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Published: Sun, 17 Dec 2017 00:25:10 EST

Copyright: Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2013 ,

After delays, cost overruns, and tragedy, a subway to Vaughan is complete After delays, cost overruns, and tragedy, a subway to Vaughan is complete

Sat, 16 Dec 2017 21:04:46 EST

When trains carrying the first passengers on the Spadina subway extension start rolling Sunday morning, it will mark the opening of the first addition to Toronto’s rapid transit network in more than a decade.But while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Kathleen Wynne, Mayor John Tory and the other dignitaries who gathered at the new Vaughan Metropolitan Centre station Friday to finally cut the ribbon on the project were all smiles, the journey to opening day was anything but smooth. The completion of the line, an extension of the TTC’s Line 1, will extend the TTC subway outside of Toronto’s borders for the first time and was the culmination of a decades-long saga marked by political feuds, hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns, and a two-year delay. In the end, was the Spadina subway extension worth it? For those who will enjoy service at one of the 8.6-kilometre extension’s six new stations, the answer is undoubtedly yes. Read more:Spadina extension has been in the works for decadesStudents at York University, whose commutes by bus to the campus off of Keele St. and Steeles Ave. West are notoriously guelling, are celebrating.“We’re more excited than you can understand. It’s a big deal,” said David Ampofo, a first-year software engineering student, who every day takes the subway from Wilson to Sheppard West station and then has to wait in a long, “painful” line to catch a bus to the university. Sometimes as many as 200 students could be caught waiting, he said. He expects the extension to cut his commute from 40 minutes to 10. By 2020, the TTC predicts there will be close to 14 million annual boardings and alightings at the two stations serving the campus.“This is something we can all look forward to and celebrate,” Ampofo said.Officials in Vaughan believe the two new TTC stations within their borders will be transformational. They’re hoping a new city centre will take shape around the extension’s terminus at Vaughan Metropolitan Centre.“We are presently living through Vaughan’s golden era where everything is perfectly aligned to provide citizens with the best city they could possibly dream of,” said Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua. Around the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre station is 179 hectares — about 300 soccer fields — worth of development opportunities, Bevilacqua said. The city wants to see offices, retail space and residential units built up around the station, some of which has already begun. Vaughan councillors have recently approved 11 condominium towers, an eight-storey office building, and Edgeley Pond and Park spanning 7.5 hectares. Last year financial giant KPMG opened a 14-storey office tower steps from the subway station.“The subway is becoming the core of York Region,” Bevilacqua said. The $3.2-billion subway project was jointly funded by three levels of government, with Ottawa contributing $697 million, the province $974 million, the city of Toronto $904 million, and York Region $604 million. The extension’s operating costs, estimated at about $25 million annually, will be borne entirely by the TTC. But if the project came about because of intergovernmental co-operation, it was a point of political friction for decades after it was first pitched in the 1980s, with Metro council and then Toronto council flip-flopping on the idea for 30 years. In May of 1988, York Centre MPP Greg Sorbara called for expanding the Spadina subway line to York University to better connect it to Toronto, boost TTC’s flagging ridership and make it easier for people to go to work. His words would be repeated, often falling on deaf ears, by York University officials and York Region politicians in the years to come. By 1992, Metro Council had rejected the extension to York University in what the Star reported to be a shocking vote. After another decade of officials squabbling over whether or not it would be worth it, York Region and the City of Toronto eventually pledged funding for the [...]

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Police investigating possible murder-suicide in deaths of billionaire and his wife Police investigating possible murder-suicide in deaths of billionaire and his wife

