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Canadian Special Operations sniper shoots Daesh fighter from 3.5 kilometres away

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 18:55:04 EDT


A Special Operations sniper shot a Daesh fighter in Iraq from 3.5 kilometres away, the Canadian military confirmed Thursday.

The incident, according to a report in the Globe and Mail, happened within the last month. The Canadian Special Operations Command confirmed that one of its soldiers from the elite Joint Task Force 2 hit a human target from 3,540 metres away. The statement did not say exactly where the event took place.

“For operational security reasons and to preserve the safety of our personnel and our coalition partners, we will not discuss precise details on when and how this incident took place,” the statement said. “The (Special Operations Task Force) provides its expertise to Iraqi security force to detect, identify and defeat Daesh activities from well behind the Iraqi security force front line in Mosul,” it added.

If true, the shot — or multiple shots — would join the macabre ranks of the longest sniper kills in history.

The Globe and Mail said the shooter used a McMillan Tac-50 rifle. The U.S.-made rifle, chambered in .50 calibre, is known in the Canadian Armed Forces as the C15 Long Range Sniper Weapon and was responsible for multiple record-breaking shots during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan in 2002. The weapon has a maximum effective range of around 3,650 metres and weighs roughly 26 pounds.

The Tac-50 is billed as being able to shoot a 1.27 centimetre bullet group at 91 metres. Meaning at 3,539 metres, its grouping size would be somewhere around 20 inches. For the soldier to hit his target 3,540 metres he would need to account for every atmospheric factor available. Wind speed, temperature, barometric pressure, the bullet’s yaw and the rotation of the earth would all need to be considered before pulling the trigger. These variables, once harnessed from devices such as a hand-held weather meter and potentially range-finding equipment on the gun, would then be processed through a ballistic calculator that would let the shooter make the necessary adjustments on the rifle’s scope.

Evan McAllister, a former Marine sergeant who served multiple deployments as a sniper in Ramadi, Iraq and in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, said little is known about the capabilities of a unit like Joint Task Force 2. The unit was likely operating with an array of systems to help make the shot, he said.

“While the shot was possible with the outstanding ballistic properties of a match .50 (inch) projectile, a conventional rifle scope would make seeing the target at that range almost impossible, and it may be likely that the sniper team had some form of assistance either from an extremely advanced rifle scope or an overhead drone,” McAllister said. “There is also a chance that the sniper couldn’t exactly see the target or the impacts, but a spotter with an advanced optical device was able to verbally walk the sniper onto the target and correct his aim.”

The Canadian military maintains a robust special operations presence in Iraq in lieu of conducting airstrikes on behalf of the U.S.-led coalition. Much like their American counterparts, the units provide assistance for Iraqi forces and have been filmed on the front lines.


Donald Trump is a willing listener ‚??you can work with,‚?? Trudeau says

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 16:27:00 EDT


WASHINGTON—According to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. President Donald Trump is a willing listener with good social skills who keeps his word and is open to changing his mind when presented with opposing positions.

Trudeau, who has made a determined effort to avoid angering the mercurial president, offered his complimentary assessment in a public interview with two New York Times journalists at the University of Toronto on Thursday.

He also continued his parallel effort to downplay Trump’s importance to the broader relationship between the U.S. and Canada. Though the president is powerful, Trudeau said his government is also engaging American states, cities and businesses that are continuing to adopt “progressive” policies on climate change and other issues even when Trump does not.

Some members of the audience chuckled when Trudeau said Trump “knows how to interact socially on a very effective level” and then praised the president’s listening.

“I can understand the laughter,” he said, “but there’s a lot of politicians who have a deep vested interest in being right all the time. And therefore close themselves sometimes off to facts or evidence or differing opinions. What I’ve found from this president is: he will listen to arguments made, he will look at the ensemble of facts and proposals … he will be open to shifting his position.”

Despite their differences, Trudeau said, “I’ve always found that whenever he has made an engagement to me or a commitment to me on the phone or in person, he has followed through on that. And that’s someone you can work with.”

He acknowledged that he has been forced to adjust to Trump’s unusual operating style. Their phone calls, he said, happen with far less notice than his calls with ex-president Barack Obama. And he said Trump’s tweets present “a new wrinkle in international diplomacy,” forcing him to consider whether a Canadian reaction is warranted.

He suggested that he sometimes learns about the tweets in his morning briefing.

“We are not going to respond to sabre-rattling with more sabre -rattling,” he said. “We are going to stick to facts and being reasonable about things.”

Trudeau, who has used former prime minster Brian Mulroney as an adviser on handling Trump and the U.S. government, praised the opposition Conservatives as “thoughtful” and “very helpful” on the U.S. file.

Trudeau said there is a “100 per cent” chance that there will continue to be a North American Free Trade Agreement next year. Asked if it will exist in four years, though, he said, “Who knows?”

Trudeau made an early effort to cultivate a relationship with Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and White House adviser. He said he has not spoken to her since she accompanied him to a Broadway show, Canadian play Come From Away, in March.


