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TORONTO STAR

Husband of Toronto doctor Elana Shamji appears in court charged with her murder (dim., 04 déc. 2016)
Ontario’s medical community is reeling after the death of a “whip smart,” highly-respected Toronto family doctor and mother of three, who police allege was killed by her husband, a neurosurgeon with Toronto Western Hospital. The body of Elana Shamji, 40, was found on Thursday afternoon, near the underpass of a bridge beside the West Humber River in Vaughan. In a late-night press conference Friday, Toronto homicide investigator Det-Sgt. Steve Ryan said her husband of 12 years, Mohammed Shamji, 40, was been charged with first degree murder. The couple have three children together. Police say they are currently with Elana Shamji’s mother. The accused made a brief court appearance at Old City Hall Saturday morning. Dressed in a white prison jumpsuit, Mohammed Shamji stood in the prisoners’ box looking nervous and solemn. At one point, he glanced over his right shoulder to family members seated in the audience. He was remanded into custody until his next court appearance Dec. 20. Shamji’s lawyer, Liam O’Connor, declined to comment. Sgt. Ryan told reporters police have spoken to witnesses and believed there had been an altercation in the couple’s home. According to a colleague, Elana Shamji filed for divorce from her husband last week. In both of the doctors’ active social media profiles, the couple appeared to be happily together recently. In April, they travelled to Dubai for a spine surgery conference Mohammed was attending. Shamji posted a picture of herself and her husband online, saying: “Thank you Dubai for your beautiful architecture, tasty food, exotic desert, and kind people. It was a trip of a lifetime. Now onto the most wonderful place of all — home.” Ryan told reporters police have spoken to witnesses and believed there had been an altercation in the couple’s home. According to a colleague, Shamji filed for divorce from her husband last week. Repeatedly described as a “brilliant” physician by colleagues and friends, Shamji was currently on staff at Scarborough Hospital’s family practice teaching unit. She received her master’s degree from North Carolina’s Duke University. In a press release from the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) — Shamji recently started to serve as an OMA council member representing Scarborough — she is described as a “talented family physician who was active in many efforts to improve the health-care system.” “Ontario’s doctors are a close knit community, and we are all stunned by the tragic news of the untimely death of Dr. Elana Fric-Shamji,” reads a statement from Dr. Virginia Walley, OMA President. “At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with her family, her friends, and her colleagues.” “Elana’s death has been met with widespread shock and grief among the physician community,” said Dr. Nadia Alam, who knew Elana through a doctors’ online network and their mutual involvement in the ONA. “She was a big part of various physician Facebook forums, so many docs knew of her, if not her directly. And many enjoyed her sense of humour and kindness,” Alam said. Lindsay Bisset, a fellow doctor whose kids attend the same school as the Shamjis’ three kids, described Shamji as “passionate about her children, her work and her physical fitness. “She adored her kids and was a terrific mom. The type who believes in family time together and was very connected with her kids. She was an engaged and dedicated physician in a time when that is not an easy thing to do,” Bisset said. Mohammed Shamji is listed as an assistant professor of surgery with the University of Toronto’s faculty of medicine. According to his biography, he is a graduate of several prestigious university programs, including Yale University, and completed his neurosurgery residency program at the University of Ottawa. Shamji’s death was initially a missing person case. Her mother had reportedly not heard from her since Wednesday, and she didn’t show up to work at Scarborough General Hospital on Thursday or Friday morning. Shamji’s husband did not report her missing, according to police. On Thursday afternoon, around 3:30 p.m., officers with York Regional Police were called to a bridge beside the West Humber River — just off Nashville Rd. near Howland Mill Rd. The body of a woman had been discovered, but her identity was unknown. A post-mortem autopsy in Toronto Friday afternoon confirmed Shamji’s identity, and that she had been strangled and suffered blunt force trauma of some kind, Ryan said. Police arrested Mohammed Shamji without incident at around 8 p.m. Friday night, at a coffee shop near Lakeshore Rd. E. and Hwy 10 in Mississauga. Police have sealed off the couple’s North York home as they await a search warrant, Ryan said. Dr. Daisy Fung, an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Alberta, said a tight-knit, across-Canada group of physicians are now arranging a memorial. “We hope to do something in her memory, and all those women affected by domestic violence,” she said. “We are all deeply saddened and shocked at this tragedy and our concern also lies with her mother and her three beautiful children.” With files from Brennan Doherty
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Trudeau urges police to ‘enforce the law’ on marijuana (sam., 03 déc. 2016)
A frustrated Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants police to “enforce the law” and criminally charge illegal marijuana dispensaries — even though weed legalization is looming. “People are right now breaking the law,” Trudeau told the Star’s editorial board on Friday. “We haven’t changed the laws. We haven’t legalized it yet. Yes, we got a clear mandate to do that. We’ve said we will. We’ve said we’re going to do it to protect our kids and to keep the money out of the pockets of criminals.” But the spread of storefront “dispensaries” — scores of which have popped up on Toronto streets this year — is clearly a concern to the prime minister. “It’s a situation that is frustrating and I can understand people’s frustration on this,” Trudeau said. “The promise we made around legalizing marijuana was done for two reasons … that I was very, very clear about: one, to better protect our kids from the easy access they have right now to marijuana; and, two, to remove the criminal elements that were profiting from marijuana,” he said. “We believe that a properly regulated, controlled system will achieve both of those measures. But we haven’t brought in that properly regulated, controlled system because it’s important that we do it right in order to achieve those two specific goals.” That new regime will be unveiled next spring. The blueprint for the legislation is a report by former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan’s task force of medical and legal experts, which be released within days. Until the new law is enacted some time in 2017, Trudeau stressed “the current prohibition stands.” “So, I don’t know how much clearer we can be that we’re not legalizing marijuana to please recreational users,” he said. “I mean, that will be a byproduct. We recognize that that is something that’s going to happen when it happens, but it’s not happened yet.” While Trudeau said he had not yet pored over the McLellan panel’s report, he has clearly been thinking about the age limits for recreational marijuana use. “It’s been highlighted many times that the effect of cannabis on the developing brain is particularly problematic,” the prime minister said. “I’m not going to venture too much further into the science but I think there is a consensus that, yes, perhaps up until 21 or 25 it’s not as good as past that age. But I have a sense that the worst damage is in the 12-, 13-, 14-year-old range,” he said. Trudeau emphasized Ottawa would “work hand in glove with the provinces,” which suggests there could be different age limits across the country. “The federal drinking limit is set at 18 but if provinces want to make it 19 — as a few have — it can be 19.” Currently, marijuana is legal for medicinal purposes with a prescription from a medical doctor. It can only be supplied by the 36 Health Canada-licensed producers and delivered by registered mail or homegrown in small amounts. Storefront dispensaries that claim to be supplying medicinal marijuana are not federally licensed and are breaking the existing law. Asked what municipalities could do to deal with the scourge of such pot shops, Trudeau did not mince words: “You can enforce the law.” Police, however, have been trying to do that in places like Toronto and Ottawa, with raids of dispensaries, but with middling effect. Because the federal law will eventually be amended, some entrepreneurs appear willing to risk fines as a cost of doing business before outright legalization.
