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- 06/13/13--11:24: _Mississauga Mayor H...
- 06/13/13--15:15: _NDP Leader Thomas M...
- 06/13/13--14:17: _Tim Bosma murder: T...
- 06/13/13--19:41: _Etobicoke superjail...
- 06/13/13--08:57: _VIA Rail averts sti...
- 06/13/13--14:46: _Syria: U.S. boostin...
- 06/13/13--14:07: _Dalton McGuinty wil...
- 06/13/13--19:17: _Blue Jays: Bautista...
- 06/13/13--07:05: _RCMP investigating ...
- 06/13/13--18:25: _Pamela Wallin: ‘I t...
- 06/13/13--21:03: _NBA final: Heat rid...
- 06/13/13--08:59: _Bank of Canada warn...
- 06/13/13--20:30: _Ford scandal deepen...
- 06/14/13--19:03: _Star Wars-themed we...
- 06/15/13--03:00: _ORNGE suspends nigh...
- 06/14/13--17:19: _B.C. mom heartbroke...
- 06/14/13--21:01: _NSA scandal: Obama'...
- 06/15/13--08:10: _Turkey protest: PM’...
- 06/15/13--05:00: _Why Edward Snowden,...
- 06/14/13--18:04: _Dixon Road raids tu...
- 06/13/13--15:15: NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair says RCMP chase a ‘misunderstanding’
- 06/13/13--14:17: Tim Bosma murder: Trial could be held in late 2014
- 06/13/13--19:41: Etobicoke superjail: 1,650 inmates, 2 rooms to meet their lawyers
- 06/13/13--08:57: VIA Rail averts stike, reaches resolution
- 06/13/13--14:07: Dalton McGuinty will collect $313,000 in severance pay
- 06/13/13--19:17: Blue Jays: Bautista, Encarnacion key late rally over Rangers
- 06/13/13--18:25: Pamela Wallin: ‘I take full responsibility for this’
- 06/13/13--21:03: NBA final: Heat ride Big Three past Spurs in Game 4
- 06/15/13--03:00: ORNGE suspends night flights at remote sites across Ontario
- 06/14/13--21:01: NSA scandal: Obama's non-answers on surveillance
- 06/15/13--08:10: Turkey protest: PM’s supporters turn out in force at rally
Mississauga will learn Friday whether 92-year-old Hazel McCallion will continue her long run as mayor.
The decision in McCallion’s conflict of interest case will be released at 10 a.m. by Ontario Superior Court Justice John Sproat.
Mississauga resident Elias Hazineh has accused McCallion of violating the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act when she moved amendments and took part in votes at Peel Region council in 2007 that stood to save her son’s company $11 million in development charges.
Hazineh lodged his application in 2011 and full hearings began in early April this year.
McCallion’s lawyers began their defence with a counterattack on Hazineh, questioning his credibility and calling him a “straw man” propped up by the mayor’s longtime political foe, former MP and city councillor Carolyn Parrish.
Hazineh, who has worked on Parrish’s campaigns, testified that he brought the application forward after reading about the regional votes when the Mississauga Judicial Inquiry into McCallion’s dealings with her son’s project wrapped up in 2011.
McCallion’s lawyers argued that she voted, in her role as a Peel council member, to give builders already in the pipeline a break on new higher development fees, grandfathering-in lower fees to benefit the builders and Mississauga residents in general at a time when construction was needed to help the economy.
They also argued that McCallion did not know her son was a principal of World Class Developments, the company that was planning to build a $1.5 billion hotel-convention centre in downtown Mississauga which McCallion desperately wanted.
A WCD consultant testified during examinations that they were working “feverishly” toward the new development charge deadlines set by the votes at Peel Region, as the company would have saved $11 million if it had met the deadline.
Surprisingly, McCallion’s lawyers did not introduce any affidavits from her son, Peter, nor did they call him to testify in his mother’s defence.
Lawyers argued that McCallion didn’t even know about WCD’s plans or progress while the development charges were up for a vote in the fall of 2007.
Hazineh’s lawyer, Tom Richardson, argued that it was impossible for McCallion to have been unaware of WCD’s progress. Richardson went through McCallion’s appointment book prior to and throughout 2007 before the judge. It showed numerous meetings she had with WCD’s principals, including her son.
“I can’t recall,” McCallion repeated about a dozen times when asked about details of the meetings.
She testified that she couldn’t remember if the meetings actually happened or what was discussed if they did occur.
She also testified that when she signed as a witness to a trust agreement that stated her son was a principal of WCD, she had not read the document. “It’s a very dark restaurant,” McCallion said, explaining that she never reviewed the document during the dinner meeting with her son and another WCD principal at a Toronto restaurant in January 2007.
She maintained that she thought her son was only representing WCD as a real estate agent. Richardson argued that even if that was the case, Peter McCallion stood to make millions from the deal.
During her testimony, McCallion attempted to shift the focus to Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell.
She admitted seconding a motion to extend the grandfather deadlines so more developments could qualify, but testified that Fennell introduced and pushed the motion through with no debate: “This was raised by Mayor Fennell rather late in the process …The mover is the one that wants the action, something to happen.”
Richardson called the “last-minute” motion Fennell moved and McCallion supported “reckless” and “extraordinary,” as it would have saved developers tens of millions of dollars that Peel taxpayers would have to make up for.
Asked why she supported Fennell’s motion, given the burden on taxpayers, McCallion replied: “That’s a good question.”
McCallion testified that right before seeking the 11th-hour amendment at a Peel Region council meeting in September 2007, Fennell had asked her to support the motion to help developers in Brampton.
However, in her affidavit for the case, Fennell stated she never spoke to anybody before she introduced her motion.
McCallion did not declare a conflict of interest when the development charge issue was dealt with. Under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, if she were to be found guilty of a conflict, she would have to be removed from office — unless the judge deems her actions were inadvertent or resulted from an error in judgment.
McCallion’s lawyers argued, after laying out their defence, that their client should not be removed from office if found guilty, because her actions were inadvertent.
It wouldn’t be the first time the mayor would be let off for that reason. She was found guilty of a conflict in 1982 for voting on a land purchase deal that could have directly benefited her family. But she was not removed from office because the judge deemed her actions were an error in judgment.
More than 30 years later, McCallion’s future again rests on a judge’s ruling.
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OTTAWA—New Democratic Leader Thomas Mulcair blamed a security incident on Parliament Hill, in which his car reportedly blew through several stop signs while being pursued by a police cruiser with flashing lights, on a misunderstanding.
CTV News cited anonymous sources as it reported Mulcair had failed to stop for security screening as his vehicle entered the Parliament Hill area Thursday morning.
The report said an RCMP cruiser followed Mulcair with its lights flashing as it went through several stop signs and that the NDP leader reacted arrogantly when approached by an officer.
“Don’t you know who I am?” Mulcair said, according to CTV, warning the officer he would be in a lot of trouble.
A statement emailed by George Smith, a spokesman for Mulcair, characterized events differently.
“Mr. Mulcair went through the gate as usual this morning. He waved at the officer on duty as he always does, and proceeded through the open gate. The officer didn’t recognize him, leading to a misunderstanding,” said the statement.
“Once notified of the misunderstanding, he had a very respectful discussion with an officer. He then immediately went down to clear up the misunderstanding with the commanding officer,” the statement said.
“Mr. Mulcair apologized for the misunderstanding. No warnings or citations of any kind were issued to Mr. Mulcair. The matter was settled immediately and cordially,” the statement said.
The RCMP said it would not comment on the incident.
HAMILTON —Dellen Millard appeared weary and said almost nothing during a brief court appearance Thursday in the early pre-trial phase on charges of first-degree murder, forcible confinement and theft of a vehicle in the death of Ancaster father Tim Bosma.
Millard, 27, of Toronto, acknowledged his name and said nothing in a video court appearance from the Barton St. E. jail in Hamilton.
Mark Smich, 25, of Oakville, his co-accused in the Bosma murder, also appeared briefly for less than five minutes via video hook-up.
Their next video court date is Aug. 1.
Police have said Millard and Smich know each other.
Smich, who is being held in the Niagara Detention Centre, no longer had the black eye and bruising he displayed in his initial court appearance on May 23.
Both wore jail-issue orange jumpsuits for their separate appearances by video.
Bosma, 32, didn’t return after leaving his rural Ancaster home May 6 for the test drive of the 2007 Dodge Ram truck he was trying to sell over the Internet. His badly burned remains were later discovered at Millard’s Ayr farm.
Millard’s lawyer, Deepak Paradkar, said that his client is being held in isolation for all but half an hour a day. “It’s very difficult for him to do that — to be held in isolation,” Paradkar said.
