TORONTO STAR

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Windsor-area custom renovation in time for Christmas

Sat, 10 Dec 2016 09:30:00 EST


Forget snorkeling in the Caribbean — Matt Biggley and his wife Leslie spent their honeymoon building a 14-foot bookshelf.

The Windsor-area couple, married in 2012, have forgone all vacations in favour of renovating the four houses they’ve owned together.

But this isn’t a story of two star-crossed home improvement lovers locking eyes across a crowded Home Depot, then spending the rest of their lives pouring over paint chips. When they met, Biggley, who is a guidance counsellor, actually told Leslie, a high-school art teacher, that he despised renovating.

“I was adamant I hated renovations, I didn’t want to do it,” says Biggley, who grew up in a home constantly under construction. “I wasn’t going to be involved in it . . . And here we are, six years later,” he laughs.

Biggley’s 180-degree turn is a testament to both his love for his wife and also how intoxicating her excitement for design and home decor is to those around her — Leslie’s passion has drawn more than 25,000 followers to the @TheLeslieStyle Instagram page featuring the before-and-after photos of thefour homes she’s transformed.

“It’s more than a passion. It’s something that she just oozes,” says Biggley, 37.

This year, the excitement gets turned up a notch as the Biggleys and daughters, Juliette, 3, and Penelope, 21 months, prepare to spend their first Christmas in the latest home they’ve transformed.

Leslie has worked around the clock to bring her holiday decor to a new level, with fresh eucalyptus in her trees, magnolia branches and exotic flowers like the King Protea and Ranunculus that she’s sourced from around the world.

Her Christmas decor theme is modern vintage, and guests at the family’s upcoming holiday/housewarming party will see bright vintage ornaments, popcorn garlands and brass candlesticks next to modern geometric decorations, as well as magenta pops of colour. And since Leslie loves symmetry in her design, she has a nine-foot Christmas tree on both sides of her mantle.

Her festive spirit is off the charts this year not only because Leslie’s so proud of their latest renovation, but also because it almost didn’t happen.

When the Biggleys purchased the late 1960s-era, 4,000-square-foot, flat-roof ranch house in Lasalle, Essex County, in summer 2015, the plan was to do a makeover on the home in its original, mid-century-modern style.

But what they expected would be a five-month project turned into a 13-month ordeal because of the house’s poor condition.

“When we got it, it was actually a horror show,” says Leslie, 33. “It felt like we couldn’t get off a terrible ride at a carnival.”

The flat roof was in such bad shape that it needed to be completely replaced. The tennis court would have to be torn up and all the walls inside the house taken down because of water damage.

“We were so intimidated by the scope of this project,” says Leslie. “We were considering just walking away and selling it, but we both just thought: ‘No, we can do it!’ ”

They opted for a flared hip roof, and bid farewell to the velvet walls and the mirrored pole in the middle of the sunken living room. They gutted the interior and redid the exterior — an aspect of renovation they’d never tackled before.

The beautiful end result combines both modern and French country design, with an abundance of white and wood throughout. They covered the vaulted ceiling in white-painted wood and ordered 3,200 square feet of 7.5-inch-wide white oak floors to cover the entire house, save for the mud room and bathrooms.

Leslie loves white so much that she hosts #BrightWhiteWednesday on Instagram where she encourages followers to share photos of how they’ve incorporated white into their home decor. She also blogs about the ups and downs of renovating at www.thelesliestyle.com.

And while her latest home exudes top-dollar sophistication, behind the esthetic quietly lies another of her passions: saving on the bottom line by securing high-end accessories and fixtures for discounted prices, thanks to hundreds of hours spent sourcing different products. Leslie estimates they have saved about $150,000 on this project alone, thanks to her persistence and patience.

“I try to make works of art out of the houses and go to crazy lengths to be able to do that on a budget,” she says.

For the master bathroom, Leslie drove the eight-hour return trip to Toronto to pick up a Kohler cast-iron bathtub she saw listed on Craig’s List; the tub retailed for $13,000 but was going for $1,000. Her ensuite also boasts a $6,000 Restoration Hardware vanity she picked up on sale for $1,800.

Leslie used turned to Kitchen Kraft for her kitchen cabinets, a company she says offers the custom kitchen look without the custom prices. A 10-foot quartz island, bronze Delta faucets that mimic jewelry, and a hood vent Leslie designed from solid quartz round out the kitchen’s exquisite look.

Despite not being a trained designer, her ability to transform spaces, within budget, has led to the family’s somewhat vagabond lifestyle over the past few years. While they never set out to be house-flippers, they’ve had offers they couldn’t refuse to privately sell the three previous houses they’ve renovated. And in all three cases, the buyers wanted everything left in the house — including the frames displaying their wedding photos.

