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Trump abruptly axes FBI’s Comey in midst of Russia probe

JULIE PACE AND ERIC TUCKER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, on March 20, 2017, before the House Intelligence Committee hearing on allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Scott Applewhite

President Donald Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey Tuesday, dramatically ousting the nation’s top law enforcement official in the midst of an FBI investigation into whether Trump’s campaign had ties to Russia’s meddling in the election that sent him to the White House.

In a letter to Comey, Trump said the firing was necessary to restore “public trust and confidence” in the FBI. Comey has come under intense scrutiny in recent months for his public comments on an investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s email practices, including a pair of letters he sent to Congress on the matter in the closing days of last year’s campaign.

Trump made no mention of Comey’s role in the Clinton investigation, which she has blamed in part for the election result. But in announcing the firing, the White House circulated a scathing memo, written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton probe, including the director’s decision to hold a news conference announcing its findings and releasing “derogatory information” about Clinton.

Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the bureau’s Trump-Russia probe, Rosenstein has been in charge.

This is only the second firing of an FBI director in history. President Bill Clinton dismissed William Sessions amid allegations of ethical lapses in 1993.

Comey was speaking to agents at the FBI’s field office in Los Angeles when the news of his firing flashed on TV screens, according to a law enforcement official who was there. Comey initially chuckled, then finished his speech, said the official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to discuss the situation publicly.

Comey later left on a plane to return to Washington.

Democrats slammed Trump’s action, comparing it to President Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” decision to fire the independent special prosecutor overseeing the Watergate investigation in 1973, which prompted the resignations of the Justice Department’s top two officials.

The Democrats expressed deep skepticism about the stated reasons for Tuesday’s firing, raising the prospect of a White House effort to stymie the investigations by the FBI and congressional panels.

“This is Nixonian,” Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., declared on Twitter. “Outrageous,” said Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, calling for Comey to immediately be summoned to testify to Congress about the status of the Trump-Russia investigation. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said the White House was “brazenly interfering” in the probe.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said Congress must form a special committee to investigate Russia’s interference in the election.

Trump will now appoint Comey’s successor. The White House said the search for a replacement was beginning immediately. Comey’s deputy, Andrew McCabe, takes over in the interim.

Trump has ridiculed the investigations as a “hoax” and has denied that his campaign was involved in Russia’s meddling. In his letter to Comey, he asserted that the FBI director had informed him “on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation.”

Tuesday’s stunning announcement came shortly after the FBI corrected aspects of Comey’s sworn testimony on Capitol Hill last week. Comey told lawmakers that Huma Abedin, a top aide to Hillary Clinton, had sent “hundreds and thousands” of emails to her husband’s laptop, including some with classified information.

On Tuesday, the FBI told the Senate Judiciary Committee that only “a small number” of the thousands of emails found on the laptop had been forwarded there while most had simply been backed up from electronic devices. Most of the email chains on the laptop containing classified information were not the result of forwarding, the FBI said.

Some lawmakers did welcome news of the dismissal.

“Given the recent controversies surrounding the director, I believe a fresh start will serve the FBI and the nation well,” said Republican Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, chairman of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee investigating the Russian campaign interference.

Comey, 56, was nominated by President Barack Obama for the FBI post in 2013 to a 10-year term, though that appointment does not ensure a director will serve the full term.

Praised frequently by both parties for his independence and integrity, Comey has spent three decades in law enforcement.

But his prominent role in the 2016 presidential campaign raised questions about his judgment and impartiality. Though the FBI did not recommend charges against Clinton for mishandling classified information, Comey was blisteringly critical of her decision to use a personal email account and private internet server during her four years as secretary of state.

Comey strongly defended his decisions during the hearing last week. He said he was “mildly nauseous” at the thought of having swayed the election but also said he would do the same again.

Clinton has partially blamed her loss on Comey’s disclosure to Congress less than two weeks before Election Day that the email investigation would be revisited. Comey later said the FBI, again, had found no reason to bring any charges.

Trump disagreed with Clinton’s assessment, tweeting that Comey actually “was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds!”

Clinton’s advisers were stunned by Trump’s decision Tuesday. Former campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said that while he believed Comey had “inflicted severe damage” on the FBI, “the timing and manner of this firing suggest that it is the product of Donald Trump feeling the heat on the ongoing Russia investigation and not a well thought out response to the inappropriate handling of the Clinton investigation.”

