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Sexual harassment on Parliament Hill long ignored, women say

Maclean's | posted Wednesday, Mar 7th, 2018

On Parliament Hill it’s called the whisper network — a constant murmur of white noise that, until now, has been all too easy to tune out.

Women have long dealt with systemic sexism and harassment on the Hill by ignoring it, downplaying it and by privately venting to confidantes and warning other women to be careful around certain men on elevators, at receptions and after too many drinks.

In 2014 a 19-year-old volunteer for two Liberal MPs recalls a prominent staffer tried to kiss her and bite her ear as she was walking with him up the stairs in Centre Block during working hours.

In another incident, a young tour guide recalls a security officer making a lewd gesture as they rode in an elevator together.

This year, the Hill has been rocked by a number of high profile allegations involving MPs.

Maclean’s spoke with more than 30 women working in various capacities in politics across Canada — including three cabinet ministers and MPs from four parties — about their experiences of verbal and physical sexual harassment in the sector. They all agree that sexual harassment and violence in politics has gone unchecked for too long.

They recounted incidents that span inappropriate comments, like requesting women staffers to wear high heels, to sexual assault. Some are indisputably more heinous than others and, indeed, should not be conflated. But all of it stands to diminish women’s value in politics, and none of it belongs in a workplace purported to be the centre of Canada’s democracy.

Now, as swaths of society demand a cultural correction — a reckoning — parliament is having its own #MeToo moment. “This isn’t anything new,” Labour Minister Patty Hajdu said. “But this is a boiling point.” In November, Hajdu tabled anti-harassment legislation promising to crack down on what she called a crisis of sexual harassment and violence on the Hill. While a positive step, many argue it’s far from the transformation that’s needed.

Read the entire piece on Macleans.ca.

Reports indicate Toronto police interviewed McArthur years before arrest

The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Mar 7th, 2018

Multiple media outlets report that Toronto police had interviewed and released an alleged serial killer years before he was arrested.

The Toronto Star reports that Bruce McArthur was brought in for questioning in 2014, while The Globe and Mail reports that it happened in 2013.

Both newspapers cite anonymous sources and report that McArthur was released without charges.

The 66-year-old self-employed landscaper was arrested in January and now faces six charges of first-degree murder.

Many of his alleged victims were men who disappeared from Toronto’s gay village.

Police began investigating the disappearances in 2012, but the force has been criticized for dismissing the community’s concerns about a possible serial killer.

Toronto nightclub accused of racism for Stir Fry party

Nitish Bissonauth | posted Tuesday, Mar 6th, 2018

Wildflower, an upscale venue inside the Thompson Hotel, is facing social media backlash after hosting an event called Stir Fry.

Some are calling Sunday night’s bash offensive, culturally inappropriate, and even racist, after pictures of an employee surfaced wearing a conical hat and squinting his eyes.

“Really? In 2018? On Oscar night where we are celebrating diversity and inclusiveness? Wow,” said Andrew Shortt, a Creative Strategist and Partner with the firm Radical Quo.

The event Sunday was conceptualized and themed after the latest track from Atlanta-based rap group Migos, called Stir Fry.

And while Stir Fry is doing well for the group, the same can’t be said for Wildflower.

“It’s past cultural appropriation…It’s trying to be fun and have humour, but it’s so racially charged that in 2018, it’s a silly thing to do,” said Shortt.

We reached out to Wildflower for an interview. They wouldn’t appear on camera, but in an email statement, told CityNews:

“We demonstrated poor judgement and we certainly lacked sensitivity … The event was conceptualized and themed after a popular song and was executed without thinking carefully of the repercussions … On behalf of Wildflower, we are sorry and regret our actions.”

They’ve also posted and deleted several apologies on their Instagram account. The latest one, however, still doesn’t have people convinced, with hundred of negative comments pouring in.

One user writes, “Poor judgement? how bout no judgement shame on you.”

Another wrote: “Racism is alive and well in Toronto’s club scene.”

