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Tory leadership hopefuls tackle minimum wage, carbon tax in first debate

The Canadian Press | posted Friday, Feb 16th, 2018

A Progressive Conservative government in Ontario would not implement a planned minimum wage increase next year, no matter who ends up winning the race to lead the party through the spring election.

In an hour-long debate Thursday, the four candidates vying for the top Tory post were united in their opposition to a key Liberal government promise to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2019.

The forum was the first chance for former Tory legislator Christine Elliott, lawyer Caroline Mulroney, former city councillor Doug Ford, and parental rights advocate Tanya Granic Allen to present themselves as the best choice to replace former leader Patrick Brown, who resigned last month amid sexual misconduct allegations.

The candidates provided few concrete details on their plans for the province but were clear about their intention to scrap the wage hike, saying the Liberal plan would hurt the province’s economy, particularly small businesses, which have complained about the January increase from $11.60 to $14 per hour.

Ford, the brother of notorious late Toronto mayor Rob Ford, called the wage hike a “tax grab” for Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals and said he would instead eliminate provincial income tax for those making minimum wage.

“That will benefit the companies, it will benefit the person leaving their office or their factory at the end of the day,” he said.

Mulroney, daughter of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, said she would increase the minimum wage by 25 cents over four years, while Elliott also said she would phase in a hike gradually.

“The minimum wage law is a classic example of the way the Liberals have been governing this province, making decisions that help them in the short term – in this case their electoral chances – and hurt the rest of us in the long term,” Caroline Mulroney said. “Small businesses are suffering. It was too much too soon.”

While all four candidates said they opposed a carbon tax to replace the Liberals’ current cap and trade, none of them offered specifics on how they planned to make up for the estimated $4 billion from the tax that was to fund a 22 per cent income tax cut and other key election promises in the party’s platform.

Instead, all four suggested savings could be found by cutting waste from the Liberal provincial budget.

“In a $141 billion dollar budget, do you think we can find two or three per cent (in savings)?” Ford said.

Mulroney said she would deliver her own fully costed plan if she’s elected leader.

“This government needs to learn to do more with less,” she said.

Elliott, who recently served as the province’s health ombudsman, pitched herself as the experienced candidate best positioned to win the spring election.

“I know Kathleen Wynne. I’ve debated against her before,” she said, noting later that with an election in less than 100 days, the party could not afford a “leader-in-training.”

Granic Allen, an outspoken critic of the Liberals’ updated sex-education curriculum, pulled no punches during the debate, attacking Brown as a “corrupt leader” who alienated grassroots members with social conservative views and “left the party in tatters.”

Brown’s abrupt resignation in late January threw the Progressive Conservatives into turmoil, prompting a hastily called leadership race that will see a new leader in place by March 10. Brown has vehemently denied the allegations and has vowed to clear his name.

Genevieve Tellier, a political science professor at the University of Ottawa, said Thursday’s debate didn’t bring any major revelations but confirmed that the candidates appear split into two camps.

Elliott and Mulroney have positioned themselves as more moderate, centrist options, and seem to be addressing voters across the province, while Ford and Granic Allen, who lean more to the right, appeal to grassroots members, she said.

The candidates stopped short of making any detailed policy commitments, noting they would wait for further consultations on key issues, making it difficult to know where they stand, Tellier said.

“They’re cautious, they really don’t know where to go, what to target,” she said. “They are all unclear.”

In the next, and last debate, set for the end of the month, “they will have to come up with some more precise policy actions that they want to take,” she said.

Police chief Mark Saunders facing non-confidence membership vote

BT Toronto | posted Friday, Feb 16th, 2018

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders is facing a non-confidence vote from the police membership.

The Toronto Police Association says it has begun an online electronic vote to determine if the membership has confidence in the Chief’s leadership.

Results of the vote won’t be known until February 22nd.

The Toronto Police Service refused to comment on the reported vote.

Police Association boss Mike McCormack told CityNews the vote was launched out of frustration.

“We have been talking to the mayor, to the chief, to the chair of the police service board for quite some time, trying to resolve this crisis in policing, this crisis in staffing,” said McCormack. “And again, we’re not against modernization but definitely the way that they are moving towards this, we believe it is an irresponsible way that is jeopardizing public safety, officer safety and the well being of our members.”

Saunders has come under fire from the police union over recommendations made in the transformational task force plan, which will see as many as 250 officers eliminated by the end of 2019.

