Yabsta News

Murder probe in Britain after 39 dead found in back of truck

LONDON - Police in southeastern England launched a murder investigation after 39 people were found dead early Wednesday inside a large cargo truck that authorities believe was registered in Bulgaria and came into the country via Ireland.The truck, which British police said entered the U.K. on Saturday via the Welsh port of Holyhead, was found across the country at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, a town 25 miles (40 kilometres) east of London on the River Thames.Police did not formally tie the deaths to human trafficking but a link was assumed because of the way the victims were crammed into the truck’s container. The truck’s apparently circuitous route into and around Britain also raised suspicions among shipping experts.A 25-year-old-man from Northern Ireland who was driving the truck was arrested on suspicion of murder, police said. He has not been charged or identified.“To put 39 people into a locked metal container shows a contempt for human life that is evil,” lawmaker Jackie Doyle-Price, who represents the region in parliament, told Parliament.Police were called to the truck at 1:40 a.m., alerted by ambulance workers, but it was unclear how the workers heard of the tragedy.“This is a tragic incident where a large number of people have lost their lives. Our enquiries are ongoing to establish what has happened,” Essex Police Chief Superintendent Andrew Mariner told reporters at a press conference. “We are in the process of identifying the victims, however I anticipate that this could be a lengthy process.”Police said one victim appeared to be a teenager but gave no further details on the victims.A cordon has been put around the white tractor-trailer and access to and from the industrial park has been restricted. Mariner said police were working with local authorities in Thurrock to mitigate “any impact our investigation scene will have” on the region.Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged in a tweet to work closely with Essex Police to establish exactly what happened and later told Parliament that people smugglers would be pursued and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.“All such traders in human beings should be hunted down and brought to justice,” he said.The tragedy recalls the death of 58 migrants in 2000 in a truck in Dover, England, and the deaths in 2015 of 71 migrants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan who were found suffocated in the back of a refrigerated truck that was abandoned on an Austrian highway close to the Hungarian border.Smaller numbers of migrants have occasionally been found dead in trucks in Britain in recent years.Bulgarian authorities said they could not yet confirm that the truck had started its journey in Bulgaria but were working closely with British authorities.“We are in contact with our embassy in London and with British authorities,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tsvetana Krasteva said.Essex police say the force has not yet identified the 39 victims or where they came from.Deputy police chief Pippa Mills said a key line of inquiry will be how the truck entered Ireland, then got on a ferry to Holyhead in Wales, on the western side of the British mainland. She refused to describe the gender of the victims.Seamus Leheny, Northern Ireland policy manager for the Freight Transport Association, called the route used by the truck “unorthodox” since it apparently involved travelling to Ireland from somewhere in Europe and then entering Britain via a ferry over the Irish Sea to a major passenger port in Wales.He said that choice may have been influenced by increased security and checks in the major English port of Dover and the French port of Calais, which are both on the English Channel.Dover and Calais, which have been under pressure from human traffickers for years, have sniffer dogs, monitors and more advanced technological surveillance due to the fact that they are the endpoints for the Channel Tunnel between France and Britain.“People have been saying that security and checks have been increased at places like Dover and Calais, so it might be seen as an easier way to get,” Leheny said. “It’s a long way around and it’ll add an extra day to the journey.”The truck then travelled by road across Britain to Grays.Richard Burnett, chief of the Road Haulage Association, said the truck may have travelled from the French port of Cherbourg to the Irish port of Rosslare before continuing by road to Dublin and taking a ferry to Holyhead in Wales.Burnett said it is “highly unlikely” the truck would have been subjected to a physical check on that route because those ports have far fewer checks then Dover and Calais.___Veselin Toshkov in Sofia, Bulgaria, and Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary contributed to this story.___Danica Kirka in London, Veselin Toshkov in Sofia, Bulgaria, and Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary contributed to this story.