Though Comey was well-liked within the bureau, his independent streak occasionally rankled the Obama administration, including his repeated contention that a spike in violent crime might be linked to police officer anxiety over public scrutiny.

Before the past months’ controversies, Comey, a former deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, was perhaps best known for a remarkable 2004 standoff with top officials over a federal domestic surveillance program.

In March of that year, Comey rushed to the hospital bed of Attorney General John Ashcroft to physically stop White House officials in their bid to get his ailing boss to reauthorize a secret no-warrant wiretapping program.

Comey described the incident in 2007 testimony to Congress, explaining that he believed the spy program put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks was legally questionable.

When he learned that Andrew Card, the president’s chief of staff, and Alberto Gonzales, the White House counsel, were heading to Ashcroft’s hospital room despite Ashcroft’s wife’s instructions that there be no visitors, Comey told Congress, Comey beat them there and watched as Ashcroft turned them away.

“That night was probably the most difficult night of my professional life,” Comey said.

AP writers Darlene Superville, Ken Thomas, Vivian Salama, Catherine Lucey and Sadie Gurman in Washington and Michael Balsamo in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Ottawa will pay for military support during Quebec, Ontario flooding: Trudeau

The Canadian Press | posted Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

Members of the Canadian army walk along a flooded street in the Montreal borough of Pierrefonds, Sunday, May 7, 2017, following flooding in the region. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed the federal government will pay for the military-related costs after floods hit Ontario and Quebec.

“When Canadians are facing natural disasters or serious issues, we pull together, that’s who we are,” Trudeau said in Ottawa.

“Quebec and Ontario asked for military support and we’re happy to give it and of course the federal government will assume all the costs related to support for Quebec and Ontario in these floods.”

 


Related stories:

Body of man missing in Quebec floods found; child still missing
Many insurance policies don’t cover flooding, and homeowners could be on hook
Montreal declares state of emergency due to flooding


Flood levels are gradually dropping in Quebec, particularly in the western part of the province, Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said Tuesday.

But Coiteux said Quebecers must be realistic and realize things will not return to normal for sometime.

“We have to be patient,” he told a news conference. “The situation won’t improve overnight. It will happen on a very gradual basis. We have major flooding in several areas and, gradually, the floods will become average and then minor.

“We are headed toward a drop in the water levels which will be complete only at the end of the month. We don’t control the weather, so it’s conditional on that. But we’re headed toward improvement.”

So far, the heavy rains and melting snowpack across Quebec have flooded 2,733 residences in Quebec, forcing the evacuation of 1,940 people in 171 municipalities.

The floods have claimed at least one life in the province – Mike Gagnon, 37, whose car ended up in a surging river in the eastern Gaspe region.

Authorities were still searching for a two-year-old girl who disappeared in the same incident.

About 1,650 soldiers are helping municipal and provincial officials in Quebec.

Premier Philippe Couillard, who attended the Montreal news conference, said he understands the frustration many people are feeling.

“First, I want to tell people affected by the floods…that it’s very, very terrible,” he said. “I can understand the anxiety, the angst people feel right now. I would feel the same, even some anger, if it were my home being affected the way I’ve seen certain homes being affected.”

Couillard also reiterated his call for Quebecers to donate money to help flood victims.

The provincial government is contributing $500,000 to the Canadian Red Cross fund and the City of Montreal is intending to kick in $250,000.

The premier said he donated money on Tuesday morning.

Quebec’s national assembly will not sit Tuesday, allowing members to stay in their respective ridings an extra day, while Montreal’s agglomeration council was to vote to extend the state of emergency in the area by five days.

Beer, cider arriving in more Ontario grocery stores by Canada Day

CityNews | posted Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

loblaws-beer

Beer and cider will be coming to more grocery stores in Ontario, just in time for Canada Day festivities.

On Tuesday, the province announced the location of the 76 grocery stores will start selling the beverages on June 30, bringing the total to 206.

Some of the new locations include stores under the Fortinos, Loblaws, Longo’s, Metro, Sobeys and Walmart Supercentre umbrellas. Click here for a list.

The expanded sales began in December 2015, and currently 130 stores sell beer and cider – with 70 of those also selling wine. Click here for a list of the grocery stores that sell beer, cider and wine.

Beer and cider will eventually be sold in up to 450 grocery stores in Ontario, and wine will be in up to 300 of those stores.