“They want her whole vibe!” says Biggley.

“Our last house, we thought we’d stay forever, and then we found this house!” says Biggley. “It’s almost like a compulsion.”

Leslie admits it’s not always an easy lifestyle.

“Renovations are a roller coaster with many character-testing lows,” she says. “But like anyone knows who has renovated, the feeling of bringing a home’s potential to life is so addicting!”

*

THE NUMBERS

$280,000: Purchase price of the Biggley’s ranch-style house

$1.1M: Current market value, after recent appraisal

$65,000: Approximate cost of kitchen renovation

$25,000: Approximate cost of ensuite bathroom renovation

4: Skids needed to transport hardwood for floors

$10,000: Fees paid to dump while gutting original house

10 feet: Size of the wrought-iron front door

5: Times Leslie re-designed the kitchen

$22,000: Cost of 53 linear feet of kitchen cabinets

13: Months the Biggleys slept on a mattress on the floor of Leslie’s old room, now her father’s music room

$8,475: Amount saved in 75-per-cent-off sales at Restoration Hardware


Canadians to soon have easier access to U.S.

Sat, 10 Dec 2016 17:38:20 EST


A U.S. bill that’s one presidential signature away from becoming law is expected to have a broad impact on Canada-U.S. border crossings, including Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto.

The preclearance bill, as the proposed legislation is known, will require travellers en route to the U.S. from Canada to clear U.S. Customs in Canada before entering the U.S. Long in the making, its passing in the U.S. Congress this week en route to approval by President Barack Obama was hailed as a victory for security and efficiency.

“Preclearance is a win-win for enhanced security and prosperity on both sides of the border,” Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton, tweeted Saturday.

Officials for Billy Bishop also welcomed the news, saying that the airport had been “working on expanding U.S. Customs preclearance at Billy Bishop Airport for years,” and that the measure “will provide easier access to the U.S. for our passengers.”

Sarah Sutton, a spokesperson for Ports Toronto, which operates the airport, said the hoped-for boost in efficiency could entice airlines flying out of Billy Bishop to the U.S. to add new destinations. The airport sees 164 daily departures to the U.S. each week. There were 9,147 flights to the U.S. last year.

The move comes as the Canadian Global Cities Council, a coalition of business leaders from the country’s eight largest cities, last week challenged the federal government to streamline air travel and reduce wait times in an effort to make Canada more attractive to international travellers. It noted that major hubs such as London Heathrow required security screening wait times to be less than five minutes. The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority estimates that half of passengers in Canadian airports wait 15 minutes or more.

Preclearance is nothing new to many Canadian air travellers. More than 12 million passengers passing through eight Canadian airports went through U.S. preclearance last year. At Toronto’s Pearson airport, the country’s largest, long lineups and delays at peak times led to streamlining efforts in the preclearance area earlier this year.

Passengers are now required to check their baggage prior to U.S. Customs clearance and security screening, a measure designed to “improve the flow of passengers,” Janik Reigate, director of customer and agency development at the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, which operates Pearson airport, told the Star in March.

Pearson is the fourth-largest point of departure by air to the U.S. in the world.

Once passed into law, the bill would take effect with two pilot projects involving rail travel: At Montreal’s train station for trains running south to Vermont, and the Rocky Mountaineer train line, which runs from Alberta and B.C. into Seattle.

Eventually, preclearance is expected to become a requirement at every train and bus station with U.S. bound routes in the country, and could extend to car travel as well. The agreements also allow U.S. customs agents to carry weapons within Canada, question people, and detain, but not arrest, them.

The bill is the culmination of an effort begun by the Conservative government under Stephen Harper and continued by Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.

The latest during a news conference in Washington by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Obama, who agreed to sites for preclearance experiments.

The final legislative hurdle is a similar Canadian bill currently before the House of Commons, C-23. It is expected to have broad support.

With files from The Canadian Press


Toronto man owes $20 million to securities commission, lives in French château and Bahamas villa

Sat, 10 Dec 2016 06:00:00 EST


Just before he was hit with a $20 million penalty for “appalling” breaches of Ontario’s securities law, Toronto businessman Wayne Pushka took to the road.

His addresses would soon include a stately castle in the south of France and a lavish waterfront villa in Lyford Cay, Bahamas, where James Bond’s Sean Connery lives and where Canadian tycoon E.P. Taylor once hung his hat.

There’s also a well-stocked bank account in Liechtenstein, the tiny, mountainous European country that is a popular tax haven, according to sources and documents.