Sat, 16 Dec 2017 14:32:01 EST

Toronto police are investigating the possibility that the deaths of billionaire Barry Sherman and his wife were a murder-suicide — a theory the family is rejecting as “irresponsible” rumors. The bodies of Sherman, 75, and his wife, Honey, were found in their North York mansion just before noon Friday.Officially, Toronto police have released little information about the deaths, beyond that they were deemed suspicious. But police sources confirm to the Star that police are now probing the possibility that they were a murder-suicide. Late Saturday afternoon, the family of Barry and Honey Sherman released a statement saying they don’t believe theory. The couple have four children.“Our parents shared an enthusiasm for life and commitment to their family and community totally inconsistent with the rumours regrettably circulated in the media as to the circumstances surrounding their deaths,” the statement said.“We are shocked and think it’s irresponsible that police sources have reportedly advised the media of a theory which neither their family, their friends nor their colleagues believe to be true.“We urge the Toronto Police Service to conduct a thorough, intensive and objective criminal investigation, and urge the media to refrain from further reporting as to the cause of these tragic deaths until the investigation is completed.”The bodies were discovered by the couple’s real estate agent, who had been helping to sell the multimillion-dollar home. The agent entered the house after not being able to contact the couple. The bodies were located together by the Shermans’ indoor pool, according to a police source. The Toronto police homicide squad is being consulted on the investigation, but the squad has not taken over as lead investigators. As of Saturday afternoon, the case was being handled by detectives with Toronto police’s 33 Division. A post-mortem on both bodies was being conducted Saturday.Sherman, the founder of generic drug giant Apotex, was one of the richest men in the country, with an estimated net worth of $4.6 billion. He built Apotex from a two-employee company in Toronto into a global pharmaceutical organization that employs more than 11,000 people around the world.Police said circumstances of the deaths “appear to be suspicious,” but noted they are not looking for any suspects and that there were no signs of forced entry.After building their residence, the Shermans moved into the house in January 1991.Friends and colleagues of the couple were heartbroken to hear of the deaths on Friday.“All of us at Apotex are deeply shocked and saddened by this news and our thoughts and prayers are with the family at this time,” Apotex wrote in a news release.On Saturday, the home page of the Apotex website memorialized Barry Sherman and the legacy he built.“Dr. Sherman gave his life to the singular purpose of our organization — innovating for patient affordability,” the commemoration read. “Patients around the world live healthier and more fulfilled lives thanks to his life’s work, and his significant impact on healthcare and healthcare sustainability will have an enduring impact for many years to come. “As employees, we are proud of his tremendous accomplishments, honoured to have known him, and vow to carry on with the Apotex purpose in his honour.”The couple had donated millions across the city, from the United Jewish Appeal to the United Way. A charitable arm of Apotex has shipped millions of dollars worth of medicine to disaster zones.In addition to donating to charities mainly in the Toronto area, Barry Sherman was a prominent backer of the Liberal party led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.This year, Karen Shepherd, the federal lobbying commissioner, said she was investigating the propriety of Sherman hosting a Liberal party fundraiser in 2015 that featured Trudeau before he was elected prime minister.Because Sherman was registered as a lobbyist at [...]

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Rosie DiManno: His letters to a girlfriend were the undoing of Dellen MillardRosie DiManno: His letters to a girlfriend were the undoing of Dellen Millard

Sat, 16 Dec 2017 16:12:49 EST

Justice can be agonizing, even when the jury gets it right.Little peace, or that chimerical thing called closure, can be found in a guilty verdict for the murderers of Laura Babcock. Not for her parents and not for her friends, just as there was precious little comfort for Tim Bosma’s widow and the child who will grow up never knowing her dad.A six-week funeral, Clayton Babcock described the trial, after the jury returned its verdict on Saturday: First-degree murder convictions for Dellen Millard and Mark Smich, life sentences with no possibility of parole for 25 years. Sentences that could, depending on how the judge decides, run consecutively – a quarter-century more on top of the quarter-century imprisonment they’re already serving for the Bosma killing.Either way, Millard and Smich will grow old behind bars, well into their 50s before they can breathe air again as free mortals.“Today’s verdict really brings us little joy,” Mr. Babcock said outside the courthouse. “The loss of Laura is no less painful today than when it was realized five years ago. Like any parent that loses a child we can only move forward with the thoughts of what might have been.” A grieving father forced to answer questions in cross-examination from the defendant accused of slaying her — Millard was self-represented — could finally unleash just a little bit of his fury.“You all know what a wonderful woman (Laura) was, as well as all the pains and struggles that she faced. You also know about the evil beings that took her life. And if society’s lucky, we will not see them again in the streets.”But we will see one of them again — Millard — in court, facing a third first-degree murder trial, in the death of his own father, initially ruled a suicide.That’s serial murderer territory. Dangerous offender territory. Life ever after behind bars territory.It took the jury five days of deliberation to agree on the verdicts, longer even than the Bosma trial. There were tears from the Babcock congregation, stony faces from the defendants.Millard didn’t look surprised. Very straight-faced, nothing that showed he had any disappointment. In the Bosma murder, the motive was unfathomable, the crime so appallingly senseless. In the Babcock murder, the purported motive — the Crown’s theory for it — was stunningly venal.The prosecution was prevented from arguing “thrill-killing” as an underlying factor. Yet thrills seems so befittingly a common denominator.They weren’t Leopold and Loeb, driven by a superior, if craven, intelligence; an exercise in outwitting investigators by committing the perfect murder. Though Millard clearly considers himself ingenious, to the point of impersonating a lawyer. (And more fool, he.)Except it was such an imperfect, stupid, sloppy crime, in both murders, the pair’s fingerprints all over the disappearance of 23-year-old Babcock — their first victim — and the disposal of her remains. The paper trail led directly from Millard to the Eliminator — the incinerator in which Babcock’s body was burned (ready for the “BBQ”, as Millard referred to it); the photo trail led directly from that body wrapped in a blue tarp to the incinerator; the cellphone trail led directly from Millard to Babcock, meeting her at the Kipling subway station on the evening July 3, 2012, tracking together to his Etobicoke home on what was the last night of her life; later moving along the QEW, westward bound, towards Millard’s farm property, Babcock’s phone no longer making any outward communication because she was, said the prosecution, dead by then, killed sometime that night or in the very early morning — between 8:21 p.m. and 12:42 a.m., a period during which neither Millard nor Smich used their phones.They were busy killing a girl.We’ll never know the how of that killing, unless either felon comes clean, and wit[...]