23rd, October 2019, 09:33pm

When police target street gangs, the methods make all the difference

Handgun bans. Anti-gang crackdowns. Easy bail. In Toronto, as the number of people killed or injured in shootings continues to surge, such terms are often used by municipal leaders, politicians, police. But what do we really know about guns, gangs, and possible solutions to a growing violence problem? In an ongoing series, the Star is aiming to find answers … and to find out when we don’t know the answers … to some life-and-death questions.Breaking the early dawn calm on a June day last year, a team of 800 police officers spread out across the Greater Toronto Area like tentacles. They charged into homes, arrest warrants in hand, as part of a full-throttle crackdown on a highly co-ordinated criminal organization.Officers, some heavily armed, arrested more than six dozen people. Among them, police said, were some of the highest-ranking members of the street gang Five Point Generalz.Rooted in the Weston Road and Lawrence Avenue West area, police alleged the gang’s criminal activities had a vast reach throughout the GTA and Canada, the United States and into the Caribbean. Investigators believe the gang was active in drug sales and distribution and linked to multiple shootings.“Our investigators are confident that Project Patton has effectively disrupted and dealt a significant blow to the hierarchy and operations of the Five Point Generalz,” Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders told a news conference after the June 21, 2018 raid. Police later laid out the spoils. On tables in the Toronto police media gallery were cash, drugs and dozens of guns, some of them brightly coloured and resembling water pistols or toy weapons. “Project Patton,” as it was dubbed, was the type of major guns and gangs bust that happens about once a year, part of the police attempt to tackle violent crime. But while the traditional show-and-tell that follows appears to indicate major progress, do such initiatives work? Are there other methods that are effective?As part of the Star’s ongoing series examining gun violence, here is a look at policing efforts to stop it.What are police saying about the current level of violence?This past summer, Chief Saunders spoke about the source of recent violence, saying a majority of shootings have been street gang-related.In past years, police have said it’s necessary to respond with “intelligence-led” policing and that such initiatives, often expensive, are beneficial even if one life can be saved. That style of policing involves using data and intelligence to proactively reduce and prevent crime, rather than focusing primarily on reacting to crime.After a spate of shootings this summer, Saunders also said that intelligence-led or any other type of policing is not a sole solution to a pervasive problem.“We are not going to arrest our way out of this,” he told reporters in August, pointing to a number of systemic and societal issues underlying the violence that police are not in a position to address.“We need to make sure that we have mechanisms in place for these young men to not want to take up arms as a means of moving on to the next day,” he said, pointing to a U-shaped area of the city where there has historically been priority areas at-risk of violence identified by police, city officials and researchers.Saunders has joined politicians in calling for stricter bail conditions, citing incomplete and sometimes isolated statistics of the number of reoffenders out on firearms charges.More broadly, police leaders have made comments that support investment in policing and tackling guns and gangs as well as legislative changes.In a statement posted to their website in September, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police said they supported a ban on assault rifles and that the flow of handguns across the border was an issue that required policy considerations, including a possible ban.Responding to funding to fight guns and gangs earlier that month, the police chiefs association welcomed the investment, calling for more funds for communities outside the GTA and Ottawa.The association representing Toronto police officers has frequently called for the hiring of more officers in response to the news of violence, with president Mike McCormack telling CTV News in August that there is a “lack of commitment in policing” that is frustrating officers.In that interview, McCormack claimed the recent violence was not a “blip” or a “spike” but a “new normal” for Toronto.Saunders has highlighted that the police are in the process of hiring more than 300 officers as budgeted for in 2019. What has been the police response to guns and gang violence?Busts such as Project Patton are a common tool, the efforts sometimes multi-jurisdictional and always accompanied by news conferences, at which seized guns, ammunition and drugs are shown off. The groups targeted in major guns and gang busts tend to be organized. Some names come up over and over again.Some police leaders would likely bristle at the suggestion that this feels like the carnival game whack-a-mole, with tragic consequences, but Toronto’s gang problem has not abated. And many caught up in gun violence are not in gangs, but living in neighbourhoods with them. The nature of the gangs has also changed over time, with fewer rules, social media taunts, more ammunition at hand and a willingness to settle beefs on the spot.Police and cities have used gun buybacks and amnesties to get unwanted legal guns and illegal guns out of the mix. The latest in Toronto was last spring, and offered $350 per handgun and $200 per long gun, and required those turning in the firearms to identify themselves.While these efforts do bring in unwanted firearms — a buyback in 2013 in Toronto netted 500, and another in 2008 around 2,000 — experts say the programs and amnesties do not pull in the kinds of guns used in crimes.But they do reduce the risk of guns being lost or stolen and landing in the hands of criminals.In response to Toronto’s most recent spate of shootings, Toronto police deployed officers to work with the service’s guns and gangs unit in areas prone to gun violence, in what Saunders described as an intelligence-led initiative that involves bail compliance checks and just being visible.The program, dubbed Project Community Space, began in August and ends Oct. 31, at a cost of $4.5 million — funded by all levels of government.Saunders told reporters Tuesday that while Project Community Space is seeing some “positive results,” it won’t be enough.“When we speak about all of the aspects of why people are shooting other people it’s not ‘arrest our way through it’,” he said of the strategies that will work. “We can’t just deal with the enforcement piece ... We’re not going to move the agenda any further than where we are right now.”How has Toronto’s anti-gang approach fared?What does taking a gang out in one swoop do? It may bring relief to a neighbourhood but it can create a void, and rival or younger groups rush in to take over turf in an area that is socially under-serviced and has fewer opportunities for young people, say criminologists.“The same conditions remain and percolate for a little while,” says Scot Wortley, an associate professor in the University of Toronto’s centre for criminology and sociolegal studies, “and sometimes the violence gets worse, I’ve been observing, after these successful dismantling of known crews. The young guns come in and fight over the abandoned territory.”Missing in the equation, or disproportionately underfunded compared to policing, is investment in the affected communities.“In the past what we’ve often had are attempts, to use a euphemism, to weed the community of all bad guys, but provide very little in terms of fertilization and seeding of those communities so they can escape that problem,” says Wortley.It also depends what is meant by success.In the short-term, academics say increased, targeted policing efforts can make a difference in temporarily decreasing incidents of violence, especially retaliatory violence.The recent Project Community Space netted 525 criminal charges in 240 arrests in the first six weeks, a third of them firearms related — which police hailed as “extremely effective.”Police also reported that at the midpoint in the project, there was a 30 per cent decrease in shooting occurrences compared to the six weeks prior.Asked whether that was higher than what would normally be expected without the initiative in place, police were not able to provide comparative data, with spokesperson Allison Sparkes saying, “it is difficult to compare a year-to-date figure in this context” and that the update was to “advise of the associated arrests and charges made specific to this operation plan.”The Star also reported that the reduction in shootings Saunders identified as part of the update followed a seasonal pattern that typically sees fewer shootings outside the summer months.A previous police approach to flare-ups of gun violence was to flood areas with police and use controversial tactics, such as carding — the often random stopping, questioning and documentation of citizens in non-criminal encounters — and using officers unfamiliar with the neighbourhoods to do the work. It did little to make people feel safe.“In fact it does the opposite, it makes young people feel like they’ve got to take matters into their own hands and they can’t rely in the police to protect themselves, and it just goes around and around and around,” says University of Toronto sociologist Akwasi Owusu-Bempah.Wortley echoes that, and says “what the Toronto police, in my opinion, used to engage in was blanket crime prevention. We’re going to target a neighbourhood. We’re going to come in strong. Anybody who lives in these areas is going to be viewed as a potential suspect, stopped, questioned. “That type of policing erodes confidence and contributes to a lack of legitimacy.”Police today recognize this erodes trust in police, which does not help reduce violence.Visibility alone — without the intrusiveness of police tactics employed by the now abandoned Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy — is worth something, say experts. Higher visibility brings comfort in neighbourhoods where simply being outside can result in injury and death.Luca Berardi, an assistant professor in the social psychology program at McMaster University, spent five years studying and observing life in Toronto’s Lawrence Heights neighbourhood, and wrote a dissertation that, in part, touched on what people want from police.In a telling passage, he describes watching parents and older siblings dropping off kids at an after-school program, and of the 50 he observed, only two were not women. He asked a neighbourhood recreation co-ordinator about this, expecting an answer about “absentee fathers in the ghetto.”It had everything to do with police scheduling, the co-ordinator explained. The program, which started at 4 p.m., came when police were changing shifts, and that was when there would sometimes be shootings, with the shooters knowing police would not be there. The men knew this, and avoided being outside during that time.