The union commissioned a survey at the end of 2016 which revealed morale to be at an all-time low among front line police officers. Union head Mike McCormack has also warned public safety is at risk because of understaffing and a “mass exodus” of officers looking for jobs elsewhere. An agreement was reached last August to hire 80 new officers despite a hiring freeze.

McCormack says in the first six weeks of this year alone, 81 police officers have left the force.

“We have fewer officers answering radio calls, people are calling and they’re involved in domestic disputes, assaults, sexual assaults where they are waiting hours and hours for police officers to arrive. And our officers, the first words out of their mouths are, ‘Sorry it took us so long.’”

Last month, the union paid for a billboard above the Gardiner Expressway which blamed Mayor John Tory, Saunders and Police Services Board Chair Andrew Pringle for longer than normal wait times on 911 calls.

“They’re saying we’re going to fix this in 2019 or whatever? No, we’re saying we need it fixed now, our members have had enough and they want to have a voice,” said McCormack. “They’ve given us a mandate and they’ve said, we want the chief to know we’ve lost confidence in his leadership and he better fix it.”

Mayor John Tory says he has complete confidence in Saunders.

“I remain committed to the plan to modernize the Toronto Police Service and know the Chief is dedicated to addressing the concerns which always arise when significant change takes place,” Tory said in a statement released Thursday night.

“I strongly believe that continuing constructive discussion is far preferable to billboards and online votes as a way to address genuinely held concerns on the part of our police officers.”

Saunders has also come under fire of late for how the force has handled several high profile investigations, including the deaths of billionaire Apotex founder Barry Sherman and his wife Honey. Police leaked to the media that it was a suspected murder-suicide, angering the family. The conclusion has since been disproven.

Saunders was also criticized for being slow to investigate men that had gone missing from Toronto’s Gay Village and playing down reports of a serial killer. Investigators have since arrested one man and charged him with six counts of murder amid concerns there are more victims.

Police were criticized for their handling of the investigation in the death of Tess Richey. After initially saying foul play was not suspected an autopsy later confirmed her death to be a homicide. An internal investigation is underway to look into how officers handled the initial stages of the case.

Saunders was named chief of the Toronto Police Service in April 2015, succeeding Bill Blair, whose second five-year contract was not renewed.

It’s believed this is only the second time in the last 15 to 20 years that a non-confidence vote against the chief has been held.

Patrick Brown says he’s suing CTV

The Canadian Press | posted Friday, Feb 16th, 2018

Former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown says he is suing CTV News over its reporting of what he alleges are false accusations of sexual misconduct.

Brown says in a Facebook post that two unnamed women who made their allegations to CTV are lying, and that his lawyers are talking to the television network’s legal team.

It was not immediately clear if Brown has filed a statement of claim or other legal documents with a court.

Brown resigned as Ontario Tory leader hours after CTV’s report in late January in which the two women made sexual misconduct allegations that date back to the politician’s time as a federal MP.

Brown has vehemently denied the allegations, which have not been independently verified by the Canadian Press, saying there are discrepancies in the women’s stories and has accused CTV of dishonest reporting.

CTV has said it stands by its stories and did not immediately respond to request for comment on Brown’s statement about a lawsuit.

Canadian band Hedley say sexual misconduct claims are ‘unsubstantiated’

The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Feb 15th, 2018

Canadian rockers Hedley say recent allegations of sexual misconduct are “unsubstantiated.”

The band has posted a message on Facebook to address claims of sexual misconduct involving young fans that emerged on Twitter in recent days.

The Vancouver band’s statement says “there was a time, in the past” when they engaged in “a lifestyle that incorporated certain rock ‘n’ roll cliches.”

However, the group says “there was always a line that we would never cross.”

The group, fronted by Jacob Hoggard and including Dave Rosin, Tommy Mac and Jay Benison, is up for three awards at this year’s Junos and are scheduled to perform.

The statement says the band, which is currently on tour in Canada, “will be evaluating some of our next steps.”

“We appreciate the bravery of those who have come forward with their own stories, and we realize that all of us, as individuals and as a society, can and must do better when it comes to this issue,” reads the statement.

“However, if we are to have a meaningful, open and honest discussion, we all have to accept and respect that there are at least two sides to every story. The recent allegations against us posted on social media are simply unsubstantiated and have not been validated. We would hope that people will bear-in-mind the context in which these unsupported accusations have been made before passing judgment on us as individuals or as a band.”