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Held in maximum security without charge, she begged her husband to get her out. A week later, Teresa Gratton was deadHeld in maximum security without charge, she begged her husband to get her out. A week later, Teresa Gratton was dead

Sat, 16 Dec 2017 06:00:00 EST

A week before she died, Teresa Michelle Gratton wrote her husband a panicked letter.Scrawling in frantic capital letters, she begged him to get her out of the maximum-security jail where she was being held indefinitely as an immigration detainee.“PLEASE GET ME OUT OF HERE I DON’T BELONG HERE!! HELP ME! HELP ME! PLEASE!!!!!! . . . I don’t see how they can continue to keep me locked up like a criminal. I have no charges. I had already paid my time for my crime. I’ll leave Canada if that’s what it comes to, but let me out until that’s what’s desided (sic) if it comes to that.”Gratton, a grandmother who celebrated her 50th birthday behind bars, never made it out of jail. She died this past Oct. 30, a few days after her husband received the letter.She was “found in medical distress” inside the maximum security Vanier Centre for Women in Milton, according to a brief news release from the Canada Border Services Agency, which did not disclose Gratton’s name, the cause of her death, or any other information. She was immediately taken to hospital and died shortly after, the agency said. They did not say whether she died at hospital or en route.She had been in immigration detention for a month.Herb Gratton, Teresa’s partner of 32 years, can’t talk about his wife for long before he succumbs to heaving sobs, often excusing himself and retreating to his bedroom, where he can be heard weeping from behind the closed door.“She was as much me as I am,” he says. “They took away everything I have. Thirty-two years of being with that woman and they took that from me.”Herb, 58, grew up in West Lorne, Ont. His parents separated when he was 13 and he moved with his mother to Nashville, Tenn. That’s where he met Teresa, whom he called Michelle, in 1985.“I looked at her and I fell in love,” he says. “It took her a little bit longer but I knew right away.”After dating for five or six months they moved in together and started a family, raising three sons — now 24, 27 and 30 years old — and working together at a chain restaurant.Their eldest sons, Matthew and Stan, have children of their own now and Jacob’s fiancée is expecting in the spring. All are Canadian citizens.“As any couple me and her had our ups and downs, but we worked through it,” Herb says. “We were great together. She was my soul mate and I was hers. We knew we would spend the rest of our lives together. Or at least we thought we would.”The weeks since his wife died have been the worst of his life, Herb says. Compounding the sadness and confusion is that he still doesn’t know what happened. “I’m just at an impasse,” he said. “I can’t really grieve my wife.”The provincial coroner’s office is investigating the death, but it has not determined if there will be an inquest.Teresa Gratton’s lawyer, meanwhile, is unequivocal in his condemnation of the system that incarcerated her.“I think her death was entirely avoidable,” said Joo Eun Kim, an immigration lawyer with Legal Aid Ontario who was assigned to Gratton’s case after she had already been detained by the Canada Border Services Agency for nearly two weeks.Read more:Teresa Gratton's final days, in her own words“She should not have been detained in the first place and she should not have been detained in a maximum-security jail,” he said. “I feel like we as a society let her down.”A U.S. citizen and permanent resident of Canada since 2011, Gratton was not serving a criminal sentence. She was detained by border services after she served 24 days in jail for trying to steal food and clothing from a Walmart near her home in London, Ont.But border services was trying to deport her for convictions from 2013, when she pleaded guilty to multiple counts of fraud under $5,000 and was sentenced to nine months house arrest. Permanent residents can be deported for “serious criminality” if they are sentenced to “a term of imprisonment of more than six months” or convic[...]

