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Canadian companies failed to pay billions of taxes owed, new CRA report reveals

Canadian corporations failed to pay between $9.4 billion and $11.4 billion in taxes in 2014, according to the first comprehensive analysis of the country’s corporate “tax gap” — the difference between taxes legally owed and those collected — being released today by the Canada Revenue Agency.That means 24 to 29 per cent of all the corporate income tax legally due in Canada didn't get paid that year.The long-awaited calculations — which follow on similar studies in more than a dozen other Western countries — show the scope and source of unpaid taxes by delinquent corporations that keep billions of dollars from federal tax coffers every year.“The results that we’re getting on corporate income tax … are quite similar to other countries in terms of per cent of revenues,” said Mireille Ethier, a director general with the CRA.The country’s tax hit was reduced significantly by CRA audits that found $6.1 billion of the unpaid bills — reducing the tax gap by 55 to 65 per cent — the report says.But that money is not yet fully recovered, said Yves Giroux, Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer who reviewed the CRA’s report in advance of release.“Companies will not just take the CRA’s notice of assessment and write a cheque,” says Giroux. “Most will appeal … And when it comes to appeals by multinational enterprises, it can take years to conclude that.”In two cases last year involving large corporations BMO and Cameco, the CRA said their offshore tax structures were not legitimate and deprived Canada’s tax coffers of more than $3 billion. The companies appealed and a tax judge ruled them onside.Ted Gallivan, a CRA assistant commissioner, said in an interview that there are challenges collecting all of the money the agency demands from corporations it believes have underpaid their taxes.“You’re going to lose some of it in court and you’re not going to collect all of it. But the CRA is attacking aggressive tax planning, full stop. And ... we do believe a deterrence message has been sent to that taxpayer.”Much of the “aggressive tax planning” corporations use to lower their tax bills involve complex offshore structures that exist in a legal grey area. While the corporate accountants may believe they’re above-board, the CRA doesn’t always agree.Over the last five years, the CRA has more than doubled the number of offshore audits it has completed annually, finalizing 285 last year. And despite the difficulties, during the same time period the CRA has increased the amount of additional tax it has collected from audits by more than 60 per cent.However, the tax gap study brings no clarity to the question of how much tax income is being lost to the legal offshore flow of Canadian wealth — issues highlighted by the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers investigations.That analysis is “highly complex,” the CRA report says, because it is “often difficult to distinguish between legitimate and abusive activities based on information available to tax administrations. Many techniques are fully compliant with the laws of the countries involved.”Giroux says that while the report focused on offshore wealth movement that is illegal, it fails to address that which is “questionable from a moral perspective. ... It remains a big question mark still. It’s difficult (to calculate), yes. But to say there’s no way for CRA to know, that’s probably too big a stretch. There is a way, but it involves collaboration with multiple partners.”Giroux says he raised his concerns with CRA officials after reviewing the report.“They looked at us and said, ‘It is what it is.’ ”The CRA report acknowledges the findings may be conservative given the complexity of tracing undeclared income.“The actual tax gap may be somewhat higher than the estimates presented in this report,” it reads.Sen. Percy Downe, who has called for greater transparency around the country’s tax gap and better enforcement of tax laws, said the CRA findings “low ball” the reality of Canadian corporate tax evasion and avoidance.“They don’t want people to know what a lousy job they’re actually doing,” he said in an interview. “There’s no question there’s a major problem here — even the CRA admitted that with their numbers — but the reality is Canadians need an outside analysis to get the true figure.”The CRA broke its analysis down into small corporations, which make up more than 99 per cent of all Canadian companies, and large corporations. Despite the vast number of small corporations, they only pay 46 per cent of all corporate tax collected, while the small number of large Canadian corporations pay the other 54 per cent.The billions lost in unpaid corporate taxes in Canada can be traced to both intentional and unintentional tax avoidance and evasion, the report says, including, “deliberately under-reporting income or over-claiming deductions” and “ignorance of filing, reporting or payment obligations.”About half of small and medium-sized companies randomly audited by the CRA made at least one reporting error on their corporate income tax returns in 2011, the report says.Whistleblowers — lured by the promise of payment — are a relatively new method of detecting offshore tax avoidance and evasion being used by the CRA, the report says.Since 2014, the agency has been gathering tips from the public about Canadians engaging in offshore tax avoidance and evasion through its Offshore Tax Informant Program. Informants who provide “credible and specific information about major international tax non-compliance” stand to receive award payments based on a percentage of the recovered taxes.To date, the program has received more than 1,200 calls, 500 written submissions and produced 30 contracts with informants, identifying $29 million in federal taxes and penalties, the report says. Of that, the CRA has collected more than $19 million and paid out $1 million in rewards to informants. This is the latest round in a series of tax gap estimates prepared by the CRA since the Liberal government took power in 2015 and reversed the previous government’s position that the tax gap was unreliable and useless.The first report found tax lost to GST/HST fraud was $4.9 billion in 2014.The second report looked at individual domestic tax evasion and pegged it at $8.7 billion, mostly due to unreported income. That meant that 6.4 per cent of all personal income tax revenues went uncollected in 2014.The third report focused on individual offshore tax evasion by individuals and estimated that between $800 million and $3 billion in tax is lost each year. But it did not include corporate offshore taxes.When all the reports are added together, tax evasion costs Canadians between $21.8 billion and $26 billion per year. Put another way, 10 to 13 per cent of all tax legally due in Canada doesn’t get paid.Legal avoidance of tax costs Canadians more than illegal tax evasion, according to a study put out by last year by one of the world’s leading experts on tax havens. An academic paper co-authored by Berkeley University economist Gabriel Zucman estimated that 9 per cent of corporate taxes in Canada went uncollected because of corporate profit shifting to tax havens.Canadian companies actually avoid much less tax than companies in the US (14 per cent), UK (18 per cent), France (21 per cent) or Germany (28 per cent), according to Zucman’s paper.In 2017, the Star and Corporate Knights Magazine published a comprehensive analysis of corporate tax avoidance that found Canada’s 102 biggest companies avoided 8.9 per cent of their tax bills.The CRA’s report also does not include many of the legal small business practices that the Liberal government attempted to shut down in 2017 and that are often taken advantage of by wealthy individuals using shell companies. These practices include ‘income sprinkling,’ which spreads profits to family members, including children, and which are then taxed at a lower rate.There’s a growing international movement to crack down on these legal ways that corporations avoid paying tax. In 2017, Canada signed onto an international pact that aims to co-ordinate approaches to corporate taxation to minimize opportunities to play countries off each other.In March, Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, penned a column in the Financial Times calling for a rethinking of how corporations are taxed.“The current international corporate tax architecture is fundamentally out of date,” she wrote. “The ease with which multinationals seem able to avoid tax and the three-decade-long decline in corporate tax rates compromise faith in the fairness of the international system.”

