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Published: Wed, 22 Nov 2017 10:47:14 EST

Copyright: Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2013 ,

Trustees save French immersion at Halton Catholic boardTrustees save French immersion at Halton Catholic board

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 10:39:50 EST

Parents who want their children to have the opportunity to learn French are celebrating news that a French immersion program on the brink of closure at Halton Catholic District School Board has been saved.The decision by trustees Tuesday night came as a relief to many parents who had been protesting recommendations from a committee and endorsed by board staff earlier this month to phase out the program because of a “French teacher staffing crisis.” “All of us just feel over the moon this morning,” Georgetown parent Cheryl Neves said Wednesday. She has daughters in Grades 3 and 1 in French immersion at St. Brigid Catholic Elementary School and was one of many parents who had fought the plan and attended the packed board meeting Tuesday night.“It renews our faith in the system knowing that (trustees) did listen to what parents had to say,” said Neves, a former French immersion student who now teaches it at another board.“To have this outcome is an amazing feat.”Not only did trustees reject the staff recommendation and decide to save the program, they voted to make the Halton Catholic board’s French immersion pilot, launched in 2013, permanent, and to extend it through high school and look at expanding it to other locations.The program, available to Grade 1 students, currently has 821 students enrolled in Grades 1 through 5 at four elementary schools.The Halton Catholic board also offers extended French beginning in Grade 5.“This is good for French immersion, good for the kids and good for the Halton Catholic board,” said Betty Gormley, executive director of Canadian Parents for French (Ontario).Had trustees not rejected the motion, the board would have been the only one in the GTA not to offer French immersion, she said.The Halton Catholic board has faced a major challenge finding teachers who are both Catholic and qualified to teach French. A shortage plaguing the province over the last few years has hindered its ability to deliver immersion and extended French programs as well as core French classes for other students, Anna Prkacin, superintendent of education and curriculum services, said this week.On some occasions, English-speaking teachers are being assigned to French classes until staff can hire someone qualified, she said.However, Education Minister Mitzie Hunter has promised to take immediate steps to alleviate the shortage including: recruiting qualified French teachers from abroad; introducing measures to attract more French-speaking candidates to teachers’ college; and a piloting program that provides financial assistance to teachers who want to boost their French qualifications.Gormley said she credits Halton parents who made strong and eloquent cases about why immersion should be a priority for the board’s decision to keep the program. Her advocacy group is optimistic the ministry will find a way to alleviate the French teacher shortage currently hampering boards across Ontario, she added.“I feel confident the players are already moving on this. For us, the next step is to make sure the action plan is put into place right away and that it yields results.”Education Minister Mitzie Hunter has promised to take steps to alleviate the French teacher shortage including recruiting qualified French teachers from abroad, introducing measures to attract more French-speaking candidates to teachers’ college and introducing a pilot program that provides financial assistance to teachers who want to boost their French qualifications.[...]

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Dramatic video captures North Korean defector’s escape into South KoreaDramatic video captures North Korean defector’s escape into South Korea

