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Raptors acquire Gasol from Grizzlies for package including Valanciunas

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Feb 8th, 2019

The Toronto Raptors have pulled off one of the league’s biggest deals at the NBA trade deadline, acquiring Marc Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies for Jonas Valanciunas, C.J. Miles and Delon Wright.

The blockbuster deal, which was completed late Thursday evening, brings a player long coveted by Raptors president Masai Ujiri to Toronto. It’s also a power move for a Toronto team looking to at least keep pace with Milwaukee and Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference.

Raptors guard Fred VanVleet spoke highly of Gasol shortly before Toronto tipped off against the Hawks in Atlanta.

“(Gasol) is one of the best fives in the league for a long time now, perennial all-star, defensive player of the year,” VanVleet said. “Just really excited to see how we can acclimate him to what we do and see how much he can give us a boost. Obviously we’re very excited about that.”

In a separate deal, the Raptors also sent veteran forward Greg Monroe and a 2021 second-round pick to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for cash considerations.

The 76ers and Bucks had made major moves ahead of Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline, the Sixers landing Tobias Harris and Milwaukee acquiring Nikola Mirotic.

As Thursday wore on, Raptors fans took to social media to implore Ujiri to make a major move.

And he did. It’s Ujiri’s biggest trade-deadline deal since returning to the team in 2013.

Gasol is a three-time all-star and the 2013 defensive player of the year. He’s averaging 15.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals a game, and his 4.7 assists a night is second best in the league behind Jokic. The seven-foot-one Spaniard is a two-time Olympian, and will be reunited with Spanish coach and Raptors assistant Sergio Scariolo in Toronto.

Gasol, who played 11 seasons in Memphis, is slated to make US$24.1 million this season and has a player option for $25.6 million next season.

Last summer, Gasol volunteered as part of a Spanish rescue effort in the Mediterranean Sea, plucking people from the water who were fleeing Africa. A photo showed Gasol helping lift a woman onto a stretcher. He voiced his “Frustration, anger and helplessness” on Twitter, writing “It’s unbelievable how so many vulnerable people are abandoned to their deaths at sea. Deep admiration for these I call my teammates at this time. ?openarms_fund”

In Valanciunas, the Raptors’ lose of their most popular players. The 26-year, who was drafted by Toronto fifth overall in 2011, was finally cleared to play Thursday after missing 25 games with a dislocated left thumb. The team posted a photo of the big Lithuanian on social media with two words: “I’m back.”

Valanciunas told reporters in Atlanta on Thursday morning: “I am really excited. I was really looking forward to this day and there you go. If nothing crazy happens, I will be playing.”

Toronto guard Norman Powell said he will miss his departing teammates.

“We were in the foxhole when we weren’t getting minutes, talking about the process, and working to make an impact when we did get the time and growing together in the league, so it was definitely tough seeing guys like that go, but you just wish them the best,” said Powell. “I’m sure they’ll make the most of a new opportunity and chance to go out there and prove themselves with another team.”

The moves leave the Raptors with just 10 players under NBA contracts, and they must be at 14 within the next two weeks. They could convert one or both of their two-way contracts with Chris Boucher and Jordan Loyd to NBA contracts.

Ujiri, meanwhile, made two moves just prior to the 2017 deadline, acquiring Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic and P.J. Tucker from the Phoenix Suns. That Raptors team was swept by Cleveland in the second round of the playoffs.

Serial killer Bruce McArthur to be sentenced today

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Feb 8th, 2019

Serial killer Bruce McArthur is set to be sentenced Friday.

The 67-year-old self-employed landscaper pleaded guilty last week to murdering eight men with ties to Toronto’s gay village.

The Crown is seeking a life sentence with no chance of parole for 50 years.

The defence has asked that sentences for all eight first-degree murder counts be served concurrently, which would make McArthur eligible for parole in 25 years.

First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years, but when there are several convictions, the court can impose consecutive periods of parole ineligibility.

