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Georges St-Pierre set to end glittering mixed martial arts career

NEIL DAVIDSON, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Feb 21st, 2019

Georges St-Pierre’s fighting days are over. For good this time, it seems.

The 37-year-old mixed martial arts star from St-Isidore, Que., will make it official at a news conference Thursday at Montreal’s Bell Centre, according to a source.

It is a reluctant departure, in part. St-Pierre wanted a high-profile fight with UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. But it appears the UFC has other plans for the unbeaten Russian.

Nurmagomedov, via social media, responded to news of GSP’s imminent retirement by offering a fight in November.

“After this fight you can retire. I grow up on your fights, and have nothing but respect for you … it would be honor for me to share Octagon with one of the greatest fighters of all time,” he wrote.

The UFC not Nurmagomedov makes the fights, however.

St-Pierre, a two-division champion, leaves with a record of 26-2-0 and a 13-fight winning streak. His success inside the cage, fuelled by hours of meticulous preparation, put MMA on the map in Canada and helped fuel the UFC’s worldwide expansion.

While he has fought just once since stepping away from the sport in late 2013 after nine straight welterweight title defences, St-Pierre made headlines in November 2017 when he dethroned middleweight champion Michael (The Count) Bisping in his comeback bout at UFC 217.

St-Pierre gave up the 185-pound crown a month later, citing health issues (ulcerative colitis). Despite that limited activity, he still stands eighth in the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings.

During his career, St-Pierre survived knee surgeries and other injuries as well as accusations from men he beat that he cheated (steroids, according to Nick Diaz, and greasing up with Vaseline according to B.J. Penn). UFC president Dana White questioned his mental strength after he lost his first title defence.

Through it all, St-Pierre kept retooling and winning.

In recent years, he toured the world while keeping an eye out for high-profile fights. Once the UFC’s poster boy, he grew at odds with the organization over drug-testing (he wanted more), sponsorship, pay and other issues.

At his best, the fighter known as GSP was like a combat sports Bill Belichick. He specialized in taking away his opponent’s advantages.

It made for methodical, if not always pretty wins. Of his nine welterweight title defences, eight were by decision.

At UFC 87 in August 2008, St-Pierre was successful on seven of nine takedown attempts against Jon Fitch, an accomplished former Purdue wrestler.

Fitch came into the fight having won his last 15 bouts. But after 25 minutes with St-Pierre, Fitch looked like he had been in a car wreck — both eyes blackened, his left almost swollen shut. There were stitches above and below his left eye and below his right.

St-Pierre dominated Penn, then the lightweight title-holder, in a champion-versus-champion showdown at UFC 94 in January 2009.

“We wanted to discourage him and then drown him in the later rounds,” explained Montreal trainer Firas Zahabi, who headed up a GSP coaching staff that would rival that of a CFL team in numbers.

The strategy worked to perfection. St. Pierre took Penn out of his comfort zone and laid a beating on him, landing 92 significant strikes to Penn’s 16.

Referee Herb Dean, on the advice of doctors and with the agreement of the Penn corner, stopped the bout after four rounds. A battered, bloodied Penn headed to hospital while St-Pierre celebrated.

St-Pierre won the 170-pound title at UFC 65 in Sacramento in November 2006, stopping Hall of Famer Matt Hughes in the second round. Two years earlier at UFC 50, the Canadian had been submitted by Hughes with one second remaining in the first round.

St-Pierre admitted later he was in awe fighting his idol.

Not so the second time. GSP nailed Hughes with a kick to the head and finished him off on the ground. The first thing St-Pierre did with the championship belt was give it to his mother, whom he hoisted on his shoulders in the cage.

St-Pierre, who joined Carlos Newton as the only Canadian to ever hold a UFC title, found himself a champion in a sport that was not permitted in Ontario and several other provinces at the time.

He helped legitimize MMA and, in April 2011, headlined UFC 129 at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, drawing a then-UFC-record crowd of 55,724 to see him decision Jake Shields.

There were bumps along the way. St-Pierre’s first reign as champion lasted less than five months as he lost his first title defence, discombobulated by a Matt (The Terror) Serra blow to the head in a shock upset at UFC 69 in April 2007.

St-Pierre’s training for the fight had been disastrous. His father was seriously ill and a cousin was in a coma after a car accident. There were other family issues. Injuries cut into his preparation.

As St-Pierre’s training goes, so do his fights. Both were a disaster. More than a loss, UFC 69 was a humiliation.