“In Lawrence Heights,” writes Berardi, “hoodwise residents learned to avoid the streets in the absence of police.” Are there anti-gang approaches that are working elsewhere?One success story in the U.S. is Operation Ceasefire, hatched up in Boston by David Kennedy, a criminal justice professor at Harvard, and now at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.Kennedy’s approach to tackling homicides was to think of those doing the violence as human beings, sitting down with them, talking and appealing for the violence to stop. Boston went through a period of extreme violence in the ’80s and ’90s due to the drug trade. Police responded with an aggressive blanket approach, stopping and searching young men, most of them racialized.It did net drugs and guns, but the violence continued and trust in police was largely lost by the city’s Black community. Police, clergy, probation and youth workers started walking the streets and learned more about the young people swept up in the violence. Kennedy became involved, wanting to do something practical. Together, they identified 300 key young men.The story is nicely told in a 2018 online documentary by the New Yorker and Retro Report, titled “Operation Ceasefire and the Unlikely Advent of Precision Policing.” Operation Ceasefire targeted the 300 young men, and told them they would stop doing so if the violence stopped, and that there were other things they could be doing with their lives. The young men started handing over their guns.The program is now in use in a number of U.S. cities.Based on what Toronto police have said, Wortley suggests they might be intending to use “greater levels of non-obtrusive police surveillance to identify who truly is involved in these activities, target them for the heavy policing, but also try to build community ties.”For it to work, says Wortley, an “important part of these targeted strategies is giving known offenders a chance to really redeem themselves. There has to be a parallel to any policing method — community development methods that resonate with the community and lead to them feeling validated as citizens. That, ‘You are investing in us, you are not only trying to incarcerate us.’”In a city that is increasingly more expensive to live in, with a shrinking middle class and growing divide between rich and poor, Wortley wonders where the hope and opportunities will come from for the young men.What other policing methods are being used?This fall, Toronto police quietly launched a wholly new approach to combating violence in the city, via the force’s gang prevention task force.For the last few weeks, Det.-Const. Ron Chhinzer has initiated the early phase of the task force’s work: hosting 31 town halls across Toronto, one in each of Toronto’s neighbourhood improvement areas. The aim is twofold — to educate communities about gang risk factors, and to hear directly from youth, parents, social workers and community leaders about what they need to address the root causes of gang violence.“There’s a definite need to be able to not only provide public safety, in terms of going out and arresting violent gang members but also finding a way of potentially getting a gang member out of a gang,” said Chhinzer, an officer for 13 years with Toronto police who has previously worked with Toronto’s guns and gangs unit. Chhinzer, who heads the task force alongside his partner Det. Jason Kondo, has facilitated 10 town halls so far and says each one has seen difficult but productive conversations. Among the rules of participation is that those in attendance don’t judge each other, and that comments stay focused on solutions.Though he offers anonymity to those in attendance — so far, it’s mainly been adults, such as concerned parents — Chhinzer says he isn’t looking to get specifics about problematic individuals or groups, but rather get a broader snapshot of the issues and possible solutions in the community to prevent or intervene in gang activity.After the completion of the town halls in April, the task force will evaluate the information gathered and compile a list of recommendations.“This is a humanitarian mission — (gang violence) is almost an epidemic in every major city,” Chhinzer said in an interview.At the same time, the gang prevention task force is also educating 2,000 front line police officers about the risk factors for gang involvement. The idea, Chhinzer said, is to provide police with alternatives to introducing a youth into the criminal justice system. “We’re saying, if you come across a kid who might be on a path to gang involvement, stressing to (the officers) that, instead of laying charges, they could be better suited to helping identify the correct social services,” Chhinzer said.Among those the gang prevention task force is educating are those in the force’s expanding neighbourhood officer program. The initiative — another prong in the police attempt to combat gang violence — sees cops walking the beat in the same area for a minimum of four years. The hope is to gradually improve public trust by allowing officers and residents to get to know one another.There are 127 neighbourhood community officers waking the beat in 35 neighbourhoods. They wear modified uniforms and their vehicles have distinctive labelling. They work closely with residents and community organizations on addressing crime in the areas. The goal is to forge relationships and build trust.“Acting as ambassadors for the Toronto Police Service, they work collaboratively with residents as well as community agencies to build sustainable solutions,” reads the service’s website.First introduced in 2013, the results are encouraging. People in the community feel safer and more willing to talk to the officers, according to Doug Thomson, from Humber College’s criminal justice degree program. He is studying the program and a full report is expected next year.“We often talk about police being transient — they just don’t stay in the neighbourhood long enough to build trust, and trust is very important,” deputy chief Peter Yuen said last month. What does the data say about policing efforts?Researchers say it’s unhelpful to look at crime statistics in a vacuum.Claims that “crime is on the rise” in any given period can often ignore the statistical reality that the city’s violent crime has ebbed and flowed over the long-term. That trend line reveals that the history of, for example, violent summers filled with shootings, has been cyclical over the last 15 years. It also shows crime has come in waves regardless of the fluctuating number of officers, levels of funding and changing laws.For example, in a CTV News interview with police union president McCormack, he cited there being 900 fewer officers available for deployment today compared to the 2010 complement of uniformed officers.But looking at the indicators of violence to which he was responding, suggests there is not a link between the number of officers and the increase or decrease in shootings.In 2010, when there were some 5,600 deployed officers on the force, those injured and killed in shootings in the city totalled 170, according to Toronto police data. That dipped to a low in 2014 at 103 victims when uniformed officer complement was decreasing, at around 5,200. The number of victims increased in 2015 to 161 as the number of officers increased slightly to almost 5,300. Earlier reporting by the Star also found that there was little correlation between the number police officers and Statistics Canada’s crime severity index, which measures the frequency and severity of crime.“I think we have to have the right balance, but I don’t think that simply suggesting more officers will simply displace or dissuade gun crimes and so on,” said Councillor Michael Thompson, a former member of the Toronto Police Services Board who has looked critically at the Toronto police’s budget and leadership.Those who work with offenders and youth say the cyclical nature can also be partly attributed to a rise of a younger generation taking the place of those who are killed or arrested — in communities where the same lack of jobs and other opportunities persist.How does the response from police compare to previous years?The police response through these cycles has been familiar, though it hasn’t always been delivered with the same tone.In March 2000, following a daytime Yonge Street shooting involving two rival groups of young men amid concerns of gang violence throughout the city, then police chief Julian Fantino lamented the ongoing violence.“The shooting was not a unique situation, and that’s distressing,” he said.That was five years before what became known as the Year of the Gun in 2005, before 15-year-old Jane Creba was shot and killed in almost the same spot.In the intervening years, Fantino became increasingly agitated as he advocated for more front line officers, calling the violence “open warfare.”Ahead of the violent of summer of 2005, Bill Blair, who replaced Fantino as chief, championed large sweeps arresting dozens of gang members he said had been plaguing communities with violence.“The impact on public safety has been dramatic and, I believe, will be long lasting,” Blair said then.But the year now stands as a marker of a historically high level of violence.There were 231 shooting deaths and injuries that year. That number has been outdone only by the 236 victims tallied last year. Though Blair put on a tough front, vowing to track down alleged gang members largely responsible — there were many arrests, including several in Creba’s killing following a major co-ordinated probe — in an interview the following year reflecting on violence, he told the Star there was still much work to do.“Some of the social, economic and cultural conditions that give rise to violence in the first place, these things have not been fully addressed, “ he said. “We still have serious unemployment problems. There are issues of exclusion and disparity in some of those communities.”Fantino too, seen as one of the city’s most adamantly tough-on-crime, boots-on-the-ground chiefs, admitted in 2001 that policing wasn’t the only answer.Calling it a “defining moment” for the city after a spate of shootings, he called for “proactive and preventative action.”“This situation goes beyond a quick fix or any kind of finger-pointing, “ he said. “What people need to appreciate and understand is the fact that crime, victimization, drugs, gangs and guns are the sad manifestation of many societal (ills) for which we are all accountable.”When Fantino was asked what police were doing, his answer was not so different from the one Saunders gave reporters recently, though his tone was characteristically sharp: “Well, there you go. You’re pointing fingers. What are you going to do? Where is everyone else? I’m here. Our people are here. We’ve been working on this issue. This is not new to us. We’re totally committed and have dedicated the resources we can to these issues, but you don’t need to ask that question of me, “ he said. “You need to ask it of all the other people who aren’t here today.”“Unless you have real community development,” says Wortley, “things will either stay the same or, if not, get worse.”With files from Star staff