Time for ‘rights-based approach’ to Indigenous affairs, PM Trudeau says

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Feb 15th, 2018

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is planning to overhaul the way the federal government relates to Indigenous Peoples, proposing a new legislative framework designed to pave the way towards stronger rights and greater control over their own destiny.

“We need to both recognize and implement Indigenous rights,” Trudeau said Wednesday in a speech in the House of Commons.

“Because the truth is, until we get this part right, we won’t have lasting success on the concrete outcomes that we know mean so much to people.”

The prime minister said the new approach, to be developed in partnership with First Nations, Metis and Inuit, is needed to tackle the many challenges facing their communities, including overcrowded housing, unsafe drinking water and high rates of suicide among Indigenous youth.

“All of these things demand real, positive action — action that must include the full recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights,” Trudeau said. “We need to get to a place where Indigenous Peoples in Canada are in control of their own destiny, making their own decisions about the future.”

The new Recognition and Implementation of Indigenous Rights Framework — to be unveiled later this year following consultations led by Carolyn Bennett, the minister for Crown-Indigenous relations, and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould — will include new legislation.

It will not, however, require re-opening the Constitution, where Section 35 already recognizes these rights, despite, Trudeau acknowledged, the initial reluctance of the Liberal government led by his father, Pierre Trudeau, to include them.

The problem, Trudeau said, is that federal governments have not been fully implementing those rights, forcing Indigenous Peoples to engage in long and costly battles to get the courts to enforce them — a reality the prime minister said has played a role in breaking the relationship time and again.

Many of the details have yet to be decided, but Bennett said one of the real-world implications of the framework will be an easier path to self-determination for individual or groups of First Nations, including by establishing control over a specific area such as education or child welfare.

Right now, there is no way for the federal government to facilitate that without relying on the Indian Act, which Bennett said enforces colonial structures and creates a daunting process that can take two decades of negotiations and millions of dollars to resolve.

“They have to be willing, ready and able to get out from under the Indian Act and we are trying to make that much more attractive,” Bennett told a news conference following the speech.

The consultations, which Trudeau said will also involve provinces, territories, the business community and other non-Indigenous Canadians, will include looking at finding more collaborative ways to resolve disputes.

Conservative MP Cathy McLeod, the critic for Indigenous affairs, responded to the speech by promoting the record of the previous government, saying it was former prime minister Stephen Harper who delivered the apology for the Indian residential schools system and established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine its legacy of abuse.

New Democrat MP Romeo Saganash, the critic for reconciliation who has been pushing for the government to fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, also sounded a warning.

“One of the most unacceptable things politicians can do is to eventually quash the hope of the most vulnerable in our society … by breaking yet another promise,” said Saganash, who began by speaking in the Cree language.

“That cannot happen. I will not let that happen again.”

Trudeau’s speech came as the family of Colten Boushie wrapped up their visit to Parliament Hill, where they said they have felt both welcomed and supported in their effort to press the federal government for change following the acquittal of the man charged in Boushie’s death.

Trudeau mentioned his meeting with the family in his speech.

“Through all their grief and anger and frustration, their focus was not on themselves and the tragedy they have endured, but on how we must work together to make the system and our institutions better,” Trudeau said.

“Reforms are needed to ensure that — among other things — Indigenous Peoples might once again have confidence in a system that has failed them all too often in the past.”

A number of visibly Indigenous people were excluded without cause from the jury that last week acquitted Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley, 56, in the shooting death of Boushie, 22, a member of the Red Pheasant First Nation.

The Liberals have long promised justice reforms, but are now promising to review the use of peremptory challenges, which allow lawyers to reject jury candidates during the selection process.

The Liberal government began signalling this new approach last summer, when Trudeau announced that Bennett, who had been in charge of the Indigenous Affairs Department since 2015, would be joined on the file by former health minister Jane Philpott.

Trudeau also said at the time that the Liberal government was taking steps to move beyond the Indian Act, which was passed in 1876 and has been widely criticized by Indigenous leaders _ and Trudeau, too _ as colonial and paternalistic.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission also recommended an entirely new way of viewing the relationship, including by calling for a “Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation” from the Crown.

Earlier Wednesday, Boushie’s cousin, Jade Tootoosis, told a news conference the family felt excluded and ignored by the justice system following the fatal 2016 shooting but their meetings on and around Parliament Hill this week have made them feel they are finally being heard.

“It’s those welcoming arms, it’s those open doors that’s not only impacted us as a family, but shown that leadership is serious about the issue and the experiences that we have felt,” Tootoosis said.