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Diamond & Diamond under fire (sam., 03 déc. 2016)
He’s the face of personal injury law in Ontario. On television, radio, social media, billboards, buses and atop urinals at the Air Canada Centre, you will find the image and the message of lawyer Jeremy Diamond. “Nothing is tougher than a diamond,” reads the signature advertisement. “Trust the name you know.” People hurt in car or other accidents are left with the impression that the 43-year-old Diamond is a top litigator fighting for the little guy. It turns out that Diamond — described as an “award-winning personal injury lawyer” — has never tried a case himself, according to his own evidence in a recent legal matter. A Star investigation found that Diamond has for many years been attracting thousands of would-be clients and then referring cases out to other lawyers in return for sometimes hefty referral fees. Along the way the firm’s marketing campaign has raised the ire of the Law Society of Upper Canada, clients, and some lawyers. “What they’ve done has absolutely changed our industry and it’s changed the way people find lawyers,” says Adam Wagman, president of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, which wants a crackdown on misleading advertising and a curbing of referral fees. Speaking generally, Wagman said “we agree referral fees are a problem and that’s why we’re working with the law society to make some recommendations that will, we hope, create a better environment for the public and the lawyers who serve the public.” Matt Garraway, injured in a 2014 car accident in Barrie, reached out to Diamond & Diamond but then was contacted by another firm. “I thought that I was dealing with Diamond & Diamond,” Garraway said. Previously cautioned for “misleading advertising” in 2013, Diamond added a mix of junior and senior lawyers to his firm to do legal work, but the Star has found cases are still referred out — how many Diamond won’t say. The Law Society of Upper Canada said Friday it is investigating about 90 cases of advertising and referral fee complaints involving lawyers from various firms across Ontario. It did not identify the lawyers involved, but said some lawyers face multiple complaints. The society also has a working group examining the broader issues. Diamond’s firm has said the current system, which allows referral fees, “increases the likelihood that everyone that has a viable case will be able to find a qualified legal representative.” Some clients have also alleged the firm passed their personal details to other firms without permission, something that, if it happened, would be a breach of professional rules. Brampton resident Jermaine Taylor, 30, was injured in 2014 when the taxi he was riding in crashed. He called Diamond & Diamond because the firm struck him as “reputable.” A lawyer from another firm called the next day. Taylor said he never gave Diamond & Diamond permission to give another firm his personal details. Lorraine McKenna, a Mississauga woman, fell in a Walmart parking lot in 2014 and fractured her ankle. She had heard the Diamond & Diamond jingle, contacted them, provided personal information about her claim and “somebody else called me 20 minutes after that from a different law firm.” She said she was not asked to consent to the referral or sharing of personal information. Through his lawyer, Diamond denied this allegation, but could not address the specific cases due to solicitor-client privilege. Competing lawyers from top Ontario firms have also recently complained Diamond & Diamond has used a marketing technique that “degrades all lawyers” — models in tight Diamond & Diamond tank tops. Diamond has not responded to interview requests. Julian Porter, a top Canadian libel lawyer retained by Diamond and his firm, said in one of four letters to the Star that the firm complies with all law society rules. Porter noted that in its 2013 caution for misleading advertising, the law society said that “facts have overtaken” the investigation and “for all intents and purposes the conduct which caused the Regulatory concerns has ceased.” Porter said Diamond & Diamond has hired lawyers and currently has “thousands” of clients on retainer, but does refer out “some individuals.” Any referral fee paid does not impact the client’s bill, Porter wrote. **** In one of his many advertising videos, Jeremy Diamond described his past. “Growing up my whole family was in personal injury so it was natural that I’d end up in personal injury as well,” Diamond said. “I was always interested in the business and helping victims. It was important for me that victims know their rights.” The business has been good to him. Diamond drives three cars — a $681,300 orange Lamborghini Aventador; a white convertible Maserati Gran Turismo valued at $235,400 and a $124,788 black Range Rover Sport. His firm has been a sponsor of high profile events, including the Toronto Police Chief’s annual gala ($15,000 for the Platinum Sponsor) and he appears in photos on Facebook and Pinterest with current police Chief Mark Saunders, former chief Bill Blair, and Mayor John Tory. According to their website he and his firm are “award-winning,” with honours given by Consumer Choice, Top Choice and also by the Toronto Sun. In the late 1990s, Diamond studied at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Michigan. Before graduation he had a personal brush with the law. Windsor police charged him in June 1998 with possession of counterfeit money, court documents show. According to a brief news item in the Windsor Star, it was alleged he and another man were trying to pass off $1,600 in “bogus Canadian $50 bills” at Casino Windsor. The charge was withdrawn, there was no criminal conviction, and Diamond was given “adult diversion,” a type of community service. Diamond graduated from the Michigan law school in 2001. The next year, after being called to the Florida State Bar, he and his future wife Dorothy Zafir moved back to Toronto. Diamond was unhappy about the move, as he wanted to practice law in Florida where there “was more money to be made,” according to his evidence in their later divorce proceedings. That same year, he began working at Diamond & Diamond, his uncles’ law firm in Toronto. During that time, Diamond lived a “playboy lifestyle,” which included extensive travel and “staying at expensive hotels with various mistresses,” according to his ex-wife’s factum in the divorce proceedings — statements that Diamond, in his response, said were wrong. The documents show Diamond drove a Porsche 911 and a BMW SUV while earning $54,000 annually. In the documents, Diamond said his father, a school principal, paid for the vehicle leases. In 2007, a year before Diamond was called to the Ontario bar, his two uncles, James Diamond (no relation to Superior Court Justice James Diamond) and David Diamond were winding up their practice. They made a deal with Kurt Bergmanis and Alan Preyra, two lawyers from Diamond & Diamond who were striking out on their own while still leasing space from the firm. An exclusive agreement was made to refer Diamond & Diamond files for a 30 per cent cut of the fledgling firm’s fees in each case, according to documents in an ongoing legal dispute now in private arbitration. Under a separate agreement, David Diamond paid Jeremy Diamond $700 for each file he successfully referred to Bergmanis Preyra, according to Jeremy’s testimony in the arbitration. (James Diamond, a professor, told the Star he has not been in the firm’s offices in 17 years and has nothing to do with the arbitration. David Diamond did not respond to an interview request made to his lawyer. Around this time, Diamond was taking qualifying courses at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School so he could practice in Canada. Later, in a 2012 affidavit he swore that he “graduated” from Osgoode Hall Law School in 2007. Diamond was called to the Ontario bar in 2008. *** There are roughly 34,000 personal injury collisions in Ontario each year and many other slips and falls, dog bites and other mishaps. To make a claim against an insurance company, many turn to a personal injury lawyer. This type of legal practice can be lucrative. Many Ontario lawyers in other areas of practice refer files at no charge. The law society allows referral fees if the client consents, the fee is reasonable and does not increase the client’s bill. The referring lawyer can be paid in two ways. A payment when the case is settled, typically 15-30 per cent of the ultimate legal fee charged to the client. And in some cases, an “up-front” fee from the receiving lawyer of $2,000 or more, depending on case complexity. In a cross examination this past August regarding a billing matter, Jeremy Diamond was asked whether the “intake person” at Diamond & Diamond informs the prospective client that a referral fee will be charged. He responded “no.” Diamond was also asked about his law experience. As to how many discoveries or mediations he had done he replied “a few,” but said he could not recall how many. Regarding trials he had done, Diamond replied “none.” The Star has asked Diamond to detail his referral fees, and reveal intake and referral numbers, but he declined. His lawyer, Porter, said that while the firm does refer out some cases, “Diamond & Diamond currently represents thousands of clients . . . these are retainers with the firm, in respect of which Diamond & Diamond lawyers represent the clients and prosecute the cases.” A snapshot of how fees can be apportioned comes from the case regarding the billing matter. There was a settlement from the insurance company of $100,000 and the firm that worked the case, Wolf Kimelman, provided a statement of account to the client: $31,208 to Wolf Kimelman; a “referral fee” of $10,040 to Jeremy Diamond; and $56,000 to the client who sued. The remaining money paid doctors and pharmacies involved in the case. Another snapshot of how referral fees have worked comes from documents in the arbitration between Diamond & Diamond and another firm. It shows that personal injury firm Wolfe Lawyers paid Diamond $208,000 for 105 cases referred between 2008 and 2011. Wolfe Lawyers told the Star it no longer takes referrals from Diamond and this money was paid when the cases were settled. Wolf Kimelman did not respond to questions from the Star. *** Around 2012, Diamond & Diamond’s marketing kicked into high gear with flashy U.S.