The Ontario Securities Commission wants the $20 million, but judging by its track record it is unlikely to be successful. A Toronto Star investigation shows that roughly $360 million in penalties levied over the past 10 years — including Pushka’s fine — remains uncollected. Most of that represents fines against individuals and small firms also handed trading bans. The OSC was able to collect fines against big banks and investment firms (about $150 million in the same time period), but that is because they want to continue operating in Ontario.

“These people who squirrel money away on boats and cars, who hide it in the areas you (the Star) are focusing on, this bedevils the Ontario Securities Commission,” says OSC general counsel Jim Sinclair. “The question is, how much money and effort should we spend? We don’t want good money going after bad. We don’t want us to beat our heads against the wall.”

Still, the OSC has spent millions of dollars prosecuting individuals and firms. As one investigator said, “it’s like getting blood out of a stone.”

Pushka did not respond to interview requests. In court documents he has denied all allegations against him, including that he defrauded the OSC by purchasing international property.


The Spartan hearing room at the OSC is, literally and figuratively, thousands of kilometres from the rolling hills of southern France.

In that spare room near Toronto’s Eaton Centre in August 2013, Pushka was found guilty of breaches of fiduciary duty in a case where, the OSC ruled, he used for his own benefit $54 million from funds managed by his firm, Crown Hill Corporation.

One month before he was found guilty, the locals near the Château Montchaude were delighted with news of a very different kind. The 16th century castle, an hour and a half drive from Bordeaux, suddenly had new owners: a wealthy Canadian couple. Shy of attention, named only once in the local press, the couple became instant darlings of the rural community.

The castle’s grounds had been off limits while the deputy prime minister of the Sultanate of Oman was the owner. It sits on a 75-acre property and in 2013 was listed for sale at $12 million (Canadian). The bathroom fixtures were gold-leaf covered.

Pushka quickly opened it to local tours, engaged an architect and started renovations.

His wife, Jane Binsted, took to social media seeking playdates for their then-5-year-old son. In a statement of claim filed in an Ontario court, the OSC alleges the castle was purchased in their son’s name. Both parents’ names are on a company registry in France connected to the château.

Within days of moving in, a massive fire, apparently caused by a faulty electrical connection, swept through the castle, destroying the roof. Local press have since reported on the restoration. “He is a lover of old stones,” a business associate of Pushka’s was quoted as saying, describing how several years earlier Pushka fell in love with the castle.

Pushka returned to Toronto for the August 2013 OSC hearing where it was determined he had breached securities law. The OSC was oblivious to the château purchase, though there were clues online.

“We have purchased a property in Montchaude,” wife Binsted wrote on an online message board in France before the hearing. “Our son is 4.5 years old . . . we plan to be in Montchaude every summer and return to Toronto for the fall. Please let me know if you are still looking for playmates and coffee.”

The levying of the OSC fine would not happen for a year. Pushka hit the road again.


This businessman started out in physics.

Pushka’s studies took him to McMaster and Carleton universities, and a degree in theoretical physics, followed by an MBA at Queen’s. A fellow student lauded him in a 1992 thesis, thanking “Wayne Pushka, for demonstrating to us that there is more to life than physics.”

In 2001, Pushka applied for a U.S. patent for a “method of optimizing investment performance.” Pushka wrote “the method includes the steps of transferring market risk but not credit risk from a first account to a second account through a counter-party and recognizing either gains and losses in the second account at a future date from the original investment date.”

Within a few years he was working on Bay Street in Toronto, building a small empire. In a 2016 Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruling upholding the earlier OSC decision, judges described how Pushka grew a small fund with an asset base of $6.4 million through a series of mergers into a fund with $237 million in assets. The judges said Pushka “loaned” himself investors’ money to purchase lucrative fund management services agreements each time he grew the fund. It was “self-dealing on a grand scale,” the court ruled. Pushka was then denied leave to appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal this fall.


Lyford Cay is situated around a private canal in the Bahamas. It’s a gated community founded by the late E.P. Taylor — Canadian beer baron and horse enthusiast — home to some of the wealthiest stars of Hollywood and business.

A villa called Five Palms in Lyford Cay was listed for sale in 2013 for $5.8 million (U.S.). The listing describes “substantial luxury” in the 9,336-square-foot main villa, and the 4,061-square-foot guest villa. Italian stone and tile is throughout. Stone fireplace, spacious bedrooms all with an ensuite, state of the art kitchen, high ceilings with 200-year old wood beams, and an elevator are just some of the features.

The villa sold in January 2014, after Pushka was found guilty but before he was hit with the $20 million fine.

“Mr. Pushka knowingly, deliberately and wrongfully started a chain of transactions to intentionally defraud” the OSC, which was seeking payment of the fine, the OSC alleges in court documents filed in the Bahamas.