McArthur has admitted to murdering Andrew Kinsman, Selim Esen, Majeed Kayhan, Dean Lisowick, Soroush Mahmudi, Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi and Kirushna Kanagaratnam.

Toronto real estate board calls on Ottawa to revisit mortgage stress test

LINDA NGUYEN, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Feb 7th, 2019

Canada’s largest real estate board is calling on Ottawa to revisit whether a stricter mortgage stress test introduced last year is still needed, arguing that the policy has negatively impacted the economy and Toronto’s once red-hot housing market.

“While we saw buyers return to the market in the second half of 2018, we have to have an honest discussion on whether or not today’s homebuyers are being stress tested against rates that are realistic,” said John DiMichele, chief executive of the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) in a statement Wednesday.

“Home sales in the GTA, and Canada more broadly, play a huge role in economic growth, job creation and government revenues every year. Looking through this lens, policymakers need to be aware of unintended consequences the stress test could have on the housing market and broader economy.”

The OFSI-mandated stress test, which came into effect in 2018, cooled housing markets in Toronto and Vancouver by limiting the ability of those with a more than 20 per cent down payment to qualify for mortgages.

The stricter rules requires borrowers to prove that they can service their uninsured mortgage at a qualifying rate of the greater of the contractual mortgage rate plus two percentage points or the five-year benchmark rate published by the Bank of Canada. The policy also reduced the maximum amount buyers would be able to borrow to buy a home.

An existing stress test already required those with insured mortgages to qualify at the central bank’s benchmark five-year mortgage rule.

On Tuesday, OFSI assistant superintendent Carolyn Rogers defended the stricter rules, saying that a “margin of safety” was still “prudent” in the current economic climate. She also said the group was open to changes when warranted.

TREB, which represents more than 52,000 real estate agents across the region, says under the stress test rules, homebuyers have to qualify for monthly mortgage payments nearly $700 more than what they would actually pay.

“In order to account for the higher qualification standard, intending home buyers have adjusted their preferences, including the type of home they intend on purchasing,” said the report, resulting in the increased popularity of condos and townhouses over detached homes.

Realtor Tom Storey says demand in the Toronto housing market remains strong despite the stress test rules, noting that a bungalow in east Toronto he visited last month with a client garnered 21 bids and sold for more than $200,000 over asking. He says there are still many buyers out there, but the problem is that inventory is drying up, especially in these slow winter months.

Storey says he doesn’t think doing away with the stress test would result in a more equitable real estate market.

“I am no longer seeing prices that make me scratch my head,” he said. “The properties that are priced correctly are selling quickly and the ones that are overpriced are sitting on the market. That’s what a healthy market should be like. We had a 10-year run of serious price growth and we’re going to go back to more moderate levels now.”

Despite the challenges, TREB says it expects to see a “moderate improvement” in sales and sale price this year in Toronto’s real estate market but doesn’t anticipate either to hit the record levels seen in previous years.

The board says other factors such as population growth, low unemployment rates and potentially stable interest rates will help Toronto’s housing market this year.

The Bank of Canada has raised the benchmark rate five times since mid-2017, encouraged by a stronger economy, and signalled that more rate increases are likely but will come about slower than originally expected.

The outlook forecasts that 83,000 sales will be reported through the board’s Multiple Listing Service (MLS) system in 2019, up 7.2 per cent from 77,375 sales recorded in 2018.

TREB expects the average selling price for the year in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area will increase to $820,000 _ close to the peak reached in 2017 _ and up from an average of $787,195 in 2018.

Much of that price growth will be led by the hot condominium market as homebuyers look for more affordable housing options, while the board anticipates the price growth for detached properties to be below the average growth rate for the total market.

Meanwhile, the board expects new listings will remain flat this year after pulling back in 2018 to sit between 155,000 and 156,000.

The report also cautions that the rental market in Toronto and the surrounding area will remain “tight” this year.