York police officer charged in second sexual assault

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 14:33:45 EDT


After being found guilty of sexual assault last year, York Regional Police (YRP) officer Young Min von Seefried has been charged with two counts of sexual assault and two counts of breach of trust by a public officer.

In a release on Thursday, Special Investigations Unit Director Tony Loparco wrote that charges have been laid in relation to incidents that reportedly occurred in 2014.

Seefried had already been sentenced to 16 months in jail for the sexual assault of a 21-year old woman in the back of his police cruiser, and was to be placed on a sex offender registry for 10 years.

As of February, Seefried had been suspended without pay from the police force — and with the new charges, “nothing has changed from our end at this point in time,” YRP Media Relations Const. Andy Pattenden told The Star.

“I think there’s issues because, for changes to take place, it’s a Police Service Act matter. I think there’s issues around that happening with criminal charges and everything else, but I don’t know. Right now he’s suspended without pay and has been since he was convicted,” Pattenden said.

“We won’t be saying anything further but it’s our professional standards that would be overseeing any sort of York Regional Police investigation.”

The SIU became aware of the new allegations against von Seefried on Nov. 2, 2016 when YRP contacted them with complaints of a sexual nature against one of their officers.

A 26-year-old woman alleged that she was sexually assaulted between August and December of 2014. The SIU — an arm’s length agency that investigates reports involving officers where death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault have taken place — then invoked its mandate and began investigating the case.

Const. von Seefried was arrested on Thursday by members of the SIU, and taken to the courthouse in Newmarket where his bail hearing has been adjourned until July 13. Pattenden says he believes von Seefried was taken directly from incarceration to the courthouse.

Under the Criminal Code, Seefried is now facing two new counts of sexual assault, contrary to s. 271, and two counts of breach of trust by public officer, contrary to s. 122.

“The matter is now properly before the courts,” the SIU release says. “In consideration of the fair trial interests of the accused, the SIU will make no further comment pertaining to this investigation.”


Northern Ontario First Nation declares state of emergency on youth suicides

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 21:53:00 EDT


Wapekeka First Nation has declared a state of emergency after the suicide of 12-year-old Jenera Roundsky last week sent 35 kids into a mental health crisis and ignited fears that a suicide pact that gripped the community in January still exists.

Wapekeka band manager Joshua Frogg said “this is a very high number for a small community like ours,” Frogg said of the community of 400 Oji-Cree about 400 kilometres northeast of Sioux Lookout, Ont.

“Our people are getting tired. So now little kids, 10-, 11-, 12-year-olds are helping our people as first responders and this is not acceptable. They are the ones at risk. We need help, boots on the ground, people properly trained to assess and determine and help as needed — we don’t need 11 and 12-year-olds on the front lines trying to save their friends, that adds trauma,” Frogg said.

The remote, fly-in First Nation has been in a state of crisis after the deaths of two 12-year-old girls in January. Jolynn Winter took her life on Jan. 8 and her friend, Chantell Fox, followed her two days later.

Wapekeka has appealed to the Canadian Red Cross, which is trying to figure out how they can best help, said media relations adviser Jennifer Ouellette.

“As the community identifies what assistance is required, the Red Cross will continue to be actively engaged in these discussions to determine how we might be able to support the Wapekeka First Nation during this very difficult time, based on our capacity, resources and areas of expertise,” she said.

The community does not have the money to pay for more fly-in help, said Frogg. Earlier this year, Health Canada promised Wapekeka $380,000 in emergency funding but only $95,000 has arrived and that was spent by the end of March on new mental health workers, Frogg said.

“We still don’t have that money the feds promised. I’m the band manager, I look after the finances and that money is not there yet. I’m moving financial resources from other programs in order to help our people. We are stressed and maxed to the limit,” he said.

Wapekeka requested $380,000 last summer when the community discovered a suicide pact among its teenagers. Health Canada originally refused. However, the federal health authority changed its mind after an anonymous donor came forward and offered to pay the $380,000. But that donor has since rescinded his offer.

Dr. Michael Kirlew, a physician in the Sioux Lookout Region who is heading to Wapekeka, credited the First Nation for coming up with a plan last year and trying to get it funded.

“Communities have put forward solutions. It is not as if Wapekeka wasn’t doing anything and just waiting around. It has been almost a year,” Kirlew said, adding the health system is not equitable for Indigenous people and that the kids have no access to the mental health services needed.

“How many youth are going to have to die before we get system transformation. Is it four? Is it five? We need to transform the system or else we won’t improve the outcomes,” he said.

Gary Holub, a spokesperson for Health Canada said the $95,000 payment was the “balance owing” from the fiscal year 2016-2017 and that the department is committed to providing Wapekeka with $380,000 in enhanced funding until 2019.

Since last winter Health Canada has continued to fund additional crisis supports, including three staff rotating every 10 days, up to four mental health counsellors, administration and ground transportation, noted the department in a statement to the Star.