She said the family will continue working to root out what they describe as systemic racism plaguing the Canadian criminal justice system, and that education and open dialogue will help bring about unity.

“We will we back. We will be speaking out. This does not end here,” she said.

‘I just don’t think he deserved this:’ Friend of Bruce McArthur’s alleged victim speaks out

News Staff and The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Feb 15th, 2018

A man who knew of one of Bruce McArthur’s alleged victims said he’s been “numb” since learning about his friend’s apparent fate.

Jeffery Tunney was in a College Park court on Wednesday, as McArthur, 66, appeared via video. McArthur is facing five first-degree murder charges related to the disappearances of men who are all believed to have had ties to the LGBTQ community.

One of those men, Dean Lisowick, lived with Tunney for a couple of months in an apartment near Church and Wellesley streets.

“He paid his rent on time. He was good. He kept the apartment clean,” Tunney said.

“Everybody’s been going around saying that he’s homeless. I know he was a drug addict, but I just don’t think he deserved this.”

Lisowick, who police have said had no fixed address, drifted back and forth between shelters and Tunney’s home in the heart of Toronto’s gay village, before settling with Tunney for around two and a half months beginning in 2015, Tunney said.

Lisowick moved out after the pair had a disagreement over his drug use, Tunney said. But in spring 2016, Lisowick showed up outside Tunney’s home.

“He said he was going to be back and then he never came back, and nobody knew what happened,” Tunney said.

Lisowick, who was either 43 or 44 at the time of his death, was never reported missing.

Tunney said he assumed Lisowick had simply found a better place to live.

Lisowick worked part time as a cleaner in the local bar Statlers and also earned money as a sex worker, Tunney said.

Tunney and a friend had tried, unsuccessfully, to warn Lisowick away from the sex trade, he added.

“I was a little worried for his safety because he seemed to be a naive guy that just goes anywhere,” Tunney said.

Tunney said Lisowick has a daughter who is probably around 12 or 13.

Police have so far identified only one set of remains — those of Andrew Kinsman, another man McArthur is accused of killing — and have said they continue to analyze the others.

Last month, McArthur was charged with 49-year-old Kinsman’s death, as well as the presumed death of 44-year-old Selim Esen. Both men went missing from Toronto’s gay village in 2017.

Police laid three more first-degree murder charges against McArthur about two weeks later, related to the disappearances of Lisowick, Majeed Kayhan, 58, and Soroush Mahmudi, 50.

“I want to find out what was done with Dean and I’ve been getting the runaround,” Tunney said. “Nobody will tell me what [McArthur] did to him.”

At least 17 dead in ‘horrific’ Florida high school shooting

Terry Spencer and Kelli Kennedy, The Associated Press | posted Thursday, Feb 15th, 2018

A former student opened fire at a Florida high school Wednesday, killing at least 17 people and sending scores of students fleeing into the streets in the nation’s deadliest school shooting since a gunman attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

Frantic parents rushed to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to find SWAT team members and ambulances surrounding the campus as classes prepared to dismiss for the day. Live footage showed emergency workers who appeared to be treating the wounded on sidewalks.

“It is a horrific situation,” said Robert Runcie, superintendent of the school district in Parkland, about an hour’s drive north of Miami. “It is a horrible day for us.”

The 19-year-old suspect was taken into custody without a fight about an hour after he left the scene, authorities said.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said the suspect had at least one AR-15 rifle as well as multiple magazines.

“It’s catastrophic. There really are no words,” Israel said on Twitter.

Israel says the attack began outside the school Wednesday afternoon.

He told reporters that authorities subsequently found 12 people dead in the building and two more dead just outside the school and one more in a nearby street. Israel says two other people died later under medical treatment. .

The gunman was identified as Nikolas Cruz by a U.S. official briefed on the investigation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the information publicly.

Israel says investigators are dissecting the suspect’s social media posts and found material that is “very, very disturbing.” He didn’t elaborate.

Israel said the 19-year-old suspect had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for “disciplinary reasons.”

“I don’t know the specifics,” the sheriff said.

However, Victoria Olvera, a 17-year-old junior, said Cruz was expelled last school year after a fight with his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. She said Cruz had been abusive to his girlfriend.

“I think everyone had in their minds if anybody was going to do it, it was going to be him,” Olvera said.

School officials said Cruz was attending another school in Broward County after his expulsion.