18th, June 2019, 04:00pm

Mandatory driver training recommended for Toronto ride-hailing services

City licensing staff want drivers working for ride-hailing companies to undergo mandatory safety training, a recommendation that’s part of a wider package of reforms that could force big changes on how industry giants like Uber and Lyft operate in Toronto. In a report released Monday, staff recommend drivers be required to take city-accredited courses that would cover topics including safe driving, sharing the road with cyclists and transit vehicles, serving customers with disabilities, and anti-racism sensitivity. The courses would be mandatory for drivers working for both app-based ride-hailing services and conventional taxi companies, and would go into effect next year. While other jurisdictions such as New York City, Chicago and Montreal have mandated training for app-based drivers, the requirement would represent a significant policy reversal for Toronto.In 2016 council scrapped long-standing training requirements for taxi drivers when it revamped regulations to respond to Uber’s arrival on Toronto’s streets.The report also recommends other measures aimed at increasing public safety, including increasing the minimum driving experience for drivers from one year to three, rewriting requirements for the use of in-car cameras, mandating that hand-held devices like phones be securely mounted in vehicles, and introducing measures to prevent customers from dooring cyclists.Read more: Mississauga taxi drivers request $50,000 from city as Uber, Lyft decimate industryToronto taxi owners sue city for $1.7 billion over arrival of Uber, lost plate valueToronto takes a second look at rules for Uber, LyftThe city’s licensing committee will debate the report next Monday. It’s expected to go to full council next month. Cheryl Hawkes, an advocate who has been pushing for Toronto to impose stiffer regulations on ride-hailing companies, called the training requirement “a very good start.”Hawkes’s son Nicholas Cameron, 28, died in March 2018 while taking an Uber to Pearson airport. The 23-year-old Uber driver, who at the time of the crash was on his second day driving for the app, later pleaded guilty to a non-criminal careless driving charge.Hawkes said there was no way to know whether training requirements could have prevented the collision that killed her son, but at least making drivers take safety courses would signal that the city is doing all it can to protect the public. “It’s a social responsibility to at least put … people through the hoops of qualifying to be on the road with loved ones in the back seat,” she said.She said it’s essential that any training the city imposes involve in-car testing, not merely classroom or online components. “You have to put a bum in the seat and see if they can drive around the pylons,” she said. Josh McConnell, a spokesperson for Uber, said Monday the company was still going through the report and couldn’t immediately comment on specific recommendations.“We will have more to say in the coming days,” he said. A spokesperson for Lyft declined to comment until after the company was able to provide feedback on the report at next week’s committee meeting.Kristine Hubbard, operations manager for Beck Taxi, said the changes to driver training are “hopeful.”“It really does depend on what the finer details will be,” she told the Star. “We won’t really know what all of this looks like until it’s been finalized by committee and council.”She agreed that defensive driving training should happen in-car, not via video.After the training standards were removed for taxi drivers three years ago, Hubbard said Beck implemented its own mandatory one-week training, offered in partnership with Centennial College, including in-car defensive driving training.A healthy majority of council members — including Mayor John Tory — approved regulating rather than restricting companies such as Uber in 2016, after much contentious debate over safety and the impact on the taxi industry.“We cannot end up going out of this chamber without having put some regime in place, and there is no ideal answer that is going to satisfy everybody,” Tory said then.Tory spokesperson Don Peat said Monday that “throughout this process, the mayor has said he believes safety has to be the No. 1 consideration in this matter.“He looks forward to seeing the discussion of the staff’s recommendations on how we can enhance safety in vehicles-for-hire at committee.”According to the report, the use of ride-hailing services has grown significantly in the past three years. As of January, there were an average of 160,400 trips made every day using the apps, an increase of almost 160 per cent compared to September 2016. As of the start of this year, a total of 90 million ride-hailing trips had been taken in Toronto, and they now make up roughly 3 per cent of all journeys in the city.There are roughly 90,400 drivers working for ride-hailing services in the city, although some drive occasionally or for limited periods of time. The report put the number of taxi and limousine drivers at about 13,300.Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurrJennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags

17th, June 2019, 07:19pm

Bruce Arthur: Toronto responds like a champion when celebration turns to chaos

It was already a bit of a mess. There were so many people. The concrete city hall arches weren’t secured, and some brave idiots clambered up and danced on top, with no fear of falling. The video and audio on the big screens in and around Nathan Phillips Square didn’t work, so people stood shoulder to shoulder and baked in the sun and cheered other occasional dangerous climbing stunts, or fireworks, or purple and red flares. There wasn’t enough water, and some people passed out and had to be dragged from the square. Cops couldn’t get in; people had trouble getting out. God, they were patient in there.Across town, the Toronto Raptors parade buses were sent down a route with no barriers, as narrow as a Tour de France ascent through a madding crowd. By the time they reached city hall, they were three hours late. They used to joke in this town — in other towns, more, making fun of the Leafs — Plan The Parade. Turns out it can be harder than it looks.And then came the Raptors, the conquering heroes, a reward. The politicians showed up too, and Doug Ford was given the righteously vicious booing he deserved. The crowd roared for their guys, for the champs. So many people were there, full of collective joy and purpose. A group combined to lift people out of the crowd on the east side, onto a ramp: children, people in distress, two people in wheelchairs. They lifted them above their heads and the hot, bored crowd cheered them afterwards. Despite everything, it could be a wonderful day.Read more: 4 injured in shooting near Raptors rally in Nathan Phillips Square Opinion | Edward Keenan: They said, ‘Plan the parade’ — and that’s what we did'This is history.' Raptorsmania takes over downtown TorontoMayor John Tory was talking when the people started running. When a crowd runs it lurches like an animal, desperate, and they lurched from the southeast corner of the square. Some tried to run up to the concrete catwalk where the media were working, and were stopped by police and security. The panic spread. Someone was down. “Four shots,” said a witness. On the stage, Tory gave way to Raptors owner Larry Tanenbaum.“Every possession, every basket, every steal, every block … They never gave up. Because our Raptors never give up,” said Tanenbaum, in what must have been one of the great moments of his successful and illustrious life. “The Raptors united an entire country with 50 Jurassic Parks. Nobody has ever done that before.”In the crowd people yelled “Gun, gun, he’s got a gun” and ran. On the southwest corner, lawyer Michael Paris was in the crowd. People were hot and testy, and suddenly he heard a rumble and people screaming and falling and he was pushed back, like he was up to his shoulders in a wave. He repeated fire drills in his head: stay calm.“I’m thinking, it could be fireworks,” Paris said. “Some people were saying the wood platform planks collapsed over the fountain. But you also think (about the Toronto van attack of 2018).He said, “And I shamefully tried to shield my face or get behind someone in case it’s bullets.”It wasn’t shameful. Paris realized he didn’t have his wallet and keys, because they were in his bag and he’d been separated from the bag in the wave. He looked, and a man was holding it up. The man’s name was Nicholas. He had picked up two other bags and was looking for their owners, too.On the catwalk, police officers yelled “Get down” on the catwalk and the TV people and the Raptors staffers and a lot of kids — a surprising number of kids — got down. A police officer ran and yelled “Medic” to the three paramedics standing by the corner. He sent them down the stairs.On the stage, the speeches continued. Matt Devlin, Toronto’s play-by-play man and rally emcee, heard through the earpiece that there was an emergency. He was told: Cut Larry off, talk to the crowd, tell them there’s a situation. Keep it cool.“I was so focused in on the moment of just trying to make sure everybody stayed calm,” Devlin told the Star. “I think there was a question of what is going on. When you’re up there, you’re trying to speak from the heart and make sure the situation doesn’t escalate. At that point, I’m not thinking of anything other than, you want to convey a message (that) will keep the situation as calm as possible.”Devlin kept people calm. Devlin did a hell of a job.The cops were still yelling “Get down” and more people were running. On James St. a block to the east; out of 483 Bay, right there; then out of the Eaton Centre, a block east down Albert St. Police officers, of course, ran in.On the stage, Nick Nurse was hoarse. The crowd had chanted “box and one” earlier, in reference to the gimmicky, grade-school defence the Raptors coach had successful hauled out in the NBA Finals, of all places. He yelled, “Bono said: ‘The world needs more Canada.’ The world just got it.”Justin Trudeau was still on the stage; Ford was still on the stage; the mayor was still on the stage. There was yellow crime tape at Queen and Bay. The cops might have recovered the two firearms by then, or taken the three people into custody, and maybe the paramedics were trying to help the injured by then. Maybe that happened later. It happened, though.There are too many guns in this city. There are so many good people, too, who help each other out, always. On Monday so many people together were patient, worked together, stood shoulder to shoulder, helped each other out. That’s Toronto. Champs.With files from Dave FeschukBruce Arthur is a Toronto-based sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @bruce_arthur

17th, June 2019, 06:49pm

UN Human Rights Office calls for deeper examination of inquiry’s genocide finding