A representative from Wildflower says appropriate action will be taken with the individuals responsible.

Halton police warning residents about distraction thefts

BT Toronto | posted Tuesday, Mar 6th, 2018

Halton police are reminding residents to keep a close eye on their belongings, after a series of distraction thefts in Burlington and Oakville.

Investigators are looking into at least 47 reports of multiple criminal groups targeting women and seniors at various grocery and retail stores since last November.

In some cases, multiple offenders worked in teams to distract victims, bump their carts or ask for their assistance in a store or parking lot.

Surveillance video released by Halton police shows others waiting for the perfect opportunity to remove items from a victim’s purse or wallet while it’s on a shopping cart.

Investigators have been working with area Loss Prevention Officers to identify the persons responsible which resulted in them being positively identified.

Shoppers are being urged to be aware of their surroundings and on alert of these tactics. If possible, leave items like SIN cards, birth certificates and passports securely at home. If you become a victim, Halton police wants you to contact your financial service providers, cancel your cards and file a criminal report.

So far, one suspect was arrested and released on bail in connection to multiple thefts: 20-year-old Brenda Stojkova of Brampton is facing three counts of theft under $5000, unauthorized use of a credit card and fraud under $5000.

She is scheduled to appear inside a Milton courthouse on April 3.

March break planning: Travel advice and advisories

Dilshad Burman | posted Tuesday, Mar 6th, 2018

With just a week to go until March break, which comes off the heels of a brutal winter this year, heading off to sunny climes is likely on the agenda for many, but some popular destinations do involve risks, including safety and health concerns.

The recent case of a Richmond Hill man’s brutal robbery while on vacation in Mexico is a harrowing tale for travelers. Mexico is among the destinations where the government of Canada advises visitors to exercise “a high degree of caution” because there are “identifiable safety and security concerns or the safety and security situation could change with little notice.”

Here are the travel advisories issued for five popular March break destinations:


More than 2.1 million Canadians travel to Mexico each year, the vast majority of them without incident, but a high degree of caution is advised nonetheless.

According to the government of Canada’s travel advice and advisories, Mexico not only has high levels of criminal activity, but also protests and occasional illegal roadblocks across the country. All non-essential travel should be avoided across the northern and western states.

Recent security incidents include the detonation of an explosive device on a popular tourist ferry in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, in February. Twenty people, including tourists, were injured. Authorities found another explosive device on a ferry also operating out of Playa del Carmen on March 1. Travelers are advised to avoid tourist ferries in the region until further notice.

  • Theft ranging from pickpocketing and purse snatching to armed robbery is common.
  • Foreigners have been physically and sexually assaulted – in some cases by hotel employees or taxi drivers.
  • Mexico is also included on the Public Health Agency of Canada’s list of area’s where Zika virus is a concern. Travelers are advised to take special health precautions and women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid the area altogether.



The government of Canada’s travel advice and advisories suggests exercising a high degree of caution when travelling to the Bahamas, especially in Nassau and Freeport.

  • There has been an increase in robberies, home invasions and sexual assault targeting tourists in Freeport and Nassau.
  • Sexual assault occurs frequently, often near hotels, in hotel rooms, casinos, on the beach and on cruise ships.
  • Petty theft and purse snatching is common in tourist areas.



Normal security precautions are advised in Cuba, which means there are no increased or significant security concerns but travelers should still take everyday safety precautions.

  • Pickpocketing, purse snatching and assault can occur – usually in tourist areas, beaches and crowded markets.
  • Cuba is included in the Public Health Agency of Canada’s list of area’s where Zika virus is a concern. Travelers are asked to take special health precautions and women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid the area altogether.


Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic reportedly has a high crime rate and a high degree of caution is advised.