“Since the beginning of the current fiscal year (April 1), Health Canada has provided Wapekeka with close to $1 million for the delivery of their community health programs. On May 9, Health Canada also provided a letter of commitment to Chief (Brennan) Sainnawap confirming $380,000 annually (until March 2019), which will fund four youth mental health workers who were requested by the community,” the statement said, adding the workers are already in place.

Health Canada is now providing “more than $900,000 on an annual basis for mental wellness programs,” the statement said.

This latest crisis was touched off by the death of Jenera Roundsky, a 12-year-old girl whose body was discovered at the outdoor ice rink on June 13 by another 12-year-old, said Frogg. Now there is concern for that child’s well-being.

“That stays with you for a long, long time. I have had to cut down one person (who had hanged themselves), many years ago. It stays with you forever. It never goes away. Can you imagine a child?” he asked.

Trauma teams from Sioux Lookout that stay for a period of 10 days then rotate out will hopefully be soon in place for the next year, Frogg said.

The anonymous donor pulled his funding support after the community questioned his “very detailed agreement” on how the money would be used. “I’m used to looking after reporting to the federal government and the province, but this one was something else. I couldn’t do it, the way he wanted it done. We said we’d use the money — since the federal government was coming through with the $380,000 — towards their annual anti-suicide conference. People look forward to it every year. They come from all over. But then he pulled the money,” he said. “It was disheartening.”

Wapekeka, for years, was proactive in ensuring healing and suicide prevention through community plans and their annual Survivors of Suicide Conference, but lack of funds led to its cancellation.

But the funding for these programs was cut two years ago. The conferences provided healing for the survivors of convicted pedophile Ralph Rowe, as well as their families. Rowe’s child sexual assault charges affected many northern communities. The Anglican priest and Boy Scout leader used to fly into communities and spend time with adolescent boys.

Health Canada now says it will fund the conference once again.

In 1994, Rowe was convicted of 39 counts of indecent assault on 15 boys ages 8 to 14. He was sentenced to six years in prison and served 41/2 years. As part of his 1994 plea deal, he was protected from facing more charges of a similar nature.

In 2006, Rowe faced 75 charges involving 31 victims, the Star reported in 2011. But after preliminary hearings, the complainants fell to 25 from 31 and the charges to 57 from 75. Only two cases resulted in convictions.


Bulls‚?? loss Raptors‚?? gain on NBA draft night

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 21:56:32 EDT


The best thing that happened for the Raptors in the NBA draft might have been that the Chicago Bulls took a step back.

On a night that was far more fizzle than flash, the Raptors stuck with the 23rd pick — selecting Indiana’s Ogugua (OG) Anunoby, a London-born, United States-raised son of a Nigerian father — but what went on around them was of more significance.

Given that the Bulls routinely beat the Raptors and have for years, Chicago’s decision to start a rebuilding process by moving Jimmy Butler and No. 16 to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Khris Dunn and the No. 7 pick weakened one of Toronto’s Eastern Conference rivals and that can’t be a bad thing.

Toronto’s own pick, a 19-year-old coming off knee surgery in January that will likely keep Anunoby on the sidelines until at least training camp, is a look to the longer-term future.

“They told us he’s ahead of schedule, but what date that is, I don’t know,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We’re going to get his program right from when he leaves here, from the press conference tomorrow.

“Alex McKechnie (Toronto’s director of sports science) is one of the best in the league. He’s got some of the best people in Los Angeles working for him . . . so we want to make sure we start him out right now in that program and get it going as soon as possible.”

The six-foot-eight Anunoby, who has a seven-foot-two wingspan, is considered a far more polished defensive player today, able to guard multiple positions through his season and a half with the Hoosiers.

“He fits in the way we want as far as switching is concerned. He can guard one through five, easily. As far as the way we want to switch, he fits into that.

“He’s a P.J. Tucker clone, practically. That’s something that gives us some toughness and ability to switch things defensively, the way the league is going where you can switch those things. His size and strength and athleticism is a huge plus for us.”

Anunoby averaged 11.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in 16 games with the Hoosiers before the injury in January. He shot 31 per cent from the college three-point line, but only 56.3 per cent from the free-throw line.

For a Toronto team that seems determined to be a better three-point shooting team next season, the pick is a bit of a mystery.

“His shot’s not broken. Like a lot of young players, he just needs repetition, to get in the gym and work on it,” Casey said.

“The shot is something a lot of young players have to work on, anyway. I have all the confidence in the world, because he’s a worker.”

Anunoby harbours no illusions about what his job will be when he’s fully healthy. He put a return to the court at October or November, which would knock him out of summer league and training camp.

“I think I bring a versatile wing defender that can defend multiple positions, and on offence hit open shots, cut to the basket, and then just create havoc on defence,” he told reporters in New York.

As is the case most seasons, the hours leading up to the draft were filled with reports of this team talking to that team, this player moving to that team, all surrounding some of the top draft slots.

The Philadelphia 76ers were the only certainty. They had targeted Washington guard Markelle Fultz since trading up from No. 3 on the weekend.