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Annual carol concert brings in $44,067 for kids this ChristmasAnnual carol concert brings in $44,067 for kids this Christmas

Sat, 16 Dec 2017 22:45:00 EST

The Star’s annual Christmas Carol Concert may appeal to people for many reasons. Perhaps it’s the chance to hear wholesome choir voices reverberating in an ornate church, or maybe to enjoy some face time with friends and family. At the very heart of it, the underlying mandate of the St. Paul’s Bloor Street Church concert — and those who attend — has remained the same for nearly four decades: every year, its proceeds go to the Star’s Santa Claus Fund to help less fortunate children at Christmastime.This year, the concert raised a whopping $44,067 for the fund, enough to provide 1,259 children with gift boxes on Christmas Day. Helping the underprivileged rings throughout one of the songs that was sung this past Dec. 2: “Therefore, Christian men, be sure, Wealth or rank possessing, Ye who now will bless the poor, Shall yourselves find blessing.”A letter addressed to Canon Dr. Giles Bryant, who conducts and helps organize the annual event, thanks him for stressing the importance of giving back to the less fortunate. “Thank you again for the way you touch all of us attending the concert each year — especially the lives touched beyond our selfish merrymaking inside St. Paul’s,” wrote Burlington residents Tim and Andrew.Bryant said it’s not to be confused as the church’s event: it’s the Star’s. “We came aboard years and years ago to help the Star,” he said. “I have been, since I came to Canada, aware of the wonderful work that the Star Santa Claus Fund does do for children. I quite happily say I’m proud to be part of that work. I hope it goes on until now to eternity.”It began when three different choirs united in 1979, Bryant said. “We decided to sing Christmas carols and take up a collection,” he said. “Somebody had the bright idea, I like to think it was me, because it was such a good idea, that we should get in touch with the Star and see if they would like to have the money.“This was the one that was really geared to children and we thought that was nice,” Bryant said, adding that the concert raised more than $55,000 one season.And each year the concert has grown, bringing in new faces, he said. “They hear about it from reading about it in the Star,” he said, adding that there isn’t another event like it in the area, to his knowledge. “I think they hear about it from their pals who’ve been coming for some years. I think they know it’s going to be a grand and glorious afternoon. It’s quite a red-letter day for me. I really enjoy it.”The Santa Claus Fund provides gift boxes at Christmas to 45,000 underprivileged children in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Pickering and Ajax. Recipients receive a warm shirt (toddlers get a fleece-lined tracksuit while newborn infants get a five-piece set that includes onesies), a warm hat, warm gloves or mittens, socks, a toy, a book, cookies and dental hygiene items (age 4 and up) inside. Every dollar raised goes toward the cost of the gifts.For many of the children, age 12 and younger, it’s the only present they’ll receive. Every dollar raised goes directly to the cost of the gifts.Next year will mark the concert’s 40th anniversary. “Anything which lasts 40 years has value to it,” said Thomas Bell, organist and music director at St. Paul’s. “It’s a lovely blend of tradition and tradition for a reason, which is the charity. It’s a very meaningful experience.”If you have been touched by the Santa Claus Fund or have a story to tell, please email Click here to donate now.[...]Canon Dr. Giles Bryant, who conducts and helps organize the annual Star concert, leads the hundreds in attendance at the 39th annual Christmas Carol Concert on Dec. 2

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Hunter Harrison, railway executive who led turnarounds at CP and CN, dies at 73Hunter Harrison, railway executive who led turnarounds at CP and CN, dies at 73

Sat, 16 Dec 2017 16:35:57 EST

JACKSONVILLE, FL—Hunter Harrison, the plain-spoken, gruff American who rewrote the Canadian railroading book during his years heading both of this country’s largest railways, has died. He was 73.CSX Corp., the American railroad Harrison began leading earlier this year, issued a statement on Saturday announcing his death.The company attributed his death to “unexpectedly severe complications from a recent illness,” the same reason offered when Harrison formally went on medical leave earlier this week.“The entire CSX family mourns this loss. On behalf of our Board of Directors, management team and employees, we extend our deepest sympathies to Hunter’s family,” CSX said in the statement. “Hunter was a larger-than-life figure who brought his remarkable passion, experience and energy in railroading to CSX.”Ewing Hunter Harrison was born in Memphis, Tenn., on Nov. 7, 1944, and began his railroad career in 1964 as a 19-year-old rail car oiler for the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway while attending Memphis State University.His modest start gave no hint that he would eventually serve as the chief executive of four major railroads: Chicago-based Illinois Central Railroad, Montreal-based Canadian National Railway, Calgary-based Canadian Pacific Railway and Jacksonville, Fla., railway CSX Corp.Harrison joined the Burlington Northern Railroad in 1980 when it purchased the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, and he was eventually promoted to vice-president of transportation and service design.Harrison left Burlington Northern in 1989 to become chief operating officer at Illinois Central Railroad, rising to president and CEO in 1993. There, he was credited with initiating scheduled service for freight, a revolutionary concept for the industry.In 1998, Canadian National bought Illinois Central — considered at the time to be the most efficient railway in North America — and Harrison was appointed CN’s chief operating officer.He became CEO of CN in 2003, succeeding Paul Tellier, and served in that position until his retirement at the end of 2009. He moved to his estate in Connecticut, where he raised and trained horses for show jumping.In the fall of 2011, Harrison was approached by activist investor Bill Ackman, head of hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management, and enlisted to help with a proxy battle at CP Rail. After winning the crucial vote at the annual shareholder meeting in 2012, Ackman appointed Harrison as CEO, replacing Fred Green.In early 2017, Harrison abruptly resigned from CP, five months earlier than scheduled.He gave up stock options and other compensation worth a total of $122.9 million to become CEO of CSX, a U.S. competitor, although he was later reimbursed by CSX.Throughout his career, Harrison was adored by retail investors who rewarded his cost-cutting and attention to making the trains run as efficiently as possible by bidding higher on the shares of the railroads he headed.As an illustration, CSX shares plunged nearly 10 per cent on Dec. 15, the morning after it announced he was taking medical leave and would be temporarily replaced by chief operating officer Jim Foote.Unions were enraged by the thousands of job reductions he ordered. And they complained safety was compromised when he ordered managers and office workers at CP Rail be trained so that they could drive locomotives if union members went out on strike.Institutional investors complained his compensation and perks were excessive and CP Rail moved to scale them back after he left.“Hunter built a strong foundation for success at CP in our precision railroading operating model — we continue to build on that foundation,” said Keith Creel, Harrison’s hand-picked successor at CP Rail, in a statement on Dec. 15.“He led a transformational turnaround at CP, helping restore an iconic company back to its rightful place among lead[...]