Paradkar said he has no complaints about his client’s treatment in jail.
“They have treated him with respect and maintained his security,” he said.
Paradkar said he was pleased to hear the Crown will be granting disclosure of forensic evidence in the case later this month.
“(Millard) just has to mentally prepare for the long road ahead,” Paradkar said.
He said the case could get to trial in one and a half years, which is quick for such a case. He said it’s too early to know if the Crown will try the two men together or separately.
Paradkar said Millard has been visited by friends and family while in custody.
“His mother is very supportive,” he added.
Paradkar said Millard hasn’t been questioned about the disappearance of Laura Babcock, an online escort who had been romantically linked to Millard and was last seen June 26, 2012.
Police are also investigating the apparent suicide of Millard’s father, Wayne, last November. Paradkar said his client hasn’t spoken with police about it since a brief conversation immediately after the body was discovered.
Smich’s lawyer, Thomas Dungey, was not in court; Jennifer Trehearne appeared on his behalf and declined to comment.
The new Etobicoke superjail is bigger, fancier and better equipped with video-conferencing technology than the decrepit Don Jail it replaces.
But will it provide inmates better access to their lawyers?
No, say defence lawyers after touring the recently completed detention centre.
The three seven-storey towers will take in a whopping 1,650 inmates by the end of the year — some of them serving sentences of less than two years, others awaiting trial.
They will share just two rooms to meet their lawyers face-to-face.
And their lawyers say that when it comes to ensuring the right to counsel and a fair trial, that is just not good enough,
“It’s a literal and figurative access-to-justice issue,” said defence lawyer Reid Rusonik. “It’s beyond absurd that they think that’s going to work.”
At the Don Jail, which holds 562 inmates, six meeting rooms are set aside for legal counsel. At the Toronto West Detention Centre, which holds 631 inmates, there are five. Both facilities will close once their populations are transferred to the new detention centre.
Defence lawyer Roots Ghadia was on the Wednesday night tour of the superjail with other members of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, a way for the Correctional Services ministry to get feedback from parties involved in the justice system.
“I think it’s troubling that they didn’t really consider the purpose of the detention centre as a remand facility,” Ghadia said.
“They’re so quick to say how great the technology is going to be in the building and how excellent the services are going to be and that it cost $600 million to build. But from a justice perspective and a right-to-counsel perspective and the right to a fair trial . . . having two rooms for 1,650 inmates is troubling.”
The rooms will be available by appointment, which has Ghadia concerned about making last-minute visits before or during trials.
The result, she said, could be delays in the courtroom.
A third face-to-face room may be available depending on immigration and parole board hearings, said ministry spokesman Brent Ross.
There are also three private rooms where the lawyer and client are separated by glass and five private “video visit” rooms where the two are connected by video link.
“It is anticipated that the video visit rooms at the Toronto South Detention Centre will actually improve counsel’s access to their clients, as there is no need to physically relocate an inmate to accommodate the visit, allowing for more visits per day,” said Ross. “Access to legal counsel is an essential right in our justice system.”
But Ghadia said it’s the face-to-face meetings that are crucial.
Lawyers visit their clients in jail to get them to sign or review documents ahead of trials, which often means poring over piles of paper and, increasingly, reviewing videos, audio and documents stored on discs.
“You certainly can’t do that over a Skype-style screen or through glass, clean as the glass may be,” Ghadia said.
Getting in to see a client is already a challenge with overcrowded jails, frequent lockdowns and the few rooms available taken up by parole or immigration hearings, say lawyers.
“The problem is crippling now and this would take it from crippling to the status quo,” said Rusonik.
Still, Ghadia hopes the number of rooms can still be changed, though it may be too late.
“The building has been built, the areas have been designated. Although I understand their position is that nothing is yet written in stone, it is stone already,” she said. “I think this was very short-sighted plan on their part.”
Via Rail and the Canadian Auto Workers have reached a tentative deal that will avert a strike.
The Canadian Auto Workers union, which represents 2,000 customer-service, on-board and maintenance workers, warned earlier on Thursday that a strike was likely because the company’s latest offer was “riddled” with concession demands.
It would run once-a-week service on long-distance and remote-service trains. Trains between Sudbury and White River would be unaffected, operating according to its normal schedule. Check VIA’s website for specific trains that will be operating each day.
While talks began last October, CAW official Bob Orr said the union was surprised when the company tabled its monetary proposal late Wednesday.
He said the proposal would roll back access to long-standing income protections for seasonal workers, cut thousands of dollars in take-home pay, each year, from VIA employees, and slash pension benefits for new hires to levels lower than at any Crown corporation in Canada .
The CAW has never gone on strike at VIA Rail, though the passenger railway service was last impacted in 2009 when more than 300 locomotive engineers, who are members of the Teamsters union, went on strike.
Passengers were accommodated on buses until it ended two days later when the two sides agreed to seek arbitration to resolve outstanding issues.
VIA Rail countered with its own news release Thursday, saying its offer is “fair and reasonable” and should avert a strike.
It added the three-year offer includes wage hikes of 2 per cent a year in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
It noted existing benefit plans are maintained, work rules are improved, and existing job security provisions for full-time employees are maintained.
On pensions, the proposal calls for an increase in employee contributions in order to maintain the existing defined benefit pension plan for current unionized employees. It would create a new hybrid defined benefit-defined contribution pension plan for new employees hired as of 2014.
“We feel this is a fair and reasonable offer,” said Marc Laliberté, the president and chief executive officer of VIA Rail Canada , in the news release.
“Unlike other companies in the rail industry, VIA is a crown corporation. We have an obligation to make the best use of taxpayer monies.”
He noted VIA’s latest operating subsidy was $279 million, and the pension plan for unionized employees shows a deficit of $419 million, which is putting significant cost pressures on their bottom line.
But Orr said the company’s release does not acknowledge that employees would be on the hook for thousands more in pension contributions, essentially eroding any wage increases.
“No major concessions are being asked of current full-time employees except to have them help maintain the current pension plan by increasing contributions,” said VIA’s Mylène Belanger.
Currently, the company pays 65 per cent of the service costs of the unionized pension plan, so Belanger said the proposal is to have 50-50 cost-sharing by 2016.
WASHINGTON—The United States has concluded that Syrian government forces used chemical weapons to kill at least 100 people, crossing a “red line” and prompting President Barack Obama to provide direct military support to the rebels for the first time in the two-year conflict, the White House said Thursday.
“The president has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has,” White House deputy national security adviser Benjamin Rhodes said.
Rhodes declined to provide an “inventory” or timetable for any military equipment to be sent, but said the assistance would be “responsive to the needs” expressed by the rebel command. He said the president had “not made any decision to pursue a military option such as a no-fly zone,” and that the United States will continue to seek a negotiated peace settlement.
Syria’s outgunned rebels issued urgent appeals this week for anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry to counter a government offensive that is backed by Hezbollah and Iranian forces.
Until now the United States has limited its assistance to nonlethal supplies and aid such as communications gear, food and medical supplies. In a conference call with reporters, Rhodes declined to detail the types of “military support” that would be provided.
“Suffice it to say this is going to be different in both scope and scale,” he said.
But three U.S. officials said Obama has authorized sending weapons to Syrian rebels for the first time, the Associated Press reported. The officials said the administration could provide the rebels with a range of weapons, including small arms, ammunition, assault rifles and a variety of anti-tank weaponry such as shoulder-fired rocket-propelled grenades and other missiles.
However, no final decisions have been made on the type of weaponry or when it would reach the rebels, according to the officials, who insisted on anonymity.
Rhodes said Obama would consult allies about the specifics of the new shipments at next week’s G8 summit in Northern Ireland. The sessions will also be attended by Russia, the Syrian government’s main international ally and arms supplier.
Rhodes said U.S. officials had briefed Russia on what U.S. intelligence agencies said was a “high confidence” assessment that chemical weapons had been used the nerve gas sarin “in small quantities” on at least four occasions this year.
There is no reliable evidence that Western-backed rebels in Syria have used chemical agents, as Syrian President Bashar Assad claims, the White House said in a statement.
Thursday’s announcement came after an interim determination in April that chemical weapons were likely used in Syria. Obama said he wanted further evidence before deciding what to do next, in part because of the lesson of Iraq, where inaccurate U.S. intelligence indicated Saddam Hussein’s government had developed weapons of mass destruction.
“Following a deliberative review, our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year,” a White House statement said. It said between 100 and 150 people are estimated to have died as a result of chemical weapons.