“It taught me what it takes to become world champion,” St-Pierre said at the time. “And when I lost to Matt Serra, it taught me what it takes to stay world champion. You know when you become world champion at 25 years old and everybody around you — the gym, everywhere — tell you how great you are and things like that, it makes you believe that you’re in a box that separates you from the other fighters. But this box, this line is an illusion.”

St-Pierre changed managers, training and put his career back on track.

On the advice of sports psychologist Brian Cain, he looked to rid himself of the mental albatross of his title defeat by scrawling Serra’s name onto a brick and hurling it into the icy waters off Montreal’s South Shore.

“Actually I thought it was kind of weird but I felt better after,” St-Pierre said.

He dominated Serra in winning back his title at UFC 83 in Montreal in April 2008. St-Pierre took Serra down four times and had a 42-3 edge in significant strikes before stopping him at 4:45 of the second round.

He has not lost since, although his split decision win over Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 in November 2013 was razor-thin. St-Pierre, whose battered face belied the decision, stepped away soon after.

Citing the pressures of being champion and of being in a constant limelight, St-Pierre said his life has become “completely insane” and a “freaking zoo.”

A gentleman outside the cage, St-Pierre rarely indulged in trash-talking. He felt his English would not do him justice and he did his talking inside the cage.

His clean image did wonders for a sport that allows its athletes to kick each other in the head and punch someone when they’re down.

His manners were for real.

In 2008, he missed an interview session with a visiting reporter who was left standing outside a Montreal gym. His manager at the time advised that St-Pierre had suffered a minor injury earlier in the day and had forgotten about his interview with the reporter.

The journalist told the manager not to worry, given they had already had a previously scheduled appointment for the next day. Nevertheless, St-Pierre drove to the gym to collect the reporter and took him for dinner to do the interview. Then he drove the reporter to his hotel, apologizing again.

While other fighters wore T-shirts and sweats, St-Pierre — taking a page from some champion boxers — always wore a suit for his post-fight news conferences.

His preparation for fights was legendary, incorporating everything from gymnastics to power-lifting. Just watching a GSP training session was exhausting as he did pull-ups with a 75-pound weight chained to his waist.

St-Pierre comes from humble beginnings on the South Shore. His father spent more than 60 hours a week on a floor-recovering business, installing carpet and ceramics. His mother nursed the elderly.

“We didn’t have a lot of money but I always ate my three meals a day,” St-Pierre recalled. “I grew up with the mentality that I had to work to get what I want.

“My parents already helped me financially but they never gave me something for free ? It’s probably the best gift they ever gave me. I grew up with that value.”

He took up karate as a kid but moved into mixed martial arts _ giving up hockey because his family couldn’t afford both — after being seduced by the sight of Royce Gracie in the early days of the UFC.

In his late teens, he went to school and trained in MMA. He also held down three jobs, working as a bouncer at the Fuzzy Brossard nightclub, working at a floor recovery store and working for the government teaching activities to delinquent kids. To this day, he remains proud that he earned his floor recovering certificate.

St-Pierre won his first fight as a pro in January 2002, defeating Ivan Menjivar. Four more wins and he was in the UFC.

Suspended Tory MPP says comments weren’t directed at parents of kids with autism

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Feb 21st, 2019

Premier Doug Ford suspended a member of his caucus Wednesday for comments made as parents of children with autism packed the legislature’s galleries, angry about funding changes they say are woefully inadequate.

Some of the parents said that Randy Hillier said “yada yada yada” to them near the end of question period, but Hillier said the remarks were directed at the NDP.

Nevertheless, Ford suspended Hillier indefinitely from the Tory caucus, saying his comments were disrespectful to parents of children with autism.

“Mr. Hillier’s comments crossed the line and that is unacceptable,” the premier said.

Hillier, for his part, said he was sorry if the comments meant for the NDP had upset the families.

“I apologize to the parents present who may have felt that my comments were directed at them,” he said. “They were not, and never would be.”

Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod announced autism funding changes this month that would see families get up to $20,000 per year for treatment for children under six and $5,000 a year for children six to 18, up to a lifetime maximum of $140,000.

But intensive therapy can cost up to $80,000 a year, and parents – some of whom watched question period Wednesday while wiping tears away – are calling for funding to be based on children’s individual needs, instead of just their age.

Nancy Silva-Khan is the mom to seven-year-old twin boys on the severe end of the autism spectrum. They are currently in 30 hours a week of publicly funded therapy at a cost of $120,000 for both children. When the new program takes effect in a few weeks she will get less than $10,000 per year to pay for their therapy.