The top of the draft played out with little drama or surprise. The Los Angeles Lakers took UCLA guard Lonzo Ball second, Boston chose Duke forward Jayson Tatum third, Phoenix went with Kansas forward Josh Jackson at No. 4 and Sacramento took Kentucky guard De’Aaron Fox with the fifth selection.

The Orlando Magic picked Florida State forward Jonathan Isaac at No. 6 and after Minnesota took Lauri Markkanen for Chicago, the New York Knicks went with French forward Frank Ntilikina. Dallas took North Carolina State point guard Dennis Smith to round out the top 10.

According to league sources, Raptors president Masai Ujiri was trying to move the 23rd pick in a package with Jonas Valanciunas as part of a reshaping of the franchise and with financial considerations in mind, but nothing more than a few whispers emerged.

Tying the remainder of DeMarre Carroll’s contract — about $32 million — to any trade was also on Ujiri’s wish list, according to league sources.

But the hard work for the Raptors barely began with Thursday’s draft. Facing a summer with more significant free agents to deal with than at any time in franchise history, Ujiri has to be mindful of who he wants to bring back and at what cost, while remaining among the top tier of Eastern Conference teams.

Franchises were informed this week that the salary cap will dip from an expected $101 million (all figures U.S.) to $99 million next season, while the luxury-tax threshold will fall from about $121 million to $119 million.

If the Raptors are planning to bring back both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka at big-ticket salaries, and with Tucker likely to command close to an eight-figure payday next year, saving money anywhere to lessen a tax bill would be in Ujiri’s best interests.

Ujiri can revisit trade talks once the July 1 free-agency negotiation period begins and teams take stock of what transpired in the draft as a whole.

Right now, the balance of power in the East hasn’t changed significantly from earlier in the week, but Butler moving from Chicago to the West — instead of to Cleveland, as was rumoured — and Paul George not yet dealt away from Indiana makes things better in Toronto, at least momentarily.


Police notified after academic reports she was assaulted at symphony

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 19:29:23 EDT


Aisha Ahmad’s night out at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra was ruined before it even began.

The University of Toronto international security professor says she’s not sure if she’ll ever go back to see concerts at Roy Thomson Hall after the treatment she received from staff following an altercation with another patron Wednesday, in which she says she was physically assaulted and insulted.

“This is an incredibly embarrassing thing to have happened to me in a city that I love,” she said.

It all began when Ahmad tried to take a non-flash picture of the orchestra before the show started, something many concert-goers do.

An older man sitting behind her “struck me in the neck,” she said.

When she tried to tell him off, she said he called her a child and a “bitch.”

“What was most disappointing was the other people in the section, just having looked at both of us, decided that I must have been in the wrong,” she said, noting she was the only person of colour in that section.

When she realized other patrons were siding with the man, she “felt threatened” and went out to report the incident to staff.

But staff told her they wouldn’t do anything until the intermission, so she waited in the hallway for almost an hour.

At the intermission, Ahmad said the same man came straight up to her and “lunged at me.”

“This happened in front of everybody,” she said.

Staff “did not stop him, did not detain him, but said they needed to hear his side of the story.”

She later called the police, but staff escorted the offender out of the theatre before police arrived.

A spokesperson for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) told Metro in an email that the man is no longer welcome at the TSO, and that police have been notified about the matter.

“The TSO has zero tolerance for violent, disrespectful behavior,” wrote Francine Labelle. “We regret this happened at a TSO concert, where everyone is welcome and should feel safe.”

Ahmad, who is a regular at the symphony, said she’s concerned about the institution allowing such behaviours to flourish.

“Our city is remarkable in its diversity, and yet I was the only woman of colour in that entire section, and that made me wonder whether we have these toxic pockets of exclusion that are inconsistent with the spirit of our city,” she said.

“I didn’t sleep well last night and I haven’t eaten any food today,” she added.

“This distracted me from my important work on international security.”


Bill Cosby to give speeches on avoiding false sexual assault allegations

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 19:48:12 EDT


Bill Cosby is planning a series of town hall meetings this summer to educate people, including young athletes and married men, on how to protect themselves from false accusations of sexual assault, two of his representatives said Wednesday.

The announcement came just days after Cosby’s trial on sexual assault charges ended in a hung jury and while he is still battling several suits from other women who say he assaulted them too.

“This issue is bigger than Bill Cosby,” his representative Andrew Wyatt said on Good Day Alabama, a show on WBRC Fox 6 in Birmingham.

Read more:

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“This issue can affect any young person — especially young athletes of today,” he continued, “and they need to know what they are facing when they are hanging out and partying when they are doing certain things they shouldn’t be doing.”

Wyatt said the issue “also affects married men.”

Ebonee M. Benson, who works with Wyatt and joined him on the program, said the need for awareness had grown because the statutes of limitations on sexual assault have extended in several states, in some cases aided by the efforts of women who have accused Cosby of molesting them.

“People need to be educated on a brush against the shoulder,” she said. “Anything at this point can be considered sexual assault.”

The Cosby announcement drew rebukes from several quarters, including the anti-sexual violence organization RAINN.