Grocery stores are allowed to sell beer in tall boy cans and six-packs, with Liquor Control Board of Ontario stores selling six- and 12-packs of beer, but the foreign-owned Beer Store retains exclusive rights to sell cases of 24.


Related stories:

Beer, cider to be sold in 80 more grocery stores in Ontario this summer

From banking to booze: Ontario gets its first ombudsman for beer

Wine now available in select Ontario grocery stores

Ontario allows grocers that sell beer to add craft cider to store shelves

Why we should be encouraging kids to talk about 13 Reasons Why

RACHEL GIESE | posted Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

PHOTO: BETH DUBBER/NETFLIX

Anyone who’s ever met preteens and teenagers knows that the quickest way to get them to do something is to tell them not to do it. Which is why cautions against the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why issued by some Canadian schools are so very misguided.

The Hamilton Wentworth District School Board has recommended that its staff not use the show as a teaching aid because of its “glamorization of suicidal behaviour and [depicting] negative portrayals of helping professionals.” And the principal at St. Vincent Elementary School in Edmonton recently sent home a letter telling parents that kids aren’t even allowed to mention the series on school property. (In New Zealand, the national ratings board has said that kids under 18 must watch with adult supervision.)

The series, which has the slick look of a teen soap, tells the story of a 17-year-old girl who kills herself and leaves behind 13 cassette recordings for people who she says drove her to take her own life. There is a graphic scene of her suicide, as well as scenes of rape.

13 Reasons Why has been available on Netflix for over a month. The company doesn’t release viewership numbers, so it’s not known how many kids have actually watched the show, but it has been the subject of more than 11 million tweets since its March 30 launch — the most tweeted about show of 2017 so far.

It’s futile to rail against the series, or ban it, or silence talk about it, or hope it will just go away. At this point, the most pressing question isn’t whether the series romanticizes suicide, or whether it may create a contagion among vulnerable kids, or whether schools should forbid students from discussing a TV show (though those are all important questions).

Rather the question should be this: Why are we so bad at talking to kids about subjects like sexual assault, trauma, mental illness and suicide in the first place?

None of these issues are new or unfamiliar, after all. There is an epidemic of suicidal behaviour among indigenous children in remote Canadian communities. Less than five years ago, Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd took their own lives after being sexually assaulted and harassed online. In 2011, Jamie Hubley, a gay 15-year-old in Ottawa, killed himself following years of relentless bullying.

Many, many teenagers know about these deaths; they’ve been covered widely in the news. And many, many teenagers are directly suffering themselves. The Canadian Institute for Health Information reports that between 2006 and 2016, emergency department visits by young people looking for help for substance abuse or a mental health issue went up 63 percent and hospitalizations by 67 percent. The rates of youth suicide in Canada are the third highest among industrialized nations. And about 70 percent of adults with mental health issues say they first experienced problems when they were kids.

Despite these stats, there’s not nearly enough support or treatment for children and teenagers with mental illnesses. In cities like Toronto, children can wait for several months to see a psychologist, psychiatrist or therapist. In smaller centres, it can take years. Shrinking budgets at school boards have meant that experts who could best identify signs of mental health troubles, people like school nurses and social workers and guidance counselors, have been either eliminated or stretched too thin.

Left to their own devices, parents often struggle to address heavy issues. One reason for that is the generalized stigma about mental illness, and parental fear and denial — how do you deal with the knowledge that your child has psychological troubles? And when these troubles hit, particularly if they relate to sex or drugs or alcohol, teenagers might not feel safe going to their parents or teachers for fear of judgment or punishment.

Even when kids do reach out, it’s not always easy for parents to distinguish what’s typical and what’s the sign of a serious problem. Set against the already tumultuous emotional sea of adolescence, their struggles can read as teenage moodiness — something they’ll grow out of. A few years back, gay activist and writer Dan Savage launched his It Gets Bettercampaign. That message is well-intentioned but the promise of a happier future doesn’t mean much to a kid who is desperate for help right now.

13 Reasons Why might spark awareness among some kids and it might be no good to others. But its popularity — and the accompanying flood of Twitter commentary — makes it clear that kids want to talk about mental health and suicide. Are we ready to listen?