“They have chosen to provide a grain of rice for a therapy famine experienced by the autism community,” Silva-Khan said.

Her boys have made great strides in therapy, she said, including learning to feed themselves with a spoon and undress themselves.

“They no longer hit me while bathing,” she said. “They have stopped violently banging their heads on the window of a vehicle whenever stopped at a red light. My boys can now scream ‘ma’ when they need me. Intensive (applied behaviour analysis) therapy works, regardless of age.”

Stephanie Ridley, mom to a seven-year-old boy who is non-verbal, said the amount of funding each family will get will not be enough for many children, using an analogy.

“Every kid in this province, (MacLeod) says, deserves a pair of glasses, and they just got them all with no lenses,” Ridley said. “Not every kid needs intensive therapy. We’re just asking for what each kid individually needs.”

MacLeod has said that her goal with the new program is to clear a backlog of 23,000 children waiting for treatment, saying it’s unfair that only about 8,400 are currently receiving funded therapy. She said that the flow of kids coming off the wait list had slowed to a trickle, leading her to believe that if she didn’t make changes, they would stay on that list forever.

But many of those on the list say they’d rather wait for full funding.

Only families with an adjusted annual net family income of under $55,000 will be eligible for the maximum annual amounts, with funding determined on a sliding scale up to a $250,000 income.

Parents, who are planning a protest at the legislature March 7, said they won’t back down in demanding changes.

“If they want to keep doing this, we’ll keep dancing,” said Kristen Ellison, mom to an eight-year-old in treatment for 25 hours a week. “We can’t do it every day, but there’s a parent behind us who will replace us when we have to fall back. I am not going away.”

Statement by Randy Hillier

As any observer of Question Period is aware, significant banter is exchanged between both sides of the Legislature. 

The banter during today’s Question Period escalated as the NDP Caucus continued to politicize the emotional challenges and hardships of the many families of autistic children who were present. 

I found the exploitation of these families by Members of the NDP Caucus disheartening.

I’m proud of the work my friend Minister Lisa MacLeod has done to clear the waiting list and provide funding for every child with autism. 

At the end of Question Period as Members were leaving their seats, Monique Taylor continued to politicize these hardships so I caught the eye of Ms. Taylor and simply said to her “Yada yada yada.”

In my twelve years in office I do not recall any Member heckling a spectator in the gallery and all banter is always between Members on the floor of the House.

I apologize to the parents present who may have felt that my comments were directed at them; they were not, and never would be.  

Randy Hillier

 

‘Empire’ actor charged with filing false police report

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Thursday, Feb 21st, 2019

“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was charged Wednesday with making a false police report when he said he was attacked in downtown Chicago by two men who hurled racist and anti-gay slurs and looped a rope around his neck, police said.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said prosecutors charged Smollett with felony disorderly conduct, an offence that could bring one to three years in prison and force the actor to pay for the cost of the investigation into his report of a Jan. 29 beating.

Authorities were trying to get in touch with Smollett’s attorneys to “negotiate a reasonable surrender,” Guglielmi said. That could involve Smollett turning himself in to a Chicago police station.

He said he did not have a time frame for how long the actor would be given.

“We are trying to be diplomatic and reasonable, and we’re hoping he does the same,” Guglielmi said.

The charges emerged on the same day that detectives and two brothers who were earlier deemed suspects testified before a grand jury. Smollett’s attorneys met with prosecutors and police, but it was unknown what they discussed or whether Smollett attended the meeting. The attorneys did not reply to requests for comment.

The announcement of the charges followed a flurry of activity in recent days, including lengthy interviews of the brothers by authorities, a search of their home and their release after police cleared them.

Investigators have not said what the brothers told detectives or what evidence detectives collected. But it became increasingly clear that serious questions had arisen about Smollett’s account _ something police signalled Friday when they announced a “significant shift in the trajectory” of the probe after the brothers were freed.

Smollett, who is black and gay and plays a gay character on the hit Fox television show, said he was attacked as he was walking home from a Subway sandwich shop. He said the masked men beat him, made derogatory comments and yelled “This is MAGA country” _ an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” _ before fleeing.

Earlier Wednesday, Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television issued a statement saying Smollett “continues to be a consummate professional on set” and that his character is not being written off the show. The series is shot in Chicago and follows a black family as they navigate the ups and downs of the record industry.

The studio’s statement followed reports that Smollett’s role was being slashed amid the police investigation.