-style commercials. On the firm’s website at the time, Diamond was called both a lawyer practicing “personal injury litigation” and “director of marketing.” The firm lists itself as “proud sponsors” of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Raptors, Argos, Ottawa Senators, the Marlies and other teams across Ontario. Diamond lawyers appear on television opining on issues as diverse as what to do if you injured slipping slip on a sidewalk to legal woes affecting former Mayor Rob Ford and pop star Justin Bieber. “We have over 30 years of experience getting results for our clients,” Jeremy Diamond says in one advertisement. “No matter the injuries, you can call me, Jeremy Diamond. We can visit your house, hospital or place of work and help you with your claim.” Diamond and Diamond’s competitors have said the marketing campaign misrepresents what the firm does. In 2012, following a complaint by personal injury lawyer Guy Farrell that marketing was “misleading and confusing,” the society investigated and in 2013 Jeremy Diamond was cautioned. “Diamond and Diamond are not actually personal injury lawyers at all; everything they say or imply about acting for you successfully and with ‘toughness’ is untrue because they will not be acting for you,” the law society wrote. The firm’s disclaimer at the time — which the law society said was “buried in an obscure part of the website” — stated “our firm is mainly a referral source and initial screening agent . . . our firm will not represent or suggest that we will act for the client.” The caution notes that by early 2013, two lawyers (one was Jeremy’s wife, Sandra Zisckind) had joined the firm to do the actual legal work. The law society, based on information provided to them, stated that by 2013 Diamond & Diamond’s structure had “fundamentally changed” and the “conduct which caused the (law society) concerns has ceased.” Porter, Diamond’s lawyer, told the Star the firm has 16 lawyers on staff, as of this year. The current disclaimer, at the bottom of the home page with no heading, says some cases will be referred out “due to expertise or other various reasons.” It states “we will only, with your verbal consent, refer you to another lawyer or paralegal . . . . Referral fees for some may or may not be attached and will have no effect or bearing on your claim.” Malcolm Mercer, vice-chair of the law society’s professional regulation committee, said “one might expect that where lawyers were advertising with respect to personal injury work that the intention was that they would do the work.” Mercer said a law society working group that he chairs has heard from lawyers concerned that “a certain amount of that advertising was not for the purpose of doing work or getting work … but rather for the purpose of referring that work on to others for a fee.” Presented with this comment, Porter said it does not refer to his clients. By 2012, the law firm that Diamond & Diamond had an exclusive arrangement with was suspicious it was not getting all the files it was promised. Bergmanis Preyra had two people call Diamond & Diamond posing as prospective clients. Both were referred to another firm. Bergmanis Preyra took Diamond & Diamond to arbitration. Emails written between late 2009 and early 2011, which are part of the arbitration, appear to reference Jeremy referring out at least 2,200 clients to outside lawyers. This is how it worked during this time period, according to an affidavit by a former assistant filed in the arbitration and interviews with people with knowledge of the system. Clients would contact Diamond & Diamond by phone or by filling out an online form. Diamond would then send this information to an assistant via text message, by his company email or his Yahoo account. The assistant was told by Diamond that the Diamond & Diamond firm was a “mother agency” that other law firms depend on for clients. The assistant, neither a lawyer nor a paralegal, said in her affidavit that she would visit clients either at their home or in a coffee shop and ask them to sign a Diamond & Diamond retainer. The affidavit states her payment was either by cash or cheque. “Jeremy Diamond made it explicitly clear to me that I was to have no involvement with anyone else in the Diamond & Diamond firm except him directly,” the affidavit states. He would then assign the client to another lawyer outside of Diamond & Diamond that “he felt was best,” sometimes emailing the client’s confidential information to a new lawyer with whom the client would sign another retainer. Sometimes, personal information about the new case and the client was sent to physiotherapy clinics as well. Lawyers and staffers at other firms and clinic operators often used Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail accounts, rather than their professional emails. Asked about the former assistant’s affidavit, Porter said she is a “disgruntled former employee whose motives are highly questionable, and whose information is inaccurate in material respects.” The Rules of Professional Conduct state lawyers must keep client information strictly confidential unless the clients consent otherwise. Asked about this, Porter said “Diamond & Diamond takes client privacy very seriously. When clients are referred to other firms, it is done strictly in accordance with (law society) guidelines.” Porter said Diamond & Diamond seeks “express consent” from potential clients if they are being referred out. During the 18-month period the Star reviewed, emails appear to indicate Diamond directed 1,722 clients to Grillo Barristers, the firm where Zisckind, his wife, then worked. Zisckind is now at Diamond & Diamond. In one October 2010 email chain, Diamond writes, “HUGE FILE” in the subject line and instructs a Grillo staffer to hurriedly arrange a hospital visit to a potential client suffering from a broken leg, ankle, shattered arms and ribs from a car accident. “Get Sal out immediately! No other lawyer but Sal or Sandra!” Diamond tells the Grillo staffer. Sal Grillo would not answer the Star’s questions about why his firm appeared to be taking instructions from Diamond. Emails included in the arbitration reveal a sometimes cavalier approach to clients. Jeremy Diamond, for example, called a client, who had been bitten by a dog during work as a courier, a “fag.” Discussing the case by email with a firm member, Jeremy Diamond asks, “don’t u like his anal cavity???” The Star found Diamond’s assistant used unprofessional language in emails. Diana Iakossavas refers to one client as “an angry little Persian woman.” On another occasion she refers to potential clients as “retarded,” a “stiff” or a “certified sociopath.” Iakossavas told the Star she could not comment. Porter said his clients cannot discuss any part of the arbitration because it is a confidential process. *** The law society has received nearly 80 submissions related to advertising and referral fees. Recommendations are expected next year. Among the suggestions: better enforcement of existing rules preventing misleading advertising; whether to limit referral fees and ban “up-front” fees altogether; better transparency to clients when a referral is made; and whether to restrict the type of awards a firm can include in advertising. Diamond & Diamond recently sent a two-page submission to the law society. “Our firm spends a significant amount of money on advertising. It is our hope that we will be able to represent every potential client who contacts us with a viable case. In practice, this is often not possible — whether because of capacity constraints or because a potential client’s case is outside our firm’s area of expertise. In such cases, we work hard on the potential client’s behalf to try to find an appropriate lawyer to assist them. Very often, this is a ‘small’ firm that cannot afford broad advertising campaigns, but is happy to pay referral fees,” the submission states. The Federation of Ontario Law Associations has weighed in, saying that “advertising for the purpose of obtaining work to be referred to others in exchange for a referral fee should be banned.” The only reason the federation sees for referrals in personal injury matters is if the firm is not competent to deal with a matter, there is a pending retirement, a health issue or if the case is outside of its geographical area. “Permitting mass advertising for the sole purpose of obtaining a file to refer out is clearly not in the best interest of the public. It is a classic ‘bait and switch’ tactic,” the federation states. Diamond & Diamond is also the subject of two current complaints to the law society. Earlier this year, seven competing law firms, including Lerners LLP and Siskinds LLP in London, together filed two new complaints about Diamond & Diamond. They complain the firm took advantage of an accident victim still in hospital by showing up uninvited. The second complaint, addressed marketing practices at a motorcycle show. Attached to the complaint is a photo of two buxom women, their tank tops emblazoned with the Diamond & Diamond logo, flanking a teenaged boy. The law firms said this diminishes the profession “in the eyes of the public.” The Law Society would not say if rulings have been made on these complaints. Porter said his clients have provided a response to the law society and at no time does Diamond & Diamond solicit “potential clients in hospitals.” In the case of the motorcycle show, the women hired to work the booth were not lawyers and were “very professional, reliable, friendly and cheerful” and at no time did they “purport to provide legal advice.”     Michele Henry can be reached at mhenry@thestar.ca or 416-312-5605. Kenyon Wallace can be reached at kwallace@thestar.ca or 416-558-0645
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Judge who wore Trump hat declared support for Republican candidate in court (sam., 03 déc. 2016)
A Hamilton judge who apologized for wearing a pro-Donald Trump hat in court the day after the U.S. election, saying it was an attempt at humour and not meant to be political, declared his support for the president-elect later the same day in court, the Star has learned. “Brief appearance with the hat. Pissed off the rest of the judges because they all voted for Hillary, so. I was the only Trump supporter up there but that’s okay,” Ontario Court Justice Bernd Zabel is quoted as saying just before court closed for the day on Nov. 9, according to a certified transcript obtained by the Toronto Star. As first reported by The Globe and Mail, Zabel, who was appointed to the bench by the provincial government in 1990, showed up for court the morning after the Nov. 8 election wearing a red “Make America Great Again” ball cap. The Globe reported he then placed the hat on the bench in front of him. Almost a week later, Zabel apologized for wearing it, acknowledging it was a “lapse in judgment” and “a breach of the principles of judicial office.” Zabel did not return the Star’s request for comment on Saturday. “What I did was wrong. I wish to apologize for my misguided attempt to mark a moment in history by humour in the courtroom following the surprising result in the United States election,” Zabel said in a statement in a courtroom at the John Sopinka Courthouse on Nov. 15. “This gesture was not intended in any way as a political statement or endorsement of any political views, and, in particular, the views and comments of Donald Trump. I very much regret that it has been taken as such.” His decision to wear the hat led critics to question his impartiality, a crucial requirement for judges, and several groups and individuals have filed complaints with the Ontario Judicial Council. Some questioned whether members of groups attacked by Trump, including Muslims, immigrants and women, would be treated fairly if they appeared before Zabel. While Zabel may have described wearing the hat as an attempt at being funny and not to indicate support for any particular candidate, the emergence of the transcript indicating his support for Trump within hours of his appearance with the hat is cause for concern, said Anthony Moustacalis, president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association. “Judges like Zabel are outliers in an otherwise elite court led by an innovative and hard-working chief justice. He should have matched their demanding work ethic, read their judgments, or sought their wise counsel,” Moustacalis told the Star. “Instead, he has besmirched his position and embarrassed his colleagues and he should step down immediately, pending judicial council review, if he has any respect left for the court, and the public.” If a judge is found to have committed professional misconduct by the judicial council, possible sanctions include a reprimand, suspension or recommendation to the Attorney General that the judge be removed from office. —With files from The Hamilton Spectator
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Dozens feared dead after California warehouse fire (sam., 03 déc. 2016)