“The supply of rental units could continue to be problematic in 2019,” it warned.

The board also reported Wednesday that home sales in Toronto and the surrounding area saw a small uptick in January, a sign that the real estate market in Canada’s largest city remains stable.

TREB says there were 4,009 home sales recorded in January, up 0.6 per cent compared with January 2018. On a seasonally adjusted basis, sales were up by 3.4 per cent versus December 2018.

The board says the average selling price for all property types was $748,328 last month, an increase of 1.7 per cent from the same month a year ago. TREB reports that the more affordable condo segment led the price growth, up by 7.9 per cent in January.

Semi-detached and townhouse properties also saw increases, while the price of detached homes fell by 2.8 per cent in January year-over-year.

The board says the total number of new listings were up, climbing 10.5 per cent to 9,456 listings last month.

First pot stores could be coming to Toronto, Brampton, St. Catharines

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Feb 7th, 2019

The first three cannabis stores in Ontario could be set up in Toronto, Brampton and St. Catharines.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) says applications for pot shops have been made in those three cities and will now be subject to public feedback.

The Toronto shop would be located in the city’s Yorkville neighbourhood at 20 Cumberland St.

The Brampton store would be located at 186 Main St., near a city mall, and the St. Catharines store would open at 33 Lakeshore Rd.

Ontario announced the first 25 entities that could apply for cannabis retail licences in the province last month.

The AGCO will accept feedback on the licences and possible store locations until Feb. 20, with the stores to open in April.

Diplomats file $28M suit against Canada over injuries suffered in Cuba

JIM BRONSKILL, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Feb 7th, 2019

Five Canadian diplomats and their family members who became mysteriously ill while posted to Cuba are suing Ottawa for more than $28 million.

In a statement of claim filed Wednesday in Federal Court, the diplomats say the Canadian government failed to protect them, hid crucial information and downplayed the seriousness of the risks.

Global Affairs Canada acknowledges that a total of nine diplomats posted to the Canadian Embassy in Havana, as well as several dependants, have developed unusual illnesses with symptoms including nausea, dizziness, headaches and trouble concentrating.

Global Affairs has said the government is trying to pinpoint the cause, stressing that the health and safety of diplomatic staff and their families are the priorities.

Speculation has focused on some kind of acoustic or microwave assault, unknown contaminants and even chirping crickets.

Officials have all but ruled out environmental factors, such as toxins in the air, soil or water, and no longer suspect a sonic attack is to blame.

In April, Canada announced that diplomats posted to Cuba would not be accompanied by dependants due to the ongoing uncertainty.

The statement of claim says that not only “were the diplomats prevented from considering the true risks of a Havana posting to their own health, but they were also denied the opportunity to protect their children, and must live with the knowledge that they may never fully recover.”

The allegations have not yet been tested in court.

A doctor is now working full time to provide advice and assistance to those who have continuing symptoms.

In their claim, however, the diplomats say Ottawa has “actively interfered” with their ability to seek appropriate medical care.

The RCMP is leading an investigation into the cause of the ailments, which also struck several American diplomats in Havana.

Canada has been working with the U.S. and Cuban authorities on the baffling puzzle.

Freezing drizzle advisory in the GTA ahead of a warm-up

NEWS STAFF | posted Thursday, Feb 7th, 2019

A freezing drizzle advisory remains in effect for the GTA, including Toronto, ahead of a warm-up expected later Thursday.

On Wednesday, ice pellets and freezing rain pummelled the GTA, making the roads and sidewalks treacherous.

In the city, salters were out on the main roads since Wednesday morning and are continuing their operations Thursday morning or until temperatures rise.

Outside of the city, some areas are still sloppy and slushy, so the commute may be slow in parts.

680 NEWS meteorologist Jill Taylor said the freezing drizzle Thursday morning will change to rain for the afternoon, as the temperature rises to a high of 5 C.