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 10:05:04 EST

SEOUL—It’s 3:11 p.m. on a cold, grey day on the North Korean side of the most heavily armed border in the world, and a lone soldier is racing toward freedom.His dark olive-green jeep speeds down a straight, tree-lined road, past drab, barren fields and, headlights shining, across the replacement for the Bridge of No Return, which was used for prisoner exchanges during the Korean War. The shock of soldiers watching the jeep rush by is palpable from the video released Wednesday, and no wonder: They’re beginning to realize that one of their comrades is defecting to the South.They sprint after him.The jeep slows and turns at a monument to North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, the staging point for North Korean tours of the area.The border is near, South Korea just beyond it.Four North Korean soldiers, weapons in their hands, race by the blue huts that straddle the line and are familiar to anyone who has toured the only spot on the border where North and South Korean soldiers face off within spitting distance of each other. There are no tourists this day.Right at the line that divides North from South, the defector crashes the jeep into a ditch. Seconds pass as he tries in vain to gun the vehicle out of the gully before leaping out and sprinting into the South. He kicks up leaves, ducking below a tree branch just as the North Korean soldiers skid into view.Muzzles flash. The North Korean soldiers, one of whom drops flat into the leaves, fire at the defector at close range with handguns and AK-47 assault rifles — about 40 rounds, the South says.Suddenly, two of the North Koreans run away while the soldier in the leaves jumps up and dashes across the dividing line into South Korean territory before stopping, turning on his heels and sprinting back to the northern side after his comrades. The defector falls stretched out and unmoving in a pile of leaves against a small wall on the South Korean side.Read more: North Korea soldiers fire, wound fellow solider trying to defect to the South: SeoulNorth Korean defector shot by comrades had ‘enormous number’ of parasitic worms in bodyThe entire sequence, from the first appearance of the jeep to the soldier’s frenzied crossing, lasts four minutes.It unfolded Nov. 13 in the Joint Security Area, which is overseen by both the American-led U.N. Command and North Korea and lies inside the 4-kilometre-wide Demilitarized Zone that has been the de facto border between the Koreas since the war.Forty minutes later, the video has switched to infrared to show the heat signatures of two South Korean soldiers as they crawl on their hands and knees, using a wall as cover, toward the prone defector. They grab hold of the defector and drag him to safety. Not far away, heavily armed North Korean troops begin to gather near the Kim Il Sung monument.For the moment, the border is quiet again.Surprisingly, North and South Korean soldiers didn’t exchange fire during the shooting, the first in the area in more than three decades. The bullets went in only one direction.The defection, subsequent surgeries and slow recovery of the soldier have riveted South Korea. But his escape is a huge embarrassment for the North, which claims all defections are the result of rival Seoul kidnapping or enticing North Koreans. Pyongyang has said nothing about the defection so far.North Korea’s actions during the defector’s escape at the Panmunjom border village violated the armistice agreement ending the Korean War because North Korean soldiers fired across and physically crossed the border in pursuit of the soldier, U.S. Col. Chad Carroll, a spokesperson for the U.N. command, told reporters in a live TV briefing Wednesday. A U.N. Command statement said a meeting had been requested with the North’s military to discuss the violations.After undergoing two surgeries last week to repair internal organ damage and other injuries, the soldier has now regained consciousness and is no longer relying on a breathing machine. His doctor said Wednesday [...]

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Rosie DiManno: Laura Babcock’s accused killer is portraying himself in court as a thoughtless jerkRosie DiManno: Laura Babcock’s accused killer is portraying himself in court as a thoughtless jerk

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 19:20:00 EST

It was a question intended to belittle and embarrass.“How do you spell the word hangar?”Honest to God, this reporter, for one, was silently urging the witness to shoot back with a hyphenated obscenity: ---- Y-O-U.Crown attorney Jill Cameron was promptly on her feet, objecting. Justice Michael Code agreed.“I can’t see the relevance,” he said.Move on.For a good hour, by that point, Dellen Millard had been eliciting evidence that Marlena Meneses — head over heels in love with his best friend, Mark Smich, back in the late spring of 2012 — had been a dull-witted teenage high school dropout with scarcely two brain cells to rub together.And a mooch, both she and Smich living off his generosity, smoking his weed, drinking his booze, semi-residing at his Etobicoke home.Read more: Dellen Millard, Laura Babcock had bad blood, friend testifies at murder trialEx-girlfriend testifies she saw Laura Babcock’s accused killers ‘testing’ incinerator: DiMannoDellen Millard claimed incinerator was for pet cremation business — uncle called idea ‘absurd,’ Babcock trial hearsFor a bit of pin money, Meneses would do odd jobs, including cleaning out the toilet at the H-A-N-G-A-R owned by his family’s aviation business.Meneses, 18 at the time, had moved out of her own home after quarrelling with her stepfather. She and Smich had been involved for about a year.“You kind of liked me at the beginning?” Millard asked.Yes, she did.“As time moved on, you didn’t like me as much?”Meneses: “That’s correct.”These were all facts which Meneses, a key witness for the prosecution, had made clear under direct examination last Friday. On Tuesday, when the trial now into its fifth week resumed, it was Millard’s chance to cross-examine.Millard and Smich have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the disappearance and presumed death of Laura Babcock shortly after Canada Day, 2012. The 23-year-old’s remains have never been found. The prosecution maintains that Babcock was killed July 3-4, her body burned in an incinerator at the hangar on July 23.While Meneses was not sure of the exact date — and hadn’t been asked — she’d testified about seeing the incinerator, the Eliminator as it was dubbed, in action late one night after Millard drove the three of them to the hangar, claiming he needed to “test” the machine. Ordered to stay in the car, she’d stepped out to investigate after hearing a sharp cracking sound.“I passed by it and I saw smoke coming out of it and it had a crackling noise.”The jury has seen a brief video of the Eliminator purportedly doing its business around midnight that evening, bits of orange-hot embers wafting into the air.On Tuesday, Millard — he’s representing himself at trial — spent a great deal of time exploring the dynamics among the trio of friends, depicting Meneses in particular as a leech he’d tolerated, out of an excess of charity.He reminded Meneses of all the times he’d played trivia games with her, a kind of torment.“It made you feel dumb?”Indeed it had.“It hurt your feelings.”If so, and Meneses agreed to feelings of inferiority, way over her head with this wealthy and charismatic scion, she is no longer that cowering naïf of five years ago. On several occasions she raised her voice and snapped back at Millard.“You used to smoke a lot of weed, right?’’Yes.“Wherever we were going, you came with us?”Yes.“I smacked your butt once, didn’t I?”Meneses: “Yes, and actually it was more than once.”“You gave me a dirty look, so I knew you didn’t like it. It was unwanted contact.”As in his cross-examination of other witnesses — mutual friends from that era who knew about the bad blood which had apparently developed between Millard and Babcock — th[...]

