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Overturned verdict in Mandi Gray sex assault trial affects all parties, lawyer says

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 19:08:21 EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City takes down $500 DIY park staircase, will replace it for $10,000

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 09:59:57 EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says it's Justin Trudeau’s fault if Omar Khadr payout hurts NAFTA

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 17:13:03 EDT

OTTAWA—Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is rejecting assertions that his party’s attacks on the Omar Khadr settlement in U.S. media could hamper upcoming NAFTA negotiations, claiming any negative consequences of the move should fall on Justin Trudeau’s shoulders.

Scheer was responding Thursday to accusations that partisan bickering south of the border on the controversial Khadr deal — reported to be worth $10.5 million — could impact Canada’s relationship with the U.S. just weeks before talks to change the 23-year-old trade deal with the U.S. and Mexico are set to begin.

Trudeau himself told reporters in Barrie on Thursday that NAFTA negotiations are “too important to fall into partisanship.” That comes after Gerald Butts, a high-ranking Liberal and advisor to Trudeau, said on Twitter that Conservatives had mounted an “aggressive anti-PM” campaign on the Khadr issue in U.S. media. At least three Tory MPs have appeared in print and on TV in the U.S. in recent days to criticize the payout.

Scheer argued that the government is simply trying to use NAFTA to deflect attention from their payout to Khadr, which Trudeau has argued was necessary to avoid an even costlier court battle over how the former child soldier’s human rights were violated during his lengthy stay in the notorious American prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“They can’t just say, ‘Please give us a pass because it’s affecting this other issue.’ I don’t believe that it does, and I don’t believe that it justifies not being critical,” Scheer said.

“If they were so concerned about the backlash, I would ask: did they give anyone in the U.S. a heads up? Did they let their negotiating team in Washington know that this was coming? … There were other options. The prime minister did not have to do this.”

Khadr was a teenager fighting in Afghanistan when he was captured by U.S. forces in 2002. He confessed to killing an army medic as part of a plea deal in 2010.

Khadr was later repatriated to Canada to serve out his prison sentence and recanted his confession.

The Conservative leader, who was elected by party members in May, made the comments during a press conference to unveil his new House of Commons leadership team, whose faces were displayed on trading cards handed out to reporters.

Lisa Raitt, the Milton MP who ran against Scheer in the leadership race, will be his deputy leader. Alain Rayes is Scheer’s “Quebec political lieutenant,” while B.C. MP Mark Strahl is the new party whip, Manitoba’s Candice Bergen remains house leader and Alberta MP Chris Warkentin is deputy house leader.

But talk quickly turned to NAFTA, just days after the U.S. published its list of priorities for the renegotiation of the deal, which was long promised by President Donald Trump. The Americans have also announced that talks are slated to begin in Washington Aug. 16.

The U.S. wants to shrink its trade deficit, improve market access for American companies and dismantle the dispute panel that has ruled in Canada’s favour in arguments over softwood lumber and other products.

Some MPs in Ottawa are calling on the government to share its objectives for the renegotiation. NDP trade critic Tracey Ramsey plans to push the House of Commons trade committee to invite Trudeau, foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland and Canada’s lead NAFTA negotiator to come answer questions when they meet on Friday.

SIU charges civilian in beating of teen

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 09:25:00 EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With files from Peter Goffin

Trump to rip up NAFTA? Not so fast: Olive

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 11:00:00 EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women, recent immigrants to see big benefits from minimum wage increase

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 00:30:00 EDT

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

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

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

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

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

Minimum wage hike will force some restaurants to close

Ontario Liberals embed 2019 minimum wage hike in new law

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

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

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

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

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

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

Macdonald gave his answer: “increased income inequality.”

‘How did I walk past this?’: Syracuse teen has picked up his lost and found car

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 08:50:00 EDT

Gavin Strickland trekked 500 miles this week, and then he trekked 500 more — just to be the man reunited with a waywardly-parked Nissan.

In a saga that charmed Torontonians into searching indoor parking garages, the 19-year-old from Syracuse, N.Y., arrived in town Sunday for a Metallica concert but later forgot where he’d parked his car.