The OSC alleges that Pushka transferred $13.6 million (U.S.) from his Bank of Nova Scotia account to an account at the Bank of Montreal in his and his wife’s name. A similar amount was transferred a few days later through a Toronto law firm, which sent $4.5 million of that money to the law firm of Winter Borghardt Law Chambers in the Bahamas, and the balance to “certain trusts in Liechtenstein.”

Incorporation records in the Bahamas reveal that on Jan. 7, 2014, the Bahamian firm set up a company called Bonnieblue, which then purchased the Five Palms villa, at a price of $4.6 million, more than a million less than the property was listed. Bonnieblue is listed as a company in the Panama Papers files.

The OSC states that Pushka was the owner and controlling mind of Bonnieblue and that he used funds “he obtained wrongfully in Canada to purchase the Lyford Cay property.”

In a recently filed response, Pushka said he has nothing to do with Bonnieblue.

International shipping records show many household items made the trip by cargo ship from Toronto to the Bahamas, Toronto to France, and sometimes from the Bahamas to France. In each case, the names of Binsted and/or Pushka are on the shipping documents and the addresses are either for the Château or the Five Palms villa. Among the items shipped was a crate weighing 18 kg filled with decorations, a clock, planters, pictures and books.

The OSC has asked for a hearing in Nassau and is attempting to retrieve $20 million from Pushka. The OSC would not say if any court proceedings have been started in France or Liechtenstein.

Gail Charles, Pushka’s lawyer in the Bahamas, told the Star Friday “it is not our policy to discuss our clients or any of their matters.”

Kevin Donovan can be reached at 416-312-3503 or kdonovan@thestar.ca


Most pedestrian deaths occurring outside Torontoâ??s road safety plan: Analysis

Sun, 11 Dec 2016 07:00:00 EST


Just before a minivan struck and killed Erica Stark, the vehicle had jumped the curb, run over a TTC bus stop pole, careered off a hydro box and slammed into a light standard.

But even after the van hit those objects, it was still travelling with sufficient velocity when it struck Stark that police would later tell her husband she was thrown at a speed of between 34 km/h and 43 km/h.

She was standing on the sidewalk when the van left the road, and when it collided with her, Stark’s head smashed into the windshield. When she was thrown in the air, she hit her head again on the pavement. The 42-year-old mother of three died at the scene from a combination of blunt force trauma and internal bleeding. Her death, on Nov. 6, 2014, ripped a hole in her family.

“Not a day goes by when we don’t think of Erica and how our lives have been permanently changed by what happened,” David Stark, her husband of 17 years, told the Star.

The driver of the minivan, Elizabeth Taylor, was convicted of careless driving last Monday, and given a $1,000 fine, six months probation and a one-month driving ban.

Two witnesses testified that Taylor was driving fast on Midland Ave., a wide four-lane road, before she struck Erica Stark at the intersection of Gilder Dr., but the presiding justice of the peace determined there was no evidence that Taylor was going above the posted speed limit of 50 km/h.

David Stark, for his part, finds it hard to believe that speed wasn’t a significant factor.

And although how fast Taylor was travelling may never be determined, there is no question there is a strong connection between high speeds and traffic deaths.

Despite convincing evidence that slowing down saves lives, Toronto has refused to endorse what advocates say could be the most effective way to prevent more deaths: lowering the city’s default speed limit to 40 km/h from 50 km/h.

“I would go so far as to say that if the Toronto road safety plan doesn’t incorporate extensive speed limit reductions then we’re not going to see a big decrease in pedestrian fatalities,” said Michael Black, co-founder of the advocacy group Walk Toronto.

He argued that lowering the default limit by 10 km/h would “likely reduce fatalities and injuries on Toronto’s roads more effectively than any other measure.”

Toronto is in the midst of a record year for traffic deaths. So far, more than 40 pedestrians have died in 2016, more than any other year in at least a decade.Seniors are bearing the brunt of the crisis — they make up 14 per cent of the population, but represent more than 60 per cent of pedestrian fatalities.

Despite the urgency of the problem, city council has taken a piecemeal approach to lowering speed limits.

Councillors routinely support lowering limits in their own wards when residents request it. And in what was likely the city’s boldest move on the issue, the Toronto and East York Community Council last year voted to reduce the speed limit on all local roads within its jurisdiction to 30 km/h.

But Albert Koehl, an environmental lawyer and road safety advocate, said the city’s unsystematic approach means that a community is only made safer if its residents are organized and their councillor is responsive.

“It becomes an obvious equity issue,” he said. “Being safe shouldn’t be a question of what part of the city you live in.”