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Travelers delayed at Pearson turn waiting lounge into Newfoundland kitchen partyTravelers delayed at Pearson turn waiting lounge into Newfoundland kitchen party

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 09:38:37 EST


Waiting out a flight delay is anything but a joyous experience for most, unless it’s a group of Newfoundlanders with instruments and a trove of traditional music.

Some travellers at Pearson International Airport in Toronto waiting for a WestJet flight to Newfoundland and Labrador on Tuesday brought out some instruments and it wasn’t long before the waiting area became a Newfoundland Kitchen Party — airport style.

Sean Sullivan and Sheldon Thornhill belted out a variety of tunes on accordion and guitar, including “Sweet Forget Me Not,” “Grey Foggy Day” and “Aunt Martha’s Sheep.”

A video of the impromptu party that has since gone viral shows several people joining the singing, including a young lad who delighted the crowd by taking on the role of lead vocalist for a while.

Some people even left their seats and danced to the music.

Michelle Sacrey-Philpot, a travel agent who was in Toronto with her husband, says the flight to St. John’s was abuzz after the party, with many people sharing the video via social media.

A video of the impromptu Newfoundland Kitchen Party — airport style — at Pearson has since gone viral.

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‘Partridge Family’ star David Cassidy dies at 67 ‘Partridge Family’ star David Cassidy dies at 67

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 21:31:19 EST

LOS ANGELES—David Cassidy, the teen and pre-teen idol who starred in the 1970s sitcom The Partridge Family and sold millions of records as the musical group’s lead singer, died Tuesday at age 67.Cassidy, who announced earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with dementia, died surrounded by his family, a family statement released by publicist JoAnn Geffen said. No further details were immediately available, but Geffen said on Saturday that Cassidy was in a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, hospital suffering from organ failure.“David died surrounded by those he loved, with joy in his heart and free from the pain that had gripped him for so long,” the statement said. “Thank you for the abundance and support you have shown him these many years.”Read more: David Cassidy, who revealed he has dementia, says he ‘always knew this was coming’The Partridge Family aired from 1970-74 and was a fictional variation of the ‘60s performers the Cowsills, intended at first as a vehicle for Shirley Jones, the Oscar winning actress and Cassidy’s stepmother. Jones played Shirley Partridge, a widow with five children with whom she forms a popular act that travels on a psychedelic bus. The cast also featured Cassidy as eldest son and family heartthrob Keith Partridge; Susan Dey, later of L.A. Law fame, as sibling Laurie Partridge and Danny Bonaduce as sibling Danny Partridge.It was an era for singing families — the Osmonds, the Jacksons. The Partridge Family never cracked the top 10 in TV ratings, but the recordings under their name, mostly featuring Cassidy, Jones and session players, produced real-life musical hits and made Cassidy a real-life musical superstar. The Partridges’ best known song, “I Think I Love You,” spent three weeks on top of the Billboard chart at a time when other hit singles included James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “The Tears of a Clown.” The group also reached the top 10 with “I’ll Meet You Halfway” and “Doesn’t Somebody Want to be Wanted” and Cassidy had a solo hit with “Cherish.”“In two years, David Cassidy has swept hurricane-like into the pre-pubescent lives of millions of American girls,” Rolling Stone magazine noted in 1972. “Leaving: six and a half million long-playing albums and singles; 44 television programs; David Cassidy lunch boxes; David Cassidy bubble gum; David Cassidy colouring books and David Cassidy pens; not to mention several millions of teen magazines, wall stickers, love beads, posters and photo albums.”Cassidy’s appeal faded after the show went off the air, although he continued to tour, record and act over the next 40 years, his albums including Romance and the awkwardly titled Didn’t You Used To Be? He had a hit with “I Write the Songs” before Barry Manilow’s chart-topping version and success overseas with “The Last Kiss,” featuring backing vocals from Cassidy admirer George Michael. He made occasional stage and television appearances, including an Emmy-nominated performance on “Police Story.”Meanwhile, The Partridge Family remained popular in re-runs and Cassidy, who kept his dark bangs and boyish appearance well into middle age, frequently turned up for reunions and spoke often about his early success.“So many people come up to me and talk to me about the impact it (the show) had,” he told Arsenio Hall in 1990.Even while The Partridge Family was still in prime time, Cassidy worried that he was mistaken for the wholesome character he played. He posed naked for Rolling Stone in 1972, when he confided that he had dropped acid as a teenager and smoked pot in front of the magazine’s reporter as he watched an episode of The Partridge Family and mocked his own acting. Cassidy maintained an exhausti[...]