Earlier this month, France and Britain each said tests they had conducted on samples taken from Syria were positive for sarin, and a UN team said it had “reasonable grounds” to suspect small-scale use of toxic chemicals in at least four attacks in March and April.
Pressed on what the United States would do next, Rhodes said the White House would share the information with Congress and U.S. allies but will “make decisions on our own timeline.”
The European Union has already lifted an embargo that had blocked weapons for the rebels.
Canada’s position so far has been to not send military aid to Syrian rebels. A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said late Thursday that Canada is examining its position in light of the latest development.
“We are deeply troubled by the conclusions of the American investigation,” Joseph Lavoie, Baird’s director of strategic communications, told the Star in an email. “We are consulting with our allies on a response.”
Speaking to the British Parliament earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the world faces a “grotesque dilemma” in Syria.
“Decent people agree that (Assad) must go,” he said. But Harper said the extremist nature of some of the rebels “cannot be ignored or wished away.”
Some radical Islamist or Al Qaeda-linked groups have been fighting with the Syrian opposition.
Above all, Harper said, “Syria cannot be allowed to become another safe haven for the hydra-heads of terrorism.”
With files from Tonda MacCharles, Les Whittington and Star wire services
Former premier Dalton McGuinty will pocket about $313,000 in severance pay from 23 years in Ontario politics after resigning this week as MPP for Ottawa South.
The payout to McGuinty, who announced his resignation last October, is based on a formula that gives MPPs with more than eight years’ service 1.5 times their average annual salary for their highest three consecutive years.
“Dalton McGuinty left, I think, in a shroud of scandal . . . it was time for him to go,” Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean—Carleton) said Thursday.
Unlike federal MPs, members of provincial legislature do not have a pension plan.
If Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak were to quit as an MPP, his severance would be about $271,000 under the formula in the Legislative Assembly Act.
Premier Kathleen Wynne hinted she would soon call a byelection in McGuinty’s riding even though, by law, she has until December to do so.
Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Wynne suggested the seat could be filled at the same time contests are held some time this summer in London West and Windsor Tecumseh, left vacant by the retirements of former cabinet ministers Chris Bentley and Dwight Duncan.
With files from Robert Benzie.
ARLINGTON, TEXAS—The Blue Jays know they will see manager John Gibbons at the major league All-Star Game next month at New York’s Citi Field.
But which Toronto player, or players, will join the skipper at the annual Midsummer Classic remains a question.
With the game a month away, the Jays were in Texas on Thursday night, and put together a textbook two-run eighth inning to earn a 3-1 win over the Rangers before 32,013 at the Ballpark in Arlington.
Any all-star talk with the Jays like begins and ends with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, and the two went walk and two-run double, respectively, to break a 1-1 tie that came courtesy of a pitching duel between Yu Darvish and Toronto’s Jays’ Esmil Rogers.
The Jays’ stars were doing what they are supposed to do, but a sacrifice bunt from Munenori Kawasaki and a groundout to the right side of the infield by Melky Cabrera set the stage for the big boppers to do their thing.
At the moment, the thinking around the team is that Jose Bautista, the face of the franchise, will be voted in via fan balloting, the players’ vote, or — if it comes to it — the the manager’s selections that fill out the respective rosters.
Beyond Bautista, the argument for Jays players grows thin: Encarnacion remains the popular favourite to earn a spot via the players’ vote or manager’s selections.
Brett Cecil’s case is strong. He’s quietly led the Jays’ bullpen and has been all-star calibre all season long, but his chances are slim. Arguments can also be made for closer Casey Janssen and DH/first baseman Adam Lind, though Janssen saves totals and Lind’s at-bats fall short of all-star thresholds.
Inside the Jays dressing room Thursday, the players were unanimous in naming Encarnacion as the Jay most worthy of all-star selection. The soft-spoken first baseman, who is leading the team for a second straight season in homers and RBIs, was snubbed last year, and in the minds of his peers should not be overlooked twice.
But being overlooked is a fact of life for a host of major leaguers in every city.
“We’ve got a team with a lot of players who deserve mention, but it’s a fan vote and a manager’s selection, so snubs will happen,” Jays reliever Steve Delabar said.
“It’s kind of like a guy performing well in Triple-A. He’s doing well but there’s not room on the 25-man roster in the major leagues, so he stays in Triple-A. But I know as a team we’d gladly have a few more guys snubbed in exchange for more wins.”
Gibbons was invited by Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland this season. The two men have been mutual admirers dating back to the time when Gibbons broke in as big-league manager a decade ago.
“To be selected by Jim Leyland, I have a world of respect for him,” Gibbons said before the Jays’ game against the Rangers on Thursday night.
“I’ve gotten to know him over the years and I was never afraid to ask him for advice on anything. He was always there, he always helped me out, talked about things. You know he looks like he has this tough exterior but he’s really a wonderful person, he has a big heart, he’s a great storyteller, great joke teller, the players all love him.”
Gibbons and Bautista both consider the all-star experience a career highlight, which can increase the sting of a snub for a player like Encarnacion.
Encarnacion insists his focus is on winning games, but he admits that a snub would be hard to take.
“Yes, because you know you work hard and part of that is (getting recognition) for all-star and especially for winning a World Series,” Encarnacion said.
“When you do your job well enough, you deserve to be there, but at the same time you don’t think of it. Your focus should be on your teammates and winning for your team.”
Bautista ranked fifth among AL outfielders in the initial fan voting totals when they were announced on June 3.
The Jays have played only three home games since the interim vote tallies were first announced, and do not play at home again until Monday. Vote totals for Blue Jay all-star hopefuls should increase in accordance with the number of home games the team plays in the lead-up to the All-Star Game itself, which goes July 16.
OTTAWA—The RCMP has launched a criminal investigation into the $90,172 the former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave Sen. Mike Duffy to allow him to reimburse taxpayers for ineligible living expenses.
“The RCMP continues its investigation to determine whether a criminal act has taken place. It must be meticulous and carefully consider, and examine all information,” Cpl. Lucy Shorey wrote in a statement emailed to media Thursday afternoon.
“The RCMP would only lay charges when there is sufficient evidence to do so. As such, we will not be commenting any further on this matter,” Shorey wrote.
The confirmation came after federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson announced she is suspending her investigation into whether Nigel Wright, who resigned last month as chief of staff, violated the Conflict of Interest Act by giving Duffy such a generous personal cheque.
“The commissioner cannot continue the examination until any investigation or charge in respect of the same subject-matter has been finally disposed of,” said the statement released Thursday. It noted Dawson had learned earlier in the day that Wright is now being investigated by another body over whether he committed an offence under an act of Parliament.
Harper spokesman Andrew MacDougall said in an email Thursday the RCMP has not approached the Prime Minister’s Office.
“We would provide any possible assistance if asked,” MacDougall wrote.
Earlier Thursday, senators on the internal economy, budgets and administration committee learned they will not receive a report from forensic accounting firm Deloitte on the travel expenses of Sen. Pamela Wallin until the end of July.
Gary Timm, a partner at Deloitte, said the delay was due to a late decision to add three more months to the period of review — January to March 2009 — in order to have it include the time Wallin was appointed as a Conservative senator for Saskatchewan.
Timm said they are also waiting to receive some third-party information, which they expect to receive by the end of June.
Conservative Sen. David Tkachuk, the outgoing chair of the internal economy committee, introduced a motion in the Senate Thursday that, if passed, would allow the committee to deposit the Deloitte review and any reports on it with the clerk.
This would allow those documents to be made public at that time — likely to be in August — instead of waiting until Parliament resumes after the summer break.
“We’re not thrilled that it’s taking so long and I do have to say for Sen. Wallin, too, it has been a terribly long process and I don’t like that either,” Conservative Sen. Carolyn Stewart Olsen told reporters after the committee meeting.
Tkachuk said Wallin has been co-operating fully with the auditors.
Also in the meeting, Nicole Proulx, director of finances at the Senate, confirmed Sen. Mac Harb was asked in a letter dated June 3 to repay $231,649, including interest, in mileage and living expenses within 30 days.
That is higher than the original amount of $51,482 for Harb, because the committee had recommended going back further than the period covered by the audit.
The new amount goes back seven years, which is as long as the Senate administration keeps those records, and Proulx noted those additional expenses were calculated without being reviewed.
Sen. Patrick Brazeau was sent a letter dated May 28 giving him 30 days to pay back $48,745, including interest, in living expenses and mileage, she said.
Both Brazeau and Harb have said they will challenge the findings.
Tkachuk and Stewart Olsen both said the internal economy committee would consider its options if either Brazeau or Harb do not reimburse the expenses before the deadline, which Stewart Olsen said could involve garnishing their wages.