23rd, October 2019, 04:00pm

Bruce Arthur: The opener brings closure to the Raptors’ remarkable championship run

Flags fly forever, but every season ends. On Tuesday night the Toronto Raptors opened a new year. When the Raptors won the NBA title they were in Oakland, spraying champagne in the battered old visitors’ locker room. When this season started, they got to celebrate at home.It was the closing of one hell of a book. Before the game the crowd was in their seats and the lights went out and they played “The Champ is Here,” and suddenly the trophy was illuminated, all alone, shining.“It was it was a lot more than I thought it was going to be,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of the ceremony. “I guess I just didn't prepare myself very well for them to give us a ring. You know, going through the whole thing down there, and the crowd was pretty amped up and stuff — it was pretty emotional.”He hadn’t really watched the games. Most of them haven’t. As the tribute video played, everyone in the building — the crowd, the team, everyone — lived it again, in pieces. The crowd cheered Kawhi Leonard’s shot in Game 7 again; they cheered the Game 6 surge, and win, against Milwaukee; they cheered Fred VanVleet’s bandaged scream in Game 6 of the Finals; and they cheered the title. When the Raptors staff was introduced, the crowd cheered especially loud for Wayne Embry, and Alex McKechnie, and Nick Nurse, and especially Masai Ujiri, and when he was introduced the team president turned back to his team and howled again, arms in the air. The crowd chanted M-V-P, and they were right.Then came the players: Norm Powell and Serge Ibaka danced to get their oversized, diamond planetoid rings; Fred VanVleet strode at his own pace, too cool; Marc Gasol ambled over, elated; Pascal Siakam kissed his hand and pointed to the sky, for his late father; and Kyle Lowry took his steps slowly, an impish grin on his face, as if he had been waiting a long time for this moment. Lowry thanked the crowd, gathered his teammates around him, got the crowd to count it down as they unveiled the banner, black and red and white and gold.“You see people’s reactions to it, the fans,” Gasol said. “You’re kind of locked into the game the whole day, so you’re not prepared for the ceremony, and it kind of throws you. You go back into what it meant, and the way it happened. I guess it was a little emotional. It was awesome. It was what I needed to finish it.”Indeed, when it emerged that Alameda County would not file charges against Ujiri for his on-court altercation with a sheriff’s deputy after Game 6 in Oakland — the deputy tried to keep Ujiri from taking the court for the celebration — the championship season was truly, finally, over.Which meant they had to play a game, with new gold championship tabs on the back of every Raptors jersey, for as long as the franchise lasts. The Raptors won, 130-122, in overtime. It took a lot.“We did a small (ring ceremony) back here for the staff that didn’t walk out, and I got emotional,” general manager Bobby Webster said. “There's two groups, right? You can't walk (everyone) out because it takes forever. So I got emotional for that. The one thing that made that one (on the court) special was having the fans there. Right? To me, they never had that moment. You had the parade, but if you think about it, those are the ones who are there all season.”Kawhi will always hang over this team, because he’s the one who really got away. Had he returned this whole season would be a rolling, swaggering statement of defence, with the confidence of champions. As Ibaka told Masai Ujiri after the championship in June, they could have gotten two more. No guarantees, but especially in the flattened post-Warriors league, he wasn’t wrong. And that’s what Toronto has been robbed of, and what these Raptors have been robbed of. The low-key NBA chatter that Kawhi isn’t completely happy in L.A. yet — that even the stoic Leonard didn’t expect to be booed at a Rams game, that the team without the injured Paul George isn’t quite inspiring yet, that the Clippers organization isn’t as easy a fit as the Raptors were, yet — is probably small consolation. Kawhi was cheered when the Clippers visited Vancouver in pre-season, and he told reporters that Canadians kept thanking him in the summer for what he had done: ”They’re very nice people,” he said. He might win a title with the Clippers, in this flattened league. They won’t get three million at the parade, though.But that’s all over and done, and what’s left is a team whose top seven players know one another’s rhythms and instincts, but aren’t in championship form yet, at either end. Who could be? It’s clear that Siakam is going to pile up numbers this season; he went for a cartoon statline of 34 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, and a sixth foul late: all in all, he played a ragged genius sort of game. The buzz that VanVleet was scoring almost at will against teammates in camp looked correct, as he carried that ring ceremony cool onto the court. He was, so often, in control.It all counts, because the Raptors played seven-and-a-half guys in this game, and one injury to the wrong guy could send this sideways. There’s plenty of road left, one game at a time. As the Raptors played, many of their names hung in the rafters, etched around the red edge of the championship banner, and the memories should live there, too: Lowry, who played through his mangled thumb and defined the start of Game 6 of the Finals; VanVleet, who survived the size of Philadelphia and some actual self-doubt to become a stone-cold killer in the biggest moments; Gasol, who fit in to win a title, and Ibaka, each of whom had moments of propulsive genius in the playoffs; Powell, who wasn’t ever scared; and Siakam, who ran the toughest defensive gauntlet in modern NBA playoff history — Jonathan Isaac, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Draymond Green — and hit the last critical shot of the season, under all the pressure in the world. And of course, Leonard’s name is up there too. Kawhi carried the Raptors plenty in the playoffs. But sometimes they carried him, too, and it should all be remembered, all the parts. It may mean nothing going forward, as this crazy league lurches and spins and clatters into a future that never stands still. But they earned the celebration of this night.“I feel so thankful for this moment, you know?” Ibaka said the other day. “What I learned about this team is, we still good, man. Like, we still good. People sleeping on us, man. We got players. We got players who can play, who got experience now. After the NBA Finals, everybody got toughness, mental toughness. We know how it is to win games, we know how to play together. And we don’t give up. We good, man.”Maybe. But now they have to earn everything again, because the championship season is over. Remember it well. Hell of a run. Bruce Arthur is a Toronto-based sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @bruce_arthur