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Dellen Millard, Mark Smich found guilty of murder in Laura Babcock’s deathDellen Millard, Mark Smich found guilty of murder in Laura Babcock’s death

Sat, 16 Dec 2017 12:08:50 EST

After a long and difficult trial two men, both previously convicted of murder, have been found guilty of killing a 23-year-old Toronto woman.“Justice,” said Crown prosecutor Jill Cameron, “was served.”Several members of the jury, which had begun deliberations on Tuesday, cried as the verdict was read Saturday afternoon convicting both Dellen Millard and Mark Smich of first-degree murder for the death of Laura Babcock, who was last seen alive in early July 2012.For Babcock’s parents though, the verdict brought “little joy.”“The loss of Laura is no less painful today then when it was realized five years ago,” said Clayton Babcock, Laura’s father. “Like any parent that loses a child we can only move forward with the thoughts of what might have been.”“You all know what a wonderful woman she was, as well as all the pains and struggles that she faced,” Babcock said of his daughter, who had wrestled with extreme anxiety, depression and was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder before her death. “You also know about the evil beings that took her life and if society’s lucky we will not see them again in the streets,” he said, struggling to hold back tears as he spoke to media outside the Toronto courthouse Saturday with Linda Babcock, Laura’s mother, at his side, a hand resting on his shoulder.Crown prosecutors have said Millard, 32, and Smich, 30, spent months planning Babcock’s murder and attempted to cover it up by burning her body in an animal incinerator. Babcock, prosecutors alleged, was killed because she was involved in a love triangle with Millard, 32, and his then-girlfriend, Christine Noudga.Millard tried to pass off a text exchange with Noudga, in which he said he was going to “hurt” Babcock, “make her leave” and “remove her from our lives,” as an effort to calm a jealous girlfriend.Last year, both men were also convicted of killing 32-year-old Tim Bosma, from Ancaster, Ont., and burning his body in Millard’s incinerator. Millard also stands accused of a killing his father and faces a third murder trial in March.Read more: His letters to a girlfriend were the undoing of Dellen MillardDellen Millard’s mistrial request dismissed as jury deliberates verdict in Laura Babcock murder caseRosie DiManno: Guns, drugs and murder: What the Laura Babcock jury wasn’t toldBoth Millard and Smich, who pleaded not guilty to Babcock’s murder, were sentenced to life imprisonment without a chance of parole for 25 years.While it will be up to Justice Michael Code to decide whether the two men will serve concurrent or consecutive sentences for the Bosma and Babcock murders, all 12 jurors recommended a consecutive sentence for Millard. Five recommended the same for Smich, while seven had no recommendation.As the jury deliberated those recommendations on Saturday, Shawn Lerner, Babcock’s ex-boyfriend, walked in wearing a dark grey pullover sweater. Linda Babcock, Laura’s mother, stood and gave him a hug.More hugs between family and friends followed as the court adjourned bringing an end to a long and taxing trial, which Code said was one of the most difficult cases he’s faced.Outside the courthouse, Cameron, the Crown prosecutor, spoke of the difficulties she and her team faced as well.“This took a toll on us, this took a toll on our families,” she said. “You don’t really look at it until it’s over and I’m sure we’ll look back with a great deal of emotion.”“We just really feel so strongly that justice was done, we’re so thankful for the families’ support and we just feel so badly that they had to go through this and that Laura had to suffer at the hands of these two,” she added.Clayton Babcock offered his thanks [...]