Whispers about Smollett’s potential role in the attack started with reports that he had not fully co-operated with police and word that detectives in a city bristling with surveillance cameras could not find video of the attack.

Detectives did find and release images of two people they said they wanted to question and last week picked up the brothers at O’Hare Airport as they returned from Nigeria. Police questioned the men and searched their apartment.

The brothers, who were identified by their attorney as Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, were held for nearly 48 hours on suspicion of assaulting Smollett.

The day after they were released, police said the men provided information that had “shifted the trajectory of the investigation,” and detectives requested another interview with Smollett.

Police said one of the men had appeared on “Empire,” and Smollett’s attorneys said one of the men is the actor’s personal trainer, whom he hired to help get him physically ready for a music video. The actor released his debut album, “Sum of My Music,” last year.

Smollett was charged by prosecutors, not the grand jury. The police spokesman said the brothers appeared before the panel to “lock in their testimony.”

Speaking outside the courthouse where the grand jury met, the brothers’ attorney said the two men testified for about two and a half hours.

“There was a point where this story needed to be told, and they manned up and they said we’re going to correct this,” Gloria Schmidt said.

She said her clients did not care about a plea deal or immunity. “You don’t need immunity when you have the truth,” she said.

She also said her clients received money from Smollett, but she did not elaborate.

Smollett has been active in LBGTQ issues, and initial reports of the assault drew outrage and support for him on social media, including from Sen. Kamala Harris of California and TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.

Former Cook County prosecutor Andrew Weisberg said judges rarely throw defendants in prison for making false reports, opting instead to place them on probation, particularly if they have no prior criminal record.

Smollett has a record _ one that concerns giving false information to police when he was pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence. According to records, he was also charged with false impersonation and driving without a license. He later pleaded no contest to a reduced charge and took an alcohol education and treatment program.

Another prospective problem is the bill someone might receive after falsely reporting a crime that prompted a nearly monthlong investigation, including the collection and review of hundreds of hours of surveillance video.

The size of the tab is anyone’s guess, but given how much time the police have invested, the cost could be huge.

Weisberg recently represented a client who was charged with making a false report after surveillance video discredited her account of being robbed by three men at O’Hare Airport.

For an investigation that took only a single day, his client had to split restitution of $8,400, Weisberg said. In Smollett’s case, “I can imagine that this would be easily into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Also Wednesday, Chicago’s top prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, announced that she had recused herself from the investigation.

Her office explained that Foxx made the decision “out of an abundance of caution” because of conversations she had with one of Smollett’s family members just after the report. When the relative expressed concerns about the case, Foxx “facilitated a connection” between the family member and detectives, according to a statement.

Foxx said the case would be handled to her first assistant, Joseph Magats, a 28-year veteran prosecutor.

Brampton dad accused of murdering daughter dies in hospital

NEWS STAFF | posted Thursday, Feb 21st, 2019

The father of an 11-year-old girl who was the subject of an Amber Alert last week has died.

Roopesh Rajkumar had been in hospital since suffering a self-inflicted gunshot wound the night his daughter, Riya, was found dead in his Brampton home after she went missing on Valentine’s Day.

An Amber Alert was issued after Riya’s mother had gone to police after Rajkumar allegedly failed to return the girl on time after taking her out for her birthday. She told police that she had received concerning comments from Roopesh about harming himself and his daughter.

Rajkumar was arrested by Provincial Police in a high-risk takedown some 130 kilometres away in Oro-Medonte shortly after Riya’s body was found. Peel Regional Police say his injury wasn’t discovered until he was transferred into their custody. It wasn’t until he was brought to hospital that the gunshot wound was discovered.

The province’s Special Investigations Unit was contacted but declined to invoke their mandate.

The news of Rajkumar’s death comes on the same day his daughter was laid to rest.

About 100 mourners gathered Wednesday to listen to speeches, poems and songs as the community remembered the young girl.

“My daughter Riya was taken from me too early,” Priya Ramdin, who did not attend the vigil, said in a statement read by Peel police Deputy Chief Chris McCord.

“She never liked to be negative and always saw the good in every situation. If I’m ever upset, she would say ‘Mama, don’t be sad, look at the positives.”’

Ramdin described her daughter as her best friend and a social butterfly who loved to spend time with her family and friends.

“She was a little princess who loved dressing up, having her hair curled and done up,” Ramdin said.

“She touched a lot of lives with her laughter and contagious big smile. It breaks my heart to know I will no longer be seeing that smile, hearing her voice and never having her in my arms again.”