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St. Michael's Hospital launching $30M centre to fight multiple sclerosisSt. Michael's Hospital launching $30M centre to fight multiple sclerosisSt. Michael's Hospital launching $30M centre to fight multiple sclerosis

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 05:00:00 EST

It was a lazy April Sunday — movies on the couch — when Erin Truax’s life took a numbing turn.“I lost all of the feeling in my right hand … from my wrist down,” says Truax, a Toronto communications specialist.“But I thought, maybe I slept on it the wrong way, and I just carried on with my day,” she says.By the following Thursday the diagnosis would become much more dire, when doctors told Truax she had multiple sclerosis — adding the 38-year-old to a troubling and puzzling statistic.Canada has a higher rate of multiple sclerosis than any other country, says Dr. Tom Parker, physician in chief at St. Michael’s Hospital. To combat the disease, today St. Mike’s will announce the creation of a $30-million multiple sclerosis centre that Parker predicts will be the largest and most prestigious on Earth for both patient care and research.“The intent is to build the best clinical facility for MS in the world,” Parker says. “And the way you do that is you make sure it’s a facility that offers the best in education and research as well.”The facility will be known as the Barlo MS Centre — after John and Jocelyn Barford and Jon and Nancy Love, who donated $10 million per family to the project. It will occupy the top two floors of the hospital’s new, 17-storey Peter Gilgan Patient Care Tower. The rest of the money is being raised through the hospital’s foundation.While it will not open to patients until 2020, the centre has already recruited a leading MS researcher in Spanish neurologist Xavier Montalban as its head. In particular, Montalban has led the field in the use of new drug therapies that have shown remarkable success in slowing the progression of the ailment.MS is an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the transmission of impulses from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body.It can cause numbness, vision loss, weakness, fatigue, cognitive impairments and a host of other symptoms.It affects three times as many women as men and typically strikes its victims in the prime of life, with an average onset age of 34.“It’s the most frequent cause of disability in young adults in a number of western countries,” Montalban says.Yet while genetics certainly play a partial role in its development, MS has no known causes, making a cure an elusive prospect.“But we have modified MS (treatment) in a very positive way and this is due to the number of drugs we have nowadays,” Montalban says.In particular, he says, physicians now have 14 anti-inflammatory drugs at their disposal to slow or outright halt the progression of the disease.“In fact the way we look to MS therapy nowadays has changed a lot,” Montalban says, noting that doctors now talk about the “non-evidence” of disease activity. “It’s like being free of disease. This is our target now in many patients.”The new St. Mike’s centre will build on a decades-long focus at the hospital, which currently treats some 7,000 MS patients.“It’s grown to be by far the largest clinic by patient population in Canada and among the largest in the world,” Parker says.Patient care has been somewhat piecemeal, with the different specialties needed for optimal MS treatment being scattered in different locations.The concentration of neurologists, specialized nurses, physiotherapists, social workers and neuropsychologists on two adjoining floors is one of the things that attracted Montalban to the centre. “We will provide the most comprehensive care anywhere,” he says.But it was also the large patient load the centre will inherit that drew him here.Montalban says studies that can help fine-tune new drug therapies to individuals require the long-term observation of large groups of patients, through MRI imaging and other t[...]