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‘Fetus’, ‘transgender’ and diversity — just a few of the words the U.S. Centers for Disease Control are forbidden from using‘Fetus’, ‘transgender’ and diversity — just a few of the words the U.S. Centers for Disease Control are forbidden from using

Sat, 16 Dec 2017 19:58:00 EST

WASHINGTON—The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) tried to play down a report Saturday that officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had been barred from using seven words or phrases, including “science-based,” “fetus,” “transgender” and “vulnerable,” in agency budget documents.“The assertion that HHS has ‘banned words’ is a complete mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget formulation process,” an agency spokesperson, Matt Lloyd, said in an email. “HHS will continue to use the best scientific evidence available to improve the health of all Americans. HHS also strongly encourages the use of outcome and evidence data in program evaluations and budget decisions.”The Trump administration reportedly told multiple divisions within the HHS that they should avoid using certain words or phrases in official documents being drafted for next year's budget.Lloyd did not respond to other questions about the news report, which was published late Friday by The Washington Post. The article said CDC policy analysts were told of the forbidden words and phrases at a meeting Thursday with senior officials who oversee the agency’s budget. Other words included “entitlement,” “diversity” and “evidence-based.”In some cases, The Post reported, alternative phrases were suggested. Instead of “science-based,” or “evidence-based,” The Post reported, “the suggested phrase is ‘CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.’”The news set off an uproar among advocacy groups and some Democratic officials, who denounced any efforts to muzzle federal agencies or censor their language.The Times confirmed some details of the report with several officials, although a few suggested that the proposal was not so much a ban on words but recommendations to avoid some language to ease the path toward budget approval by Republicans.Read more:52 per cent of Americans think country worse off under Trump, poll findsTrump’s administration is blocking 2 illegal immigrant teens from getting abortions: lawsuitWith votes seemingly secured, Republicans revel in all-but-certain tax reform dealA former federal official, who asked not to be named, called the move unprecedented.“It’s absurd and Orwellian, it’s stupid and Orwellian, but they are not saying to not use the words in reports or articles or scientific publications or anything else the CDC does,” the former official said. “They’re saying not to use it in your request for money because it will hurt you. It’s not about censoring what CDC can say to the American public. It’s about a budget strategy to get funded.”A former CDC official, who asked not to be identified, said some staff members were upset because the purported ban suggested that their work was being politicized.“I don’t know exactly who said what in the meeting, but I have to assume this came from HHS people, because they’re the ones who have to make the budget,” the former official said. “I’ve also heard that some of the words might have been a little misconstrued. “ ‘Science-based’ and ‘evidence-based’ might not have been considered as unusable as the others.”Some people also said that some effort to tone down language might make sense when appealing for funding from Republican conservatives in Congress.The CDC budget documents are circulated to other agencies and Congress and submitted to the Office of Management and Budget in the Trump administration. The budget office did not respond to a request for comment.There seemed to be confusion around the public health a[...]

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A Virginia jury convicted a 19-year-old maid for stealing. Then they paid her fineA Virginia jury convicted a 19-year-old maid for stealing. Then they paid her fine