Payless to close 248 Canadian stores, saying it’s ‘ill-equipped’ for market

TARA DESCHAMPS, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Feb 20th, 2019

Mounting debts and a challenging retail market are forcing Payless ShoeSource Inc. to shutter all of its North American stores by May.

The Kansas-based discount footwear retailer said Tuesday that it will soon file for creditor protection in Canada, making way for liquidation sales at the 248 locations it owns in the country.

The move comes just after Payless filed for bankruptcy in the U.S. and after Ohio-based shoe brand DSW Inc. shut down its Town Shoes Ltd. brand and the 38 stores it had in the country, saying the “competitive landscape for mid-luxury, mall-based footwear has dramatically changed, comparable sales have deteriorated consistently and generated significant operating losses.”

Payless, which was founded in 1956 and previously filed for bankruptcy in 2017, has faced a similar market, revealed its chief restructuring officer Stephen Marotta in a press release, where he said the brand had tried to rejig its operations to no avail.

“The challenges facing retailers today are well documented, and unfortunately Payless emerged from its prior reorganization ill-equipped to survive in today’s retail environment,” said Marotta, who joined the company in January.

“The prior proceedings left the company with too much remaining debt, too large a store footprint and a yet-to-be realized systems and corporate overhead structure consolidation.”

Documents filed with the Ontario Superior Court on Tuesday show the company’s Canadian operations, which employ about 2,400 workers, had an oversupply of inventory as recently as this winter and was forced to sell merchandise at steep markdowns.

The documents said the company failed to pay February’s rent for 220 stores it owns in Canada and reported an operating loss of more than US$12 million last year.

Marotta said in the filings that the company has been unable to integrate its physical stores with a digital offering. Only 200 stores are equipped with such a service, he said, leaving Payless “unable to keep up with the shift in customer demand.”

As a result, he said Payless will begin closing its 2,500 North American stores at the end of March, though some will be open until the end of May while the company conducts liquidation sales.

Retail expert Brynn Winegard said Payless has long had issues because its business model was built around not always keeping inventory in every size for every shoe they sold but also because of the size of its real estate.

“Payless has had to decrease its footprint significantly, but they were over indexed in terms of how large and how much real estate they intended to maintain,” she said.

“Competitive pricing online is so much easier with lower overhead. The big discount and big box stores have margins that are razor thin finding it very hard to compete with online retailers.”

Payless, she said, also faced challenges from manufacturers increasingly circumventing traditional retailers by selling directly to consumers, often at lower costs.

Winegard suspects discount footwear sellers including Walmart Inc., manufacturers with large online presences and e-commerce brands like Amazon Inc. and Asian-based e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. will benefit from Payless’s demise.

Payless has 420 stores in Latin America, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and Saipan, and 370 international franchisee stores across the Middle East, India, Indonesia, Indochina, Philippines and Africa.

Netflix setting up production hub in Toronto

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Feb 20th, 2019

Netflix is setting up a dedicated production hub in Toronto, which film and T-V creators hope will provide new opportunities for local talent.

The California-based streaming giant is expanding its presence in Canada by leasing two studio spaces along the downtown industrial waterfront area.

At Cinespace Studios, Netflix is leasing four new sound stages — along with spaces for office and support work — totalling approximately 164-thousand square feet.

At Pinewood Toronto Studios, Netflix is also leasing four sound stages and adjacent office space totalling 84,580 square feet.

Netflix says the commitment will provide jobs for up to 1,850 Canadians per year, and that the leases are “multi-year” but didn’t specify for exactly how long.

Cinespace says its sound stages leased by Netflix are under construction and set to be operational this summer while Pinewood says Netflix will move a production onto one of its sound stages in the next couple of weeks.

Projects already set to be made at the hub include the horror anthology series “Guillermo del Toro Presents Ten After Midnight” and the film “Let It Snow.”

Doug Ford clashes with protesting students at Ontario legislature

SHAWN JEFFORDS, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Feb 20th, 2019

Doug Ford admonished protesting students for their “filthy” mouths on Tuesday after a group decrying cuts to post-secondary grants disrupted a session at Ontario’s legislature by shouting obscenities at the premier.

A handful of student protesters seated in the public gallery interrupted legislators by shouting chants of “free tuition” followed by profanity directed at the premier. Ford chastised the group and blamed the Opposition for influencing them.

“That’s how they train our kids, with a filthy mouth,” he said. “They should have their mouths washed out with soap. That’s what they should have, because that’s embarrassing.”