22nd, October 2019, 10:11pm

Activists hand out pro-Hong Kong T-shirts ahead of Raptors home opener

After an NBA pre-season tarnished by a conflict with the Chinese government, the free speech controversy has come to Toronto, where activists handed out pro-Hong Kong T-shirts to fans attending the Raptors home opener on Tuesday. “We want to say no to Chinese inference and we want to say no to the censorship of freedom of speech and freedom of expression by handing out these T-shirts,” said Mimi Lee, a spokesperson for the Toronto HongKongers Action Group that made and distributed the shirts for free. “By wearing these T-shirts, you are supporting us. You are supporting these global values that we all have.”In just 10 days, the group raised more than $34,000 online through a gofundme campaign. Seven thousand T-shirts were printed over the weekend — enough for more than one third of all the fans in Scotiabank Arena.Lee said the group had not heard from the Raptors but didn’t anticipate any trouble, even though a man and his wife had been booted from a 76ers pre-season game in Philadelphia earlier this month.“I’m not all that concerned because if they actually shut us down that only tells people that they are not standing with freedom of speech and freedom of expression, which is not a good PR,” she said.MLSE spokesperson Dave Haggith confirmed the team would not prevent fans from wearing the shirts.Two hours before tipoff, the group started handing out the stark black and yellow T-shirts emblazoned with a combination of the slogans of the Raptors and the Hong Kong protesters: The North Stand with Hong Kong.Wearing the protesters’ signature face masks, they were ushered off Scotiabank Arena property by security and police, forcing them to set up on the sidewalk with cardboard boxes full of shirts.Many fans happily took the free T-shirts and were allowed through security without incident.Despite handing them all out, once inside the shirts were lost among the celebratory festivities and not very visible in the stands as the Raptors dropped their championship banner from the rafters.The HongKongers group had been criticized online in the lead-up to the game by those who accused them of politicizing basketball — something Lee rejected out of hand.“Politics is already in NBA, right? If you don’t want it, this is what you want to do. This is the way to tell people we don’t want it.”The NBA’s China controversy began earlier this month when Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey tweeted — and later deleted — his support of the Hong Kong protesters.The protesters, who have been battling police in the streets since March, originally came out against a law that would allow the Chinese government to extradite fugitives from Hong Kong. Since then, their push has grown to encompass wider political freedoms.In response to Morey’s tweet, the Chinese government pulled several NBA pre-season games from television, a move league commissioner Adam Silver said has caused “substantial” financial losses. Several NBA events and exhibition games in China were also cancelled.China also asked the NBA to fire Morey, Silver said, though the league declined, saying it will support his freedom of expression.NBA star LeBron James then enflamed tensions by saying Morey’s tweet was “misinformed.”Marco Chown Oved is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @marcooved

22nd, October 2019, 08:23pm

Raptors president Masai Ujiri will not face criminal charges following altercation after NBA Finals, Alameda County DA says

The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office says it has decided not to file any criminal charges against Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri.The decision follows police reports of a physical altercation between Ujiri and an Alameda County sheriff’s deputy after the NBA championship game in Oakland on June 13.“Mr. Ujiri attended a meeting with the District Attorney’s Office focused on matters that we believe merited constructive, structured mediation and conflict resolution and were better handled in a setting outside of the courtroom,” Deputy District Attorney Teresa Drenick said in an email to the Star.The Alameda County District launched a preliminary review, followed by an investigation, on July 29, Drenick said. The additional investigation lasted until Sept. 21.Drenick said the matter was handled in a private meeting that Ujiri attended on Monday at the Sheriff’s Department, which was attended by Assistant District Attorney Terry Wiley, Ujiri and his attorneys.Following this, Drenick said the District Attorney’s Office won’t be taking any further action. Abhya Adlakha is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @AbhyaAdlakha

22nd, October 2019, 07:47pm

Across Canada, challenges await Justin Trudeau

OTTAWA—Justin Trudeau’s minority Liberal government victory has watered the seeds of major unity confrontations in Canada’s East and West.And the looming challenges may prove difficult for Trudeau to contain.Westerners may be willing to put their money where their heart is.Multiple sources have told the Star that there are new efforts to organize the separatist sentiments taking root in Alberta and Saskatchewan.“I don’t know how much money or how organized they are but we certainly hear from them a lot. It’s real,” said one source in Alberta.“We’ve heard from very wealthy people, billionaires or just shy of that, who are talking openly about that or at least (funding) conferences or meetings to set the conversation.”Another Alberta source independently told the Star the same thing, that there are “people with money” who are openly discussing if it is time to start a real movement.What that looks like — whether it’s just conferences, studies, or an actual Alberta First political vehicle is far from clear.Then there’s Quebec.The Bloc Québécois, all but left for dead in the past two elections, roared back to life Monday under leader Yves-François Blanchet.He says he wants Quebecers to have their own country, but the separatism project is on the back burner for now. His Quebec First rhetoric may well erode any good will in a new parliament.On Tuesday Blanchet was caustic in his dismissal of a future for Canada’s oil and gas industry.Blanchet said it is “the energy of the past” and it is “morally unacceptable” to continue to extract and burn those resources. “How can the West accept that, how can the NDP accept it? How can that work?”On election night in Alberta, where voters were already seething about paying into a federal system that doesn’t help them out in one of the most serious economic declines the province has ever faced, the Liberals were entirely shut out.In Saskatchewan, Trudeau lost his only MP, Ralph Goodale, a senior and trusted adviser now no longer at the decision-making table.Trudeau’s governing hand in a minority is tied to support from parties farther to the left of the Liberals — the NDP, Greens or Bloc — who are way more anti-pipelines than him.Trudeau attempted a conciliatory note to the West in his victory speech, but it was perfunctory and largely tone-deaf.He declared his re-election — which came with a drop of 21 seats and the loss of his majority — was proof voters wanted a real plan to fight climate change.Trudeau made only passing reference to the obvious failure to win support in the prairies.“To Canadians in Alberta and Saskatchewan, know that you are an essential part of our great country. I’ve heard your frustration and I want to be there to support you. Let us all work hard to bring our country together.”It fell flat in the West.Forget that as the ballot counts were announced, frustrations exploded on social media: #Wexit — a twist on Brexit or west exit — trended on Twitter. A Facebook group called votewexit.com had grown to 158,613 members by Tuesday afternoon.Trudeau didn’t impress Alberta Premier Jason Kenney or Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe.Both went public Tuesday to demand a “new deal” with Canada.Kenney met with a frustrated United Conservative caucus where the anger of constituents was heard “loud and clear,” according to one official. He called Trudeau to congratulate him and underscored that the prime minister had to get serious about pipelines.Kenney wants Trudeau to immediately launch the expansion of the stalled Trans Mountain pipeline project, to direct more federal financial dollars to aid Albertans suffering in the energy sector, and give more powers to the province to manage its affairs — all in an attempt to deal with what he sees as grievances that can be addressed.Kenney says national unity and economic prosperity “require a profound response” by Trudeau. He followed up with a news conference to press the message: “We must get pipelines built and get a fair deal in the federation.”Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe echoed the same theme.“The path our federal government has been on the last four years has divided our nation,” Moe said in a statement Tuesday. “Last night’s election results showed the sense of frustration and alienation in Saskatchewan is now greater than it has been at any point in my lifetime.”Trudeau won a grudging concession from their fellow conservative premier, Blaine Higgs in New Brunswick, where the Green party scored its first eastern breakthrough.Higgs said Tuesday he would look at creating a New Brunswick carbon price to replace the federally-imposed one in light of Trudeau’s mandate.But Trudeau’s federal rival Conservative Andrew Scheer continued to suggest that Trudeau’s own actions are the cause of divisions.He said Trudeau ran around the country for 40 days “demonizing premiers who disagree with him, pitting region against region, province against province just to cling on to power.”Asked if he was merely stoking separatist sentiment, Scheer said, “The results last night they speak for themselves. A separatist movement in Quebec and two entire provinces rejecting the problems of this Liberal government.”“Justin Trudeau now has to make a decision if he’s going to change course, have a more co-operative approach with all provinces, or if he’s going to continue down on this path,” Scheer said in Regina.“We’re going to do everything we can to fight for a united Canada.”Former senior communications adviser to Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien Peter Donolo said he fears several unity fault-lines are developing in Canada: a Western alienation that is stronger than it was in the 1970s during the oil price crises or the 1990s when the Reform party took hold; strong anti-English Canada, anti-West and anti-oil pipelines sentiment in Quebec; and generational divides on energy and the environment, with millennial voters rigidly opposed to even any talk of a “transition” away from fossil fuels.“I do think we’re in a kind of slow burn unity crisis now,” said Donolo.He said while the Bloc of today may be more transactional and less purely ideological on separatism, its approach is “totally unambiguously anti-Western Canada. They’re anti-Alberta, anti-oil sands.”For Donolo, any talk of appointing a new senator from the west to bring into Trudeau’s cabinet is just that, talk.“At the end of the day on these things there’s no substitute for leadership, and for straight-talk leadership.”Donolo said Trudeau needs to persuasively make the case for the value of developing the oilsands for the benefit of all of Canada while “we and everybody else make the transition” to cleaner sources of energy.“But in these years of transition it would be irresponsible of us not to use the wealth created by this to make this a better country for everybody. That’s why we need to build a pipeline. We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” said Donolo. “And it’s not a speech you give once, it’s a speech you’ve got to give every week.”New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh pushed back on the idea that Monday’s result shows a fractured country. “The result shows not a broken Canada, that people… in a lot of ways share so many values, share far more values than they have separate. But the results show a broken electoral system, and it’s certainly clear that we need to fix it.” Speaking Sunday in Vancouver, he said he believes divisions we’ve seen throughout the campaign come down to feelings of economic insecurity.“I think divisions are inflamed when people are insecure or afraid. Economic insecurity breeds division.”For a prime minister who is in the international limelight as a champion of the Paris Agreement to fight climate change, it will be a tough political transition, to champion Canada’s energy sector as much as he does the environment.On Tuesday, it was Trudeau’s Finance Minister Bill Morneau who seemed to make the first move to allay fears in the West.In an interview with BNN Bloomberg Morneau assured Alberta and Saskatchewan that the Canadian government would move forward with its Trans Mountain pipeline expansion despite delays and the new opposition from the Greens and NDP in the next parliamentary session.“We’ve moved forward on this project because we know it’s the right thing to do,” Morneau said. “There’s a purpose behind what we set out to do and we’re going to push forward with that continuing objective.”Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