The new $80-million road safety plan that council approved in July takes what city officials describe as a “targeted” approach to speed reductions, lowering limits only on certain streets deemed “high risk” based on collision data from the past decade. The plan will lower limits to 40 km/h from 50 km/h on about two dozen streets.

But a Star analysis shows that of the 42 pedestrian deaths between Jan. 1 and Dec. 1 this year, just six took place on streets where the speed limits will be reduced as part of the plan. An additional six deaths occurred in areas slated for “safety audits,” which could result in reduced speeds.

Public works chair Councillor Jaye Robinson, who spearheaded the plan, has said she’s “open-minded” about more widespread speed reductions, but defended the current “evidenced-based approach.”

“This is through a detailed analysis of the city’s collision data, and staff have identified these corridors as problem locations,” she said. According to Robinson, speeds have already been lowered on 14 “pedestrian safety corridors” identified in the plan, and the city is making other alterations such as better pedestrian markings and physical overhauls at these locations.

The public health case for lowering speed limits is well established. Landmark British research conducted in the 1970s determined that pedestrians have an 85-per-cent chance of dying when hit by a vehicle travelling at about 65 km/h, a 45-per-cent chance at about 50 km/h, and only a 5-per-cent chance at about 30 km/h.

The correlation holds true on Toronto’s streets. According to a 2015 Toronto Public Health report on pedestrian and cyclist safety, 57 per cent of fatal pedestrian collisions in the city occurred on roads with a posted speed limit of 60 km/h, while only 9 per cent took place on roads with limits of 40 km/h.

Monica Campbell, director of healthy public policy at Toronto Public Health, explained that lower speeds don’t just reduce the force of impact in collisions, they make it easier for drivers to avoid crashes in the first place.

“If you’re travelling quickly, you have a very narrow range of vision,” she said. Travelling at slower speeds allows drivers to have a better view of what’s happening. That enables them to stop sooner and to spot hazards such as someone darting out from behind a parked car.

“What we know is there will be fewer collisions, there will be fewer injuries. And when there are injuries they will be less severe,” Campbell said.

The idea of lowering Toronto’s default limit has been proposed before. In 2012, Toronto’s medical officer of health recommended lowering speed limits to 30 km/h on residential streets and 40 km/h on all other roads unless otherwise posted.

The recommendation wasn’t well-received. Then-mayor Rob Ford slammed the report and lashed out at the officer of health, calling his six-figure salary “an embarrassment.”

But with growing concern about pedestrian deaths, there are signs the political climate is changing.

Stephen Holyday, an Etobicoke councillor seen by many as staunchly pro-car, doesn’t dismiss the idea of lower default speeds out of hand.

“I think having a discussion about 40 km/h is a productive discussion,” he said. But he voiced concerns, shared by many road safety advocates and city transportation staff, that lower limits don’t work unless accompanied by design changes and stringent enforcement. Those measures can be expensive.

“If you change the tin sign that’s hanging up, it doesn’t mean the driver is necessarily going to suddenly slow down,” Holyday said.

In July, council asked staff to look into the implications of requesting the province to lower default limits. That discussion could soon be given additional impetus by proposed legislative changes the province is floating.

City politicians don’t currently have the ability to lower default speed limits on their own because the default of 50 km/h for municipalities is set out in the provincial Highway Traffic Act.

But in early November, Premier Kathleen Wynne proposed new legislation that would give cities the power to set their own default speeds within “community safety zones.”

The potential implications of the law weren’t widely recognized at the time, but a spokesperson for the minister of transportation told the Star that because the law doesn’t define the size of the safety zone, if it were passed it would effectively grant municipalities the power to lower the default limit anywhere within their borders.

“If a council wants it to be the entire municipality, it can do that,” wrote Stephen Heckbert in an email.

A spokesperson for Mayor John Tory said he would need more information before he would consider a blanket reduction. Keerthana Kamalavasan noted that city staff are expected to report back to council in early 2017 on the road safety plan.

“The mayor is committed to making sure all those who use our roads — pedestrians, cyclists and drivers — can get where they need to go as efficiently and safely as possible,” Kamalavasan said.

David Stark will never know if lower speed limits might have prevented his wife’s death. Since she died, Stark has become an advocate for safer roads and co-founded the Friends and Families for Safe Streets group. He supports lowering the default speed limit to 40 km/h, along with better street design, tougher distracted driving laws and stricter penalties for drivers who injure or kill.

He knows that slowing down cars might not be popular, but he has a message for any skeptics.

“There’s still a mindset out there among certain drivers that the car is king and roads should be designed to make it as efficient as possible for drivers to get to where they need to go,” he said. But “when you’re talking about the lives of people and their families . . . the message should be just slow down, take your time and let’s all arrive at our destinations safely.”