OTTAWA—Senator Pamela Wallin admits she made mistakes in paperwork for her expenses, but says they are a result of not paying attention to details — not an attempt to bilk the system.
In her first interview since she was exiled from the Conservative caucus in the Senate-expense scandal, Wallin told CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge that she regrets how her lack of attention led to wrongful expense claims.
“I take full responsibility for this,” Wallin said Thursday evening. “I should have gone over it with a fine-toothed comb, as anybody should, to make sure, but I just didn’t.
“I was doing what I thought my job was.”
Wallin stressed that all her expense disputes revolve around travel claims, and not any confusion about her residency requirements or charges she might have made while doing partisan work for the Conservatives.
Those two issues are dogging her fellow senator, Mike Duffy, also ousted from caucus in the Senate-expense scandal.
“It’s all about travel,” Wallin said. “I don’t submit entertainment claims, I half the time don’t put in my per diems. I’m not concerned about that.”
As for her Conservative duty, she said: “I did very little direct party work. Obviously in Saskatchewan I went and campaigned for some of my colleagues, obviously I would do that. But, there weren’t charges associated with that, because I’m actually at home.”
The $38,000 she’s repaid, she says, comes down to “flight costs. So money is not in my pocket, the money is in the pocket of the airlines.”
Wallin also said she may end up having to pay more, but she also hinted that the financial mess may also be a product of the Senate’s own financial system, which initially approved all her claims.
Wallin said she began her own probe of the expense problems, which revolved around whether trips to her home province of Saskatchewan would still count toward legitimate expenses when she made stopovers.
“I’ve got a staff of two and me and we spent every night, and we are still there . . . I want to have every fact in my hand when we do this. So we started to see problems, where things that should have been charged to a third party weren’t. It was just kind of going through the Senate system as it always had for many years.”
She explained: “I didn’t have travel claims rejected. But there were mistakes. . . . This whole question of going to Saskatchewan directly. They have two categories of travel: regular and other. Your regular travel is when you go home. But, they want you to get on a plane and get directly there. . . . That isn’t how I operate.
“If I have a day like a Friday where I can go to Halifax or Edmonton or Toronto and do a speech or do an event, I will do that on the way home. I am still going home. That doesn’t count as travel to my home. It counts as ‘other.’ So the numbers in this category are large.”
Wallin made it clear that she was more or less ordered to resign from Conservative caucus and that the request came from Ray Novak, who replaced Nigel Wright as the prime minister’s chief of staff after Wright paid $90,000 to Duffy to get him out his expense dispute and lost his job over the decision.
Wallin said she was told that she was “a distraction” and “that I was not representative of the views that they wanted to have in public. Look, I mean, you know what, am I surprised by this? No.”
Mansbridge and Wallin once served as co-hosts of CBC’s The National and she told her former journalistic partner that felt neither entitled to her Senate privileges nor inclined to quit altogether.
“I don’t think I deliberately set out to use the system or abuse the system. I don’t think that I was there for my own personal financial gain or to aggrandize myself in some way. I mean I actually brought my public profile to the table,” she said.
“I thought I was being pretty rigorous but I actually wasn’t being rigorous enough. And that’s on me and I am going to try and make that right if I can and I’ve done the best I can so far to try and do that and I am waiting for this final report when and if it comes and then I’ll try to make, I’ll try to make that right, too.”
SAN ANTONIO—All of a sudden it was 2006 again and there was Flash, rolling and scoring and getting steals and being disruptive and as much as the Miami Heat needed LeBron James to get back to normal, they hugely benefitted from a revival by the moribund Dwyane Wade.
Playing on sore knees that make it impossible to know how he’ll feel until the game begins, Wade had a throwback 32-point game here Thursday night as the Heat pulled away for a 109-93 win over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of the NBA final.
Reducing the series to a best-of-three affair that resumes here Sunday, Wade, James and Chris Bosh once again became the Big Three.
James, who had vowed after Game 3 that he would be better, was. He had 33 points and was more aggressive attacking the basket than he’d been, making the Spurs pay for many of the 19 turnovers they committed by turning them into fast-break baskets.
And Bosh was quietly efficient at both ends, anchoring Miami’s best defensive game of the series and pouring in 20 points.
“(James’s) aggressiveness set the tone . . . but he’s had the whole menu all year long, in the post, on the drive, jumpers, whatever’s needed,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra.
As for Wade: “His core game was there from the beginning. He was extremely aggressive tonight. He got in a great rhythm in the first half and for us to win this game he had to continue to be aggressive.
It was a delightful game that brought out the best in both teams, compelling entertainment from start until midway through the fourth quarter when the Heat pulled away.
But San Antonio was done in by 16 turnovers and the inability to get enough open three-pointers, while the Heat finally found some tempo on offence.
It was a stark turnaround from Game 2, a San Antonio rout, and probably saved Miami’s season since no team in NBA final history has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit.
“We understood this game was a survival game. All we’ll think about is the next game. That’s enough on our plate,” said Spoelstra.
Tim Duncan had 20 points to lead the Spurs, while Tony Parker, playing with a strained hamstring, added 15 and nine assists.
In an effort to get James more space to operate and more post-up opportunities, the Heat replaced Udonis Haslem with Mike Miller in the starting lineup. Coach Erik Spoelstra, who announced the change less than 90 minutes before tip-off, did admit it was a difficult decision.
“Look, any decision is tough. That’s part of this seat,” he said. “We’ve developed enough of a trust that the guys understand I’ll make any decision that we feel is necessary to help us, without hesitation, because there isn’t time. So it’s not personal whenever we do it.
“When you’re dealing with the human element, those things are never easy.”
Not only did the move energize James, it seemed to rejuvenate Wade. The hobbled guard had 14 points in the first half as the Heat led by as many as 10 before the Spurs finished with a big spurt to tie it 49-49 at the half.
A combination of good transition offence — James twice went coast-to-coast to finish layups — and the best defence they’d played since the second half of Game 2 gave the Heat confidence.
“When Bosh, Wade and James score the way they did tonight and shoot it the way they did tonight, teams are going to have a difficult time if you help them and shoot poorly from the free-throw line, as we did, and give over 20 points on turnovers,” said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. “It’s not going to happen. When those guys play like that, you better be playing a more perfect game.”
The big question for San Antonio was the health of point guard Tony Parker, playing with a Grade 1 strain of his right hamstring. If he was bothered by it, he certainly didn’t show it, fearlessly attacking the rim and pouring in 13 first-half points.
And the Spurs remained red-hot from three-point range, hitting three in the first seven minutes. Danny Green continued his astonishing shooting from distance. At one point he’d made 14 of 16 three-pointers in the series.
It’s the giant unknown that is under a spotlight, yet again, in the wake of the Bank of Canada warning Thursday that Toronto’s highrise condo market is not only overbuilt and overpriced, but a risk to the country’s economic health.
No one really knows how many of the 55,342 condos now under construction across the GTA are owned by investors — or what they will do if Canada is hit by economic shock waves from other parts of the world that could send house prices tumbling and, with them, consumer confidence and spending.
The next 30 months will be key, the central bank makes clear in its latest assessment of Canada’s financial system, which singles out the growing inventory of unsold units in Toronto’s condo market and raises concerns that construction has been boosted by investor, rather than demographic, demand.
If that unsold inventory isn’t absorbed as projects come on stream over the next year to 30 months, prices could plunge and spread to the rest of the housing market, the central bank warns. “Such a correction would reduce household net worth, confidence and consumption spending, with negative spillovers to income and employment.”
The central bank’s warning comes a week after the OECD singled out Canada as one of just three countries with overvalued housing markets and as developers continue to put the brakes on new projects: Just nine developments with 2,604 suites launched in Q1 of this year, compared to 24 buildings with 6,141 units a year earlier, according to condo research firm Urbanation.
“The market is vulnerable for both external and internal reasons,” says Capital Economics housing analyst David Madani. “Obviously there is the risk of a shock to the Canadian economy from the United States and Europe or perhaps China slowing down and knocking down commodity prices.
“But I think what is not fully appreciated is the role of the investor and that the housing market itself could end up being the shock on the economy. When you have a flood of investors, they can easily swamp or overwhelm the market.”
In addition to those 55,342 units now under construction across the GTA, another 30,000 condos are in the pre-construction phase and some 18,000 of all those units remain unsold, a number which has been climbing, according to Urbanation.