OTTAWA—The human rights division of the United Nations is now the second international body to call for a deeper examination of the conclusion from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls that Canada committed ongoing “colonial genocide” against Indigenous peoples. In a statement Monday, the UN Human Rights Office said the inquiry uncovered “reasons to believe” Canada’s past and present policies, actions and failures to act towards Indigenous peoples amount to genocide under international law. “We call on the government to take steps for competent national authorities to assess these serious claims,” said office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani in an email to the Star. The statement came as the office’s top representative — the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet — visited Ottawa to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and take part in a panel discussion on rights around the world with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. Speaking briefly to reporters after the panel, Bachelet said she is aware of the inquiry’s finding of genocide, but emphasized that it is “more important” for Canada to consider the inquiry’s 231 recommendations to help victims of violence and prevent more harms against Indigenous women and girls. “It’s very important that Canada will make a national action plan to include those recommendations to prevent things from happening again,” said Bachelet, referring to Trudeau’s pledge to craft a plan with Indigenous groups to address the inquiry’s demands for action. “An inquiry is important, but now I think it is time for implementation,” she said. Bachelet’s visit took place two weeks after the national inquiry that looked into the root causes of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people released its final report. One of its conclusions was that centuries of state policies, acts and failures to act towards Indigenous peoples amount to an ongoing “colonial genocide” that set the conditions for an untold number of Indigenous women and girls to be murdered or go missing. (The RCMP has reported at least 1,181 murders and unsolved disappearances from 1980 to 2012.)In an accompanying legal analysis, the inquiry said the genocide finding gives “serious reason to believe” Canada has breached international human rights obligations in a way that demands “broader examination” of potential crimes against humanity. Two weeks ago, the same day the final report was released, the secretary general of the Organization of American States expressed “deepest consternation” and wrote to Freeland asking that Canada participate in a special expert panel that would investigate the genocide finding. Freeland’s spokesperson Adam Austen said Monday that she has not yet responded to that request. While Trudeau has said his government accepts the finding of genocide, the conclusion has been questioned by figures like Roméo Dallaire, the retired general who led the peacekeeping mission during the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has also rejected the use of the word “genocide” to describe Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples, while NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has called on political leaders to have the “courage” to acknowledge it as truth. As evidence of its finding, the inquiry pointed to a history that includes the forced removal of children from their families for residential schools and laws like the Indian Act that were designed to control and define membership of Indigenous groups. It also cited ongoing policies like Canada’s failure to protect women from exploitation and human trafficking, and to prevent deaths in police custody and to stop known killers from murdering again. It also cites “coerced sterilizations,” and “chronic underfunding of essential human services.”Like Bachelet, who stressed the need to implement the inquiry’s recommendations, Trudeau and members of his cabinet have said the government should put more energy into preventing future harms than into labelling Canada’s failures.” A spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said Monday that the federal government “respects” the inquiry’s conclusions and is committed to ending “the ongoing national tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ and two-spirit people.“Our job now, and the job of other governments, including the provinces and territories, is to develop a national action plan — as called for by the inquiry — to implement its recommendations.” Meanwhile, Bachelet met privately with Trudeau Monday morning in his West Block office on Parliament Hill. An official from the Prime Minister’s Office said they discussed a range of international human rights issues, and that Trudeau raised the inquiry’s report and the finding of genocide, and how there is a need to act in the face of its recommendations. Later, during her panel discussion with Bachelet, Freeland said it is important for Canada — as a human rights defender on the world stage — to acknowledge its own shortcomings, like when the prime minister outlined Canada’s historic mistreatment of Indigenous peoples in a 2017 speech to the UN General Assembly. “There’s a lot of work that we have to do at home, and I think that that opens up a better, truer conversation with other countries,” Freeland said. Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga

17th, June 2019, 06:36pm

Federal Liberals to campaign on letting cities tighten handgun controls

OTTAWA—The federal Liberals will not legislate a national handgun ban, but will campaign next fall on allowing municipalities like Toronto to enact additional restrictions on handguns, says Bill Blair, the federal minister in charge of the file.Toronto got another sickening taste of gun violence Monday when four people were injured in a shooting during the massive Raptors victory rally.Blair, the former Toronto police chief and minister in charge of border security and organized crime, said in an interview the Liberals will propose banning “assault style” firearms but they believe an outright handgun ban would not significantly enhance public safety and would be too expensive for questionable benefit.That confirms what the Star first reported in December — that the Liberal government would stop short of an outright handgun ban, and would focus instead on prohibiting “assault style” firearms. The potential cost for Ottawa to buy back handguns that Canadians had legally purchased and owned under current laws was pegged by federal sources as high as $2 billion.However, Blair said communities with concerns about handgun violence should be empowered to pass their own tighter controls, for example to require higher levels of secure storage on firearms than would be required under federal criminal law, and the Liberal proposals should be debated in a campaign. “What I believe is that we can work with — and it would have to be done through the provinces — but work with the municipalities so that they may be able to effect additional regulation regarding storage,” Blair said in an interview with the Star.“In a place like Toronto, or Montreal or lower mainland B.C. there may be other measures that can be put in place that would make these firearms far less accessible to diversion into the hands of people who would commit crimes with them,” he said.“So it isn’t something as, quite frankly, as blunt as an outright ban, but I believe there are appropriate restrictions that should apply everywhere in Canada, and there may be some additional regulatory restrictions that could be put in place tailored to the local circumstances of a jurisdiction that wants to do more.” The new proposals seem certain to please no one including gun-control advocates like the group PolyRemembers.Nathalie Provost, who was shot four times and survived the 1989 massacre at École Polytechnique, said she applauded “the idea” that Blair was floating but she was “sad that there’s no action now.”“They were telling us in the 2015 platform they would be doing something about that, so it’s not a lot, and it’s too late.”She questioned the proposal to let cities enact regulations, saying Quebec has “done its best” by setting up its own firearms registry after the federal Conservatives killed the national database. “But it’s a federal law because it’s a federal problem.” “Great, they’ll do something about handguns for cities, but you know those handguns are really easy to move from one place to another—I’m not really sure how effective this proposition will be to bring a greater sense of security in our cities, will it have a real effect?”On the weekend another Polytechnique survivor Heidi Rathjen said if the Liberal government “truly believes that the legal availability of assault weapons puts the public at risk, then why not enact measures that are available to them right now, while they are still in power? Why make an urgent public safety measure contingent on being re-elected?” Rathjen, co-ordinator of PolyRemembers, said the government could move to immediately prohibit specific models of assault style firearms by a cabinet order as the first step towards a ban, saying there is a rush by gun enthusiasts to “stock up on weapons like the AR-15.”“It would also confirm the sincerity of the Liberals’ determination to prioritize public safety and to complete the job if re-elected. Given the current Liberal platform, Canadians need to be convinced that, this time, the promise to get rid of assault weapons is more than just words on paper.”MP Pierre Paul-Hus, the federal Conservative critic for public safety, criticized Blair’s statements, saying the Liberal plan is a desperate move.“For four years, the Liberals have failed to address gun crime. Instead, their policies senselessly target law-abiding gun owners. Now Justin Trudeau is desperately trying to change the channel from his political corruption and scandals right before the election,” he said in a written statement. “Criminals do not register their firearms, and they will not comply with arbitrary bans. Conservatives will always stand up for the rights of law-abiding firearms owners, and will also take practical steps to keep Canadians safe.”Paul-Hus cited the Conservative plan to tackle gun violence, which includes creating a firearms smuggling task force within the Canadian Border Security Agency, and which he said would “ensure that possessing a smuggled firearm means prison time.”Blair acknowledged that any proposal to regulate firearms differently from province to province, because municipalities are creatures of provincial legislation, is “not without complication…But I think there is merit in exploring it with them.”Blair said he recommended against an outright handgun ban coast-to-coast because he had “concerns about how effective that would be and I have concerns about how expensive that would be.”However he said the Liberal party believes there is broad support for a ban on “assault-style” firearms. There is no definition for what exactly that means, which the Conservatives have leapt on to attack the Liberals for targeting law-abiding gun owners.Blair told the Star “there are some weapons that are just frankly too dangerous to be allowed in society, their sole purpose and design was to very efficiently take lives, and I’m talking about military design weapons that are usually referred to as assault style weapons. They take large capacity magazines, sending semi automatic fire that some people can readily convert…I think there’s no place in Canadian civil society for such weapons.”Blair did not say how much a buyback of those kinds of weapons could potentially cost the federal government, but owners who bought their firearms in compliance with current law should be “fairly compensated” if Ottawa were suddenly to ban them, he said.The $1.5 billion to $2 billion estimate for a handgun buyback was based on a loose estimate of 1 million handguns registered in Canada. Federal sources estimated there is “probably” twice that number of illegal, unregistered handguns in circulation.The RCMP-led Canadian Firearms Program says 861,850 handguns were registered to individuals in Canada as of Sept. 30, 2018. The Mounties say those handguns are registered to 292,701 licensed gun owners. On top of that, according to the federal government, there are about 100,000 other non-handgun firearms — usually rifles and shotguns — legally owned and registered in Canada.Blair led cross-country consultations after Trudeau asked him last summer to examine “a full ban on handguns and assault weapons in Canada, while not impeding the lawful use of firearms by Canadians.” Blair defended the decision not to introduce legislation in this government’s mandate, or to regulate via cabinet order any prohibition on assault style weapons immediately, saying the proposals need to be fully debated on the campaign trail.Citing a “lot of polarized opinion” in Canada on the gun control issue, Blair said the doing the right thing is important, but it’s also important to do it “the right way.” “I think the right way to do that is not in the dying days of a parliament using regulations and a government-in-council order but as a complete suite of measures” introduced in the next parliament.Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