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National housing strategy to include rental benefit for low-income tenantsNational housing strategy to include rental benefit for low-income tenants

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 18:46:57 EST

Canada’s long-awaited federal housing strategy will include a new national housing benefit, the Star has learned.A housing benefit, or rent supplement for low-income tenants, has been high on the list of supports that housing advocates have pushed for to better ensure that all Canadians can find stable and safe places to live.That benefit program could be in place in as early as two to three years, a source told the Star.The National Housing Strategy will be unveiled in Toronto and Vancouver on Wednesday. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to announce details at a news conference in Lawrence Heights, the site of Toronto Community Housing’s largest redevelopment project, at 3 p.m. Federal minister of families, children and social development Jean-Yves Duclos will be making the announcement at the same time in Vancouver.The strategy will provide a “much more concrete understanding” of how money allocated in the last budget will be spent on housing, a federal source told the Star’s Bruce Campion-Smith.“Poverty reduction will be central to the entire thinking behind the national housing strategy,” the source said.In March, the federal government announced $11.2 billion would be dedicated to affordable housing initiatives and programs to be spent over 11 years. Roughly $3 billion of that amount was set to be spent over the next five years.As part of the process, the federal government reviewed submissions from 7,000 Canadians, through focus groups, surveys, reports and written opinions.The National Housing Collaborative, a coalition of non-profit and private housing associations and charitable foundations, had included the need for a national benefit in a lengthy submission made as part of that process.“If we are going to make progress against core housing needs and if we are going to reduce core poverty in Canada the introduction of a new housing benefit is essential to that task,” said co-chair Pedro Barata, vice-president of United Way Toronto and York Region.Any potential benefit, the collaborative had stated, should include dedicated funding, a clear timeline for implementation and a call on the provincial and territorial governments to work together to develop a housing tool that can work for all Canadians.Their submission also included the call for a federally led pan-Canadian initiative to end homelessness in 10 years, the creation of financial initiatives to boost the supply of market and non-market rental housing and a renewed commitment to improve and expand social housing.While there have been few details, a significant block of money has been set aside specifically to help vulnerable people find and keep a home.Duclos announced in April that the strategy would include a $5 billion National Housing Fund. Among the people that money should help: seniors, people dealing with mental health or addiction issues, veterans, people fleeing domestic abuse or those living with disabilities. It could mean additional supports for people like James Ribble, a man who told the Star he would rather live on the streets than stay in a dank, run-down basement apartment he was connected to through the city. Ribble spoke openly about his issues with drugs and how his dismal living conditions made recovery more difficult. The federal government has also made a $3 billion commitment to strengthen the relationship between provinces and territories and provide targeted funding for northern and Indigenous communities, both on and off reserve.Nov. 22 is National Housing Day, an annual event created after the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee declared homelessness a national disaster in 1998.Last year, on that day, the federal government released a summary report on what Canadians were hoping to see in the strategy. Key points identified included the need to boost affordable housing stock and improve the living condition[...]

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Group calls on Indonesian military to stop performing ‘virginity tests’ on female recruitsGroup calls on Indonesian military to stop performing ‘virginity tests’ on female recruits

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 10:25:28 EST


JAKARTA—Indonesia’s military and police continue to perform abusive virginity tests on female recruits three years after the World Health Organization declared they had no scientific validity, an international human rights group said Wednesday.

Human Rights Watch said senior Indonesian police and military officers have told it that security forces still impose the “cruel and discriminatory tests,” which are carried out under the guise of psychological examinations for mental health and morality reasons.

“The Indonesian government’s continuing tolerance for abusive ‘virginity tests’ by the security forces reflects an appalling lack of political will to protect the rights of Indonesian women,” said Nisha Varia, women’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

The group called for President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to order the national police chief and military commander to ban the practice.

