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Wilson-Raybould says she was pushed on SNC-Lavalin; Trudeau disagrees

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Feb 28th, 2019

Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says she came under “consistent and sustained” pressure — including veiled threats — from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office and the finance minister’s office to halt a criminal prosecution of Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

Testifying Wednesday to the House of Commons justice committee, Wilson-Raybould said she believes she was shuffled out of the justice portfolio because she refused to give in.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his senior staff, the clerk of the Privy Council and others repeatedly “hounded” her to end the prosecution, she said, and this went on for months after the director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, rejected the idea of negotiating a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin — and long after Wilson-Raybould unequivocally informed them she would not intervene to override Roussel’s decision.

Speaking to media in Montreal on Wednesday evening, Trudeau said he completely disagrees with Wilson-Raybould and says that he and staff always acted appropriately.

Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of the justice portfolio in January and resigned from cabinet earlier this month after a story broke that she had been pressured inappropriately to arrange a remediation agreement that would have headed off the prosecution.

“For a period of approximately four months, between September and December of 2018, I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada,” she told the committee.

She said the pressure was exerted on her or her staff by 11 individuals in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office and the Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s office through approximately 10 phone calls, 10 meetings and numerous emails and text messages. They repeatedly raised concerns about the risks to the company if it were convicted of corruption and fraud in relation to work it sought in Libya.

And she said the fact there was a provincial election in Quebec was a major concern for the Liberal government. A conviction could mean a 10-year ban on federal work for the company, which specializes in civil engineering and construction, and Wilson-Raybould said the government was worried the SNC-Lavalin would move its headquarters from Montreal to London if that happened.

In her testimony, Wilson-Raybould said the decision not to pursue such an agreement was made in September, but she and her staff heard repeatedly from Trudeau’s office and Morneau’s office after that, trying to find ways to help SNC-Lavalin.

She said she was told repeatedly the decision was up to her, but attempts to talk her into a remediation agreement were relentless.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, speaking immediately after Wilson-Raybould’s testimony finished, said Trudeau had lost the moral authority to govern the country and should resign. He also called for a police investigation of Wilson-Raybould’s claims.

Wilson-Raybould’s account of the campaign to change her mind on SNC-Lavalin included approaches from Trudeau, Butts, Morneau’s chief of staff Ben Chin, and the clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick that were directed at her, her chief of staff Jessica Prince, and her deputy minister in the Department of Justice.

Anti-vaccine campaign ‘very concerning,’ says Ontario’s health minister

THE CANADIAN PRESS AND NEWS STAFF | posted Thursday, Feb 28th, 2019

An ad campaign from a group of open vaccine skeptics that briefly dotted some streets in the Toronto area represents a “very concerning” development in the ongoing fight against misinformation, Ontario’s health minister said Wednesday.

Christine Elliott expressed fundamental disagreement with the billboard ads paid for by Vaccination Choice Canada, an advocacy group that describes its mandate as ensuring people are fully informed and educated about immunizations for themselves and their children.

The campaign, which rolled out across more than 50 digital billboards around the city last week featured a rotation of four slogans and direct questions that a group spokesman said aimed to ensure that Canadians are “truly informed” when they consent to getting vaccinated.

The billboards appeared to have been taken down ahead of schedule on Wednesday. Spadina-Fort York Councillor Joe Cressy said the ads were being removed following “overwhelming public concern.”

In a tweet, he commended the sign company for their prompt response and also called for a ban on anti-vaccine ads across the country.

The group’s vice-president, Ted Kuntz, said the company responsible for disseminating the campaign faced pressure from an “unknown” source to remove the ads, saying the move suggests Ontario’s public policy does not support public education.

Elliott disagreed, lamenting the amount of public misinformation on medical subjects, redoubling calls for Ontario residents to get their vaccines and suggesting failure to do so has already had consequences.

“A certain number of people need to be vaccinated in order for it to be effective,” Elliott said after directly criticizing the Toronto-targeted campaign. “It’s not necessarily happening now, and we’re seeing things come forward like tuberculosis outbreaks in certain parts of Ontario, measles outbreaks and so on. So we are going to continue, through the Ministry of Health, to encourage people to have their children vaccinated and to receive regular inoculations themselves.”

Elliott did not offer details on which parts of the province she was referring to.