Urbanation estimates that some 50 to 60 per cent of all the units now being built are owned by investors. But few have opted to sell, and most are still making money by renting out their units with vacancy rates in the core at a 20-year-low of just one per cent and condo rents at record averages of almost $1,900 per month, said Urbanation vice president Shaun Hildebrand.
The bigger concern is all the condos to come, and the further pressure they could put on prices and supply, says Montreal-based Canadian housing analyst Ben Rabidoux.
Immigration rates are slowing, he notes. And condo prices are now so high, once interest rates start to rise, it’s going to become increasingly difficult for investors to cover their costs through rents.
“This isn’t a big deal if the condo market is rising, but if it’s softening, investors are bound to get antsy,” said Rabidoux, noting there are many examples of purchasers in Vancouver who’ve tried to get out of deals penned in the preconstruction phase years ago, before condo prices there started slumping.
What the Bank of Canada hasn’t accounted for is the “underlying dynamics of the marketplace,” says Jasmine Cracknell, a partner with Toronto-based development consultants N. Barry Lyon Ltd.
Almost 13,000 of those 18,000 unsold condos are in buildings where construction hasn’t even started, and some may end up being cancelled if the market doesn’t pick up, she noted. If anything, the downturn in the market has resulted in more competitive pricing and focused developers on Triple A locations where demand remains strong.
“At least 50 per cent of the market right now is being driven by investors, but they are looking at these units as long-term rentals. Until we see vacancy rates of three or four per cent, more than double what they are now, then there would be the need for caution bells,” says Cracknell.
“But these investors are still getting returns on what are solid investments.”
Pre-dawn raids that netted guns, drugs and alleged gang members were the culmination of more than a year of police work, but also the latest dramatic link to Mayor Rob Ford and an alleged crack cocaine scandal that has embroiled city hall for almost a month.
The investigation — dubbed Project Traveller — saw dozens of officers in tactical gear from 17 police agencies execute 39 search warrants in Toronto, Windsor and Edmonton. It has implicated some of those connected to the mayor in photographs and who come from a neighbourhood central to the controversy over a video that appears to show Ford smoking what seems to be crack cocaine.
Police officers used battering rams and “flash-bangs,” and kicked in doors to carry out the warrants, leaving in their wake broken glass, splintered wood, angry black scars on apartment floors and stunned families.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” said the mother of 20-year-old Monir Kassim after police rammed in their 390 Dixon Rd. apartment door at about 5 a.m. Officers later arrested Kassim outside a nearby coffee shop. “We never had any police problems before with him.
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“Of course I’m scared,” she said. “They kicked in my door. This has never happened in my life.”
Police say that to date they have seized 40 firearms and $3 million worth of drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, crystal meth and others. Search warrants show that police were also seeking cellphones, looking for audio and video recordings, in the multi-jurisdictional sweep.
The search to dismantle the criminal gang known as the Dixon City Bloods or the Dixon Goonies focused on a Dixon Rd. apartment block in Etobicoke that has been a focus of intense attention since sources told the Star Ford had blurted out to staff members that the video could be found on the 17th floor.
Ten minutes northwest of the complex, police arrested Muhammad Khattak at his Mercury Rd. home around 7:30 a.m. and carted away evidence, including what appeared to be a Toshiba laptop and several files.
Khattak, 19, is one of three men who appears in a now infamous photograph with Ford — obtained by the Star from the same man who showed two Star reporters the video. In the photo, one of Ford’s arms is wrapped around 21-year-old Anthony Smith, who was gunned down on King St. near Loki Lounge in March.
Khattak was also shot that night, but survived.
No one at his family home answered questions asked through broken glass panes on Thursday morning. Khattak’s mother had earlier told the Star her son was good man, and that she had no idea how he and Smith ended up shot that night.
He appeared in court Thursday for a bail hearing on charges of trafficking in a substance held out to be marijuana and trafficking cocaine for the benefit of a criminal organization. After a four-hour hearing, Justice of the Peace Neil Burgess remanded him in custody.
Nathan Gorham, Khattak’s lawyer, said his client was extremely disappointed that he was going to spend his first night in jail. He said Khattak has no record and is handicapped and in extreme pain from being shot in the back and arm. Gorham said he will be speaking to the family Friday and plans to bring a bail review application to Superior Court.
At Finch court on Thursday afternoon, Crown attorney Paul Renwick told the presiding justice of the peace there were nine defendants already in the building and 35 were expected, some en route from Windsor.
Raids were also conducted in Edmonton, local police confirmed, but it is not known how many people, if any, were arrested.
Earlier, police apprehended a 23-year-old man in Fort McMurray and charged him in Smith’s murder.
Renwick said he was prepared to set dates for 40 special bail hearings, which will run between two and two-and-a-half hours.
Not included in Thursday’s raids was a home on Windsor Rd. near the Dixon apartment complex, a suspected crack house where the photograph was taken. It does not appear that any of the four residents of that home, Elena Johnson and Fabio, Lina and Mario Basso, were arrested.
At least two of those living at the address have a criminal history. Johnson was convicted of trafficking cocaine in 2011 and Fabio Basso was convicted of possessing a prohibited weapon in 2005.
Police remain tight-lipped about what the investigation might reveal about Ford and the elusive video.
According to sources with knowledge of the investigation, the existence of the video was caught up in surveillance conducted as part of Project Traveller — an unintended discovery by police while investigating gang activity that took place before the Star first published reports of Ford’s alleged substance abuse problems in March. Persons of interest to the investigation discussed the iPhone video, sources say.
In early May, two Star reporters viewed a video that appears to show the mayor smoking crack. They watched it three times, independently, on a cellphone shown them inside a car outside 320 Dixon Rd. — one of the apartment buildings where Thursday’s raids were centered.
The video showed the mayor appearing to inhale from a glass crack pipe and making homophobic and racial remarks. The Star does not have a copy of the video and has not been able to verify its authenticity.
On Thursday afternoon, Police Chief Bill Blair refused to confirm or deny whether the investigation implicated Ford in any way, saying that evidence could only appropriately be disclosed in the course of court proceedings.
“The law is absolutely crystal clear on this, about precisely what the legal requirement and the constraints on the police are . . . Your interest in this and even the public’s interest in this does not change the law,” Blair said. “The mechanism for the appropriate and legal disclosure of evidence is in a court of law.”
Blair was adamant that only those on a “need-to-know” level were briefed about the investigation, which Blair said did not include Ford or his staff.
Police spokesperson Mark Pugash confirmed that the mayor’s acting chief of staff, Earl Provost, called him Thursday morning for information on the raids and was given the same scant public details as everyone else.
Provost was recently promoted from within the mayor’s office, one of several new appointments since allegations of the crack video surfaced on May 16 in Gawker and the Star.
A total of six staff members have left Ford’s office since May 23, when former chief of staff Mark Towhey was fired. Sources and reports said the senior staffer had told the mayor to seek help for his health.
Since then, the mayor has been inundated with questions from reporters, who have crowded every public appearance and congregated regularly outside his glass-enclosed office to ask the mayor pointed questions about the allegations — which he has repeatedly rebuffed.
On Thursday, Sgt. Chris Laush told residents outside 320 Dixon Rd.: “This has nothing to do with Rob Ford.”
Later, Blair offered no such denial when asked directly at Thursday’s news conference why he wouldn’t give one: “My responsibility is to collect the evidence and not to make pronouncements on what the evidence means,” he said.
With files from Tim Alamenciak, David Bruser, Kevin Donovan, Robyn Doolittle, Emily Mathieu, Jesse McLean, Mary Ormsby, Jayme Poisson, Betsy Powell, Kenyon Wallace.
The force was with Leslie Seiler and Paul Kingston the day they said I do. Now, so is Internet fame.
The Toronto couple have had to curtail their own honeymoon to deal with the spate of publicity surrounding one of their wedding photos.
The image — snapped on May 31 in central Toronto — depicts the two aspiring comedians and their wedding party being chased by the iconic All-Terrain Armored Transport vehicles (At-Ats) from the Star Wars franchise.
Since the image appeared on social media earlier this week, requests have been pouring in for the newlyweds who appeared to survive a near brush with Empire combat vehicles.
Surreal as the image may seem, Seiler said the ensuing notoriety has felt even more unusual.
“To be honest, I’m not sure how this happened,” Seiler said in a telephone interview. “I guess we’re at the beginning of a trend. That’s how it kind of feels. We didn’t realize it at the time.”
Seiler said she has been a longtime Star Wars buff renowned among her friends for making obscure references to the classic space saga, but never formally considered incorporating her favourite film into her nuptial plans.
But when Toronto photographer Tony Lombardo of Little Blue Lemon Photography proposed a wedding shot that paid homage to Star Wars, both Seiler and Kingston were all ears.