Daniel Huerfano, a student who fled Wednesday’s attack, said he recognized Cruz from an Instagram photo in which Cruz posed with a gun in front of his face. Huerfano recalled Cruz as a shy student and remembered seeing him walking around with his lunch bag.

“He was that weird kid that you see … like a loner,” he added.

Dakota Mentcher, a 17-year-old junior, said he used to be close friends with Cruz but hadn’t seen him in more than a year following his expulsion from school.

“He started progressively getting a little more weird,” Mentcher said.

Mentcher recalled Cruz posting on Instagram about killing animals and said he had talked about doing target practice in his backyard with a pellet gun.

“He started going after one of my friends, threatening her, and I cut him off from there,” Mentcher said.

Runcie told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that he did not know of any threats posed by Cruz to the school.

“Typically you see in these situations that there potentially could have been signs out there,” Runcie said. “I would be speculating at this point if there were, but we didn’t have any warnings. There weren’t any phone calls or threats that we know of that were made.”

However, a teacher told The Miami Herald that Cruz may have been identified as a potential threat to other students. Jim Gard, a math teacher who said Cruz had been in his class last year, said he believes the school had sent out an email warning teachers that Cruz shouldn’t be allowed on campus with a backpack.

“There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus,” Gard said.

In a cul-de-sac near the school, Michael Nembhard was sitting in his garage when he saw a young man in a burgundy shirt walking down the street. In an instant, a police cruiser pulled up and officers jumped out with guns drawn.

“All I heard was ‘Get on the ground! Get on the ground!” Nembhard said. He said he could not see the suspect’s face, but that the man got on the ground without incident.

The day started normally at the school, which had a morning fire drill, and students were in class around 2:30 p.m. when another alarm sounded.

Noah Parness, a 17-year-old junior, said he and the other students calmly went outside to their fire-drill areas when he suddenly heard popping sounds.

“We saw a bunch of teachers running down the stairway, and then everybody shifted and broke into a sprint,” Parness said. “I hopped a fence.”

Beth Feingold said her daughter, Brittani, sent a text at 2:32 p.m. that said, “We’re on code red. I’m fine,” but sent another text shortly afterward saying, “Mom, I’m so scared.”

Brittani later was able to escape the school, which is one of the largest in the state, with about 3,000 students.

Inside the school, students heard loud bangs as the shooter fired. Many of them hid under desks or in closets and barricaded doors.

Television footage showed those students who fled leaving in a single-file line with their hands over their heads as officers urged them to evacuate quickly. Parents hurried to the scene.

Caesar Figueroa said when he got to the school to check on his 16-year-old daughter, he saw police officers drawing machine-guns as they approached the campus.

“My wife called me that there was an active shooter, and the school was on lockdown. I got on the road and saw helicopters. … It was crazy and my daughter wasn’t answering her phone.” She finally texted him that she was inside a closet with friends.

Len Murray’s 17-year-old son, a junior at the school, sent his parents a chilling text: “Mom and Dad, there have been shots fired on campus at school. There are police sirens outside. I’m in the auditorium and the doors are locked.”

A few minutes later, he texted again: “I’m fine.”

Murray said he raced to the school only to be stopped by authorities under a highway overpass within view of the school buildings. He said he told his son to save his battery and stop texting. The boy’s mother told him to turn off his ringer.

Authorities told parents to gather at a nearby hotel to get information.

“I’m scared for the other parents here. You can see the concern in everybody’s faces. Everybody is asking, ‘Have you heard from your child yet?”‘ Murray said.

Murray said he’s had just one thought running through his mind since he got his son’s text: “All I keep thinking about is when I dropped him off this morning. I usually say, ‘I love you,’ and I didn’t this morning. He’s 17, he’s at that age, and I didn’t say it this morning, and I’m just kicking myself right now over and over and over. Say it early and often, I’m telling you.”

Duhamel, Radford take bronze in Olympic pairs figure skating

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, Feb 15th, 2018

Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have won a bronze medal in pairs figure skating at the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The two-time world champions, who are competing in their final season, scored 153.33 points for their program to Adele’s “Hometown Glory,” and 230.15 total points.

Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, who started the day just 0.23 points behind the Canadians, won gold with 235.90 while reigning world champions Sui Wenging and Han Cong of China took silver with 235.47.

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, representing Russia, were second after Wednesday’s short program but fell to fourth place Thursday.

Duhamel and Radford were third after the short program, five-and-a-half points behind the leaders.

It is Canada’s 11th medal of the Games and second in figure skating.

Canada now has three gold, four silver and four bronze.

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