With files from David Rider


Exxonâ??s Rex Tillerson said to be Trumpâ??s pick for secretary of state

Sat, 10 Dec 2016 15:03:31 EST


WASHINGTON—Rex W. Tillerson, chief executive of Exxon Mobil, whose extensive deal-making for the energy giant has plunged him into global politics from Yemen to Russia, is expected to be offered the secretary of state post this weekend, according to two people close to president-elect Donald Trump’s transition team.

Tillerson, 64, has spent the past 41 years at Exxon, where he began as a production engineer and went on to strike deals around the world for a company that explores, buys and sells oil and gas in some of the globe’s most troubled corners.

Those travels have engendered close ties with a number of world leaders, notably President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who has known Tillerson for more than two decades, and who awarded him the country’s Order of Friendship in 2013. The next year, Washington’s relationship with Moscow was plunged into a deep freeze with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its shadow war in eastern Ukraine, a problem that Tillerson would inherit.

Tillerson met with Trump for more than two hours at Trump Tower in New York on Saturday, and two key Trump advisers, his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have told Trump that Tillerson is in a “different league” from his other options. Among the other contenders have been Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Trump’s team has discussed the possibility of appointing as deputy secretary John R. Bolton, a highly conservative and combative veteran of the George W. Bush administration. Trump has also spoken with Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a far more centrist figure.

If confirmed by the Senate — which seems all but assured — Tillerson will deal with many of the world leaders he encountered at Exxon, but with a very different agenda. With no background in diplomacy outside the energy arena, he will have to manage a raging war in Syria that has consumed the last year of diplomatic efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry, an increasingly aggressive Russia, a rising China that is staking claims in the South China Sea, and a North Korea that is growing closer to being able to launch a nuclear-armed missile at the United States.

The kind of deal-making diplomacy that Tillerson has excelled at is very different from the kind of alliance-building required of a secretary of state, often without the incentive of profits for negotiating partners.

In the case of Russia, he would face the question of whether to lift sanctions imposed against the country by the Obama administration and European allies, measures that Trump has expressed doubts about. Those sanctions brought to a halt a major drilling project for Exxon in 2014.

He is no stranger to political upheaval, however. Exxon has operations in about 50 countries, and Tillerson has not been shy about promoting the interests of his company, whether they coincide with U.S. policy or not.

But most controversial is Exxon’s close relationship with Russia, which Tillerson has worked hard to strengthen. Exxon has various joint ventures around Russia with the state-backed oil giant Rosneft, and has contributed to social programs in education and health.

He has also signed deals to develop oilfields in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, angering an important U.S. ally, Iraq, which bars such direct dealings.

Tillerson assumed the role of chairman and chief executive of Exxon Mobil in January 2006, and during his tenure the company acknowledged, for the first time, the science underlying climate change. It has said it supports the creation of a carbon tax, which most Republicans have opposed, and it also supported the Paris climate agreement, a major focus of Kerry’s time in office. Trump has vowed to abandon the climate pact.


Soundersâ?? keeper stymies Reds to win MLS championship

Sat, 10 Dec 2016 23:13:55 EST


The rims of coach Greg Vanney’s eyes were visibly red as the Toronto FC coach faced the media in the moments following his squad’s MLS Cup loss to the Seattle Sounders, the first time the league’s biggest prize was scoreless after 120 minutes.

It was an unusual display of emotion from the obviously devastated coach, who has spent the last two seasons at the helm of the Reds developing a reputation as the most even-keeled of managers.

Vanney said he became numb after 120 minutes of open play finished deadlocked, at 0-0, and he remained that way as Toronto lost 5-4 in a penalty shootout.

“You start thinking about every play, every moment, everything you could have done a little bit different and it hurts,” Vanney said.

The Sounders failed to register a single shot on net during open play and managed only three off-target shots during regular play and extra time, both league records. But captain Michael Bradley and defender Justin Morrow couldn’t get the ball past Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei in the shootout, with Morrow’s shot bouncing back off the crossbar.

The Reds struggled to find a way through Seattle’s compact back line from the get-go, facing a back four that benefits from increased protection through two defensive midfielders.

Toronto’s most effective attacks in the first 45 minutes came through striker Jozy Altidore, who was nearly matched in size by the likes of centre backs Chad Marshall and Roman Torres but still managed to throw his weight around early on.

Defender Drew Moor also managed to put a header on net and Sebastian Giovinco had three shots blocked, but Toronto’s attack, which looked to be running on all cylinders heading into the match, couldn’t find a way to score.

The Reds’ offence fared better than the Sounders’ offence, whose first off-target shot came in the 81st minute, but it was those first half chances that the Reds will look back at as missed opportunities.