OAKLAND, CALIF.— Fire tore through an Oakland warehouse converted into artist studios during a late night dance party, killing at least nine people, and officials said Saturday that the death toll could rise as high as 40. Officials said people either escaped from the cluttered building or died inside, where the only way down from the second story was via a stairwell constructed entirely of wooden pallets. “It appears that either you got out or you got trapped inside,” said Alameda County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly. Just last month, the city of Oakland opened an investigation into the warehouse after numerous complaints filed by neighbours complaining of trash piling up outside the property and reports people were illegally living in the building, which was zoned as a warehouse. Darin Ranelletti, of the Oakland Planning Department, said the city opened an investigation on Nov. 13 and an investigator went to the premises on Nov. 17 but could not get inside the building. The city has not confirmed people were living inside. Firefighters used chain saws and axes Saturday to cut through the debris of the cluttered building in a gritty neighbourhood of the San Francisco Bay Area city, where the fire broke out about 11:30 p.m. Friday. Aerial images of the warehouse showed the structure was gutted with just the wooden frame remaining. Fire officials said the roof collapsed into the second floor, which in places fell to the bottom floor. It’s unclear what sparked the fire. Oakland fire chief Teresa Deloche-Reed said at least another 25 people were unaccounted for in what authorities were calling the most deadly building fire in the city in recent memory. The victims were believed to be young people in their 20s, Kelly said. He said as many as 40 may have perished and that the coroner is preparing for a “mass casualty event” that could include victims from other countries. The warehouse was known as the “Oakland Ghost Ship.” Its website showed pictures of a bohemian, loft-like interior made of wood and cluttered with rugs, old sofas and a garage-sale like collection of pianos, paintings, turntables, statues and other items. The website included advertisements for various electronic music parties. On Friday night, there was an event featuring musician Golden Donna’s 100% Silk West Coast tour. Panicked friends and family posted messages on the group’s Facebook page trying to find out if their loved ones were among the dead. Those searching for the missing were sent to a local sheriff’s office, where Dan Vega was anxiously awaiting news. He had been unable to find his younger brother or his brother’s girlfriend. Vega said he was not sure if the two were at the party Friday night but that his brother likes to go to raves and he had not been able to reach him Saturday. His girlfriend’s car was still parked at a transit station in San Bruno, south of San Francisco. Fighting tears, Dan Vega said he’s frustrated authorities hadn’t been able to tell him anything about his 22-year-old brother. “I just want to go over there. I have my work boots on, I’m ready to go,” Dan Vega said. “Just give me some gloves. I’ll help out any way, shape or form, I don’t care. This is infuriating. I don’t know where my brother’s at. I just want to find him.” It was not immediately clear what started the fire, but there did not appear to be sprinklers in the building, Deloche-Reed said. She said 50 to 100 people were believed to have been at the party when the fire started and that clutter “made it difficult for people to escape.” The warehouse was partitioned into artist studios and was packed with furniture, mannequins, statues, lamps, and other objects and did not have a clear entry or exit path, the fire chief said. “There is still a large portion of the building that still needs to be searched,” she said. “There is large timber and debris that will need to be removed and it’s going to have to be removed in a slow and methodical way.” By midday Saturday, authorities had not yet identified the nine dead. Kelly said crews had removed only one body from the building. Investigators were having trouble entering parts of the warehouse to search for any remaining bodies because the structure was deemed unsafe, Deloche-Reed said. One survivor said he struggled to find a working fire extinguisher. “It was too hot, too much smoke, I had to get out of there,” Bob Mule, a photographer and artist who lives at the building and suffered minor burns, told the East Bay Times. “I literally felt my skin peeling and my lungs being suffocated by smoke. I couldn’t get the fire extinguisher to work.” Oakland police urged those concerned about missing people to call the Alameda County Sheriff’s Coroner’s Bureau at 510-382-3000. The office said coroners were also at the scene Saturday morning and unavailable for comment.
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Santiago de Cuba distilled in Castro’s ashes: DiManno (dim., 04 déc. 2016)
SANTIAGO DE CUBA, CUBA—A couple of young boys are trying to fly a kite above the cracked asphalt of a crooked road that slashes through the barrio of Los Olmos. Their toy is crafted from a shred of a plastic garbage bag and two sticks. It won’t lift off the ground. There’s not a hint of wind, for one thing. Youths in do-rags loll on rickety stoops, smoking and drinking mango juice. A woman smacks her little girl across the head for darting in front of a taxi, its tires squealing to avoid hitting the child. Old men play cards on overturned crates. Pretty teenage girls sashay past in body-hugging minidresses. An ancient hunchbacked lady sweeps the doorstep of her shack — walls and roof made of corrugated tin — using a straw broom. If one were to go inside these houses, past the porches of weathered and splintered wood, you’d find toilets made from buckets, rooms sweating mould, bare light bulbs where the electric current flickers on and off, pieces of junk furniture, little decorated shrines to indigenous religions and grinding poverty. Some 22,000 people reside in this overwhelmingly black barrio in the northeast sector of Santiago de Cuba, a city — second largest in Cuba — closer geographically and culturally to Haiti and the Dominican Republic than Havana. The interminable death march — death roll — of Fidel Castro will skirt the edges of Los Olmos at dawn on Sunday, hauled finally to Cementerio Santa Ifigenia for interment of his ashes at the conclusion of a nearly 900-kilometre odyssey across the length of the island nation. It’s been a nine-day spectacle, carefully orchestrated by the government as thousands upon thousands have paid tribute to the late El Comandante, lining the route throughout, cheering on cue, weeping on cue (the skeptical observer increasingly inclined to believe) for foreign media photographers. But especially for the national TV crews — government controlled, of course — who’ve documented every inch of the procession, transmitted live around the clock. There’s no getting away from the tableau, at least on Cuban television, although each day of the four-day trek — Castro’s urn placed atop a footlocker-sized coffin, encased in glass, towed by a military jeep where white-gloved generals take turns riding — has been Fidel Groundhog Day, the testimonials from mourners eerily similar, as if reading from a script distributed by the regime. But the encomiums are thin on the ground in Los Olmos. They frankly have scarcely taken notice. And no government-commandeered buses have wound through the barrio to pick up spear carriers of the revolution as stagecraft backdrop. Only the Afro-Caribbean music that normally thumps and thrums in these neighbourhoods — Los Olmos is host to the most vibrant and sensuous annual Carnival celebrations, but also day-to-day dance-crazy — has been dialed down to observe a government edict for the period of lament. Nobody wants to draw the wrath of the state’s eyes-and-ears everywhere surveillance. Here, the general attitude towards Castro is … indifference. He was irrelevant to their existence through half a century of ham-fisted rule, as an icon anyway — though his rigid communist orthodoxy has shaped their lives from the cradle to the grave. In a country of relentless impoverishment — the consequence of Marxist economics and a U.S.-led boycott that turned Castro to first Moscow as benefactor (sugar-for-oil) and then Venezuela (sugar-for-oil) — the denizens of Los Olmos are at the very bottom of the have-not pile. “I had nothing a week ago, before Fidel died, I have nothing now, I’ll have nothing next week and next month and next year,” said Alberto (only first names are being used in this column, to protect individuals from possible retribution), a 67-year-old former baker, now subsisting on a $12-monthly pension. The great revolutionary claimed to be colour-blind and certainly Castro welcomed fighters of all ethnicities to an insurgency that began here, in Santiago, after The Bearded One descended as full-blown guerrilla commander from hiding in the nearby mountains of the Sierra Maestra. But blacks in Cuba largely comprise the grunt-work class, as victimized by racial prejudice and class-pecking here as anywhere else. Castro admitted in his quasi autobiography, My Life: “The Revolution, over and above the rights and guarantees achieved for all its citizens of whatever ethnic background or origin, has not had the same success in its fight to eradicate the differences in social and financial status for the black population of the country. Blacks don’t live in the best houses; you find that they still have the hardest, most physically wearing and often worst-paid jobs and that they receive much less help from their family members no longer in Cuba, in dollars, than their white compatriots.” Those dollars, by the way, are what’s keeping the Cuban economy afloat today. “My children go to school for free, their uniforms are given to us by the government,” says Rosaria, 38, who grabs patchwork employment at a local hairdresser. “So they can read, as can I, where my mother could barely write her name. That still doesn’t mean they’ll have any kind of a future. They’ll grow up here in Los Olmos and they’ll probably die in Los Olmos.” The colossal failure of Castro’s revolution is that he proclaimed to be doing it for them — for salt-of-the-earth peasants and bottom-of-the-heap working-class Cubans, though he was probably not thinking of descendants of slaves when he made those epic speeches. Land redistribution didn’t help barrio dwellers from Havana to Santiago one iota. They live still in decrepit housing that should be condemned. They have no access to upward mobility and, indeed, upward mobility is the antithesis of equality for all, though Castro’s own family and cronies have parcelled out the privileges of jobs and status in a nation where 80 per cent of the economy is still controlled by the government. “The future?” says 19-year-old Lisandra, bursting out in laughter. “Well, Monday I’m going to a dance club because I’m sick of all this quiet. I don’t really look ahead much because there’s nothing to see.’’ Such commentary wasn’t heard Saturday, in the eight-bars-and-out dirge of Castro’s leave-taking, the procession passing by the museum which used to be the Moncada Barracks — site of Castro’s first revolution gambit on July 26, 1953, a complete cock-up that resulted in the capture of Fidel and brother Raul, trial, conviction and imprisonment, their release after two years negotiated through the Catholic Church — the same church later forbidden from formally celebrating Christmas for three decades. With dignitaries and heads of state again gathering to sing the tyrant’s praises, it was all “I AM FIDEL!” and “REVOLUTIONARY YESTERDAY, HERO FOREVER!” and self-congratulation for Santiago as the cradle of the revolution. It had been sympathetic people from this region — where nascent independence also began in the 19th century — who kept the ragtag rebels alive through two years of privation after Castro landed on the coast in 1956, with younger brother Raul and Che Guevara, following liberation misadventures in Mexico. It was from Santiago de Cuba, where the rebels received food and armaments. From Santiago, that the revolution drew its lifeblood and support, growing from barely two dozen fighters to a force of irregulars numbering 20,000 adept at the tactics of guerrilla warfare as government troops surrendered and changed sides by the thousands. Santiago, where, on Jan. 1, 1959, Castro first appeared publicly to proclaim the revolution a triumph before rolling on, seven days later, to Havana. That is the Revolutionary Road that the Caravan of Freedom — distilled in Castro’s ashes — has retraced this past week. But in miserable Los Olmos, they don’t give much of a damn.