“It would be more useful if Mr. Cosby would spend time talking with people about how not to commit sexual assault in the first place,” said Jodi Omear, an organization spokesperson.

Kristen Houser of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center said a number of organizations exist that would be far more appropriate choices to lead an educational program on this issue than Cosby, whom she described as “a person who has 60 allegations of sexual assault against” him.

Gloria Allred, a lawyer who represents several women who have accused Cosby of assault, said the “workshops appear to be a transparent and slick effort to attempt to influence the jury pool from which jurors will be selected for his second criminal trial.”

One of the town halls will be held in Alabama in July, Wyatt said on the show. In a later email, he said Cosby had received “hundreds of calls from civic organizations and churches requesting for Mr. Cosby to speak to young men and women about the judicial system.” He said the program would include a critique of the decision by prosecutors in Pennsylvania to charge him last year.

“Speeches will be free,” Wyatt said.

Cosby later thanked the television station for having his publicists on the show. He is free on bail while he awaits a retrial of his criminal case in which he is charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault in connection with a 2004 encounter with a woman at his home outside Philadelphia. The woman, Andrea Constand, says Cosby drugged and assaulted her; Cosby and his lawyers say the sex was consensual.

The jury deliberated for 52 hours before a mistrial was declared because it was hopelessly deadlocked. On Thursday, The Associated Press and a Pittsburgh television station reported that jurors they had spoken to said the panel ended its deliberations almost evenly split between those supporting conviction and those favouring acquittal.

That depiction was at odds with that of a juror who spoke to ABC News earlier in the week and said that 10 members of the panel had voted to convict Cosby but were unable to persuade two jurors who would not budge.

Some jurors were concerned about the 10-year delay in prosecuting Cosby, and that politics had been involved, The Associated Press reported.

WPXI Channel 11 in Pittsburgh played a recording of a man it said was a juror who said the voting was evenly split.

“Whatever the man did, he has already paid his price, paid, suffered,” the voice in the recording said. “A case that was settled in ’05 and we had to bring it up in ’17.”

On Wednesday, the ABC News report, based on its own conversation with an anonymous juror, said the panel had voted 10-2 to convict Cosby on two of the three counts.

In one of the juror accounts that surfaced Thursday, the panelist agreed that there had been a 10-2 vote at one point but said the mood in the room changed in the later hours and was roughly split between those who sought a conviction and those who wanted to acquit Cosby.

Several jurors contacted by The New York Times have said they are unwilling to speak about their deliberations. In releasing their names Wednesday, Judge Steven T. O’Neill had warned the jurors not to discuss their deliberations.


Sears to cut 2,900 jobs, close 59 stores in restructuring

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 08:45:00 EDT


Sears Canada is no longer the colossus it once was, with 125 department stores across the country ringing up $6.7 billion a year in sales, but it is hoping to restructure under creditor protection granted Thursday and return to profitability with fewer locations.

The company has posted net losses every year since 2014 and plans to close 59 stores, including 20 full-line department stores as part of the restructuring.

The company’s 32 Corbeil stores will remain in business.

In all 2,900 jobs will be lost: 500 in administration, effective immediately, and 2,400 more jobs as stores close over the coming weeks.

Sears department stores in the GTA, many of them newly renovated as part of executive chairman Brandon Stranzl’s effort to rebrand the retailer, will remain open, including the stores at Fairview Mall, Oshawa Centre, Promenade in Thornhill, CF Lime Ridge in Hamilton and Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket.

“The Sears Canada Group is entering these proceedings with the intention of emerging as a stronger, more focused competitor in the Canadian retail industry,” according to an affidavit filed on behalf of the company in court.

“Management expects that the company that emerges from this CCAA proceeding will be well-positioned to capitalize on the opportunities that exist in the Canadian retail marketplace.”

The company listed assets of $1.187 billion and total liabilities of $1.108 billion.

Inventory at the stores being closed will be liquidated.

Most of the Sears stores are leased. Sears Canada Group owns properties where eight full-line department stores, two outlet stores and one Sears Home store operate. The majority of the other stores are held under long-term leases.

Sears Canada is pointing to increases in same-store sales in the past two quarters as evidence that a turnaround is possible, given enough breathing room.

It is conceivable that if Sears Canada has found the right formula it could succeed, said Marvin Ryder, professor of marketing at McMaster’s DeGroote School of Business. He wouldn’t bet on it.

“I would say that the odds are much higher that we’re going to see bankruptcy and liquidation. When your back is up against the wall and you have to make that much change that quickly, it’s very hard to do,” Ryder said.

“They’re going to have to move so far so fast, the odds are really against them.”

It didn’t help that the company cycled quickly through three leaders in four years before appointing Stranzl in 2015, said Arthur Fleischmann, president and chief executive officer of the advertising agency John St.

“I think they just started focusing on short-term returns and trying to shore up traffic declines,” Fleischmann said.

“My feeling is, I think the ship has sailed on Sears.”