Fate smiled on the notion too, Seiler said, adding the normally bustling intersection outside their wedding venue happened to be nearly empty when Lombardo had his brainwave.
Seiler barely had time to exchange her bridal shoes for more practical flip flops before the photo op passed them by, she said.
She, her husband-to-be and the members of the wedding party simply waited for a red light before dashing across the street miming expressions of terror. The At-Ats shown to be in hot pursuit were added into the image afterwards, she said.
Hours later, Seiler and Kingston boarded a plane for Jamaica as newlyweds and had put the impromptu photo shoot out of their minds.
When they returned a week later, however, they quickly realized their additional week of rural rest and relaxation would have to be postponed. The photo had been posted online in their absence and had become the talk of social media.
ABC’s Good Morning America had called to request an interview, Fox News was on the line soon afterwards, and their lives as Internet stars were just getting started.
Seiler said the couple has spent their second week as husband and wife fielding media requests both at home and abroad, opportunities they hope to parlay into more stable acting gigs closer to home.
Notoriety hasn’t dimmed Seiler’s affection for the photo, she said. The picture is slated to be blown up, framed and given a prominent place in their home, she said, adding the image is a reminder that even something as potentially draining as a wedding should have a light side.
“You can have fun on the day amidst all the stresses and pressures and stuff like that,” she said. “Letting loose and doing something really crazy like that kind of makes it even more memorable.”
OTTAWA—Two weeks after the fatal crash of an air ambulance helicopter crash in northern Ontario, ORNGE has temporarily suspended night-time chopper flights to 58 remote sites across the province.
While the cause of the May 31 midnight crash in Moosonee may not be known for many months yet, the air ambulance service says it is taking the actions for “maximum safety.”
“Rotor operations at night are certainly an area where you have to be very vigilant,” Dr. Andrew McCallum, president and chief executive officer of ORNGE, told the Star in an interview.
ORNGE has implemented several changes in the wake of the crash that killed four employees, including suspending night flights to 58 landing sites that involve so-called “black hole” approaches.
Such conditions occur in remote areas where the lack of lighting, such as house and street lights, leave the pilot with few visual cues for their landing, raising the risk of an accident.
“We do know that probably black hole approaches are the biggest challenge for rotor (emergency medical service) pilots,” McCallum said.
Rather than conventional lighting, these 58 helipads are marked by reflective cones that mark the landing site when illuminated by the landing lights of an approaching helicopter.
In the coming weeks, ORNGE chopper pilots will get additional training on landing at reflective cone helipads. As each crew completes the training, they will be allowed to resume flights into these sites. The training is expected to take two weeks.
Of the 58 sites, the helipads at Grassy Narrows, White Dog, and Sioux Narrows — the three used most often by ORNGE — are getting new lighting systems altogether.
“I’ve just said to our staff that this has got to be fast-tracked,” McCallum said. “Once we have those in and train people we will be able to return it to service.”
In the interim, ORNGE will be relying on its fixed-wing fleet of aircraft to perform medical evacuations, along with land ambulances, spokesperson James MacDonald said.
“Every effort will be made to minimize delays,” he said Friday.
“ORNGE generally uses these helipads for modified scene calls, where the patient is already in the care of emergency medical personnel. At this time of year, there is an abundance of daylight hours, reducing the instance of night time flights,” MacDonald said.
Finally, ORNGE is reminding pilots on its procedures for night-time departures, which typically involves climbing to 150 metres above the ground to ensure terrain clearance before making any turn towards the destination.
ORNGE has sent a bulletin, “reminding pilots to exercise heightened awareness during operations, especially when operating at night in remote areas,” the agency said in an email to the Star.
“We’re doing a whole bunch of things out of an abundance of caution. We’re reminding people about night departure procedures and reinforcing how you do this. We’re not saying that’s what it was,” McCallum said.
The Sikorsky S-76 crashed after a midnight departure from Moosonee en route to Attawapiskat to pick up a patient. After a brief climb, the chopper descended into the forest next to the airport. It was airborne for less than a minute.
The four crew onboard were killed: Capt. Don Filliter, First Officer Jacques Dupuy, and flight paramedics Dustin Dagenais and Chris Snowball. A funeral service was held Friday for Dupuy, the last crew member to be laid to rest. A memorial service is planned Tuesday in Toronto.
ORNGE initially grounded its remaining S-76 helicopters but they resumed service after the Transportation Safety Board of Canada has said it found no early evidence that a mechanical problem had crash the crash.
There are questions whether the inky blackness of the northern Ontario airport and the possibility of pilot disorientation played a role in the chopper’s crash so soon after take-off.
“I think it’s really important that we not jump to conclusions here. I think there’s a lot of things still in play,” McCallum said.
“This is not technically a black hole situation that is associated with this accident. We don’t know if disorientation at night was a factor.”
In the lobby of ORNGE’s Mississauga headquarters this week a small memorial was on display to pay tribute to four killed in the crash. A table displayed photos of the men along with books for visitors and employees to write notes of condolence. Bouquets of flowers dotted the tables in the reception area.
“It’s been extraordinarily difficult for our people,” McCallum said.
“We’re working with them to try and make this post-event period as easy as can be. We’ve been very respectful of people who have had concerns going back to the job.”
Anne Belanger was heartbroken when she discovered her son had been placed off to the side in his Grade 2 class photo.
“I couldn’t comprehend how the photographer could look through the lens and think that this was good composition . . . this just boggled the mind,” she said.
In the photo, the class is arranged in three rows, with the teacher standing on the left.
To the far right is 7-year-old son Miles Ambridge. He’s leaning from his wheelchair, an empty space separating him from his classmates.
“Being picked on and being set aside is horrendous and this was what was happening,” said Belanger, of New Westminster, B.C.
Looking at the photo, she said questioned why nothing was done or discussed in trying to include Miles in the picture.
“The only alternative seemed to be to set him aside,” Belanger said.
She said that being in a wheelchair comes with an additional set of challenges for Miles, who was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at 13 months, a genetic disease that attacks nerve cells in the spinal cord.
Miles’ father Don Ambridge, who saw the photo first, was disgusted and appalled and demanded that Herbert Spencer Elementary School ask the company to retake the picture. A spokesman for the school could not be reached for comment Friday.
Belanger also posted the photo on the company’s Facebook page. The firm later offer to retake the photo, according to local media reports.
Belanger said discrimination is still a daily reality for people with disabilities and she wanted to shed light on the stigma surrounding it.
“This was not a malicious act, I don’t think it was done on purpose. I just don’t think there was any rational thinking behind it,” Belanger said.
Miles’ parents have opted not to show the photo to their son.
Belanger said Miles is “aware that he’s different, he’s aware that he’s in a wheelchair” and they were trying their best not to hurt his feelings.
WASHINGTON—The National Security Agency has been compiling a database of everyone’s phone records. But don’t worry. According to the Obama administration, it’s just “metadata.”
“The information acquired does not include the content of any communications,” says White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
Analysts can only search “phone numbers and durations of calls,” says President Barack Obama. “They’re not looking at content.”
James Clapper, director of national intelligence, likens it to reading the Dewey Decimal number on the cover of a library book. You’re not seeing what’s inside.
In this context, meta means the thing you’re talking about is really about something else. Metadata is “data that provides information about other data.” When Obama, Clapper and other officials say they’re just collecting metadata, they’re basically saying it’s empty. It tells you that a call happened, but it doesn’t tell you what was said. It’s referential, derivative, hollow.
Unfortunately, that’s also true of the administration’s statements about the NSA surveillance programs. Many Americans, upset about these programs, are asking how they work and what they reveal. Obama and his aides purport to answer these questions, but their replies are really just meta-answers. They don’t tell us what the programs do or where they stop. All they tell us, vaguely, is how the boundaries — whatever they are — are drawn.
The administration says the programs are governed by a “robust legal regime,” “strict controls,” “strict restrictions” and “very careful procedures and processes to ensure particularly that the privacy and civil liberties of Americans are protected.”
The programs have “a whole range of safeguards,” says Obama.
They’re “consistently subject to safeguards,” says Clapper.
The NSA’s Internet monitoring program, for instance, follows “legislatively mandated procedures” that “are very precise.” But the law doesn’t specify these safeguards or procedures, and the administration doesn’t explain them. We’re told they’re precise, but we aren’t told precisely what they are.