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Amber Alert concludes, but search continues for missing Welland girl (sam., 03 déc. 2016)
WELLAND, ONT.—Niagara Regional Police say while the Amber Alert has concluded, the search continues for a missing nine-year-old girl. Layla Sabry is believed to be abducted by her mother Allana Haist, and they were last seen Thursday at 6 p.m. in Welland, Ont. Const. Virginia Moir says they are continuing to treat Sabry's case as a missing person investigation, but enough time has elapsed that they concluded the Amber Alert. Moir says police are still concerned for Layla's safety. Another police official said they are operating under a court order to return the child to her father. Sabry is described as white, four-foot two, light brown hair and brown eyes. Her mother, who police say also goes by the aliases of Kate Dillon or Lana Marie, is white, five-foot one, medium length brown hair with brown eyes. Earlier reports indicated the Amber Alert ended early Saturday, but Niagara police say that is not the case. The Toronto Star was unable to reach the Niagara Regional Police for further comment. With files from Andrej Ivanov
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Keys to persuading Trump: flattery, proximity (sam., 03 déc. 2016)
Fully repeal the “disaster” Affordable Care Act? After meeting with President Barack Obama, Donald Trump said maybe he’ll keep some of it. Revive waterboarding of terrorism suspects? Eh, maybe the promise of cigarettes and beer will work even better, the president-elect said after talking with a retired general. Treat climate change like a “hoax”? Well, maybe humans are doing some things wrong, Trump conceded after a New York Times columnist laid out a case. Since winning the election, Trump has made clear that even his firmest positions are open to change and that he can be easily persuaded by the well-known figures now clamouring to give him advice. The president-elect tends to echo the last person he spoke with — or the last thing he saw on TV — making direct access to him all the more valuable, especially as he selects members of his administration. That open-minded nimbleness may have helped Trump win the election and charm voters who are bored with politicians so set in their ways that they can’t readjust to changing moods. But it also poses clear risks as Trump prepares to govern and will be forced to commit to positions. “No one should have ever mistaken Trump for a man of any fixed principles or of having any sort of intellectual framework beyond his self aggrandizement and bluster,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist and longtime Trump critic. “His followers thought he meant every word he said. But it’s obvious that Trump has little if any actual ideological consistency despite his promises.” He added: “Imagine when it’s major, international crisis business, not this pre-game warm-up.” Unlike presidents before him, Trump has often rejected the help of traditional policy advisers and briefers, claiming to already know what he needs to know. Instead, Trump watches endless cable television, consults with his adult children and chats up a line of guests to Trump Tower in New York and his private club in Palm Beach, Fla. He also regularly takes the calls of fellow wealthy businessmen with their own ideas to share. Sometimes an uttered idea or a turn-of-phrase sticks — especially when offered by someone with some celebrity status who is careful to praise and not criticize the president-elect. Obama was one of Trump’s sharpest critics on the campaign trail, but since Election Day, the president seems to have gone out of his way to refrain from publicly insulting his replacement, despite numerous opportunities to do so. Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act was one of the topics covered when the two men met at the White House. For more than a year, Trump has promised to fully repeal and replace it with something much better - a vague pledge that he stuck with even when confronted with the reality that major reform doesn’t happen quickly. Soon after that meeting, Trump told The Wall Street Journal that he might be open to keeping parts of the legislation, perhaps amending it instead of fully repealing it. Since then, Trump has also repeatedly met with 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, whom he once described as “sad and pathetic,” a “loser” and a “choker” who should have won the election and “walks like a penguin.” But now that Romney is publicly praising Trump for doing what he was unable to do, Trump is seriously considering him for secretary of state. When Trump met with editors and reporters at The New York Times after the election, columnist Thomas Friedman asked Trump about climate change — while also praising Trump’s seaside golf courses and mentioning his own recent television appearance. As Friedman and others pressed Trump on the issue, the president-elect admitted that “there is some connectivity” between human activity and climate change, although he doesn’t want to put companies at a disadvantage to fight it. “I’m going to be studying that very hard, and I think I have a very big voice in it,” Trump said. “And I think my voice is listened to, especially by people that don’t believe in it.” When Kellyanne Conway as Trump’s third and final campaign manager in August, along with new campaign chief executive Stephen Bannon, the new leadership tried to move the centre of power from Trump’s plane back to Trump Tower. But as Election Day approached, Bannon and other top aides were nearly always on the plane with Trump. Praise is often the key to influencing Trump, who has made clear that he does not like to be questioned or challenged. Nearly a year ago, staffers at the now-defunct gossip website Gawker decided to “set a trap for Trump” on Twitter, tricking him into re-tweeting a quote from Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. They created a “bot” that regularly fired tweets at Trump containing a dictator quote and a dose of flattery. In February, Trump took the bait and hit re-tweet. Yet there is unpredictability to Trump. He has been known to stubbornly cling to positions that are problematic for legal, constitutional or logistical reasons, rejecting waves of advice on how to better tailor his message or approach. But then, seemingly with just one conversation, he can suddenly change. Take the example of waterboarding. Ahead of the Republican primaries, Trump declared that “torture works” and promised to bring back waterboarding. Even if these methods don’t produce usable information, Trump said at one point, terrorism suspects “deserve it anyway.” “I love it, I love it, I think it’s great,” Trump said at a rally in Indianapolis in April. Although this earned Trump applause at rallies, few counterterrorism experts or elected lawmakers agreed with him. Cable television, news websites and Twitter filled with explanations for why Trump cannot and should not do this. “These forms of torture not only failed their purpose to secure actionable intelligence to prevent further attacks on the U.S. and our allies, but compromised our values, stained our national honor, and did little practical good,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in February, one of many passionate pleas. For a year, Trump refused to budge on the issue. He did concede that he wouldn’t force members of the military to break the law, and so he would change the statutes before requiring them to resume waterboarding. Then came Trump’s post-election meeting with retired Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, a four-star general who Trump has picked as his candidate for secretary of defence. Trump said he asked Mattis for his thoughts on waterboarding. “I was surprised,” Trump said. “He said: ‘I’ve never found it to be useful.’ He said: ‘I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.’ And I was very impressed by that answer. I was surprised, because he’s known as being like the toughest guy.” Trump said he had not yet changed his mind on waterboarding — and that if the American people really want it, he will do it. But he repeatedly said he was “impressed” with Mattis’ answer. “You know, he’s known as ‘Mad Dog Mattis,’ right?” Trump said. “Mad Dog for a reason. I thought he’d say, ‘It’s phenomenal, don’t lose it.’ “
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Photographer charged with sexual assault after photo shoot (sam., 03 déc. 2016)
A 37-year-old Toronto-based photographer has been charged after he allegedly sexually assaulted a woman during a photo shoot in her home in October, police say. Investigators received a call for the incident in the Lake Shore Blvd. west and Spadina Ave. area on Oct. 17 at around 1:30 p.m., police said in a news release Saturday morning. Police from 51 Division say the photographer and the victim had set up an appointment for a photo shoot in the victim’s home through a modeling agency. The 21-year-old victim was assaulted during the shoot, police say. Guido Di Salle has been charged with one count of sexual assault and is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 9. Police say they are investigating and looking to see if there are any more victims. They are asking anyone with information to contact police at 416-808-5100 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477).