The clash comes weeks after the Progressive Conservative government announced that it is ending free tuition for low-income students as it attempts to trim a $13.5 billion deficit. Critics say the move — which is being made in conjunction with a 10 per cent tuition fee cut — is harmful to those it purports to help.

The government has said grants under the Ontario Student Assistance Plan had become unsustainable and it was time to refocus the program to provide help to students in the most financial need.

Under the Liberal OSAP program, families earning up to $175,000 could qualify for some funding and that threshold is now reduced to $140,000. Low-income students could qualify for grants large enough to cover the full cost of tuition under the previous plan, but now a portion of the funding they receive will be a loan.

The government also plans to make some fees paid by Ontario college and university students optional instead of mandatory, including those to student governments. Critics have slammed that move as an attack on free speech on campuses.

Students rallying outside the legislature Tuesday said the changes will increase student debt and limit access to higher education for many.

“We the students will defend access to education against these attacks,” said Nour Alideeb, chairwoman of the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario. “The government’s plans to slash OSAP … has devastated students and families across the country.”

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union joined the students in their call for a rollback of the planned changes.

Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Merrilee Fullerton said she respects the students’ right to protest on the grounds outside the building but criticized those who disrupted the legislative session earlier in the day.

“In the chamber, I think we need to demonstrate respect all different ways,” she said. “And make sure that people are heard and that they have an opportunity to protest outside if they wish but to maintain respect for the processes within the chamber.”

The protest comes a week after Ford accused student unions of getting up to “crazy Marxist nonsense” as he appealed for donations to his Progressive Conservative party in a fundraising email.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Ford should be more mindful of his own conduct in the house, chastising him for getting into a shouting match during the morning session with several NDP legislators.

“Mr. Ford doesn’t like to be held to account,” she said. “He thinks he’s the king of Ontario. Well, he’s not the king of Ontario. Whether you’re a student protesting outside or inside … people have a right to be here and to show their displeasure in terms of the government’s behaviour.”

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said students are upset with the changes for good reason.

“I think it’s fair,” he said. “(The government is) touting a 10 per cent cut which is actually just a reduction in resources to universities.”

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Funeral Wednesday for slain Mississauga girl after 100 mourners gather at vigil

NEWS STAFF AND THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Feb 20th, 2019

The family of an 11-year-old girl, allegedly killed by her father in his Brampton apartment, will say goodbye to their loved one Wednesday.

The funeral for Riya Rajkumar follows a vigil at Garden Square on Thursday night. Members of Brampton city council said they organized the candlelight memorial to give the city the chance to come together to mourn her death.

About 100 mourners gathered to listen to speeches, poems and songs as the community remembered the young girl.

“My daughter Riya was taken from me too early,” Priya Ramdin, who did not attend the vigil, said in a statement read by Peel police Deputy Chief Chris McCord.

“She never liked to be negative and always saw the good in every situation. If I’m ever upset, she would say ‘Mama, don’t be sad, look at the positives.”’

The day Riya died — Valentine’s Day — was also her and her mother’s birthdays.

“Early that day, we went to do our nails and her choice of colour was red,” Ramdin said.

“She was so excited for her birthday, looking forward to having dinner later that evening. Never did I think that my daughter would not return back to me.”

Riya became the subject of an Amber Alert late Thursday night after police say her mother allegedly received information that her father planned to hurt both the child and himself.

Police later broke down the door to her father’s home in Brampton, where Riya was found dead, less than an hour after the Amber Alert was issued.

Roopesh Rajkumar, 41, was arrested some 130 kilometres away and was hospitalized with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He has been charged with first-degree murder in her death. He remains in hospital.

“Riya was a dreamer,” her mother said.

“She wanted to become a doctor, drive a Lamborghini and one day own a mansion.”

Ramdin described her daughter as her best friend and a social butterfly who loved to spend time with her family and friends.

“She was a little princess who loved dressing up, having her hair curled and done up,” Ramdin said.

“She touched a lot of lives with her laughter and contagious big smile. It breaks my heart to know I will no longer be seeing that smile, hearing her voice and never having her in my arms again.”

Several politicians attended the vigil, including the mayor of Mississauga, Ont., where Riya lived with her mother and went to school.

“Let this tragedy serve as a stark reminder that as a society, we can and we must do better to protect our women and our young girls from violence because this is simply unacceptable,” Mayor Bonnie Crombie said.

“Rest in peace Riya.”

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