S.

    Lim joked that it felt like North Korea was following him when Guam was in the news cycle.

    Lim says that his “mind is open” to going back to North Korea, where he had been going for 10 years before he was captured. He provided food and aid to people in North Korea, especially orphans whose parents had died.

    Although contemporary North Korean culture teaches that missionaries are Western spies, he was welcomed to the country without a visa because he provided aid that was needed.

    He said in the interview that he often thinks of other foreign prisoners he left behind. He believes the death of American college student Otto Warmbier after 17 months in detention in June shortly after he was released to the U.S. affected how Lim was fed.

    Lim also said he felt he was treated better because he was a Canadian.

    While in captivity, his granddaugher was born.

    “I cannot express, it’s overwhelming,” Lim said when he heard the news.

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