22nd, October 2019, 06:01pm

TTC losses from faulty Presto machines ‘does not appear to be overstated,’ says Toronto’s auditor general

Presto devices are failing at higher rates than previously reported, Metrolinx has made “unauthorized withdrawals” from a TTC bank account, and there are so many gaps in the management of the electronic fare-card system it’s impossible to say how much money Toronto’s transit agency is losing as a result of it. Those are among the startling conclusions in a new report on the Presto system released Monday by Toronto’s auditor general. The goal of the 110-page report from Auditor General Beverly Romeo-Beehler was to determine whether the TTC is collecting all the revenue it should through Presto, the fare system that is owned by provincial agency Metrolinx and is now the primary method for Toronto transit riders to pay their fares. The latest TTC figures show Presto accounts for more than 30 million trips a month. Romeo-Beehler concluded the TTC isn’t collecting all the revenue it should through Presto, but “information gaps and control weaknesses” in how the system is administered make it impossible to put a firm number on the losses. TTC chair Jaye Robinson said the report signals major problems with the fare-card system. “It’s been a bumpy road and a lot of this is not acceptable ... We’re losing revenue that we desperately need to run a cash-strapped system,” said Robinson (Ward 15, Don Valley West). The TTC has previously estimated faulty Presto devices cost the agency $3.4 million last year, and Romeo-Beehler found that figure “does not appear to be overstated” and “may even be understated” given the problems with the system outlined in her report. Those problems include significant limitations with how the reliability of Presto devices on TTC vehicles and in stations is calculated.According to the report, bus and streetcar Presto readers that are “frozen” and unable to accept passenger’s payment are sometimes mistakenly captured as in service by Accenture, the company that monitors the devices’ performance. The company also only provides reliability data for the devices Monday to Friday between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.In addition, Romeo-Beehler found the reliability numbers for fare vending machines on the TTC’s new streetcars didn’t include some instances when the devices couldn’t be used by customers, such as when their coin box was full. Up to 56 per cent of service incidents affecting the machines were caused by the coin box issue, she determined. “Neither TTC, Presto, nor its vendors are currently ensuring that the coin box is emptied on a regular basis,” Romeo-Beehler wrote. On top of technical problems, the report identified “governance gaps” between Metrolinx and the TTC for Presto. She noted that seven years after the two public agencies signed the master agreement to implement Presto, they still haven’t defined crucial service level agreements that are supposed to be used to measure how well the system is functioning. The TTC also claims Metrolinx hasn’t delivered about 40 per cent of the features promised under the terms of the 2012 Presto contract, including “open payment,” which would allow riders to pay their fares by tapping a credit or debit card on a fare device. Perhaps most sensationally, the report reveals Metrolinx made “unauthorized withdrawals” from a TTC bank account the Toronto agency set up to pay Metrolinx its contractual commission on each Presto transaction.According to the report, Metrolinx drew on the account for other payments it claimed it was owed, contrary to the terms of the contract. The TTC instituted a stop payment order to prevent the withdrawals, and funds Metrolinx had taken in 2019 were eventually returned last month. The report provided no specifics about the withdrawals, but Metrolinx executive vice-president for Presto Annalise Czerny told the Star the agency had taken $104,000 a month from the TTC for hosting a Presto subsystem. She asserted there was nothing wrong with the withdrawals.Despite the problems laid out in the report, Czerny maintained the TTC and Metrolinx are “working incredibly well together.”She said Metrolinx was still planning to institute open payment on Presto, but technological advances had rendered some other promised features irrelevant and a waste of public funds. She described the auditor report as “hugely positive” and said it showed how both her agency and the TTC could make Presto better.“So for me this is a great step in terms of improving the customer experience on the TTC,” she said.The TTC has accepted all 34 of the auditor’s recommendations, which are aimed at improving Presto governance, data collection, and reliability. The report from the city auditor isn’t binding on Metrolinx, a provincial agency. Robinson said the issues in the report are “solvable” and “all parties involved must work together to deliver a better more reliable system for our passengers.” But she conceded the TTC has little leverage against an agency controlled by a higher level of government. “It’s a bit of a David and Goliath (situation), and it’s not easy being in David’s shoes,” she said. TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said in a statement the report “confirms much of what the TTC has identified in terms of gaps in Presto’s reporting and revenue calculations.”Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