17th, June 2019, 05:30pm

The Kawhi question adds sell to the Raptors’ celebration

Now it begins.The waiting and the wondering and the anxiety about where Kawhi Leonard will play next season ramps up today, and it was less than a week ago that Masai Ujiri stood in the champagne-drenched locker room of Oracle Arena and chatted about it.The Toronto Raptors had been NBA champions for about an hour, and of course the hot-take moment was about Leonard’s future. Would he stay after one memorable season? Could the Raptors leverage a championship to convince him to stay? How would they make that ultimate moment a part of their sales pitch?Ujiri, at first, didn’t bite. The team president said he had to finish his champagne first and would discuss it some other time. And then, this: “I said one thing when we got him: We are going to be who we are.”Well, as the two million — or three million, or whatever the estimates will ultimately be — who took in Monday’s festivities can attest, who the Raptors are is something extraordinary and was fully on display during a marathon celebration.The Raptors have taken a soft-sell approach with Leonard all season, as is the franchise culture. Read more: Raptors fans take their best shot at selling Kawhi on repeat performanceRaptors love-in: ‘It’s been a long time coming’Opinion | Damien Cox: Raptors’ triumph is a game-changer from coast to coast“There is no oversell,” Ujiri said that night in Oakland. “There is no fake. We just wanted to show that we could be good in every aspect of the NBA and I think his teammates, medical (staff), the country, the fans, the media, the coverage, I think everything shows (that).”The fans and those on the periphery went all out on Monday, however.From the multitude of “Please stay” signs that dotted the parade route, to the over-the-top love thrown his way, to Mayor John Tory making him the prime recipient of the key to the city, the underlying theme throughout the drawn-out reception was trying to convince Leonard to stay.He didn’t bite, and no one who has been around him was the least bit surprised.“Thank you all for welcoming me here with open arms after the trade,” he said from the stage at Nathan Phillips Square. “Thank you, and like they said, enjoy this moment and have fun with it.”Get even more Raptors analysis in your inbox with Doug Smith’s email newsletter. Sign up for it here.He did end his brief remarks with a self-effacing laugh that mimicked the one from his very first appearance as a Raptor, but other than that, no clue.Entirely to character, Leonard otherwise played it close to the vest the entire day and did not react to the outpouring of love. He smoked a cigar, held his obviously tired young daughter to his chest behind the stage. He was cool and composed.As the parade passed under the Gardiner Expressway, teammate Kyle Lowry changed a “one more year” chant to “five more years” — in reference to the terms of a new contract that Leonard could sign in July — and Leonard’s trusted adviser, his uncle Dennis Robertson, joined in.But the truth is, no one knows. You could find 10 NBA “insiders” and throw them in a room, and five might say Leonard is absolutely gone and five would say he’s staying in Toronto after having won his second NBA title – and his second NBA Finals most valuable player award – with the Raptors.You can parse his words forever and not get a hint. He said he hadn’t purchased a house in Toronto “yet” and maybe that’s a message he’s staying. He spoke of the Raptors’ first championship as something “they” could cherish and come away with an entirely different view.If anyone says they know for certain, they’re either lying or inflating their own importance.Ujiri, since he traded cornerstone DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs in a package for Leonard last July, has remained very hands-off.Monday affirmed that, but it whether it ultimately matters remains an unanswered question.Doug Smith is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @smithraps

17th, June 2019, 05:19pm

Federal committee urges changes to curb HIV-related criminal prosecutions

Canada’s approach to people who don’t disclose their HIV status to sexual partners does not reflect current science, is “overly broad and punitive,” and the government must immediately work to curb criminal prosecutions of those who do not disclose their status, according to a parliamentary committee report released Monday. “To end the epidemic, the committee is of the view that barriers undermining the public health objectives of HIV prevention, testing and treatment need to be removed,” says the Liberal majority on the House of Commons’ standing committee on justice and human rights. “The committee strongly believes that the use of criminal law to deal with HIV non-disclosure must be circumscribed immediately and that HIV must be treated as a public health issue.” The committee heard from a number of scientists, academics and people living with HIV this spring, who testified that continuing to prosecute people who don’t disclose their HIV status to their sexual partners — even when there was no transmission or a real risk of transmission of the virus — affects whether people will get tested and then receive treatment. In Canada, an HIV-positive person who does not disclose their status to their partner faces the risk of being charged with aggravated sexual assault, which typically carries prison time, as well as being placed on the national sex offenders’ registry. The committee heard that there have been few criminal cases in Canada where there was actual transmission of the virus. Witnesses also testified that intentional HIV transmission is rare. There continues to be inconsistent guidelines for prosecutors across the country, the committee heard, as to when a charge should be brought against a person who does not disclose their HIV status. The Supreme Court last ruled in 2012 that a person must disclose when there is a “realistic possibility of transmission,” which some lower courts have interpreted as meaning a person must both have a low viral load (determined by the amount of the virus in a person’s blood) and use a condom, while other courts have ruled a low viral load is enough. The justice committee has now entered the fray, recommending the government create a specific Criminal Code offence for actual transmission of infectious diseases, including HIV, and that the government work with the HIV/AIDS community to limit the use of the criminal law when dealing with HIV. “The current approach to HIV non-disclosure is clearly overly broad, but the committee believes that in some cases prosecutions under the criminal law would be appropriate,” the Liberal majority wrote. The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, which appeared before the committee, said in a statement Monday that it welcomes many of the committee’s conclusions, but said prosecutions must be further limited to actual transmission and intent to transmit. “Infectious diseases are a public health issue and should be treated as such,” said executive director Richard Elliott. “We strongly disagree with the recommendation to extend the criminal law to other infectious diseases. We will not solve the inappropriate use of the criminal law against people living with HIV by punishing more people and more health conditions.”The committee requested the government table its formal response to the report within 60 days. Speaking at a symposium on HIV criminalization in Toronto last week, federal Justice Minister David Lametti said his government would not be able to act on the committee’s recommendations before this fall’s federal election, but that if returned to power, his government could explore options that include drafting a criminal law provision that targets intentional transmission of HIV.A spokeswoman for Lametti said Monday that the minister’s office is reviewing the committee's report. “We all share in the commitment to reducing stigma and discrimination against those living with HIV or AIDS,” said Rachel Rappaport. “We know that over-criminalization can lead to increased rates of infection because it discourages Canadians from getting tested and seeking treatment.”Considering that drafting a new offence could take time, Lametti should immediately form a working group with the provinces to come up with a prosecutorial directive “to end criminal prosecutions of HIV non-disclosure,” except in cases of actual transmission, the majority recommended. Other recommendations include having the justice minister immediately establish a mechanism to review cases of individuals who would have been convicted for not disclosing their HIV status but who would not have been prosecuted had the new laws and rules recommended by the committee been in place. The review should also include people prosecuted but not convicted, the majority said. The majority also recommended the government work with the provinces and territories to increase access to HIV testing, including anonymous testing and self-testing. The recommendations are “a huge step forward toward the goal of recognizing that this is a public health issue,” said Daniel Brown, vice-president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association. “These are really progressive recommendations that recognize the harm that prosecuting HIV non-disclsoure cases as sexual offences has stigmatized those with the disease and discouraged them from seeking treatment,” he said. The Conservatives on the committee dissented, saying there should still be prosecutions not only for actual transmission, but also in cases where there was a failure to disclose and realistic possibility of transmission.The NDP also dissented, saying the majority’s recommendation opens the door for criminal prosecutions for people living with diseases including tuberculosis and Hepatitis C, “rather than recognizing that all communicable diseases including HIV are better dealt through existing public health measures.” With files from The Canadian PressJacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering legal affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant

17th, June 2019, 05:15pm

Ottawa ‘reviewing’ Quebec law that bans the wearing of religious symbols

OTTAWA—The federal Liberals say they will defend Quebecers’ Charter rights after the provincial government passed a controversial law banning public servants from wearing religious symbols.But Justice Minister David Lametti wouldn’t say how, exactly, Ottawa intends to go about doing that.Lametti, who represents the Montreal riding of LaSalle-Émard-Verdun, said he doesn’t believe “it’s up to a government to tell people what they should wear and what they shouldn’t wear.”“We believe that Canada is already a lay state, a neutral state (when it comes to religion), and that’s reflected in our institutions. And we’re going to defend the Charter,” Lametti said.But when asked if the federal government will intervene in a court challenge already launched against Bill 21, Québec’s so-called secularism bill, Lametti would only say that Ottawa plans to “look at the law as amended” and “see what happens on the ground.”Premier François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec government passed Bill 21 into law late Sunday after a marathon weekend sitting of the National Assembly.The bill would ban public servants in positions of authority — teachers, judges, police officers, Crown lawyers, prison guards and more — from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs, kippahs or turbans while working.Legault’s government has invoked the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause, preventing the courts from striking down Bill 21 for violating certain Charter rights. But less than 24 hours after being passed into law, the legislation was already facing its first court challenge.The National Coalition of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said Monday they’ll challenge Bill 21, and expect to be before Québec Superior Court on Thursday.“(The challenge) is about jurisdiction, it is about a constitutional challenge. Essentially we’re arguing that one, it’s unconstitutional, and two, it will cause irreparable harm to religious minorities,” said Leila Nasr, NCCM’s communications co-ordinator. “On those grounds, we’re asking the court to stay the application of the law.”An official with the Prime Minister’s Office, who spoke to the Star on the condition they not be named, suggested they’d be following that lawsuit closely. But Lametti would not say if the federal government is considering intervening in the case.Conservative MP Gérard Deltell said that while the party routinely says it stands up for religious and individual freedom, Conservatives also consider Bill 21 to be a provincial matter and that “the debate belongs to the Québec National Assembly.” “We also champion the respect of each and every province’s jurisdiction,” Deltell, a former Quebec MNP, told the Star.“This is not specific to Quebec. Each and every province has the right to use the notwithstanding clause, has the right to do what they think is good for their people in their jurisdiction, and that’s exactly what it is …This is their will and this is their responsibility and this is also their right.” Anthony Housefather, the Liberal chair of the House of Commons justice committee, said that he finds it “impossible” to explain to constituents who wear hijabs or kippahs why they’re eligible for public service jobs everywhere in Canada except in Quebec.“To me, this is a law that is a fundamental misunderstanding of what secularism is and what the separation of church and state is. The separation of church and state is meant to be that the law favours no religion. It’s not to say that your personal religious beliefs are excluded from occupying an office in the state,” Housefather said.“There are people in my riding that have less rights today then they did yesterday. And that’s deeply unfortunate.”Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier

17th, June 2019, 04:21pm

Sidewalk Labs delivers master plan for Quayside smart-city project to Waterfront Toronto