The testing includes the invasive “two-finger test” to determine whether female applicants’ hymens are intact, which WHO in its 2014 clinical guidelines for health care of sexually abused women said lacks any scientific basis.

Indonesia’s military did not respond to a request for comment. Three years ago it defended the practice as safeguarding morality.

Police spokesman Setyo Wasisto said the force stopped virginity tests three years ago. Currently, he said, health checks for male and female recruits include tests for venereal diseases and only female medical staff test female recruits.

Human Rights Watch said it found that applicants who were deemed to have failed the virginity test were not necessarily penalized but all of the women it spoke with described the test as painful, embarrassing, and traumatic.

Human Rights Watch has also documented the use of virginity tests by security forces in Egypt, India and Afghanistan and criticized calls for virginity tests for Indonesian school girls.

It said all three branches of the Indonesian military have imposed the tests for decades and in some circumstances also extended the requirement to the fiancees of military officers.

Female members of Indonesian Navy salute in Jakarta in an Aug. 17, 2012, file photo. Indonesia's military and police continue to perform abusive virginity tests on female recruits three years after the World Health Organization declared they had no scientific validity, an international human rights group said Wednesday.

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White House personnel removed over alleged improper contact with women on Trump’s Asia trip: officials White House personnel removed over alleged improper contact with women on Trump’s Asia trip: officials

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 20:37:17 EST


Three military personnel have been reassigned from their White House jobs amid allegations that they had improper contact with foreign women while travelling with U.S. President Donald Trump on his recent trip to Asia, according to officials familiar with the situation.

The service members all worked for the White House Communications Agency, a specialized military unit that helps provide the president, vice president, Secret Service and other officials with secure communications.

The military is scrutinizing three Army non-commissioned officers who allegedly broke curfew during Trump’s trip to Vietnam this month, officials said.

Mark Wright, a spokesperson for the Defense Department, confirmed that the Pentagon is examining the behaviour of personnel during the visit to Vietnam.

“We are aware of the incident, and it is currently under investigation,” Wright said.

Trump visited Vietnam as part of a 12-day swing through Asia.

The episode comes after four military personnel on the same White House team faced allegations related to their behaviour during a trip to Panama in August with Vice President Mike Pence. Those men — two from the Army and two from the Air Force — stood accused of taking foreign women after hours into a secure area as they were preparing for Pence’s arrival, officials said.

They were all flown home before Pence arrived and stripped of their White House assignments pending the findings of the investigation, officials said.

Army Col. Amanda Azubuike, a military spokesperson, said an investigation into the Panama case has been closed and the findings forwarded to senior military officials for review. She said she was not aware of the final conclusions or any disciplinary action.

NBC previously reported that military members on the Panama trip had been removed from White House duty.

Service members with high-level security clearances are expected to report contacts with foreign individuals to ensure that their interactions do not compromise national security.

The mission of the White House Communications Agency is to prevent eavesdropping on presidential communications and to ensure that White House officials can be securely reached worldwide at a moment’s notice.

If found guilty, the service members face the risk of losing their security clearances or could be subject to administrative discipline or courts-martial.

Spokespeople for Trump and Pence declined to comment and referred questions to the office of Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.

U.S. President Donald Trump, third left, and his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang participate in a welcome ceremony in Hanoi on Nov.12. Three Whire House military personnel have been removed amid an investigation into contacts with foreign women during Trump's Asia trip.

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Royson James: Outgoing TTC head Andy Byford did better, for The Better WayRoyson James: Outgoing TTC head Andy Byford did better, for The Better Way