22nd, October 2019, 05:47pm

Rosie DiManno: Liberals won despite Justin Trudeau, who is as arrogant as ever

On the eve of the election Toronto police tweeted about a man who’d broken into a downtown building, climbed atop a crane on the roof and was in possession of a parachute when he was arrested.Which works nicely as a metaphor for what unfolded across the country on Monday night into Tuesday morning — with a paratroop squadron of incumbents from The Big Smoke colouring the grid red.Canadians handed Justin Trudeau a minority government parachute to soften the landing of what was otherwise a free fall of the Liberal party, their caucus reduced by 20 seats and a popular vote clocking of roughly 33 per cent, a smaller share than the Conservatives. So about two-thirds of country did not swing for the Grits.Rather than riding the Jarry metro Tuesday in Montreal for selfie-poses and to thank constituents, which is apparently now a thing, Trudeau should have been straphanging on the Toronto subway, Liberals sweeping the 416 seats, freezing out the NDP when clearly we’re a lefty citadel. Strategic voting, I guess.But if the Tories couldn’t bring down the Liberals amidst all of Trudeau’s scandals — raising trenchant issues about the prime minister’s judgment, ethics, character and integrity — then they’re a hopeless lot. Because they’ll likely never again be afforded such a vulnerable opponent.With the exception of Jagmeet Singh, who managed to limit the damage to the third-place NDP almost entirely on the merits of his own admirable personality, and the oomph of an alarmingly resurrected Bloc Québécois, no party leader inspired. Bland Andrew Scheer couldn’t cut the mustard. Elizabeth May remains a niche outlier, even with climate change top of mind — or so citizens had claimed in poll pulse-taking — though the Greens seized a third seat, and Maxime Bernier got the ass-kicking his populist right-screeching People’s Party of Canada so richly deserved, bounced from his own seat.Seriously Scheer, a politically agnostic Canadian must ask: How did you blow this? Even if the upshot (huge sigh of relief here) is that the country managed to dodge a Conservative majority bullet. Further even, if Scheer was hardly the right-wing dimpled Satan as portrayed by his pearl-clutching fear-mongering hysterics.That the Liberals survived the election with a strong minority — 13 seats shy of a majority — is in spite of Trudeau, not because of him. Trudeaumania II didn’t float all Liberal boats, as was the case in 2015. Most Liberal candidates frantically bailed their dinghies, to set themselves apart from Dear Leader. He is beholden to them, not the other way around.Right party, wrong leader.Though you wouldn’t know it from Trudeau’s “victory” speech, which sounded more like a stump address than anything remotely resembling an attempt at national healing for a deeply divided nation. Triumphant was a clanging note to hit and shooting off his mouth while Scheer (Singh as well) were still delivering their concession oratory, like he couldn’t wait just five minutes, forcing the networks to cut away, was astonishingly bad form for Trudeau.He is, sadly, as arrogant and tone-deaf and narcissistic as ever. Which does not auger well for minority governing traction in Trudeau’s second term, the PM presumably intending to steer forward with his centrist-left policies to an extent the NDP can tolerate in exchange for propping-up, while simultaneously, as required, not alienating the Bloc Québécois, thus allowing the province to spin off into its racist Bill 21 orbit with no pushback from Ottawa. Quebec will doubtless be seeking more power over immigration matters.How in the world does Trudeau expect to navigate this contentious political landscape, with the Prairie provinces doubling down on their Liberal-loathing, completely disconnected — only one Alberta seat rejected the Conservatives, it went NDP; shut out in Saskatchewan — from the political biorhythms of Canada? How can Trudeau reconcile his party to the stark polarization between urban and rural voters?Trudeau scarcely acknowledged the West’s up-finger, apart from British Columbia. “(You) are an essential part of our great country,” he told Alberta and Saskatchewan. “I’ve heard your frustration and I want to be there to support you. Let us all work hard to bring our country together.”And that was pretty much it from the leader of a federal party at knives drawn with those two provinces over a punitive carbon tax, oil pipelines and agriculture-dependent economies. None of those voices will be heard around Trudeau’s caucus table.Make no mistake. This was a personal pinning back of the ears for Trudeau, who lost seats in every chunk of a country straining at its regional differences. The prime minister has no talent for accommodation and conciliation. He’s known only entitlement his entire life, a bossy-boots and bullying nature that was exposed — though clearly not fatally — in the SNC-Lavalin escapades.Trudeau continues to sheathe himself in mendacity and lame justifications for his criminal justice intruding arm-twisting of Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was re-elected as the Independent MP for Vancouver-Granville, yet still under a gag order that prevents her speaking fulsome truths, same cone of silence which has apparently thwarted the RCMP investigation.If the Opposition truly have any lead in their pencils, they’d insist upon reopening the judicial inquiry into the SNC-Lavalin affair that was haughtily terminated by a Liberal-dominated committee. As a minority government, the Liberals will no longer be able to stack the justice and ethics committees. Thus there’s some hope for a do-over, on top of the damning indictment Trudeau has already absorbed from ethics commissioner’s Mario Dion, raising the prime minister’s conflict of interest violations to two.A PM who got his jollies doing blackface/brownface shtick as a younger man, who gallivants on comped private island vacations with the Aga Khan, who mortified everybody with his culturally appropriated Bollywood wardrobe on a formal visit to India, who is all the time resolutely virtue-signaling except when the groping accusation is directed at him.That was just another mask the hammy thespian donned at his victory party. There’s nothing of substance or sincerity beneath.I’ll take the Liberal minority, gladly. I just can’t take any more of three-dollar-bill Justin.Pack your parachute. It’s going to be a bumpy mandate.Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

22nd, October 2019, 05:24pm

As an Independent MP, can Jody Wilson-Raybould make a difference?