  • Petty crimes like pick-pocketing and bag-snatching are common across the country.
  • Theft occurs at hotels and resorts as well as at airports and on public transit. Rental cars are also a common target. Drive-by robberies where thieves snatch valuables while on motorcycles occur frequently.
  • Incidents of crime tend to rise during popular holiday seasons like Christmas, Carnival and Easter.
  • The Dominican Republic is on the Public Health Agency of Canada’s list of area’s where Zika virus is a concern. Travelers are asked to take special health precautions and women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid the area altogether.



Jamaica has a high level of violent crime and a high degree of caution is advised. A state of emergency was declared for St. James Parish which includes Montego Bay because of a marked increase in violent crime. Military forces have been brought in to stabilize the situation

  • In larger cities, particularly Kingston, Spanish Town and Montego Bay violent crimes like robbery and murder is a big concern, usually involving firearms.
  • Pickpocketing and bag-snatching are common in major tourist areas and there is a risk of credit card and ABM fraud in Jamaica.
  • Jamaica also features on the Public Health Agency of Canada’s list of area’s where Zika virus is a concern. Travelers  are asked to take special health precautions and women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid the area altogether

While listing them out in quick succession makes traveling to these countries seem daunting, travel expert Barry Choi says it’s important to keep things in perspective.

“These security concerns or incidents are usually very isolated,” he says. “It’s not something to avoid an entire country over, in my opinion.”

Choi says it’s important to keep some basic yet often forgotten tips in mind to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable trip:

Leaving your hotel

“Don’t just start walking down the street or hail a random cab off the street,” says Choi. Have your hotel book a cab or other type of safe transportation for you. The same applies for when you’re heading back to your hotel – ensure you book ahead and have a safe ride back.

Carrying money

“Never carry huge amounts of cash with you,” says Choi. Also be extra cautious when withdrawing money from an ABM and store any cash in your hotel safe. Choi also advises carrying only a single credit card with you and keep a back-up credit card in your hotel room in case your primary card gets lost.

Tours and excursions

Book excursions and tours of the city through your hotel. Avoid impromptu, unplanned trips or tours offered by unknown or unofficial guides. “I’m sure some of them are very safe, but at the same time you want to do your due diligence and make sure you’re getting a safe trip,” says Choi.

Travel Insurance

“If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel,” says Choi. Travel insurance is a small investment with a big pay off. Medical bills outside Canada can run into thousands of dollars, so it’s essential to cover that base.

Health concerns

“Think about local diseases and vaccinations,” says Choi. There are several different travel vaccinations and it’s important to protect yourself from diseases specific to the region. In addition, while the hysteria might have died down, Zika virus is still very much around and requires special attention.

Ontario to bring in ‘pay transparency’ bill aimed at closing wage gap

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press | posted Tuesday, Mar 6th, 2018

Ontario plans to introduce legislation Tuesday that aims to close the wage gap between women and men in the province.

If passed, the “pay transparency” bill would require all publicly advertised job postings to include a salary rate or range, bar employers from asking about past compensation and prohibit reprisal against employees who do discuss or disclose compensation.

It would also create a framework that would require large employers to track and report compensation gaps based on gender and other diversity characteristics, and disclose the information to the province.

The pay transparency measures will begin with the Ontario public service before applying to employers with more than 500 employees. It will later extend to those with more than 250 workers.

The government says it will spend up to $50 million over the next three years on the initiative.

Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne is expected to announce the legislation — called Then Now Next: Ontario’s Strategy for Women’s Economic Empowerment — during a Women’s Empowerment Summit at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

“We know that too many women still face systemic barriers to economic advancement,” Wynne said in a statement. “It’s time for change.”

According to the province, the gender wage gap has remained stagnant over the past 10 years, with women earning approximately 30 per cent less than men.

The government said it looked to other jurisdictions to create the basis of its legislation, including existing laws in Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Wynne has made the themes of fairness and opportunity key planks of her bid for re-election this spring, pitching policies like the province’s increase to minimum wage and expansion of drug coverage for people aged 25 and under as part of those efforts.

Contract staff begin strike at York University

BT Toronto | posted Monday, Mar 5th, 2018

Contract staff at York University in Toronto went on strike Monday at one minute past midnight.