Farla Efros, president, HRC Advisory, said that while losing an anchor tenant could be a problem for some malls, Sears has not been driving a lot of traffic and some properties may actually benefit from being able to fill the space with new tenants.

“I just think that we are tired of that brand and it doesn’t really have any more relevance to the Canadian consumer,” Efros said.

Numerous retailers stand to benefit as a result of Sears shrinking, including Canadian Tire, Walmart, Hudson’s Bay Company, Leon’s and Costco, said Maureen Atkinson, senior adviser, J.C. Williams Group.

While the new look of Sears, which includes fashion aimed at a young, hip customer base is an improvement, times are tough for department stores.

“I think it’s possible, but I think it’s a long shot,” Atkinson said, of the company’s potential for success moving forward.

In an attempt to transform the business, Stranzl founded an innovation hub to modernize the technological platform for Sears Canada and launched a new off-price retail business called “The Cut,” among other initiatives.

Sears Canada was incorporated in 1952, and in 2001 had revenues of $6.7 billion with 125 department stores.

Despite a long decline that has accelerated since 2011, the company still employs about 17,000 people across Canada — 6,500 full time and 10,500 part time. It operates 94 department stores, 23 Sears Home stores and 10 outlets.

There are 3,071 full-time employees in Ontario and 4,472 working part time and there are 65 Sears Canada retail stores in the province.

In addition to those directly employed by Sears Canada, businesses that do business with Sears stand to lose — Sears purchases its merchandise from about 3,300 domestic and international suppliers and the Sears Canada Group has relationships with about 775 independent contractors, according to the court documents.

It operates several subsidiaries, including a transportation business.

Sears Canada says it will continue to honour gift cards, warranties and its 30-day returns policy during the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) proceedings.

The company is seeking to stop making special payments to the defined benefit portion of the Sears Pension Plan and payments with respect to post-retirement benefits.

Ordinary pension payments will continue to be made.


761 CAMH patients still waiting for trans surgery referrals

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 19:46:16 EDT


The first of March last year read like a victory for transgender Ontarians.

Across the province, over 800 primary care physicians and nurse practitioners were granted the ability to assess patients for gender-confirmation surgery. The provincial change released a burden on Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, formerly the only site able to complete medical referrals. Their wait list had skyrocketed to 1,516 patients.

So why — over a year later — are there still 761 patients on the list?

Inside the halls of CAMH, Adult Gender Identity Clinic psychiatrist Dr. Chris McIntosh spoke to The Star on Tuesday, immediately following a lunch meeting about recruiting a new psychiatrist.

Though part of a $2 million sum the Ontario Ministry of Health’s slotted last year to clear the referral bottleneck went to hiring two social workers and a psychologist at CAMH, the clinic needs more physicians.

“We’re just trying to get some more folks to come and help us out,” McIntosh said. Despite all the changes over the last year — including an announcement on Thursday from Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins on genital procedures being expanded into Ontario — access to gender confirmation surgery is still a tangled process.

“Our role in a new system can be about doing the assessment for folks that might be more complicated from a mental health perspective,” McIntosh said.

While any healthcare professional trained in the World Professional Association for Transgender Health assessment criteria is now able to handle gender-confirmation surgery referrals, complicated — and often time-consuming — cases are still being funneled back to CAMH.

The way the process works depends on the patient. The first task is to assess for gender dysphoria, for which the diagnosis criteria changed in 2012. Previously, the diagnosis required a patient to identify with the opposite gender in a binary system. New criteria allows for identification with any gender that is different than the patient’s natal gender.

McIntosh then often has to consider a host of other psychiatric and social markers. Cases can be complicated by a lack of stable housing, for example, which would present a risk during recovery. Mental health conditions like depression or PTSD are factored in. The most problematic cases, McIntosh said, come when patients have intellectual disabilities and the clinic faces questions of informed consent.

“It can be more difficult to assess their capacity to understand what gender is,” he explained. The clinic has some psychologists with backgrounds in neuropsychology that can assess IQ, but the process is knotted with ethical dilemmas and often labours on for a while.

The time spent waiting for referrals has dropped by 33 per cent over the last year, but the CAMH website still warns that “as our clients have waited for a long time, our social worker calls all new clients a month or two before we’re ready to schedule your first appointment.”

For 761 patients, that limbo is their reality.

Once they’re in, the referral process can be anywhere from two appointments to a whole row, culminating in pre-approval paperwork sent to the Ministry. Four-to-six weeks later, patients must contact a clinic called GRS Montreal — which, until next year, remains the only clinic in Canada that does all gender-confirmation surgeries.

The first genital surgery outside Montreal is slated to take place in 2018 at Women’s College Hospital in Ontario, Hoskins’ Thursday statement announced. Until now, the province has been spending $4 million a year sending patients outside Ontario — $2.7 million for those headed to Quebec, and $1.2 million for operations outside Canada.

Across the border, San Francisco, California and Austin, Texas are frequent choices for patients who can secure a recommendation by an Ontario physician. Though the procedure is covered by OHIP for pre-approved patients, going to the U.S. can incur significant transportation and accommodation costs. The Ministry also confirmed they’ve sent patients to Belgium, Thailand, Serbia, England, Italy and Germany.