The billboards at the heart of the campaign are meant to encourage parents to do research before proceeding with immunizations, Kuntz said, adding the group commonly described as “antivaxxers” are in fact former vaccine supporters who have grown “risk-aware” through their own research and experience.

The messages in circulation as part of the campaign were meant to raise questions and spur discussion and deeper research, said Kuntz, who describes himself as the parent of a now-deceased child injured by a vaccine in infancy.

Half the campaign’s messages posed the questions “What are the risks?” and “How many is too many?” The other two came in the form of statements — “Educate before you vaccinate” and “No shots, no school? Not true.”

Dr. Vinita Dubey, associate medical officer of health at Toronto Public Health, described the messages at the core of the campaign as “half-truths.”

Dubey agreed that over-vaccinating children is dangerous, for instance, but said current immunization protocols are safe, evidence-tested and effective in protecting both individuals and broader populations.

She said the same held true for the message challenging vaccination policies in schools. Ontario parents are required to provide vaccination certificates for their children, she said, but noted they also have the option to obtain an exemption for their kids based on medical, religious or philosophical grounds.

“They misrepresent information on vaccines,” Dubey said of the billboards. “This is a common tactic that the anti-vaccine movement uses to try and change people’s opinion on vaccines, and that is our biggest concern.”

Kuntz dismissed Dubey’s characterization, calling common critiques of the group’s messaging “dishonest.”

“A parent can’t decide what is best for oneself and one’s children without adequate information about the benefits and risks. Good products, backed by solid evidence of safety and effectiveness, are not afraid of educated and informed parents,” he said.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said in a statement that Canadian parents “rightly have questions about vaccines,” but that the science on the topic is unequivocal.

“Vaccines can prevent infectious diseases that once killed or harmed many infants, children and adults,” spokeswoman Anna Maddison said.

“However, there is a small but vocal anti-vaccination community that spreads false information. They use powerful emotional images and misinformation with their message. This creates confusion and fear for parents who are trying to make the best decisions for the health and wellbeing of their children.”

Timothy Caulfield, a Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta, said the number of people who are staunchly opposed to vaccines form a very small minority. Their messaging, however, finds an increasingly receptive ear among the 20 to 30 per cent of Canadians who express “vaccine hesitancy,” he said.

Caulfield said science has unequivocally settled the debate, describing a “mountain of evidence” on the pro-vaccination side compared to a “small mound” fuelling the skeptics’ arguments.

But he said anti-vaccination messaging is reaching a wider audience, thanks to both social media and broader political forces that have roiled countries around the world.

“The profile of the ‘antivax’ movement, I think, is connected to this rise in populism and this growing distrust of experts … and our institutions,” Caulfield said. “That gives space to these kinds of views and allows them to flourish.”

Here we snow again: Toronto and GTA under snowfall warning

NEWS STAFF | posted Wednesday, Feb 27th, 2019

Well, here we snow again.

Toronto and the GTA are under a snowfall warning with a “significant snowfall” in the forecast for Wednesday.

Environment Canada says snow will reach the Golden Horseshoe early in the morning and will continue through the day before ending in the evening.

A special weather statement is also in effect for areas to the north and east of the GTA, including Newmarket, Georgina, Pickering and Oshawa.

As much as 15 centimeters is expected to fall by the time the storm passes — amounts closer to 20 centimeters are possible near parts of Lake Ontario.

“Snow on and off for us today, at times quite heavy, a gusty wind out of the east north east,” 680 NEWS meteorologist Jill Taylor forecasts.

“Snow will taper to flurries and then end around 7 or 8 o’clock this evening.”

The agency said the heaviest snow is most likely to fall this afternoon — which means a messy commute home.

The snowfall warning includes the City of Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton, St. Catharines, Vaughan and surrounding areas.

Pearson Airport is reminding passengers to check their flight status before heading out, as weather-related delays and cancellations are possible.

And this won’t be the end of the winter weather. Taylor said more flurries are expected this weekend.

Toronto cop involved in 2016 McArthur arrest to appear at police tribunal Tuesday


The Toronto police sergeant facing misconduct charges in connection with the Bruce McArthur investigation is expected to appear in front of a police tribunal Tuesday morning.

Paul Gauthier is facing insubordination and neglect of duty charges in relation to the 2016 arrest of McArthur.

The serial killer was arrested following a report that McArthur attempted to strangle a man inside a van during a sexual encounter. McArthur was later released without being charged and would go on to murder two more men.