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Families of hostages alone in a ‘parallel universe’ (sam., 03 déc. 2016)
There is a perverse purgatory where the families of hostages go after they learn a relative has been kidnapped overseas. Life goes on all around you, oblivious, same as it ever was. And yet everything changes when you live with this secret, especially when your loved one is held for weeks, months. For years. You feel dread with every ring of the phone, every knock on the door. You feel terror with every news report. Birthdays hit you hard and there’s an empty place at the table for the holidays. You have to bury it all and keep up appearances. Because friends and co-workers, the government tells you, should not be told much, if anything at all. “You step into a parallel universe,” says Trudi Shaw, whose brother Robert Hall was executed in June by the Abu Sayyaf Group after a nine-month nightmare in the Philippine jungle. “Everyone around you is in the old universe and you are in this new one. They can see you and you can see them. But there’s this disconnect. You are kind of thinking, ‘This can’t be real.’ ” Coping with a kidnapping should be burden enough. But some relatives interviewed by the Star for this series say the situation is made worse by warnings from Canadian officials to stay silent. Staying away from the media has long been an opening strategy. The idea is to buy time to gather intel, to control the message and to eliminate any possibility that the identity of the hostage will cause the ransom demand to rise. Silence has its advantages. News about CBC journalist Mellissa Fung’s 2008 kidnapping in Afghanistan was kept a secret until her release, 28 days later. Private negotiators and the RCMP benefited from the media blackout, working quickly without distraction to release Fung in a prisoner exchange. “The team on the ground in Kabul was able to move through the murky world of dealing with kidnappers, Afghan police and intelligence services without the added burden of doing it in public,” says Fung’s partner, CTV correspondent Paul Workman. “There was extraordinary co-operation from other media to respect the demand for absolute secrecy, a rare model for co-operating in times of possible life and death.” But the times have changed in the eight years since Fung’s ordeal and many argue this blanket ban is outdated in an era when kidnappers can instantly seize the narrative on YouTube, regardless of whether the families talk or not. Silence also comes with side effects: it spares the government scrutiny over how such cases are managed; it creates opportunity for officials to prioritize cases according to their own sense of who among the abducted deserves Canada’s best efforts. It is easy to forget about hostages who foolishly put themselves in danger. It is harder for the public to ignore when hostages become more than names and you see the faces of their parents, children, siblings, friends and partners. A deeper problem, many families say, is that in exchange for their silence, they are often deprived of information by government officials, who simply don’t share enough timely knowledge for families to make potentially life-and-death decisions. Silence is golden. But the price of silence, some families soon discover, is almost more than they can bear. A brother, trapped in the jungle, two sisters at home in British Columbia, both with breast cancer. Keep your lips sealed, Canadian officials would repeatedly tell them. That was the burden Robert Hall’s family bore as the dust settled over the Abu Sayyaf Group’s brazen kidnapping raid in the Philippines in September 2015. For Trudi Shaw, the demands of juggling her brother’s captivity during chemotherapy for breast cancer — and being unable to share the strain — drove her to another dimension. She would replay the grainy CCTV footage that made the news within hours of the abduction, showing Hall and his Filipina fiancée Marites Flor, who everyone knows as Tess, being led away, and she would quickly be overwhelmed. “Seeing Bob and Tess being marched up the gangplank, sort of, with masked men with huge rifles surrounding them . . . just seeing my brother so vulnerable, and at the same time so protective of Tess . . . ” Shaw pauses to gather herself through tears, then continues, “I was terrified for Tess as a woman because we understood this was a militant Muslim group. I was just terrified of what would happen to her. But I also knew that made my brother more vulnerable because he would want to protect her.” An Anglican chaplain in New Westminster, B.C., Shaw had a circle of co-workers who were a big part of her support network, along with her husband and two children. But when she was well enough to return to work after her first round of cancer treatment, a new anguish took hold. “We were continuously told you cannot say anything, not to friends or colleagues even. It had to be hush hush hush hush hush,” says Shaw. “Outwardly, we had to be normal. But it kills ya. And it totally, totally, totally takes so much energy to keep up the facade. “As a chaplain, I have to be fully present to another person in their pain — and I’m feeling this horrible pain myself. So I don’t think I was very effective in my work. I had to sort of keep my distance to the people I was caring for because their pain would trigger my own.” Perversely, Shaw’s cancer proved a useful ruse to hide the deeper truth. “I’d have to make some excuse for why I had to go somewhere to cry. That’s where the cancer was really an advantage because they just thought it was the cancer.” Joshua Boyle and his American wife, Caitlan Coleman, vanished in Afghanistan four years ago and remain hostages of the powerful Haqqani Network. Boyle, 33, and Coleman, 31, have been held for so long that they now are parents themselves, with two children — two little boys who have never known a day of freedom. The Boyle family is reluctant to tell much of their story, even today, as efforts continue for a positive outcome. But they will speak about the life of a family sworn to silence. “We were told under no circumstances could we tell anybody,” Linda Boyle says about the first few months after her son was taken. Linda, whose mother was dying when Josh was abducted, reached out to her family priest anyway, trusting that her confidence would not be violated. The RCMP, she says, was “disappointed” and said they would need a list of everyone the couple spoke with. Like the Halls, the Boyles describe their last four years as a “parallel reality,” in which even the tiniest act of everyday living takes on new meaning. “Keeping a porch light on for the first two years” is one example, says Linda’s husband Patrick, a federal tax judge. “Jumping every time the phone rings,” adds Linda. Even maintaining the phones became an issue. The Boyles had moved just before Josh and Cait went travelling in 2012 and so one of the early questions became, ‘What if the kidnappers are trying to call us? Does Josh even have our new number?’ So the Boyles kept their old line, forwarding calls to the new one. Just in case. Josh had been close to his grandmother, and when she died they did the same thing with her calls. Dan Boyle, Josh’s younger brother, says he remembers starting a new job, and on his third morning, he arrived late, having to first meet Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada. “My colleagues joked I must have been in court earlier since I was wearing a shirt and tie. I just let them believe I had been in court rather than tell them the truth,” he writes to the Star. Dan says he wasn’t ashamed, just didn’t want the “I-feel-so-bad-for-you eyes,” he says. As the years dragged on — Josh and Cait have been missing more than 1,500 days — scenes that used to shock the Boyles now seem normal. “You get home from work and six people from the RCMP and DFAIT (now called Global Affairs) are sitting at your dining room table? Meh, just another Wednesday,” says Dan. His sister Kaeryn, who was 23 when Josh was taken, says she will never forget the day her brother’s kidnapping made the front page of Ottawa’s free Metro newspaper. “Stepping on the bus to work to see his face staring at me from every second seat or so … longest bus ride of my life,” she says. There was no escape at the food court where she worked: more copies were everywhere. And more still on the ride home, “only now his face was trampled along the floor, ripped up and caught in the door, shoved down the side of seats. Some days it’s easier than others to stick it to the back of your head and try and continue with regular life,” Kaeryn says. “That was not one of those days.” The youngest Boyle sister, Heather, remembers having to fill out an elaborate background questionnaire for a job application, including the whereabouts and work histories of her siblings. “Do I put down Josh’s job as ‘hostage’ or ‘unemployed’? Do I put down ‘address unknown’ or just the very vague ‘somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan’?” Another unforeseen consequence of her brother’s abduction, says Heather, is a “warped sense of time. Most things fall into the rather broad ‘pre- or post-kidnapping’ categories.” But whatever normalcy exists today for the Boyles melts away quickly when they think of the newest additions to the family — two boys born in captivity. Says Heather: “That gets to me: Thinking about how I have two nephews that I have never seen and know essentially nothing about.” On the surface, Westerners snatched off yachts in a marina sounds like a saga involving extreme wealth. And so the opening narrative of Canada’s crisis in the Philippines, even without so much as a word from the families, suggested some of the hostages, if not all, were rich. Nothing could be further from the truth for Robert Hall, who, with limited resources and a lot of hard work, had been able to put everything he had into sailing across the Pacific on his second-hand