Staying north of the border, patients have had to wait anywhere from another three months to another year after Ministry approval — with particularly long holdups for a phalloplasty. “It’s a surgery that requires a high level of expertise, but at the same time, that should really mean that we’re starting to develop that expertise,” McIntosh said.

Hoskins’ announcement makes Ontario only the second Canadian jurisdiction with surgeons trained to provide genital transition surgery. Patients from all other provinces and territories are still forced to travel substantial distances.

Moving forward, the Trans Health Expansion — which partners CAMH with Women’s College Hospital, Sherbourne Health and Rainbow Health Ontario — is in the early stages of a “complex, long-term” reform process. The 2016 change and Hoskins’ Thursday announcement make a dent in the problem, but are far from a solution.

“One of the keys will be building surgical capacity in the system,” Trans Health Expansion wrote in an email to the Star. “However, surgery is just one issue; to sustainably improve trans health, the disparities in social determinants of health for this population – like housing, poverty and unemployment – will also need to be addressed.”

With files from Rob Ferguson


Man badly beaten in Cabbagetown rooming house after Mayor Tory warned about conditions

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 18:57:44 EDT


A man was badly beaten inside a city-owned Cabbagetown rooming house Wednesday night just days after Mayor John Tory and his executive committee were warned about the dangerous and dreadful conditions there.

“This incident was inevitable. Others will follow,” Rick Keegan, who lives in the Toronto Community Housing complex, wrote in an email sent Thursday to Tory and other politicians and city officials.

Toronto police couldn’t confirm the victim’s identity, but Keegan believes he was a fellow tenant. An investigation into the aggravated assault is continuing, police said.

Keegan was part of a small delegation that came to city hall on Monday and shared with the politicians’ grim anecdotes about crime, violence, intimidation and lawlessness inside the row of Parliament Street buildings.

He was joined by Heather Wilberforce, president of the Winchester Park Residents’ Association (WPRA). She told the mayor and councillors about the continuing problems in and around the properties, including the robbing and stabbing of a tenant last week.

“What kind of life can these men have?” a clearly frustrated and upset Wilberforce asked Thursday.

She would like to TCH to install a manager on-site around the clock and security guards who will confront and eject troublemakers, many of whom do not live in the buildings.

“They need somebody with an iron fist to make people behave.”

TCH is “seriously investing in security at this building,” with many, in-house Community Safety Unit daytime patrols and third-party overnight security seven days a week, agency spokesman Brayden Akers wrote in email.

In addition, the CSU is available for backup when there are incidents, which is what happened Wednesday night, he wrote. TCH is also “taking an aggressive approach” to managing the building, with many active eviction applications underway.

On Monday, the mayor said he hoped the Cabbagetown delegation was aware of council’s request to the province to give the city more powers to evict tenants and keep them — and their lawbreaking “guests” — out of social housing.

Keegan told Tory it’s not that the law is inadequate; it’s that current laws aren’t being enforced.

The province argues the city already has the authority it needs.

Wilberforce and Keegan were among dozens of speakers invited to provide feedback on the city’s so-called Tenants First plan to restructure TCH, which includes transferring all TCH rooming houses to non profit, co-op and land trust sectors.

A pilot project, which goes to council for approval next month, is proposed for dilapidated and mainly vacant rooming houses at 13-15 Winchester St., around the corner from the Parliament St. rooming houses. Council is also being asked to authorize a request for expressions of interest for TCH’s 684 scattered social housing units.

The WPRA supports the plan for the non-profit Margaret’s Housing and Community Support Services to provide housing for vulnerable, low-income women in the Winchester houses, Wilberforce says.

But it’s a slow process for the conversion of Winchester and all the other TCH rooming houses, so “what happens in the meantime?” she asked Thursday.

“We need an immediate, focused strategy to deal with the safety and security issues in all of these properties.”


Ontario Liberals embed 2019 minimum wage hike in new law

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 17:00:42 EDT


A Progressive Conservative government would be forced to change labour laws in order to derail the $15-an-hour minimum wage increase that takes effect six months after the June 2018 election.

In an unusual move, the Liberals have embedded the increase in the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act being studied this summer by an all-party committee.

Under the legislation expected to pass this fall, the minimum wage, now $11.40 an hour, will jump to $14 on Jan. 1.

It will then increase to $15 an hour on Jan. 1, 2019, well after the June 7, 2018 election, before being linked to the inflation rate that October.

“Ontario’s economy is leading growth. A $15-minimum wage will help ensure families experience this growth in their own lives,” Premier Kathleen Wynne tweeted Thursday.

But Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown, who leads Wynne in most public-opinion polls, has warned the increases are too much too soon for employers to bear.

“Do I think we should have a 32-per-cent increase immediately without a cost-benefit analysis? No,” Brown said three weeks ago.