Toronto continued to look dominant in the second half but its frustration continued in front of net. A miss by a foiled Giovinco who, for a split second, found himself alone and open on the right side of the box, was the high point of the half in terms of the Reds’ offence. That move came in the 48th minute.

Changes that have benefitted Vanney’s squad during its playoff run weren’t quite so successful Saturday. Midfielders Benoit Cheyrou and Will Johnson didn’t have the impact they had in the East final, and the Reds were headed to extra time.

Like in the extra-time period against Montreal 10 days ago, the final period meant the end of Giovinco’s day. The striker spent much of his final minutes on the field stretching before Vanney pulled him in favour of Tosaint Ricketts.

“It’s not like I take him off because I want to,” Vanney said. “I look at him and he gives me the sign he can’t go anymore. When he feels like he can’t go, then he feels like he’s more of a liability to the group than anything.”

Ricketts’ insertion helped immediately. A volley off the foot of the speedy Canadian striker from just inside the box trickled a foot wide of Frei’s net. Then the substitute beat his defender in a foot race to the byline, cutting a ball back that found Altidore’s head near the penalty spot.

In a moment that left every fan in the stadium breathless, Frei got fingertips to the American’s looping header. Vanney said it was a save that won Seattle the cup.

“He was the MVP on the day, that’s for sure.”

It was a tough result to swallow, and will continue to sting in the days to come, Vanney said. But while there was disappointment in the immediate aftermath of the loss, the coach’s final words were of appreciation for a squad that has led Toronto to its most successful season in club history.

“For all of our guys, they gave everything they had to the game and that’s what I appreciate the most.”


Honeymoon for Syrian refugees over as 'Month 13â?? looms

Sat, 10 Dec 2016 06:00:00 EST


Bedrettin Al Muhamad and his wife, Mariam, have been taking English classes and making every effort to immerse themselves in Canadian culture since arriving here from Turkey in February

The Syrian refugees have ventured out to explore Toronto Island, visited Niagara Falls, joined in the fun of Halloween, and even started the ritual of coupon-clipping for good deals like other Canadians do.

But the honeymoon will soon be over, as the Mississauga couple ponders quitting their English classes and starting to look for jobs to support their five children, Hanan, 13; Hasan, 11; Azzam, 9; Mohammad, 8; and Rahaf, 6.

“We are scared we are not going to find jobs. It’s a cause of stress. How are we going to pay for our ($1,735) rent when money stops coming in?” asked Al Muhamad, 37, whose family’s monthly government refugee resettlement assistance ends on Feb. 12.

“But we feel Canada has already given us enough. We don’t want to take more handouts. We are ready to go to work.”

For many of the 35,000 Syrians who have arrived in the country — 15,000 in Ontario — since Canada started bringing in planeloads of newcomers last Dec. 9, what is commonly known in the refugee resettlement circle as “Month 13” is looming.

After a year of being warmly welcomed into local communities across the country, the 12-month financial commitment to these refugees by Ottawa and private sponsorship groups will start to come to an end.

Many of the adult Syrian newcomers will be faced with the reality of choosing between quitting English classes, working or living off provincial welfare — an income that is less than the meagre resettled refugee assistance they currently receive from the federal government.

Officials estimated half of the privately sponsored refugees and 10 per cent of those supported by the government would have employment income in their first year.

Immigration Minister John McCallum said successful integration and self-sufficiency for refugees does not happen over night.

“That is not a job that ends in one year. One thing we always must be aware of is, with refugees, they come from horrendously difficult situations. You have to give them time. You have to be patient. Over time, past waves of refugees have settled successfully and done well in Canada. I’m confident the Syrians will as well,” McCallum told the Star.

“Provinces understand that after the first 12 months, the federal income support ends. Those who are not supporting themselves would go on social assistance. This will happen and this has always happened. That transition is going to go smoothly. This is not going to be a surprise.”

Ontario Immigration Minister Laura Albanese has invested an additional $10.5 million in the province’s $100 million annual budget for immigrant settlement services such as skills training and English classes for refugees.

“We know that some of the Syrian newcomers will need extra help with social assistance, maybe Ontario Works and ODSP, once the federal support runs out,” she told the Star. “We are working closely with the federal and municipal governments to make sure the transition is streamlined.”

The province has already introduced information sheets and an introductory video in Arabic to inform and assist Syrian newcomers on how to access those supports, said Albanese, adding the information is included in letters sent to government-assisted refugees by Ottawa toward the end of its one-year financial commitment.

Experts say the newcomers should not see a big difference in their income as they will still receive child tax benefits — which vary based on other incomes, number of kids and their ages. (Adult single refugees supported by the government receive $822 a month. Their income will fall to $706 on Ontario Works.)