Kevin Wilson with CUPE Local 3903 says there will be two events on Monday, a press conference at 9:30 a.m. at Queen’s Park to provide an update on the status of contact talks, to be followed by a rally at the university’s main entrance at 11:30 a.m.

On Friday the faculty members, teaching assistants, graduate assistants, research assistants and part-time librarians and archivists rejected what the university had said was its “best” offer. However, they did give the membership the authority to resume talks over the weekend in an attempt to avoid a walk-out.

There was no indication by late Sunday when negotiations might resume, however, the union said on its website that picket lines would be set up around the campus beginning Tuesday at 7:30 a.m.

Benefits, job security and summer-funding are some of the sticking points according to the union.

The university has said it will try to minimize the impact of any work stoppage on students, saying the school will be open and any classes not affected will continue as scheduled.

The school’s libraries, restaurants, administrative offices and other services plan to remain open.

However, several departments have called on the university’s Senate Executive to cancel all classes in the event of a strike, citing in part that not all students will continue to attend classes as well as past dangerous incidents on the picket line involving previous labour disputes at the university.

The last strike at the university back in 2015 lasted for 28 days.

Back in 2008-09, a strike at the university lasted 85 days, making it the longest strike in Canadian University history.

Canadian who admitted to plotting terrorist attacks asks for ‘second chance’

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Mar 5th, 2018

A Canadian who admitted to plotting a terrorist attack on New York City is pleading for “a second chance” in a letter submitted to the court ahead of his upcoming sentencing.

In the letter filed to a New York court on Friday, Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy of Mississauga, Ont., outlined his personal history with addiction and mental illness, and explained that he felt American airstrikes against the Middle East drove him to jihadism.

The 20-year-old wrote that he felt that Americans were trying to disrupt the lives of people in the Middle East with airstrikes and he thought “it was appropriate to use similar methods back until and unless they stop.”

The 24-page hand-written letter, addressed to the judge in his case and partially redacted, is part of a package his lawyers submitted ahead of his sentencing for multiple terrorism-related charges that he pleaded guilty to last year.

El Bahnasawy described his disenfranchisement with western society, including “so-called democracy and freedom.”

He said he chose to go to the U.S. to carry out the plan because Canada had recently stopped its airstrikes, “and it didn’t make sense to transgress back against them in such a way.”

Police secretly arrested El Bahnasawy, then 18, in what they said was a plot by Islamic State sympathizers to attack New York City concert venues, subway stations and Times Square. He was arrested after travelling from Canada to New Jersey in 2016. The records in his case were sealed for over a year as police tried to hunt down his accomplices.

Authorities announced the charges against him after two other suspects were arrested in Pakistan and the Philippines.

The Canadian didn’t discuss the specifics of the plot in the letter, instead focusing on why he decided to go to such extremes.

“My detailed reasons about this is in no way a justification for it, I merely am explaining my thought process at the time,” he wrote, adding that he no longer believes extremism is the answer.

“There are many issues in this world but I don’t want to lose my life or freedom to try fixing them, and I definitely do not want to resort to violence or harm to fix them. I sincerely apologize for my (behaviour) and I only ask for a second chance.”

El Bahnasawy also used the letter to outline his struggles with addiction and mental illness, including several trips into hospital psychiatric wards and rehab centres. He said he spent a month in a psych ward in Kuwait, and eight months in rehab in Egypt. Court records show he also spent time at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

“I want to experience life away from drugs and away from war and violence,” he wrote.

He wrote that he wondered where he would be if anyone who knew about his plans had encouraged him to find a more productive way to fight the injustice he saw in the world.

The young man’s lawyers, in a submission included in the package with the letter, requested the judge impose a sentence “no greater than necessary to comply with (the law).”

They suggested that his release might coincide with “the onset of Abdulrahman’s mid-twenties when his cognitive development will be complete.”

El Bahnasawy’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 9.

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