Sat, 16 Dec 2017 19:10:47 EST

The trial seemed utterly ordinary. A 19-year-old maid swiped a woman’s three rings — worth at least $5,000 (U.S.) — from a house she was cleaning in Fairfax City, Va., but later returned them after police questioned her. She was charged with felony grand larceny.What the jury did was extraordinary. They felt bad for the young woman, pregnant with her second child, and agreed that she had made a dumb, youthful mistake. Reluctantly, they convicted her of the felony. But the fine they imposed was her daily pay as a maid, $60. And then they took up a collection and gave her the money to pay the fine.“The general sentiment was she was a victim, too,” said the jury foreman, Jeffery Memmott. “Two of the women [jurors] were crying because of how bad they felt. One lady pulled out a $20 bill, and just about everybody chipped in.” Memmott then contacted the public defender in the case and went to the home of Sandra Mendez Ortega. He gave her the jury’s collection, which totalled $80.“Justice had to be done,” said another juror, Janice Woolridge, explaining why the panel imposed a felony conviction. “But there’s also got be some compassion somewhere. Young people make bad decisions. We just couldn’t pile on any more.”The two-day trial was held in July, but the sentencing was last Friday before Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Robert Smith. Mendez Ortega’s attorney, assistant public defender Michael Cash, asked the judge to defer the case and not enter a conviction or sentence in light of the defendant’s actions and the jury’s response. Smith declined, entered the conviction and imposed the $60 fine. Numerous veteran criminal lawyers, on both the prosecution and defence sides, said they had never heard of a case where a jury paid a defendant’s fine.A happy holiday story, right? Well, what if you’re the woman whose rings were stolen? Although she was not pleased when the jury returned from their deliberations with only a $60 fine for the felony conviction, crime victim Lisa Copeland was appalled when she learned that the jury had also paid the fine.“I just pray that they’re never in my shoes,” Copeland said. She said Mendez Ortega never accepted responsibility for the theft. “If she had accepted accountability, I would be OK with all of this. The fact that she won’t accept accountability makes it wrong.”Copeland said Mendez Ortega told a series of lies from the start and then unfurled a tragic life story that persuaded the jury to impose the $60 fine. “I was outraged,” Copeland said. “I was just flabbergasted. I didn’t think $60 equated to the crime at all.” She did not know that the jury had taken up a collection for Mendez Ortega until she was contacted by a reporter.The case began in September 2016, when Copeland discovered that her engagement and wedding rings were missing from the container where they were usually kept. The engagement ring had been her grandmother’s, made in 1943, and the two rings were appraised at $5,000 in 1996, Copeland said. Copeland didn’t realize that a third, inexpensive ring had been taken until it was turned in.Fairfax City police investigated and interviewed the three women who had cleaned the home. All three denied taking or seeing the rings, court records show, and no one was charged.But after the interviews, Mendez Ortega reportedly felt bad about the theft, admitted to her boss that she had the rings and turned them over to him. The police were contacted and Mendez Ortega confessed to them as well, saying she returned the rings after learning that they were valuable. The police had her write a letter of apology to Copeland, in Spanish, which said in part, “Sorry for grabbing the rings. [...]

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Fuelled by surging winds, massive California wildfire triggers new evacuationsFuelled by surging winds, massive California wildfire triggers new evacuations

Sat, 16 Dec 2017 09:43:59 EST

MONTECITO, CALIF.—Residents piled into cars and fled on Saturday as surging winds drove one of the biggest fires in California’s history toward the wealthy coastal enclave of Montecito, northwest of Los Angeles.The mandatory evacuations around Montecito and neighbouring Summerland on the outskirts of Santa Barbara came as winds that had eased a day earlier roared back at around 48 km/h, with gusts to about 97 km/h. Firefighters stood by yellow fire trucks with hoses unspooled, ready to protect the historic San Ysidro Ranch as heavy smoke rose from the coastal hills, blotting out the blue skies.A portion of Santa Barbara also was under mandatory evacuation. The city’s zoo was under voluntary evacuation, and workers there began putting some animals into crates and kennels as a precaution.Read more: Crews continue battling California wildfires in wake of firefighter’s deathFirefighter dies battling California Wildfire northwest of L.A.Crews contain huge California wildfire but unpredictable winds remain a threatThe northbound lanes of U.S. Highway 101, coming up the coast from Los Angeles, were closed for a few hours south of Santa Barbara, with cars stopped on the freeway.The 1,083-sq. kilometre Thomas Fire was moving rapidly westward and crested Montecito Peak, just north of Montecito. Known for its star power, the enclave boasts the mansions of Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and many other celebrities.“It is right above the homes,” fire spokesperson Jude Olivas said.Winfrey expressed her dismay on her Twitter account.“Still praying for our little town. Winds picked up this morning creating a perfect storm of bad for firefighters,” Winfrey tweeted. It was not clear if the former talk show host was in Montecito.Pierre Henry, owner of the Bree’osh Bakery in Montecito, said he got a text to evacuate Saturday morning as the fire approached homes. He estimated the fire was about a mile away.“The worst was the smoke,” Henry said. “You couldn’t breathe at all and it became worse when the wind started. All the ashes and the dust on the street were in the air. It was very, very frightening.”The city, according to Henry, became an eerie scene devoid of people except for firefighters and as many as 50 firefighter trucks.“We left everything,” Henry said. “There is nobody in Montecito. Just firefighters.”There was a spot of good news down the coast. Emergency officials announced that the same fire that was burning about 40 kilometres southeast of Montecito was 40 per cent contained. Evacuation orders for the city of Ventura were lifted.As the northerly “sundowner” wind was driving the fire south and west, firefighters were left to hope for them to calm back down.“When the sundowners surface in that area and the fire starts running down slopes, you are not going to stop it,” Mark Brown, of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told a news conference. “And we are not going to stand in front of it and put firefighters in untenable situations.”For the 13th straight day, the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning of extreme fire danger because of hot, dry, windy conditions.The fire is now the third-largest in California history. It has burned more than 700 homes and killed a state firefighter.Cory Iverson, 32, died Thursday from burns and smoke inhalation, according to autopsy results announced Saturday by the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office. Details of his death were not released.Since the fire began on Dec. 4, about 95,000 people have been placed under mandatory evacuation. The evacuation zone near Santa Barbara on Saturday was 27 kilometres long and up to 8 kilometres wide.The Santa Barbara Zoo, which is ne[...]