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 20:14:07 EST

The head of the TTC is leaving the “best transit system in North America” for one that’s bigger — and, er, better.Andy Byford assumes his new post as president and CEO of the New York system in a month. Maybe now Torontonians will acknowledge what the city’s had for more than five years — an excellent transit leader who lived and breathed public transport and was never shy about enduring the challenges of the daily commute with suffering passengers.Never has the TTC had a manager — maybe not since David Gunn — who experienced the fine-grained details of the system as intimately as Byford. And when things broke, as they inevitably did, he never took shelter in his office at Yonge and Davisville. Rather, he faced the cameras, spoke to passengers, took responsibility, listened to the criticisms. And pledged to do better.Read more: Andy Byford leaving the TTC for a job with New York City TransitIn the end, that’s exactly what Byford did — better, for The Better Way.What would have been best? A more objective, principled, evidence-based stance on the transit options for Scarborough. Here, Byford failed, history will show.The singular, most visible image of Byford is this: among the masses, smoke billowing from a wintery red nose, trying to explain a shut down or diversion to white-hot commuters. This, and his other achievements, will have to be built upon to sustain a lasting legacy.The man who has held top leadership positions on transit systems in London and Sydney, Australia, now goes to the giant of them all in what he says must be the toughest job in transit.In 2016 Byford remarked that his predecessors at the TTC lasted, on average, five to six years. Byford didn’t wait to be shown the door — leaving on his own terms, saying goodbye to a $340,000 job for what is undoubtedly a raise in the Big Apple.On most of the metrics, the Toronto Transit Commission is an improved agency since 2012 when Byford became transit czar, replacing Gary Webster, done in by Rob Ford’s henchmen.When the American Public Transit Association named the TTC the number one transit system in 2017, commuters here snickered, even howled in derision. Social media had a blast. But the TTC can’t be blamed for the weak competition. And a fair accounting of the TTC’s improvements points to an upward trend.There are fewer complaints and system breakdowns and delays, better on-time performance, improved customer service, an uptick in ridership, advancements in technology and fare systems and infrastructure. And a massive transit buildout that threatens to overwhelm the system.In fact, the expansion plan alone prompted Byford to retrench, give up the TTC’s traditional and proud role as transit builder and concentrate on the nuts and bolts of service delivery. That was a huge blow to the TTC’s reputation — a decision that still chafes. But it may have rescued a system wallowing in operational stagnation.Byford will stick around to see the Toronto-York Spadina extension into Vaughan. It’s his pride and joy; his signature accomplishment. And that says a lot about where the TTC was when he took over.The Spadina line should have opened for the Pan Am Games. It is years late, multi-millions over budget and had to be rescued by Byford, who personally took over management, fired two well-liked TTC managers, hired an outside firm to supervise the project and personally staked his job on getting it opened by December 2017.Byford is leaving at the opportune time. Plans for future transit expansion are mired in conflicting or non-existing analysis. He himself was caught up in a dubious declaration that an LRT line to replace the Scarborough RT would cost almost as much as a subway — an astonishing claim that subw[...]

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Not guilty verdict for driver who mounted the sidewalk and killed pedestrian on Dundas St.Not guilty verdict for driver who mounted the sidewalk and killed pedestrian on Dundas St.

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 16:07:15 EST

Bad driving, but not criminally bad driving. That, in a nutshell, was the ruling of Mr. Justice Peter Bawden in finding Gideon Fekre not guilty of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death. Explaining his verdict to a packed courtroom Tuesday after a week-long trial, Bawden ruled that it was a “momentary lapse of attention” that caused Fekre to fail to negotiate a turn on Dundas St. E. approaching Carlaw Ave. in April 2015, crossing a bike lane, and driving onto the sidewalk for a distance of “some 20 metres,” where he struck and ultimately killed 31-year-old Kristy Hodgson and one of the two dogs she was walking at the time. ‘We cannot hold drivers to a standard of ideal decision-making when making split-second decisions,” Bawden said. He found Fekre’s made an “imprudent but reflexive decision.” Fekre admitted at the scene and on the stand that he had taken his eyes off the road and reached down with his right hand when a water bottle fell at his feet while he was driving. All sides in court agreed the distraction was momentary. The defence had argued this was a matter of instinctive reflex, while the crown argued Fekre made a conscious decision to divert his attention at a critical moment. The judge said he found the crown had not proven this beyond a reasonable doubt. And so while he found that the driving was obviously dangerous, and that taking his eyes off the road was a “departure from what a reasonably prudent driver” would do in the situation, it was not “a marked departure” from that standard that rose to the level of requiring criminal sanction. The driving in question could lead to culpability in a civil trial, the judge noted, but the criminal standard for dangerous driving outlined in Supreme Court decisions is higher. Bawden explained that the duration of the lapse in attention was key to his decision. According to the crown’s expert witness, traffic officer Dawn Mutis, the evidence shows a provable period of inattention of between 0.74 seconds and 1.18 seconds, Bawden said. “On the evidence of the crown’s own expert witness,” Bawden said, “this would be a miniscule period of inattention.” Even a longer attention lapse alleged by crown lawyer Scott Pattison, Bawden said, would still mean a total period of inattention of less than two seconds. This, Bawden said, qualifies as a “momentary lapse of attention” of a kind deemed non-criminal by the Supreme Court.Bawden further said that he had found the defendant’s behaviour at the scene — he remained there, called 911, volunteered an explanation to police on the scene of what happened that was consistent with what both crown and defence told the court, and showed concern for the victim and dramatic remorse — enhanced his credibility. After the judge told Fekre he was free to go, the defendant who had been facing up to 14 years in prison if convicted put his head in his hands. Cries of anguish immediately rang out from the gallery where Hodgson’s friends and family had been watching the trial. Hodgson’s widowed partner, Nick Siskopoulos, shouted obscenities at Fekre from the doorway of the courtroom, and said, “You killed my wife!” before quickly leaving the building.In the hallway outside the courtroom, John Hodgson, Kristy’s father, expressed his anger. “There’s no justice there whatsoever. Let’s all drive on the sidewalk and kill people, because the precedent has been set. He killed somebody because he’s not watching the road. He’s a murderer,” Hodgson said. “And he won’t even get a slap on the wrist. His insurance won’t even go up.” [...]Nick Siskop[...]