Gauthier said he is being used as a scapegoat for Toronto police, which is also facing backlash for its investigation into missing persons cases.

Earlier this month, Gauthier’s lawyer, Lawrence Gridin, said that the evidence will show his client “contributed” to the identification of McArthur as a serial killer and did not detract from the investigation.

He defended Gauthier’s actions in a 2016 incident said his client has “great sympathy for the victims and the community.”

“The decision not to charge Bruce McArthur for the 2016 incident was made in conjunction with Det. Gauthier’s supervisor and based on the information available at the time,” Gridin said.

“McArthur’s monstrous nature was difficult to uncover because he led a life of extreme deception, not because of anything to do with the 2016 arrest.”

Toronto police released a statement stating, “when Homicide Squad investigators working the Bruce McArthur case identified prior investigative concerns, they immediately contacted professional standards. as a result, an officer has been compelled to attend a tribunal in efforts to provide an explanation for his actions.”

McArthur pleaded guilt to the death of eight men with connections to the city’s LGBTQ community. The court heard the gruesome details of McArthur’s “planned and deliberate” murders — including his “post-offence rituals” such as photography, staging the bodies and keeping items.

A list of Oscars 2019 winners

LAUREN BOOTHBY | posted Monday, Feb 25th, 2019

LOS ANGELES (NEWS 1130) — The 91st Academy Awards ceremony is underway, without a host but not without intrigue. Here’s a list of the winners so far:

Best picture: “Green Book”

Best actress in a leading role: Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”

Best actor in a leading role: Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Directing: Alfonso Cuaron, “Roma”

Best supporting actress: Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”

Best supporting actor: Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”

Foreign language film: Mexico’s “Roma”

Original screenplay: “Greenbook”

Adapted screenplay: “BlacKkKlansman”

Original song: “Shallow,” from “A Star is Born”

Animated feature film: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

Animated short film: “Bao”

Documentary short subject: “Period. End of Sentence.”

Live action short film: “Skin”

Cinematography: Alfonso Cuaron, “Roma”

Documentary feature: “Free Solo”

Original score: Ludwig Goransson, “Black Panther”

Makeup and hairstyling: “Vice”

Costume design: Ruth Carter, “Black Panther”

Production design: “Black Panther”

Sound Editing: “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Sound Mixing: “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Film Editing: John Ottman, “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Strong winds, blowing snow threaten to wreak havoc in GTA

NEWS STAFF | posted Monday, Feb 25th, 2019

Strong winds are wreaking havoc across much of southern Ontario.

Hydro One is reporting “a significant number of outages” as more than 30,000 customers have been left without power as a result of the intense high wind storm. The utility says it has put crews and support staff in areas predicted to be hardest hit in order to assess any damage and respond to any outages as quickly and as safely as possible.

So far the GTA has been spared any serious damage with Toronto Hydro reporting sporadic outages across the city.

Wind gusts of 97 km/h have already been recorded out at Pearson International Airport and Environment Canada warns winds could potentially reach 120 km/h near the east end of Lake Erie and over Prince Edward County near Lake Ontario.

Strong winds in the Niagara region have forced the closure of the Niagara River Parkway due to ice getting pushed over the retaining wall from the lake.

Pearson Airport is reporting more than 280 flights have been cancelled so far. They recommend checking your flight status before heading out.

Snow is expected to begin falling in the GTA later this evening and coupled with the high winds, could produce snow squalls and lake effect snow in some areas.

“We could see accumulations of 5 cm by Monday morning and through the Monday morning drive, blowing and drifting snow is still a possibility,” said 680 NEWS weather specialist Denise Andreacchi.

Fun is the word for last weekend of February

MICHELLE LEPAGE AND MICHAEL GIBBONS | posted Friday, Feb 22nd, 2019

It is the last weekend of February, which means spring is around the corner — less than a month away, to be exact. While you are counting down to spring, celebrate the weekend by enjoying one of the many events taking place in the city — that will make you forget that winter is still hanging around.

As you are making your weekend plans, keep in that that subways won’t be running on Line 1 between St. Clair West and Union stations on Saturday and Sunday. Crews will be installing the new Automatic Train Control signalling system. Shuttle buses will be running and Wheel-Trans service will be available upon request. Dupont and Museum stations will be closed. Regular service is scheduled to resume at 6 a.m. Monday.