boat, Renova. An expert welder by trade, Hall had been scouting the nearby city of Davao the week before his abduction. He had no mountain of cash, not even a small pile. Hall’s fiancée, Marites Flor, hailed from a family of modest means on the nearby island of Mindanao. Her family’s resources and the Abu Sayyaf Group’s financial ambitions were planets apart. Kjartan Sekkingstad, the Norwegian marina manager, was also a working man, albeit a very skilled one, able to build a sailboat from scratch. With his late wife, Ellen, he had built the marina almost singlehandedly, and by 2014 the facility was finally coming into its own as a safe and affordable harbour in the southern Philippines, where sailors could wait out the monsoons and get their boats repaired. Sekkingstad was the one who would jump shirtless into the water to personally see to the delicate task of lifting the sailboats to dry dock. He trained and led his Filipino crew by the example of hard, sweaty work. The story of the fourth captive, John Ridsdel of Calgary, however, got complicated within days of the kidnapping. Like many Canadians abroad, Ridsdel had worked as a corporate mining executive — a fact that would surely bring delight to his captors, if and when they knew it. When news of the abductions broke, the Ridsdel family tried to scrub the web of details about Ridsdel’s life and career. But one online profile — a career listing on LinkedIn — prompted media calls to his longtime Calgary employer, TVI Pacific Inc., which he continued to serve as a semi-retired adviser. A TVI official confirmed the connection in a statement. The cat, if not out of the bag, was pawing at the drawstrings. And it would get worse. Five days after the abduction, the English-language site of CNN Philippines began reporting a new working theory that the raiders had been specifically targeting Ridsdel. Citing unnamed sources close to the investigation, the report suggested “Ridsdel could have made some enemies in his work” at TVI’s nearby — and controversial — projects in the southern Philippines. Ridsdel’s daughter worried that perception was overtaking her family’s relatively modest reality, setting the ransom bar “higher than we could ever hope to overcome.” She tried to push back against RCMP advice, reasoning that by going public, she would be able to set the record straight about her dad’s perceived wealth. (She has asked that we not publish her name due to privacy concerns.) But the say-nothing edict continued for the duration of the crisis. Seven months later, as the Abu Sayyaf Group’s first execution deadline drew near, officials in Ottawa went one step further, reaching out to at least five Canadian news organizations, including the Toronto Star, requesting that all references to Ridsdel’s ties to the mining company be removed from our latest stories. All the news organizations complied with the request, agreeing to err on the side of caution. In the Star’s case, an agreement was struck to remove the references to TVI on condition that a senior policy official — policy, not communications — follow up with an off-the-record briefing for editors to explain the government’s reasoning. How could Ottawa possibly think Ridsdel’s corporate ties, now so deeply embedded on hundreds of news and opinion sites around the world, would vanish by removing a handful of online references in Canada? Ottawa followed with a briefing for the Star from a senior communications officer, who emphasized again the importance of saying as little as possible about the mining company to reduce ransom expectations. “We were always asking (the RCMP) for ways to more strategically use the media and just getting this blanket policy of don’t-talk-to-the-media wasn’t helpful,” said Ridsdel’s daughter. “We were asking, ‘Can’t we get a media strategy and explain that Dad is retired, he doesn’t have much money?’ but we didn’t feel like we had the space to do that (against Ottawa’s advice). We could have just done it, obviously — done it on our own. But you don’t feel like you are in a position to do that, really.” Almost all of the families agree Ottawa needs to reform how it goes about sharing information. Everyone feels in the dark, always asking questions, always waiting for what often turn out to be unhelpful answers. “Everything goes through this clearance process and takes three days to come down in some sort of really sanitized form of what the family is allowed to know,” says Ridsdel’s daughter. “I guess from our perspective we felt the hypocrisy of that approach. We’d be asked to make decisions, potentially life-or-death decisions … often on very short notice but we never felt like we had access to all the information.” It is difficult for the Hall family to discuss, but one unexpected consequence of Robert’s murder in June was how the flow of information suddenly turned against them, from too little to too much. Hall’s sister Bonice Thomas speaks of the festering swamp of online commentary beneath stories about her brother, where trolls weigh in with heartless glee, oblivious to the family’s pain. The trolls went further in September, some contacting her directly after she posted a widely shared Facebook message sharply critical of the Canadian government on the anniversary of her brother’s abduction. That was fine, she thought. “I’m tough, I can handle this.” Harder to handle, says Thomas, is the impact on her 92-year-old uncle, who hasn’t been the same since he stumbled across the Abu Sayyaf Group video showing Robert’s murder. “There’s a world of pain around us. And that includes my elderly uncle, who now has PTSD from accidentally clicking on the beheading video of my brother,” said Thomas. “It traumatized everyone from nieces and nephews to the patriarchs and matriarchs of our family as well as old childhood friends. It’s far-reaching — and I don’t think our government considers that in the least. This isn’t something that can be swept under the table — ‘No ransom, no release, no comment, no problem.’ It’s not. It’s devastating.” Robert Hall’s cousin Lois Eaton, a retired school principal, is launching a campaign to demand change from Ottawa. Eaton’s intention is twofold: First, ensure that Canada builds new protocols with lessons from the U.K., the U.S., Australia and other countries that now assign fleet-footed Fusion Teams when a citizen vanishes abroad; second, ensure that Canada reinvents how it relates to the families in a way that makes them “feel valued and included in what is going on. “I know something about government bureaucracy from my years as a school principal,” Eaton told the Star. “I was looped in on what our family endured from the start. And to me it just seemed like the government had no plan at all. The extent of Canada’s support was basically, ‘Thou shalt not talk and we won’t tell you anything because we don’t trust you.’ “This isn’t optional. This has to become a real priority for our government.” Hall’s sister Trudi Shaw describes for the first time the moment in which she poured out her frustrations. Shortly after Robert was beheaded, the family took a condolence call from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Shaw listened numbly as Trudeau and her brother Bill exchanged words. At the very end, however, when the family was asked if there was anything else they wanted to say, Shaw unloaded. “I said, ‘I wanted to tell you, Mr. Trudeau, what it was like. We understood the need to be quiet. We also understood the Canadian policy of no ransom. “‘But let me tell you what it is like to be a family, aching in utter terror for your loved one. And there is no sense that anybody even knows you are here.’ ”
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Some Toronto FC season-ticket holders bumped for MLS Cup (sam., 03 déc. 2016)
When Toronto FC midfielder Benoit Cheyrou scored the overtime goal that sent the Reds into the MLS Cup final, Chris Wright celebrated the team’s first major success in a decade with friends and strangers sitting around him at BMO Field. Their parting message on Wednesday night? “See you Dec. 10 for the final.” But Wright won’t be sitting in the same place when Toronto faces the Seattle Sounders in Major League Soccer’s championship match next Saturday. He’s one of a small but vocal number of disappointed season-ticket holders who found out Friday that they can’t get their regular-season seats for the big game. Wright purchased two tickets across the field from where he usually sits, but said it won’t be the same. “When Cheyrou scored, the hugs, the high-fives, you don’t do that with random people — at least, that’s not my experience,” he said. Tickets go on sale to the public Monday afternoon, but season-ticket holders get an early chance to secure seats — from Friday morning through Sunday. They can buy as many MLS Cup seats as they have season tickets, or more, according to Major League Soccer. But some locations are unavailable because of tickets allocated to the Sounders, corporate sponsors, broadcast partners and other MLS teams, as well as the need for more media space. Ticketmaster prices range from $45 to $325. On ticket reseller StubHub, seats were priced from $275 up to $1,129 on Friday evening. Mike Langevin, another day one Toronto FC fan, was offered three of his five regular seats for the final in the Supporters Sections. He said if MLS never intended to let him use the other two seats ― in the centre of the front row of the 200 level ― the club shouldn’t have sold them to a season-ticket holder in the first place. ‘We’ll have to be happy to sit somewhere else, but it really gets me that we’ve been in that seat for a lot of tough times,” he said. “It would be nice to be rewarded with the view we’ve had the entire time.” Langevin and Wright both agree there’s nothing that can be done to solve the issue now, but hope to see the club resolve the matter for future big games and perhaps offer affected fans some sort of discount next season.