He knew only that it was somewhere within an $8 cab ride of the Rogers Centre, and that a smattering of ambiguous landmarks may have been nearby.

His father, Eric, posted an ad on Craigslist asking for the city’s help to find the lost car for his “doofy son” and offering a $100 reward. It was the second time Gavin had lost his car after a concert, and he spent hours wandering around different parking garages looking for it before going back home on a bus.

On Thursday evening, with great fanfare and hordes of cameras, Gavin was reunited with the vehicle right where he left it — in an electric car station of the TD Bank Tower on Wellington St. W., with his wheels cocked slightly to the right.

“How did I walk past this?” he asked himself, chuckling as he looked at his car. A blue backpack and a blanket were still perched on the back seat, and Gavin clutched a TTC map in his hand while he chatted with reporters about the solo trek gone wrong.

Next time, Gavin thinks it may be a good idea to bring someone else — and let them drive.

It was Madison Riddolls, 26, who eventually found the car early Thursday morning after she and her boyfriend, Liam Imlack Walker, decided to play detective.

Riddolls and Imlack Walker were debating calling it an early night until they saw the family’s Craigslist lost car ad. “We were really confident in ourselves,” Riddolls said.

The pair started trying to identify the “spiral statue” Strickland remembered seeing near the parking garage and sent a few photos to the family. When that didn’t pan out, they switched tracks, trying to figure out which Starbucks was potentially nearby and within the radius of that $8 cab ride.

“I think we watch too much Criminal Minds,” Riddolls said.

Their search started in the Distillery District and took them eventually to the financial district — running in, around, and out of numerous parking garages.

“The security footage is probably crazy,” Riddolls said.

Finally, at midnight, the weary couple decided to try one more garage. And there it was.

Impark, in response to the saga, is gifting Gavin a Tile Mate Bluetooth tracker — to help make sure he never loses his car again. As well, they’ll be charging him only for the parking fees he would have incurred Sunday, said Michael Giles, the company’s director of account management.

Gavin’s father is relieved to know the car is coming home.

“I paid for the thing, spent $10,000 on it about a year and a half ago so I’m glad I found it, yeah,” he said.

Riddolls will be receiving a $100 reward and Eric Strickland has said he’ll donate to a charity of her choice.

Gavin’s Nissan Versa Sedan is somewhat of an international affair, with a Canadian flag affixed to the left, a “don’t blame me, I voted for Bernie” sticker on the right, Toronto Maple Leafs licence plate frames, New York seat covers, and, on the bumper, an adhesive ad for the best auto deals in Melbourne.

He’s also a Jays fan, he added on Thursday. As for Toronto, it has firmly pressed its way into his heart after this week’s debacle.

“I think it’s just a great city, it’s got a lot of people that care,” he said — though becoming somewhat of a local celebrity for 48 hours was unexpected.

“All of a sudden, my Facebook starts getting blown up, Twitter, everything. And I was like, ‘Oh my god, what’s going on here?’ ”

He laughed describing the jokes people had made about the movie Dude, Where’s My Car?, saying he called a friend after realizing he’d lost the vehicle and made the same kind of crack.

With files from Alexandra Jones

Sean Spicer resigns over Trump’s choice for a new communications director

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 12:05:38 EDT

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

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

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

Spicer’s daily press briefings had become must-see television until recent weeks when he took on a more behind-the-scenes role. Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has largely taken over the briefings, turning them into an off-camera event.

Spicer spent several years leading communications at the Republican National Committee before helping Trump’s campaign in the general election. He is close to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, the former RNC chair, and several of the lower-ranking aides in the White House communications shop.

Scaramucci is expected to play a visible role as one of Trump’s defenders on television. But Spicer and other officials questioned his hiring as communications director ahead of the president’s push to overhaul the tax system and other policy issues. One of the officials said Spicer objected to Trump’s vision for the future of the press operation.

Spicer’s tenure got off to a rocky start. On Trump’s first full day in office, Spicer lambasted journalists over coverage of the crowd size at the inauguration and stormed out of the briefing room without answering questions.