PHOTO: BETH DUBBER/NETFLIX

Commuters can now buy PRESTO cards at 10 Shoppers locations

NEWS STAFF | posted Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

IMG_0221
Transportation minister Steven Del Duca announces that PRESTO cards will be sold at 10 Toronto Shoppers Drug Mart locations, May 8, 2017. CITYNEWS/Adrian Golombek

Starting Monday, PRESTO users in Toronto can buy or top-up their cards at 10 select Shoppers Drug Mart stores across the city.

Transportation minister Steven Del Duca made the formal announcement at King Street West and Strachan Avenue.

“Today’s announcement compliments our government’s plan to get you and your family to places faster, easier and on a more reliable transportation network,” he explained.

Del Duca said the move is a way the province and Metrolinx are transforming transit for commuters.

“By collaborating with companies like Shoppers Drug Mart will help make the commute easier. We all know that when you commute, literally every second counts,” he said. “Being able to load your PRESTO card while picking up a tube of toothpaste … makes everything just a little bit simpler.”

As well, customers will be able to load and set discounts for children, elementary and high school students and seniors on their PRESTO cards at these Shoppers locations.

The number of locations will increase throughout the year.

For an up-to-date list of all PRESTO retail outlets, click here.

There are more than 2.7-million presto cards currently in use across 11 transit systems in the greater Toronto and Hamilton area, as well as Ottawa.

Mayor John Tory supports Pride Toronto funding

NEWS STAFF | posted Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

tory supportive of pride funding

Amid sometimes contentious debate among Pride Toronto officials, members of Black Lives Matter, the Toronto Police union, and other Pride participants, Mayor John Tory has come out in favour of continued funding.

“I will support maintaining our full funding for Pride 2017. Pride is an important city event, and one that must reflect the diversity and vibrancy of our city,” Tory said in a statement on Monday.

His support comes with some conditions, including the return of police to the 2018 Pride parade. Tory’s statement comes the day after Pride executive director Olivia Nuamah further clarified their position when it comes to police officers marching in this year’s parade.

Nuamah said police are not banned from the event, adding LGBTQ+ officers and their allies can participate provided they don’t bring their “uniform, weapons or vehicles.”

“We welcome and encourage their participation to add to Pride this year as members of our community,” read the brief statement. “LGBTQ+ police officers and their allies can march in the parade with community groups, with the City of Toronto, or even create their own group.”

Tory said that as long as Nuamah and Toronto Police chief Mark Saunders continue “constructive” talks, he will support Pride funding.

“…both have indicated to me that a withdrawal of City funding for Pride 2017 won’t be helpful in finding a resolution. Both have asked for time to conduct those discussions and both have indicated that their goal is to work towards inclusion of the police at Pride next year,” he said.

Pride Toronto officials said Sunday that police have been involved in the festival planning to ensure the event and weekend are “secure and successful.”

Last month, the union representing Toronto’s police officers delivered a letter on behalf of a committee representing LGBTQ+ officers in the force asking Mayor John Tory to cut the $260,000 grant for the parade.

The committee said officers would feel completely devalued and unsupported by the city if the funding continued.

“When any city employee, regardless of their job function, is dis-invited from an event hosted in the city of Toronto, we feel it is simply a conflict of interest and unacceptable that the City of Toronto remain a sponsor,” the letter read in part.

“We can think of no example in Canada where either a public or private employer has been a lead sponsor for an event their employees were asked not to participate in.”

Nuamah plans to appear before the Economic Development Committee on Monday to talk about continued city funding of the Pride parade.

In January, Pride Toronto adopted a list of demands issued by the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter, including banning police floats from the parade.

Members of the anti-racism group held a sit-in part way through the parade last July, stopping it from moving forward for about a half hour, until Pride organizers signed the list of demands.

Black Lives Matter said it opposed police presence in the parade because it could discourage marginalized communities from participating.

Driver arrested for impaired after Gardiner crash

NEWS STAFF | posted Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

CTCN_GARDINER_WRONG_WAY_WEB_PHOTO_2017May09-00000001

Emergency crews at the scene after a single-vehicle crash on the westbound Gardiner Expressway on May 9, 2017. MTO CAMERA

A woman is facing impaired driving charges after an early-morning crash on the Gardiner Expressway.

Toronto police say the driver was travelling westbound around 1 a.m. on Tuesday when she struck a guardrail and spun around, causing her vehicle to face east.

She was attempting to turn around when police arrived.

The driver was arrested. Police say she faces charges of impaired driving by alcohol and drugs.

No injuries were reported.

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