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A look at Sam Oosterhoff, Ontario’s newest and youngest MPP (sam., 03 déc. 2016)
Having just made history as the youngest person ever elected to Ontario’s legislature, Sam Oosterhoff craned his neck to look beyond the pool of photographers and scribes assembled to witness his swearing-in, and called to his parents. “Mom? Dad?” The Oosterhoffs weaved through the crowd, stood with their son, and posed for more photos. Thus Oosterhoff, at just 19, became the province’s newest MPP — a first-year political science student with a social conservative bent that has already made a splash at Queen’s Park. His ascent from his family farm in the Niagara Escarpment to the back bench of the Progressive Conservatives is not without controversy. To get there, he shunted aside PC party president Rick Dykstra to claim the party nomination in Niagara West-Glanbrook — former leader Tim Hudak’s turf since the riding was created in 2007 — and then won a Nov. 17 byelection with a commanding 54 per cent of the vote. Many have credited the victory to his hearty ground-game in the riding, as well as the appeal to the region’s many social conservatives with his denunciation of the Liberal government’s updated sex education curriculum. But little is known of Oosterhoff beyond the skeleton details of his biography: a home-schooled kid from a large religious family, who spent time in Ottawa as a legislative assistant on the Hill before getting elected during his first semester at Brock University. Much has been made of his anti-abortion stance and opposition to same-sex marriage and the Liberals’ sex education update, which contradict PC leader Patrick Brown’s views on those issues. During his first scrum with reporters at Queen’s Park this week, Oosterhoff was grilled on his opposition to a bill that gave legal recognition to same-sex parents, as well as an article he posted on Facebook that denounced homosexuality as a “sin.” (He said that he’s “absolutely not” a homophobe.) Meanwhile, Brown was criticized by some social conservatives, such as antisex ed campaigner and party member Queenie Yu, for “muzzling” Oosterhoff during the campaign because he wants to attract centrist voters. There were also complaints from the media that the teenage politician was not available for interviews and dodged questions at events. “He’s constantly surrounded in fog,” said Grant Lafleche, a columnist with the Niagara Falls Review who has written about politics in the region for almost 20 years. “The only time we’ve ever been able to speak with him is if we catch him at an event . . . . He’s never given us a clear answer on where he stands on these social issues.” Oosterhoff did not respond to interview requests for this article. His father, Carl, also declined to speak, and his brother, Aaron — an activist who has protested sex-ed changes with a church-affiliated group in the Niagara region — did not respond to emails asking for an interview. What we do know about Oosterhoff is that he grew up near Vineland, a picturesque town in the Niagara wine country that’s dotted with charming homes, rolling farmland, orchards and vineyards. A big part of his life, clearly, is his religion. The family is part of the Spring Creek Canadian Reformed Church, a congregation that assembles for mass in a chapel in the hamlet of Tintern. Oosterhoff’s dad is an organist at the church, according to a 2006 news story about the acquisition of a new pipe organ. In recent years, Oosterhoff worked for a local excavating company and a landscaper. Raymar Landscaping’s Joanne Wanders said he shovelled snow for her company alongside her son. “He always made the work fun,” she said. “He’s very energetic. I can attest to that.” But outside of that, and his time in Ottawa, much of his life seems to have been spent with his religious friends. Cody Swaving, a 22-year-old studying to become a Reformed Christian pastor, knows Oosterhoff from their time together as counsellors at Campfire!, a Christian summer camp for children and teens near Collingwood. He also described Oosterhoff as personable and energetic, with a knack for working with kids. Swaving said he remembers that at night sometimes, after lights-out for the campers, Oosterhoff and some of the other counsellors would play games in a nearby meadow. They would choose a star to stare at, and then spin around until they lost their balance, Swaving said. “Goofy fun stuff — we really enjoyed having him up there,” he said. “He can carry on a conversation like very few people.” His religious identity, however, has brought criticism from some corners. Press Progress, the media wing of the left-leaning Broadbent Institute, dug up articles he’s posted on social media that denounce homosexuality and criticize Christians who do not disapprove of it. Oosterhoff also wrote a supportive note on Twitter about the activities of the Association for Reformed Political Action, a group affiliated with his church that has held anti-abortion rallies and argued same-sex marriage sets society on “the slippery slope to polygamy.” Aidan Johnson, a Hamilton city councillor who believes he’s the first openly-gay politician elected in southwestern Ontario, said Oosterhoff owes LGBT families an apology. This week, Oosterhoff called Bill 28 — a law passed Tuesday that legally recognized same-sex couples and people who use reproductive technology as parents — “horrible legislation.” Johnson was offended by these comments and called on Oosterhoff to “clarify his commitment to equality.” Oosterhoff told the Star earlier this week that he disagrees with the bill because it could lead to “litigation on the child,” not because he opposes LGBT families. But such discussions don’t resonate some of his constituents. Milos and Rada Mladjan run the Campden General Store, just a short drive from Oosterhoff’s family home. The interior of the store is shadowy and frigid; Milos keeps the heat down and more than half the lights off because of soaring hydro rates, he said — $550 a month these days. Oosterhoof, who he and his wife Rada have known for years, stopped by during the campaign and pledged to push for a better deal. “We believe in him,” said Rada. “One day, he’s going to be running that place,” Milos added, referring to Queen’s Park. With files from Kris Rushowy, Robert Benzie and Rob Ferguson
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‘I just wish that I had not voted.’ Trump voter lost her home to his new Treasury secretary (ven., 02 déc. 2016)
WASHINGTON—When Donald Trump named his Treasury secretary, Teena Colebrook felt her heart sink. She had voted for the president-elect on the belief that he would knock the moneyed elites from their perch in Washington, D.C. And she knew Trump’s pick for Treasury — Steven Mnuchin — all too well. OneWest, a bank formerly owned by a group of investors headed by Mnuchin, had foreclosed on her Los Angeles-area home in the aftermath of the Great Recession, stripping her of the two units she rented as a primary source of income. “I just wish that I had not voted,” said Colebrook, 59. “I have no faith in our government anymore at all. They all promise you the world at the end of a stick and take it away once they get in.” Less than a month after his presidential win, Trump’s populist appeal has started to clash with a Cabinet of billionaires and millionaires that he believes can energize economic growth. The prospect of Mnuchin leading the Treasury Department drew plaudits from many in the financial sector. A former Goldman Sachs executive who pivoted in the early 2000s to hedge fund management and movie production, he seemed an ideal emissary to Wall Street. When asked on Wednesday about his credentials to be Treasury secretary, Mnuchin emphasized his time running OneWest — which not only foreclosed on Colebrook but also on thousands of others in the aftermath of the housing crisis caused by subprime mortgages. “What I’ve really been focused on is being a regional banker for the last eight years,” Mnuchin said. “I know what it takes to make sure that we can make loans to small and midmarket companies and that’s going to be our big focus, making sure we scale back regulation so that we make sure the banks are lending.” But the prospect of Mnuchin leading the Treasury Department prompted Colebrook and other OneWest borrowers who say they unfairly faced foreclosure to contact The Associated Press. Colebrook wishes she could meet with Trump to explain why she feels betrayed by his Cabinet selection after believing that his presidency could restore the balance of power to everyday people. “He doesn’t want the truth,” she said. “He’s now backing his buddies.” The Trump transition team has been sensitive to preserving trust with its voters. Senior adviser Kellyanne Conway publicly warned that supporters would feel “betrayed” if former critic Mitt Romney was named secretary of state, for instance. For Mnuchin, the fundamental problem stems from the Great Recession. His investor group was the sole bidder to take control of the troubled bank IndyMac in 2009. The group struck a deal that left the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission responsible for taking as much as 80 per cent of the losses on former IndyMac assets and rebranded the troubled bank as OneWest. The combination of OneWest’s profitability, government guarantees and foreclosure activities drew the ire of activist groups like the California Reinvestment Coalition. It found the bank to be consistently one of the most difficult to work out loan modifications with even though OneWest never drew a major response from government regulators. By June of 2014, five years after taking over OneWest, Mnuchin sold the bank for $3.4 billion at a tremendous profit. Colebrook said she learned the hard way about OneWest’s tactics, after the regional bank acquired her home lender, First Federal Bank of California, in late 2009. In 1998, she bought a triplex for $248,000 in Hawthorne, California, not too far from Los Angeles International Airport. She rented out two of the units and lived in the third. Colebrook refinanced her mortgage in order to renovate the property and help buy additional homes to generate rental income. By the time the financial crisis struck in 2008, she had an interest-only mortgage on the triplex known as a “pick-a-payment” loan. Her monthly payments ran as high as $2,000 and only covered the interest on the debt. Then she got ensnarled in the economic downturn. “All my tenants lost their jobs in the crash,” Colebrook said. “They couldn’t pay. It was a knock-on effect.” Over five years, she tried unsuccessfully to adjust her loan with OneWest through the Treasury Department’s Home Affordable Modification Program. But she said that One West Bank lost paperwork, provided conflicting statements about ownership of the loan and fees and submitted charges that were unverified and caused her loan balance to balloon. By the time she lost her home in foreclosure in April 2015, the payoff balance totalled $517,662. Colebrook said she is still challenging the foreclosure in court. She now lives with her boyfriend in the small California city of San Luis Obispo. She volunteers at a homeless shelter, knowing that she could just as easily have ended up there. “I cook at the homeless shelter because there but the grace of God go I.”
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