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Laurier apologizes to teaching assistant who aired clip of gender-pronoun debate Laurier apologizes to teaching assistant who aired clip of gender-pronoun debate

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 15:14:47 EST

An Ontario university has apologized to a teaching assistant who was severely chastised for airing a clip of a debate featuring a controversial figure, saying the woman was not treated according to the institution’s values.The president of Wilfrid Laurier University said the school is proceeding with a third-party investigation into the dispute with graduate student Lindsay Shepherd, but said recently revealed audio recordings of her interactions with her immediate superiors made it clear an apology was in order.Shepherd said she discreetly recorded a meeting with three Laurier faculty and staff members in which she was roundly criticized for failing to condemn the views of polarizing University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, who has refused to use gender-neutral pronouns. She had aired a clip of a debate featuring the professor as part of a communications tutorial.Read more: Neither Wilfrid Laurier University’s methods nor teaching assistant’s debate helped trans peopleLaurier university starts independent probe after teaching assistant plays clip of gender debateSuppressing TVO video, stifling free speech, is making Wilfrid Laurier unsafeOn the recording of the meeting, Shepherd is heard tearfully defending her decision to play the clip while staff accuse her of being transphobic and liken her failure to condemn Peterson to remaining neutral on the views of Adolf Hitler.“The conversation I heard does not reflect the values and practices to which Laurier aspires,” the university’s president, Deborah MacLatchy, said in a statement Tuesday. “I am sorry it occurred in the way that it did and I regret the impact it had on Lindsay Shepherd.”Shepherd said she accepted and welcomed the apology, but felt it rang hollow coming on the heels of intensive media attention around her case.“Let’s not forget that this was their only option,” she said. “They were basically forced to do it out of public and media shaming.”The saga began earlier this month when Shepherd led two tutorial groups of students taking a first-year communications course.As part of a lesson on the complexities of grammar, Shepherd said she was trying to demonstrate that the structure of a language can impact the society in which its spoken in ways people might not anticipate.To illustrate her point, she said she mentioned that long-standing views on gender had likely been shaped by the gender-specific pronouns that are part of English’s fundamental grammatical structure.The clip of Peterson debating sexual diversity scholar Nicholas Matte, she said, was meant to demonstrate ways in which the existence of gender-specific pronouns has caused controversy. A student complaint about the class prompted a meeting with supervisors.In Shepherd’s recordings of her meeting with superiors, which she shared with The Canadian Press, she is heard arguing that she tried to present the situation neutrally in order to foster debate and discussion, and states that she herself does not support Peterson’s views on gender-neutral pronouns.Shepherd’s supervisor Nathan Rambukkana is heard explicitly drawing parallels to white supremacist propaganda and is heard saying Shepherd should not have taken a neutral stance on the issue in class.In an open letter to Shepherd, Rambukkana apologized.“While I still think that such material needs to be handled carefully, especially so as to not infringe on the rights of any of our students or make them feel unwelcome in the learning environment, I believe you are right that making a space for controversial or oppositional views is important, and even essential to a university,” he wrote in the letter.“The trick is how to properly[...]

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