Former Liberal cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould walked into in Hellenic Centre in downtown Vancouver late Monday evening to Elton John’s, “I’m Still Standing,” as the first Independent MP elected in more than a decade.Booted from the Liberal caucus last spring after she raised ethical concerns about Justin Trudeau’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin scandal, she told supporters in her urban riding of Vancouver Granville she will “work with all members of Parliament,” and would “certainly work with the incoming government.”“This win means it is OK to stand up for what you believe in. To speak your truth, to act with integrity,” she told the cheering crowd.It will be a tough road ahead for the We Wai Kai First Nation woman who was Canada’s first Indigenous attorney general, say experts and those who have been there before. But it’s not impossible to make a difference, even all by herself.Green party Leader Elizabeth May was that party’s lone representative for eight years, before being joined by Paul Manly after he won a byelection in Nanaimo—Ladysmith in May 2019. They are now a group of three, with the addition of Jenica Atwin, who was just elected in Fredericton, New Brunswick. But without the money and resources that comes with twelve seat official party status, they are in a similar situation as Wilson-Raybould.“The system is geared against independents,” said May in a phone interview Tuesday from her home in Sidney, B.C., calling Wilson-Raybould’s re-election an “enormous accomplishment”Without official party status, she won’t have party staffers do to research, faces limited time during question period and can’t be a member of committees. But she can put forward private members bills, as May has done successfully on two occasions, and propose amendments to bills.“You can make laws, you can make changes, and as an Independent MP you have your own voice,” May said.There was some speculation during the campaign that Wilson-Raybould would join the Greens. May said she’s very much in favour of working together but doubts she’ll change her mind on that.Still, she doesn’t doubt that Wilson-Raybould will be a “powerful force” on Indigenous rights and other issues important to her.“She has literally a strong voice. She has great credibility and she’s a hero for those of us who want to see ethics and integrity in government,” May added.Just getting back to the House of Commons without being a member of any party is quite rare in recent Canadian political history, said Semra Sevi, a PhD Candidate in the department of political science at the Université de Montréal.Sevi has compiled a database of every candidate who has run in Canadian federal elections from 1867 through 2017, and found only 74 MPs elected under a party banner who then switched to Independent. Of these only 24 were successfully re-elected.“But when it is a local famous person and their individual recognition overplays the party’s label, then that’s when an Independent person can shine,” said Sevi.“And maybe this is probably what she wanted to do herself to show that she could fly solo and still win.”Sevi noted that Jane Philpott who didn’t have the same name recognition, tried the same strategy in Markham—Stouffville and lost.It will be tough for Wilson-Raybould, without the party support and resources others enjoy. But she also “ won’t be tied down in the same way that other members of parties are.”That’s something Bill Casey, the last Independent MP to be elected in Canada, relished.“I found it refreshing,” he said.“I just looked at each piece of legislation is this good for my riding or not.”Casey was re-elected in 2008 in his Nova Scotia riding, after leaving the Conservatives.He found the access he had in parliament to ministers made his role doable, and did his own research, with the help of the Library of Parliament. Still, there were downsides.“When the day’s over nobody gathers anywhere,” he said.“You’re all alone.”Unlike Casey and some other past independents, Wilson-Raybould has more of a national profile, says Melanee Thomas, an associate professor in political science at the University of Calgary, and might be less locally focused.She’s primarily been known as the “linchpin” in the SNC-Lavalin scandal, but she remains the highest-profile Indigenous Member of Parliament.And although being an independent means “sitting in the corner” by herself, it’s no different than what she’s been doing since the spring, when she was expelled from the Liberal caucus.“Jody Wilson-Raybould does have a lot of agency here,” Thomas said. “I’m curious to see how she decides to craft her space.”With files from Tanya TalagaMay Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11

22nd, October 2019, 04:42pm

Affordability issues and combating climate change offer common ground in new minority Parliament

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau returned to the nation’s capital Tuesday to begin planning for his second term as Liberals expressed confidence that common ground with opposition parties on affordability issues and climate change action will produce a “stable and working” minority Parliament.And NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, a potential political dance partner for the Liberals, said his party is open to all possibilities: a formal deal to prop up the Liberals, a power-sharing coalition, or to simply pressure them on their policy wish list on a vote-to-vote basis. “This minority government gives us the chance to be able to fight for the things that we’ve laid out all along this campaign,” Singh told reporters at a Burnaby, B.C. hotel Tuesday. “The New Democratic Party will be constructive, will respect the choices that Canadians have made, and we’ll approach building the new parliament with open minds and an open heart,” he said. Liberals won 157 seats in Monday’s election, more than the 121 seats won by the Conservatives but short of the 170 seats needed for a majority. That means the Liberals will need the support of opposition MPs to move forward on their agenda in the minority Parliament.Trudeau didn’t speak with journalists on Tuesday. He’ll hold a post-election news conference on Wednesday. However, in his election night comments, Trudeau called the results a “clear mandate” to act on affordability issues, climate change, gun control and “investing in Canadians.” As they weighed the results Tuesday, Liberals felt confident they could win the support of the New Democrats, with 24 seats, or the Bloc Québécois, at 32 seats, on an issue-by-issue basis.“There’s definitely potential for a stable and working minority that works with other parties and delivers on our priorities,” said one strategist, who spoke on background. “There’s a number of other parties whose priorities are not that different from ours.“We’ll try to find a good way to work together and listen to all sides,” he said. Almost two-thirds of Canadians cast a ballot for the Greens, Liberals, NDP and Bloc, signalling strong support for action on progressive issues, he said.But he cautioned too that a minority Parliament requires the support of opposition parties. “It’s not just the governing party that has to be co-operative and put their hand out to work with others,” he said. Being able to hold leverage in the minority Parliament is a silver lining for Singh, who surpassed expectations in this campaign but still saw his party lose 13 seats.Singh said Tuesday that he hasn’t spoken with Trudeau about the dynamic of the incoming minority parliament. But he had outlined his party’s “urgent” priorities in the final days of the campaign, as he tried to lure progressive voters by pledging to push a minority parliament to the left. With his diminished caucus of 24 MPs, Singh said he will pressure the Liberals to spend more on health care, affordable housing, student aid and Indigenous infrastructure and services.He has also called for a new one per cent “super wealth tax” on the value of an individual’s assets that exceeds $20 million, as well as a hard cap on cellphone and internet bills and cancellation of subsidies to oil and gas companies.Singh would not discuss any specific conditions for his support of the Liberal minority. Still, there are obvious areas of potential co-operation. For example, the Liberals and NDP committed to the implementation of a national pharmacare program. The Liberal platform also pledged financial assistance for affordable housing and student aid, an increase to Old Age Security payments for those over age 75 and more generous benefits for children under the age of one, all issues that would likely find support from the NDP.The New Democrats and Green party have made urgent action on climate change a priority. Trudeau himself has said that more action is required. But the aide cautioned that any strategy on climate change has to be “doable.”One flashpoint is the Trans Mountain pipeline. The Liberals bought the line in a bid to spur its expansion to better move Alberta oil to the west coast for shipment to overseas markets. But New Democrats oppose the project, raising the question whether the minority Parliament means the project is now in jeopardy.Singh refused to say whether he would try to use his newfound power in parliament to cancel the multi-billion-dollar expansion of the pipeline. “Everything is on the table. I can say that much, that we are not ruling out anything. But we’re not going to negotiate that here,” Singh said. There’s a financial incentive for the parties to work together and avoid a snap vote. With spending allowances of just over $29 million each for the major parties in this election, mounting another budget-straining campaign in the near future could be a challenge.Trudeau got an early start Tuesday morning when he went to a Montreal subway stop to greet commuters, as he did after his 2015 win. Then he hit the road for Ottawa and the decisions that will shape his next government: whom to appoint to cabinet and to work in his office and when to recall Parliament.In 2015, just over two weeks passed between the election and the swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall. Beyond the challenges of navigating a minority Parliament, the election results hold a jarring message for the Liberals, despite their win. Compared to the 2015 results, they were down just over a million votes. They lost 20 seats from their pre-election standing. The party has no MPs in Alberta and Saskatchewan.And turnout was also down slightly at 66 per cent compared to 68 per cent in 2015, suggesting voter dissatisfaction with this election.That message too has been heard in the prime minister’s office, the strategist said.“He has heard it loud and clear to listen to Canadians, to work with other parties,” he said. Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflierAlex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga

22nd, October 2019, 04:18pm

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