The procedures Obama and Clapper talk about aren’t procedures for using the data. They’re procedures for approving procedures for using the data. They’re meta-procedures. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney assures us that “there are procedures for both requirements for judicial consent and review and for congressional review,” as well as executive branch “procedures . . . for monitoring these programs.” Clapper says his office and the Justice Department give Congress “exhaustive semi-annual reports assessing compliance with the targeting and minimization procedures.” The reports may be exhaustive, but the standards are completely unexplained. What exactly are the “targeting and minimization procedures?”
Obama says there’s an “audit process.” That sounds great. What does the audit examine? According to the president, it ascertains whether “all the safeguards are being properly observed.” What are the safeguards? He doesn’t say.
Clapper says the administration performs “regular on-site reviews of how Section 702 authorities are being implemented.” Cool. So how are those authorities being implemented? Again, no answer.
Clapper loves to talk about specifics. He says we can trust the phone surveillance program because “the FISA Court specifically approved this method of collection as lawful, subject to stringent restrictions.” For instance: “Only specially cleared counterterrorism personnel specifically trained in the Court-approved procedures may even access the records.” What are these procedures and restrictions? He can’t tell us. “Orders that are issued by FISA judges are classified,” Earnest explains. “In terms of specific operational details, I just can’t get into them.” Instead of specifics, we get vague assurances that the court orders and their implementation are precise.
The other meta-procedure that’s supposed to keep NSA procedures tight, according to the administration, is “very robust congressional oversight.” Obama asserted that “every member of Congress has been briefed” on the phone surveillance program. When reporters pointed out that many members of Congress seemed unaware of it, the administration revised its language. “Members of Congress were briefed or had the opportunity to be briefed,” said Carney. Earnest cited a Justice Department letter about a document that had been sent to the congressional intelligence committees “to be made available to all members.” A letter referring to a document inviting the committees to refer the information to lawmakers. That’s two levels of meta.
Obama’s favourite defence of the NSA is meta-democracy: Congress is a surrogate for the people. “Your duly elected representatives have been consistently informed on exactly what we’re doing,” he says. When informing 535 representatives is too dangerous, the administration informs just the intelligence committees or the gang of eight — the leaders of each party in each house, plus the intelligence committee chairmen and designated minority-party representatives from those committees. That’s four people duly elected by your duly elected representatives, plus four other people selected by those four people. Three more levels of meta.
What exactly did the briefings cover? The White House says they addressed the “provisions” and “authorities” under which the NSA acts. That isn’t a briefing. It’s a meta-briefing. Clapper says if any lawmaker “had asked for a specific briefing or follow-up questions, we certainly . . . would have responded.” To get the details, you have to know enough to ask.
The administration says the surveillance programs have been “publicly discussed” in “extensive public debate” with “public votes” by Congress. They’re “conducted under authorities widely known and discussed and fully debated,” according to Clapper. But those debates were about the Patriot Act, not about how the law was applied. That isn’t transparency. It’s meta-transparency.
I can’t criticize this behaviour without including myself. Recently, when the Guardian exposed the phone surveillance program, I defended the program. I pointed out that it didn’t collect the content of phone calls, that it was time-limited by court orders, and that it was judicially and congressionally supervised. The concrete factors I cited — the 90-day expiration on the court order, and the distinction between metadata and wiretapping — draw clear boundaries to surveillance. But the oversight provisions, which sounded good, don’t. Those aren’t limits. They’re meta-limits.
I’m not saying the surveillance system has no rules. It does have rules. The leaked court order substantiates Clapper’s assertion that orders for phone records have to be renewed every 90 days. At a Senate hearing last week, NSA director Keith Alexander confirmed that “the vast majority of records in the database are never accessed and are deleted after a period of five years.” Those limits aren’t absolute — the orders have been extended for years, and some records are retained indefinitely — but at least they’re intelligible. What we need is more clarity. Clapper says the FISA court “only allows the data to be queried when there is a reasonable suspicion, based on specific facts, that the particular basis for the query is associated with a foreign terrorist organization.” What does that mean? What’s reasonable suspicion? What level of facts? What degree of association?
What we don’t need is more linguistic trickery. We can’t have a director of national intelligence who deceives himself and others about the meaning of “collect.” And we can’t have a president who substitutes procedural for substantive answers. When reporters ask whether the NSA is operating under an unduly flexible interpretation of the law, the reply from the White House — “It’s the view of the president that there is in place a very strict oversight regime” — isn’t an answer. It’s a meta-answer. Give us the real thing.
SINCAN, TURKEY — Tens of thousands of backers of the Turkish prime minister were rallying Saturday, a powerful show of support for the government as it faces off with protesters in a two-week stand-off that has fanned nationwide demonstrations.
Flag-waving supporters of Recep Tayyip Erdogan converged Saturday in Sincan — a suburb of the capital Ankara that is a stronghold of his Justice and Development Party. Organizers hoisted a giant poster of Erdogan above a platform where he was expected to speak later.
Protesters have vowed to press on with a sit-in at Istanbul’s Gezi Park, defying government appeals and a warning from Erdogan to leave. The announcement from Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella group of protest movements in Gezi Park, is putting the spotlight on Erdogan’s Saturday speech.
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He already has offered to defer to a court ruling on the legality of the government’s contested park redevelopment plan, and floated the possibility of a referendum on it. But concessions over the park seem to no longer be enough.
A violent police crackdown on what began as an environmental protest over a redevelopment plan sparked a much broader expression of discontent about Erdogan’s government and what many said was his increasingly authoritarian manner of governing.
Erdogan, who was elected with 50 percent of the vote for his third term in 2011, vehemently rejects the accusations. But the protests put some of the greatest political pressure on him in his 10-year tenure.
Earlier this week, Erdogan ordered the adjacent Taksim Square to be cleared of protesters who had also been staging a sit-in there. Police moved past improvised barricades on Tuesday, firing tear gas and rubber bullets and using water cannons to fend off small groups of demonstrators throwing stones, bottles and firebombs. Tear gas was also fired through the trees into the park, although the protesters were not removed.
Taksim Square itself returned to normal right after the end of the police operation early Wednesday. Traffic returned, the protest banners and flags were taken down, and cafes set up their chairs and tables outside again. At night, demonstrators still spill out from the park down the steps, while riot police keep watch from the edges.
Tayfun Kahraman — a Taksim Solidarity member who met with Erdogan in last-ditch talks that lasted until the pre-dawn hours Friday — said the protesters had agreed to continue their sit-in at Gezi Park after holding a series of discussions about their response to the pledges made by Erdogan.
“We shall remain in the park until all of our democratic rights are recognized,” he told The Associated Press, insisting that four key demands laid out by protesters in the talks had not been met.
The group has demanded that apart from the park being left intact, anyone responsible for excessive police force must resign or be fired, all activists detained in the protests should be released, and the police use of tear gas and other non-lethal weapons be banned.
“As of today, with the dynamism and strength that comes from the struggle that has spread to the whole country, and even the world, we shall continue the resistance against all kinds of injustice and victimization in our country,” Taksim Solidarity said in a statement posted on its website and later read out in the park. The group didn’t say explicitly that it would remain in the park.
As the statement was read out, many among the gathered crowd clapped and began shouting, “This is just the beginning — the struggle continues!”
Although the most prominent group to emerge from the protests, Taksim Solidarity doesn’t speak for everyone occupying Gezi. With many protesters saying they have no affiliation to any group or political party, many could make individual decisions on whether to stay or leave.
But there were few signs of anyone intending to pack up Saturday afternoon, and the daily activity in what has become a tent city continued with little indication of change. Deliveries of bottles of water and food arrived, people lined up for servings of lunch, while others cleared garbage and swept the paths clean after the morning rain.
According to the government’s redevelopment plan for Taksim Square, the park would be replaced with a replica Ottoman-era barracks. Under initial plans, the construction would have housed a shopping mall, though that has since been amended to the possibility of an opera house, a theater and a museum with cafes.
Protesters angered by the project began occupying the park last month, but the police crackdown on May 31 saw the demonstrations spread to dozens of cities across the country. In recent days they have concentrated on Istanbul and the capital, Ankara.
The anger has been fanned because riot police have at times used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse mostly peaceful protesters. Five people, including a police officer, have died and thousands of people have been injured — denting Erdogan’s international reputation.
The announcement from Taksim Solidarity came as Erdogan’s supporters were gearing up for their own pro-government rallies on Saturday and Sunday in Ankara and Istanbul.
On Thursday, Erdogan issued a “final” warning that the protesters must leave the park.
Earlier Saturday, President Abdullah Gul wrote on Twitter that “everyone should now return home,” insisting that “the channels for discussion and dialogue” have opened — an apparent reference to the talks between Erdogan and a small group of delegates from the protest.