The rain will continue into the evening with the potential for thunderstorms, along with a gusty wind.

Toronto, parts of the GTA under a freezing rain warning

NEWS STAFF | posted Wednesday, Feb 6th, 2019

Many areas of the GTA are icing up with freezing rain Wednesday, making for a dicey commute in the region.

Environment Canada has issued a freezing rain warning for Toronto and parts of the GTA, including Mississauga, Brampton, Caledon and Richmond Hill. The rest of the GTA is under a winter weather travel advisory.

The freezing rain could persist for much of the day before changing to freezing drizzle this evening, the national weather agency said.

The freezing drizzle is expected to continue overnight and into Thursday morning.

Several boards have cancelled school buses, while others have cancelled buses and closed schools. Click here for a full list.

Khadr asking for release from ‘indefinite’ sentence and bail

COLIN PERKEL, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Feb 6th, 2019

Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr is asking Alberta youth court to order his release and declare his eight-year sentence — imposed by a widely maligned military commission in the United States — to have expired.

In a separate application before Federal Court, Khadr is attempting to force national parole authorities to grant him a hearing at which he would argue for release.

The overriding idea, Khadr’s Edmonton-based lawyer said in an interview Tuesday, is to ensure an end point to the eight-year sentence the commission imposed on him in 2010.

Had Khadr remained in custody, his sentence would have expired this past October. However, the clock stopped ticking when an Alberta judge freed him on bail in May 2015 pending his appeal of his military commission conviction for war crimes — a years-long process that still has no end in sight.

“The bail order does interrupt the ticking of the clock but practically speaking, the guy has served his sentence now,” lawyer Nate Whitling said from Edmonton. “The youth court judge does have the authority to just simply terminate the sentence and say, ‘It’s now over’.”

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled the punishment handed Khadr for alleged acts committed in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old to be a youth sentence. His application, to be heard this month, asks a youth judge to release him under supervision for a single day, then declare his sentence served.

One hurdle Khadr must overcome is proving the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench has jurisdiction because the international treaty under which he was transferred to Canada from Gitmo could be interpreted as precluding such a review. If that view prevails, his application asks the judge to declare that part of the treaty unconstitutional.

In a separate application, Khadr wants Federal Court to order the Parole Board of Canada to grant him a hearing — something the board has refused to do on the basis that it only has jurisdiction over inmates in custody.

“As with everything in Omar’s case, there’s no precedent,” Whitling said. “(But) we’re confident that if he were to be given a parole hearing, he’d be an extremely strong candidate for full parole with minimal conditions. He’s been out all this time under these conditions and under close supervision.”

A Justice Department lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Since his release on bail in 2015, Khadr has lived in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., without incident. While the courts have eased some of his initial bail conditions, several remain in place despite his efforts — most recently in December — to have them lifted.

Those conditions include withholding access to a Canadian passport, a ban on unsupervised communication with his sister Zaynab who lives in Georgia, and a requirement to notify his bail supervisor before leaving Alberta.

“He’s got these conditions on him and essentially right now, they’re going to be there indefinitely,” Whitling said. “We would like to get Omar’s clock ticking again. We want this sentence to actually start ticking, so it will expire.”

Kate Porter, a prominent American psychologist who has worked extensively with Khadr over the years, has written in support of his applications — pointing out that the bail restrictions and never-ending sentence are psychologically harmful and akin to the situation Khadr faced at the U.S. naval prison.

Under their rules, the Americans could have detained Khadr indefinitely — even if the commission had acquitted him. Khadr has said he pleaded guilty to the war-crimes charges only as a way out of Guantanamo.

Khadr was sent to the notorious U.S. military facility in Cuba just months after he was captured as a badly wounded 15 year old in Afghanistan in July 2002. The U.S. accused him of throwing a grenade that killed an American  soldier.

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled Canada violated his rights while he was a U.S. captive, leading the government to pay him $10.5 million in compensation in July 2017.

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