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6-year-old boy dies in hospital after Hwy. 403 crash near Mavis Rd.6-year-old boy dies in hospital after Hwy. 403 crash near Mavis Rd.

Sat, 16 Dec 2017 14:14:24 EST


A six-year-old boy critically hurt in a car crash on Hwy. 403 Friday has died in hospital, police said Saturday.

A pregnant woman and a male driver were also taken to hospital after the crash near Mavis Rd. The woman was initially in critical condition but has since stabilized, said Ontario Provincial Police.

The eastbound car was approaching the ramp to Mavis Rd. at about noon Friday when it ran into a ditch and up an embankment on the south side of the street, police said. The car smashed into a concrete pillar supporting a highway sign.

It wasn’t immediately clear why the car went off the road. OPP said they’re still investigating the crash.

The scene of a fatal car crash on Hwy. 403 near Mavis Rd. on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. A six-year-old boy died from his injuries, while a pregnant woman and adult male were also hospitalized.

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She was ‘the woman who loses all the babies.’ Then she learned what might have saved themShe was ‘the woman who loses all the babies.’ Then she learned what might have saved themShe was ‘the woman who loses all the babies.’ Then she learned what might have saved themShe was ‘the woman who loses all the babies.’ Then she learned what might have saved them

Fri, 15 Dec 2017 07:00:00 EST

LAGOS, Nigeria—In this sprawling city, a strip of concrete homes sits along the edge of one of Lagos’s largest slums. It is just one of many such streets in the West African megacity, and tricky for outsiders to find; but for a few Nigerian naira, a local motorbike taxi will deliver you to Amodu St.Follow the smoke of the grilled-corn vendor and there is a squat compound with a corrugated metal roof, the home of a 30-something woman with a warm smile and animated gesticulations. Her name is Florence Onwuasoanya. But on Amodu, they sometimes call her “the woman who loses all the babies.”Onwuasoanya lost her first baby by choice, when she aborted an unplanned pregnancy. But her second pregnancy was a blessing because this time she was married.When she lost that baby, she was devastated. When she lost two more, including an early stillbirth, she became desperate.So when her next pregnancy stretched into its final trimester, Onwuasoanya allowed herself the simple pleasure of going to the market to buy baby clothes. That day, her water broke and her daughter died shortly after being delivered by caesarean section. Onwuasoanya named her Chidera, or “what God has written.”People began thinking she was cursed. Her husband no longer celebrated her pregnancies, telling her “That baby’s not going to stay.” He asked to take a second wife, eventually fathering a child with another woman.Onwuasoanya was determined to have her “live baby” and because her doctors had no answers, she turned to other remedies. She prayed, fasted and visited churches; she swallowed herbal concoctions, including a mixture that teemed with live maggots.When someone said she had an ogbanje — a spirit child that repeatedly dies and returns — Onwuasoanya travelled three hours to perform rituals at the Niger River, where she narrowly escaped a crocodile attack.“I wanted people to believe that I had no hand in what was happening to me,” she said.After nine attempts to conceive, Onwuasoanya was still a mother without a child. Only in 2009 did someone finally explain: her mysterious affliction might not be a mystery after all.In fact, a solution had been known for nearly half a century. It had simply failed to reach her.The story of Florence Nneka Onwuasoanya is the story of a job unfinished.She will never have scientific proof for why she lost each baby; their deaths were not investigated. But today, she knows she and her husband have a biological mismatch that can gravely endanger pregnancies. She knows her story fits the profile of a disease that kills fetuses and newborns.And every year, millions of women like her are spared what she endured — but they live in wealthy nations where Rh disease is considered a problem of the past.One of the symptoms of Rh disease — also known as Rhesus disease, or hemolytic disease of the newborn — is believed to have been first described as early as 400 BC. It wasn’t until two millennia later that doctors identified a surprising link between many sick and dead babies: their parents had clashing blood.The potential consequences of this mismatch were vividly described in a 1973 book: a baby who died convulsing as his skull filled with blood; gasping newborns with swollen bodies; survivors rendered “physically helpless, unable to support their heads or sit.”“Those whom it kills all die before birth, or shortly thereafter,” wrote medical journalist David Zimmerman. “Some of the survivors recover; others are left crippled for life in mind and body.”Rh disease once killed or disabled as many as 100,000 babies every year in the U.S. alone, often occurring again and again in the same family. Bu[...]

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