Overnight, police firing water cannon and tear gas dispersed protesters who erected street barricades near Turkey’s parliament in the capital, Ankara. It was in the latest face-off between authorities and demonstrators over the park redevelopment plan and the police handling of the earliest days of the protests.
Keaten reported from Ankara. Elena Becatoros in Istanbul and Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed.
Daniel Ellsberg, take your leaked Pentagon Papers and step aside. There’s a new gunslinger in town: Edward J. Snowden — former CIA employee, 29 years of age and now whistleblower on the run.
Whether Snowden ends up jailed in the U.S., dead in some dumpster overlooking Hong Kong’s harbour, or — even worse — if he winds up as a regular contributor to CNN or Fox News, we will be hearing about him for years to come in any history of audacious American whistleblowers.
Snowden is the man behind what might be the biggest intelligence leak in American history. In a series of explosive disclosures to The Guardian newspaper, he has revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency is collecting more than 200 billion pieces of intelligence a month, gathering a vast quantity of emails and web searches from the world’s largest Internet companies and routinely misleading the people who are supposed to oversee its actions.
Snowden’s disclosures reveal a scale of global eavesdropping that is greater than previously known. They also describe an expanding role for private corporations in what appears to be developing into a secret surveillance state. For its part, the U.S. government explains this as being crucial in its anti-terrorism efforts.
A debate has begun to rage in U.S. and British political circles about whether, in revealing these secrets, Snowden is a hero, or a traitor. My sense is that he is far more the former than the latter. He didn’t did do it for money, or to “aid and abet the enemy.” As unlikely as this may be in today’s poisoned political environment, it appears he did it out of conscience — “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name, and that which is done against them.” That motivation will make it more difficult for the Americans to pursue him aggressively as his case moves ahead.
Snowden was an employee of a U.S. government contractor in Hawaii that worked with the National Security Agency. He had free access to its mushrooming computer systems and said he became alarmed at the scale of surveillance of innocent people. Snowden said he thought Barack Obama would act to restrain the NSA, but when that didn’t happen, he made the decision to leak: “I had been looking for leaders, but I realized that leadership is about being the first to act.”
He fled to Hong Kong last month and told the South China Morning Post newspaper this week that he wants the people there to decide his fate. The U.S. has not yet filed an application for extradition and a court battle could be lengthy. Snowden said that he had faith in Hong Kong’s legal system: “I am not here to hide from justice. I am here to reveal criminality.”
The response from the American political establishment has been predictably ferocious. John Boehner, the House Speaker, called him a “traitor.” Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said it was “an act of treason.” Most of the influential newspaper columnists were also critical, citing the continuing threats to the United States as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
But largely lost in the public clamour was what Snowden’s disclosures revealed. They confirmed that the U.S. government routinely collects the phone logs of millions of Americans who have no ties to terrorism, without seeking any court warrants. They confirmed that the NSA has access to Internet companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft, enabling it to collect online data about millions of Americans for perpetuity. And they confirmed that American authorities, in their testimony to the U.S. Congress, have lied about their practices.
James Clapper, President Obama’s director of national intelligence, said this week that the Snowden leaks were profoundly serious: “For me, it is literally — not figuratively, literally — gut-wrenching to see this happen.” But only three months ago, when testifying at a Senate hearing, he was asked: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper replied: “No, sir.”
Thanks to Edward J. Snowden, we now know that Clapper lied. And we know much more.
Tony Burman, former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News, teaches journalism at Ryerson University. email@example.com
One mayor, one murder victim, one reputed crack house, one highly sought video, one possible tape-stashing apartment unit: Connect the dots.
Project Traveller — which was never about Rob Ford but tripped over him in its year-long investigative odyssey towards massive pre-dawn drug and gun raids Thursday — has turned up the glare on some very dark corners of the mayor’s helter-skelter life.
A mayor who insists he is not a crack addict — and there’s no indication of habitual use, nor much likelihood that drug traces could be obtained from hair samples, given the buzz cut that Ford suddenly adopted a few weeks ago, after Crackgate exploded in the media.
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A mayor who was photographed in the jolly company of a trio of men — Anthony Smith, slain in March; Muhammad Khattak, wounded in the same shooting and arrested in Thursday’s raids; Monir Kassam, also arrested in that operation.
A mayor who posed for that picture outside a Windsor Rd. home — Ford has never denied it, merely noted that he has his photo taken with loads of folks — that has been the subject of numerous complaints about drug activity from neighbours. What in the world was Ford doing there? He’s never said.
That Windsor Rd. address, the Star has learned, was included on search warrants sworn out by police before the multi-jurisdiction raids were launched in Toronto, Windsor (the city) and Edmonton. Police never went to the house on Thursday, but that doesn’t mean they hadn’t served the warrant earlier. At least one other address listed in the warrants was visited by police last Sunday — they simply knocked on the door rather than kicked in the door.
A mayor who, as the Star had earlier been told by sources, blurted out to some members of his inner circle staff that he knew where the videotape — of Ford seeming to be sucking on a crack pipe — could be located, the same videotape which Ford publicly claims does not exist. According to an individual privy to that discussion, Ford gave a specific address: 320 Dixon Rd, either unit 1703 or 1701.
The 320 Dixon Rd. address, unit 1703, was included on the police search warrants. Its front door is not damaged and residents on that floor say they saw no police activity on Thursday.
On Friday, the mayor had nothing to say about it, studiously ignoring questions flung in his direction by reporters after he spoke at a Toronto Real Estate Board luncheon. Understandable, actually, the mum-game. Not talking, except in the controlled environment of his Sunday afternoon radio show with ‘bro Doug, has been working for the mayor so far, at least by his apparent reckoning.
Chief Bill Blair did a lot of talking at his press conference, Thursday, though what he didn’t say left a pungent odour. While the media session was called to publicize successful culmination of the year-long Project Traveller operation — disrupting a sophisticated criminal enterprise that included robberies, murder and attempted murder, drug and gun trafficking — reporters hounded the chief with questions about where, how and if the investigation had transected with the crack video scandal, a tape that has been seen only by two Star reporters and the editor of U.S.-based website Gawker.
Blair did not pluck the mayor out of the muck, refusing to reveal whether police had scooped up the tape in their investigation or any other evidence linking Ford with drug dealers. But several media organizations, including the Star, have discovered that investigators became aware of the tape’s existence at some point before the news was broken by the Star and Gawker.
In the National Post Friday, columnist Christie Blatchford reported that when Ford’s name first surfaced in wiretapped conversations, Blair told senior commanders he would not lie about it. This comment has been independently confirmed by the Star.
Blair hasn’t lied. He steadfastly asserts any information collected by police will come out in court during the trials of those charged in Project Traveller. There has been no objection from the chief’s office over inferences drawn by the media in coverage of the press conference.
Ford was not briefed on the raids either before or after they occurred. Blair made it clear he reports to the police board, not the mayor. And the board has taken a hands-off approach to the Ford controversy because the mayor certainly doesn’t answer to them.
Board chair Alok Mukherjee told the Star Friday that Blair has yet to brief them about Project Traveller, nor could the board direct the chief to be more forthcoming about evidence obtained.
“Under the Police Services Act, the board is prevented from any involvement in what is called operational matters, including directing the chief or any member of the police service regarding any day-to-day investigation. By law, the board is prevented from directing the chief and the chief is prevented from seeking directions from the board. It’s a very water-tight separation.”
However, the chief has been summoned to meet with the police services board next week.
“I have asked him to provide the board with a briefing on Project Traveller as well as the comments he made during his press conference. I assume the chief will comply with that,” Mukherjee says.
Only after the operation has concluded can the board disclose any information that the chief has provided. But Blair has made it clear that Project Traveller is still ongoing with no wrap-up date in sight.
Mukherjee points to the accounting the board demanded of former police chief Julian Fantino (and, later, Blair) about an investigation of corruption against members of the Central Field Command’s drug squad. “After the fact, the board did ask pretty detailed questions. There was a fair bit that the board made public.”
Would the board be similarly divulgent if it learns that Ford was implicated — however peripherally — in Project Traveller?
“That would be the type of advice the board would seek from its legal counsel,” says Mukherjee.
What the board can’t do is call Ford to address the allegations. “No, we absolutely do not have that authority.”
Mukherjee adds: “As a resident of this city, I very much hope that these matters can be resolved soon because I do understand the public concern that’s been expressed.”
At their Friday follow-up Project Traveller press conference — 43 individuals arrested in the operation, more than 300 charges laid — police displayed a trove of nasty firearms that had been seized: military-style rifles, semi-automatics, handguns.
Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.