Forever Yours – Cat Adoption Weekend
It’s shaping up to be a wonderful weekend to add a pet to your family. PetSmart is hosting its first national adoption weekend of the year. Cats and kittens up for adoption will be at seven PetSmart locations across the GTA. Adoption fees start at $175.

The Oscars LIVE!
Hot Docs is once again rolling out the red carpet for the Academy Awards. The Oscars will be broadcast live on the big screen starting at 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free and tickets are available at the box office.

Winterfolk Music Festival
The Danforth will play host to various folk, roots, and blues musicians all weekend. The Winterfolk Blues and Roots Festival is an all-ages event featuring more than 150 artists performing on five stages and three venues. There will also be special tribute events, musical workshops, and an awards ceremony. Wristbands are sold for entry to the venues, which allow admittance to about 90 performances over the weekend.

East York Family Skate
Coun. Brad Bradford (Ward 19) is hosting a free skate in East York on Sunday afternoon. The family-oriented event is happening at the East York Memorial Arena from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Get The Jump On Spring
New and seasoned gardeners are invited to the Toronto Botanical Garden‘s annual open house on Saturday. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and features more than 30 exhibitors including horticultural societies, garden clubs and environmental organizations. There will also be a floral design competition and show. Admission is free but a small donation is welcomed.

Community Sundays at the MOCA
The Museum of Contemporary Art is allowing free admission this Sunday. It’s the start of TD Community Sundays at MOCA, where the museum will set aside a portion of one Sunday each month for the promotion. This Sunday’s event coincides with a new phase of exhibitions featuring the works of artists Chantal Akerman, and Basma Alsharif, running until April 14. So, if you want to enjoy some contemporary art for free, head down to the MOCA between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Franchise Canada Show
Want to become your own boss and own your own business? You can find plenty of opportunities at the Franchise Canada Show this weekend. The two-day event features 50 franchises, seminars, consultations and free samples. Tickets are $10 or free if you register online. The show runs Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Toronto Congress Centre.

Reptile Expo
Canada’s longest-running reptile show is back in the GTA. Vendors from across Canada will selling pet reptiles and amphibians along with supplies and other products. The expo is also an opportunity to learn how to be a responsible reptile owner. It’s on from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the International Centres Conference Centre in Mississauga. Admission is $8 for children and seniors and $12 for adults. Children under five years old are free.


HBC to shutter Home Outfitters brand, about 20 Saks Off Fifth locations

TARA DESCHAMPS, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Feb 22nd, 2019

Hudson’s Bay Co. is shuttering its Home Outfitters business and eyeing the closures of 20 of its Saks Off Fifth locations, in a bid to increase profitability.

The Toronto-based company behind a handful of big-box and luxury retailers said its decision to shut down its household goods brand with 37 stores in Canada and review its roster of 133 Saks Off Fifth stores is part of a plan to “reduce costs, simplify the business and improve overall profitability.”

“Further streamlining our retail portfolio enables even greater focus on our businesses with the strongest growth opportunities,” said Helena Foulkes, HBC’s chief executive officer, in a release. “The divestiture of (online retailer) Gilt, rightsizing of Lord & Taylor, the recent merger of our European retail operations in Germany, and today’s announcement exemplify the bold strategic actions we are taking to set HBC up for long-term success.”

Foulkes, who was not made available for interviews, and HBC have faced scrutiny over the last year due to the company’s performance.

The company has had to repeatedly defend itself against activist investor Land and Buildings Investment Management LLC, which sent a letter to HBC shareholders in late November, calling out the board for failing to take decisive action to unlock value for shareholders.

Land and Buildings said it believes HBC could double or triple its share price and find benefits by selling Saks Fifth Avenue, its remaining 50 per cent interest in its European business to Signa Holding GmbH, and Lord and Taylor to a mass merchant.

In its latest quarter, HBC’s net loss reached $164 million or 69 cents per share, including discontinued operations.

HBC said it expects the Home Outfitters closure and Saks Off Fifth review to be “slightly favourable to adjusted EBITDA.”

HBC said the shutdown of all 37 Home Outfitters locations will occur this year and most of the markets the brand is in will still be served by HBC.

The company said the review will allow it to focus on its “best locations” and on its e-commerce offerings.

Home Outfitters employed less than 700 employees.

“We know this news is difficult for our associates,” Foulkes said. “We are grateful for their ongoing efforts to serve our customers and we will work to find opportunities within HBC for impacted team members where possible.”

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