His fiery demeanour and tense on-camera exchanges were mocked on Saturday Night Live, with the role of Spicer being played by actress Melissa McCarthy.

Scaramucci, 53, a campaign fundraiser for Trump and regular adviser during the presidential transition, has been mentioned for multiple jobs in the administration, most recently as ambassador to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. He’s also been considered as head of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

He agreed in January to sell his approximately 45 per cent stake in SkyBridge Capital.

With files from The Associated Press and Bloomberg

Six Burundi teens who went missing from robotics competition may be seeking asylum

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 08:23:41 EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toronto housing market's downturn may have an upside

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 11:23:34 EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toronto area mid-July home sales


Decline in Toronto real estate transactions year over year


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


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


Region-wide price increase for condos.

Source: Toronto Real Estate Board

Canadian accused of masterminding AlphaBay, world’s leading ‘darknet’ site, found dead in a Thai jail

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 10:30:29 EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 TTC workers charged in alleged multi-million-dollar insurance scam

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 16:50:41 EDT

Ten current and former TTC employees are facing criminal charges in connection with an alleged multi-million-dollar insurance scam.

The police and the TTC announced the charges Thursday afternoon, as part of an ongoing probe into false health benefit claims at the transit agency.

According to the TTC, to date 150 employees have either been fired, or retired or resigned in order to avoid dismissal as a result of the investigation, which began in 2014 when the transit agency received a tip through its integrity line.

These are the first charges against transit employees to result from the probe. Of the 10 people charged, nine have already left the TTC. One is still employed at the agency but is on medical leave. The suspects range in age from 32 to 58, and each face one count of fraud over $5,000.

“It’s incredibly serious,” said TTC spokesperson Brad Ross. “This is public money and people will be held to account. We want to bring an end to this.”

Ross said it will be up to the police whether more TTC employees are charged, but he expects the transit agency will fire more workers as the investigation continues.

A police spokesperson said at this point the force doesn’t anticipate laying any more charges.

The allegations centre around Healthy Fit, a local orthotics store. Police allege that the owner and an employee at the company “counselled and conspired” with TTC workers who submitted more than $5 million in claims to Manulife, the TTC’s insurance provider. Healthy Fit allegedly “provided some or no products that were invoiced” and shared the insurance payments with the TTC workers.

The police allege that Healthy Fit ran a similar scam with city of Toronto employees, involving claims worth about $96,000.

Adam Smith, 46, the owner of Healthy Fit, and Savatah Nget, 32, the store employee, are both facing charges of fraud over $5,000 and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence. Smith is also charged with laundering the proceeds of a crime.

The TTC believes that the alleged benefits scheme dates back to at least 2012 and continued for years. Healthy Fit was delisted as a health provider in 2015 when its owner was first charged.

Ross said ideally the agency would have detected the alleged offences sooner but he said the TTC has been “very open and transparent with the public on this and we will continue to be.”

The TTC has insurance to protect it from fraud but Ross said the agency will still seek “restitution” from any employee who made a false claim.

In an email sent to TTC employees Thursday afternoon, agency CEO Andy Byford said he would “not allow a few to ruin our collective, well-earned reputation.”

“The vast majority of you, I know, would never dream of defrauding our benefits plan, putting it at risk for the rest of us. Hold your heads high as we root out the bad apples.”

The 10 TTC employees appeared at Old City Hall Court last week.

OPP charge Thunder Bay mayor, two others, with extortion

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 10:16:54 EDT

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

Two other Thunder Bay residents have also been charged.

Keith Hobbs, 65, and his wife Marisa Hobbs, 53, have been charged with one count of extortion and one count of obstructing justice. Mary Voss, 46, has been charged with extortion.

A news conference will happen Friday at Thunder Bay’s City Hall at 11 am.

On Thursday night, councillors were hastily called to City Hall for an emergency meeting. The charges against Hobbs then followed Friday morning.

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

In a statement the OPP said they will not provide further information at this time to protect the investigation and court process.

Mayor Keith Hobbs said in April that he will not seek re-election in Thunder Bay’s 2018 municipal election, CBC reported.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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