Google sister firm Sidewalk Labs has released its long-awaited master plan for the controversial smart city district it wants to build on Toronto’s waterfront.Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP), a document said to be more than 1,000 pages, was delivered Monday morning by the Manhattan-based urban innovation firm to Waterfront Toronto, a tri-government agency that has partnered with Sidewalk on the high tech proposal.Waterfront Toronto said it will make the plan available to the public in a week.Sidewalk Labs wants to build a “beta site” on a 12-acre plot of land at Parliament St. and Queens Quay called Quayside. It would consist of a mixed-use development — primarily of residential units — and feature video cameras and sensors that would collect “urban data,” which is data accessible in public places. The goal of Quayside is to make urban life more efficient, Sidewalk says.But critics have slammed the project, saying the data collection will threaten the privacy of people who live in and move through the neighbourhood.Sidewalk Labs’ master plan must first be approved by Waterfront Toronto and likely other levels of government before any construction can begin. In a statement Monday, Stephen Diamond, chairman of the board of directors for Waterfront Toronto, said the agency intends to follow a “public process” once it has a chance to pore over the master plan.“Along with you (the public), Waterfront Toronto’s board, staff and independent consultants will review Sidewalk Labs’ proposed plan to determine under which conditions, if any, (the Sidewalk Labs master plan) could work for Toronto,” Diamond said in a statement.Diamond went on to say Waterfront Toronto plans to give the public access to the master plan one week after receiving it, followed by public consultations, the first round of which would be held within four weeks of receiving the document.“All feedback received will be rigorously documented and shared publicly,” Diamond said.“We know that a number of concerns and cautions have been raised about this project and that there are many voices that want to be heard and considered,” Diamond said.“It is Waterfront Toronto’s responsibility to act in the public interest. We take this responsibility extremely seriously and we know that you are relying on us to fulfil it ... We are committed to working with all of you to do exactly that,” Diamond added.A Sidewalk Labs spokesperson says the firm hopes the master plan will lead to the building of “something extraordinary” on the waterfront.“Over the past year and a half, Sidewalk Labs has been hard at work developing a plan for a new neighbourhood along Toronto’s waterfront that will combine cutting-edge technology and forward-thinking urban design to make housing cheaper, streets safer and commutes faster,” Sidewalk Labs spokesperson Keerthana Rang said in a statement.“This plan is the result of consultation with more than 20,000 Torontonians. We are proud to reach such a significant milestone in this project and we are honoured to have the opportunity to present our vision of how the public and private sectors can work together to do something extraordinary on the waterfront, which we hope will set a new global standard for city-building,” Rang said.Donovan Vincent is a housing reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @donovanvincent

17th, June 2019, 04:10pm

Former Toronto police officer wants his sexual assault conviction overturned

A former Toronto police officer is asking the province’s highest court Tuesday to overturn his conviction for sexually assaulting a young security guard, arguing the trial judge failed to consider that there was no evidence of anyone hearing the rape.The Ministry of the Attorney General, however, argues the appeal should be dismissed because the defence arguments are “best understood as an attack on the reasonableness of the trial judge’s verdict.”Ontario Court Justice Alexander Kurke, sitting in Gore Bay, Ont., convicted Roy Preston last year of one count of sexual assault and sentenced him to three years in prison. Preston was released from custody pending appeal.In 2005, while he was a Toronto police constable, Preston was found guilty of assaulting a man and sentenced to 30 days in jail. The assault was captured on video and the case received widespread media coverage. He was fired from the Toronto Police Service and lost two appeals.On the evening of July 31, 2015, Preston and a co-worker, who was 19 at the time, were working for a security company and attended a barbecue and bonfire on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario. He was 46 and her training instructor and supervisor.(The Star isn’t naming the woman. Though at the conclusion of the case, the woman obtained permission from the court to waive the automatic publication ban on her identity, material filed with the Court of Appeal says a publication ban is in effect.)At trial, the judge accepted the woman’s testimony that Preston groped her breasts when they went to get firewood and after 2 a.m. entered the trailer where she was sleeping on a sofa and subjected her to a prolonged sexual assault.Now 23, she testified she repeatedly told Preston “no,” asked or told him to stop, shouted several times and was crying. She left the trailer and drove to the hospital after the assault. Preston did not testify but the defence position was the sex was consensual.In a factum filed with the Court of Appeal, Preston’s lawyer, Chris Sewrattan, argues a new trial should be ordered because Kurke “failed to properly consider a pathway to reasonable doubt. In particular, he failed to relate reasonable doubt to the absence of evidence that the sexual assault was heard by others. This removed from consideration an important part of the Appellant’s defence.”During the five day trial, the defence called Margit Vadaszi, who continued to be employed by the security company, as a witness. “That person testified to not seeing or hearing any of the sexual assault sounds described by the complainant,” the defence factum states.The complainant described a “noisy sexual assault in which she cried and shouted multiple times,” yet Vadaszi who was sleeping “15 feet away, separated only by a plastic curtain that did not touch the ground,” testified she did not hear any sounds in the trailer during the night, the factum says.The judge rejected the witness’s evidence as unreliable. The other person in the trailer could not be located.In the Crown factum, prosecutor Catherine Weiler argues that “deference is owed to the trial judge’s findings of fact, particularly his credibility findings.”As well, “corroboration was not required to support the complainant’s account,” the verdict was supported by the evidence and the trial judge’s “extensive reasons ... explained the path to conviction, addressed the live issues at trial and disclosed no legal error.“This appeal should be dismissed.”Betsy Powell is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and courts. Follow her on Twitter: @powellbetsy

17th, June 2019, 02:51pm

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