“The way that the premier has announced it is too fast, too quick. It’s not giving proper notice to our job creators . . . so, yes, I have significant concerns,” the Tory leader said.

“I’m sure, right now, Kathleen Wynne is looking for distractions for the next election,” he said May 31, the day before the legislation was tabled.

“I get that Ontario right now is unaffordable. I get that it is difficult for people to live in Ontario right now — and frankly that’s Kathleen Wynne’s mess from the last 14 years — but do you need to do this 32-per-cent hike immediately? Or can you pace it out?”

In an interview with the Star last week, Wynne acknowledged the Liberals would campaign on the minimum wage increases as well as the new OHIP+ pharmacare plan that provides prescription coverage of 4,400 medications for everyone under 25, which launches Jan. 1.

That appears to be one reason that a timeline for the wage hikes is specified in the legislation.

“(Determination of minimum wage) is amended to increase the minimum wage on January 1, 2018. The minimum wage increases again on January 1, 2019 and is subject to an annual inflation adjustment on October 1 of every year starting in 2019,” the bill reads.

The premier said her party would remind voters that higher wages and better drug coverage could be lost if Brown’s Conservatives are victorious next June.

“That will be part of the subscript, obviously, because we’re different. We are different parties. We’re different people. We have different sensibilities and different values, as far as I can tell,” said Wynne.

“So, that’s obviously going to have to be part of the discussion.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, whose party is pitching a universal pharmacare plan for all ages, though it only covers the 125 most commonly prescribed medications, has long favoured a $15-an-hour minimum wage.


TTC driver tests positive for on-duty drug use

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 22:00:00 EDT


A TTC driver has tested positive for being impaired while on duty, marking the first time a vehicle operator has run afoul of the transit agency’s new random testing policy.

TTC spokesperson Brad Ross confirmed that the operator was tested for drug use during a shift Saturday and the test, which takes several days to process, came back positive Wednesday.

As is agency policy, Ross wouldn’t disclose the substance the employee tested positive for, or say specifically what job the person held. It’s not clear if the worker is a bus, streetcar or subway driver. The person has been suspended pending the outcome of a disciplinary meeting with a supervisor.

Ross said many positions at the TTC involve safety, and it is important all workers are drug- and alcohol-free while on the job. But he said he understands the public perception “that, if somebody is driving, they have that extra responsibility.”

“It is concerning to us, whenever we have a positive result. And this is the reason why we introduced the policy,” he said. “The vast, vast majority of our employees come to work fit for duty and would never think or dream of doing anything but.

“But when it happens, it’s incredibly serious.”

In addition to the operator, another employee tested positive for alcohol use last week, Ross said. The staff member was not a driver.

The random testing policy went into effect May 8. Since then there have been eight positive tests, two for alcohol and six for drugs. The very first employee tested failed a breathalyzer. More than 300 employees have been tested so far.

One of the eight employees was a supervisor or manager.

The TTC says the tests only detect whether someone is impaired at the time, not whether they use drug or alcohol while off-duty.

More 10,000 of the TTC’s employees are eligible for testing, as they hold “safety-sensitive” or other designated positions. Executives are not exempt from the policy. Ross revealed that TTC CEO Andy Byford was randomly selected two weeks ago. He passed.

The TTC’s largest union did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday evening. In the past, union leaders have asserted that drug and alcohol use is not a systemic problem in the transit agency’s workforce.


Full impact of Ontario's controversial 25-per-cent hydro rate cut to kick in on Canada Day

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 19:31:12 EDT


The full impact of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s controversial 25 per cent hydro rate cut will kick in July 1 after the Ontario Energy Board approved some final changes Thursday.

That means the average monthly bill will have dropped about $41 this year to $121, including the 8 per cent HST rebate on electricity bills that took effect in January and other measures in place since May 1, the board said.

Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault touted the price break as “real and significant relief” for Ontarians who have been hit hard by rising electricity costs as the system has been improved over the last decade.

Opposition parties have been highly critical of the plan as short-term gain for long-term pain because of the billions in extra costs to amortize those improvement costs over the next three decades.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has compared it to extending a mortgage to get lower monthly payments now.

The province’s independent Financial Accountability Office issued a report in May that found the government’s “Fair Hydro Plan” will cost the province $45 billion over the next 29 years while saving ratepayers $24 billion, for a net expense of $21 billion.

Under the changes, time-of-use electricity prices will drop July 1 to 13.2 cents per kilowatt hour, down from 18.5 cents now for peak pricing periods.

For off-peak hours — after 7 p.m. and on weekends and holidays — the price drops to 6.5 cents from 9.1 now.

Costs taken off hydro bills include the government’s rural and remote rate protection program and the Ontario electricity support program for low-income households.

Those costs will now be paid out of the general tax revenues.

Wynne has promised to keep hydro rate increases to no more than two per cent a year for the next four years, getting the government past next June’s provincial election.

But the Progressive Conservatives have warned hydro prices will rise more sharply after once the four-year promise of limited increases is over.

More will be known about the future direction of hydro rates when the government releases its long-term energy plan in the next few months.