“Month 13 is a concern in terms of folks losing the social support they have had in the first year and falling through the cracks because of the expectation that our obligation to these families is over. The labour market entry is also a continued concern,” said Debbie Douglas of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.

“People need to know integration is not a one-year process. It’s a lifelong process. We need to ensure the kind of support the newcomers need to have a successful new life in Canada.”

While the highly skilled Syrians — most of them resettled under private sponsorships — may encounter problems in professional licensing and employers’ demands for Canadian work experience, those with lower education may have difficulty finding manufacturing and service jobs.

The transition would be tougher for the government-assisted refugees than for those supported through private sponsorship groups because families supported by Ottawa are generally much larger in size (53 per cent with three to six kids), with lower education and skills, and speak little English.

“My worry is the public has unrealistic expectations of how quickly these newcomers can find jobs and become independent,” said Mario Calla, executive director of COSTI, which settles government-assisted refugees in Toronto.

Brian Dyck, chair of the Council of the Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association, said many private groups have already started to prepare their sponsored families for the transition.

“With proper planning and discussion, a lot of problems will be avoided or at least managed,” said Dyck. “I think one worry is that a lot of people will be making that month 13 transition at the same time, so the provincial systems will need to be ready for that and gear up for it.”

Bringing in and settling a Syrian family is just the beginning. Moving forward, said Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees, Canada must also take into consideration reuniting the newcomers with the families they left behind when they fled their war-torn country.

But Canada’s annual immigration targets are being reduced next year, with Ottawa set to admit 40,000 refugees in 2017, down from 55,800 this year.

“Groups that have come here are most worried about their parents, brothers and sisters. They feel they are personally responsible for them,” said Dench.

“But there are no good solutions for them right now. The opportunity for more privately-sponsored refugees will be very limited. It will take years for them to be reunited. There are also family members still in Syria and there is no provision to allow them to come to Canada directly.”

Although the uptake of private sponsorship has slowed down since March, Lesley Brown of Toronto’s Lifeline Syria said the Syrian resettlement project will leave a legacy just like Canada’s resettlement of 60,000 Indochinese refugees from Vietnam in the late 1970s.

“This has been a life-changing, meaningful experience for many Canadians. It will be passed on through generations,” said Brown.


Quebec ex-cop charged with rape was residential school survivor

Sat, 10 Dec 2016 17:09:01 EST


MONTREAL—A former police officer charged with rape after a massive investigation into abuse of indigenous women by law enforcement officials in Quebec is a residential-school survivor who says he was sexually assaulted by a priest, the Star has learned.

Jean-Luc Vollant, a 65-year-old Innu man, is a former officer with a native police force who was charged last month after a probe of nearly 40 allegations from indigenous people who say they had been mistreated by police.

Vollant was among more than 30 current and former officers in Quebec who were the subject of the allegations. He was one of just two people to be charged with a criminal offence.

He faces three charges of rape, indecent assault on a female and sexual assault ― stemming from incidents that allegedly occurred between 1980 and 1986 in Schefferville, Que., a remote town near the border with Labrador that is home to a small, predominately Innu population.

Vollant has not yet appeared before a judge or entered a plea in the case that dates back more than 35 years. An initial court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 19, 2017 in Sept-Îles, Que.

“Maybe we can talk about it later, but not right now,” Vollant said when contacted by the Star this week at his home in the Innu community of Uashat-Maliotenam.

Though the details of the specific incident that led to the charges have not been revealed, the case against Vollant appears to have a level of complexity that has so far escaped the fierce political debate in the province over police relations with indigenous people.

A neutral observer who observed and reported on the police investigations submitted a report that suggested the root of the problem in the cases was systemic racism against First Nations people in Quebec.

Native leaders and political opposition parties say this issue can be addressed only through a judicial inquiry into police conduct — a demand that the Quebec government has so far rejected.

But without knowing the facts, experts say that Vollant’s case may raise questions about intergenerational trauma — a concept that suggests historical oppression and abusive or destructive behaviour is transmitted from one generation to the next.

On Jan. 23, 2013, the married father of five spoke at a public hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Sept-Îles. The commission, which completed its work last year, examined the traumas suffered by indigenous children, their families and to First Nations communities by the residential school system.

Its final report found that forcing indigenous children to attend the schools was a key element in a policy designed to assimilate aboriginals, which the commissioners labelled an act of “cultural genocide.”

On the day of his testimony, a tearful Vollant told the hearing that he had memories of being inappropriately touched by a priest when he was about 10 years old.

“One night, I was woken up and taken by a priest. He took me in his room ... Right away he pulled me toward him so that he could hold me in his arms,” Vollant testified, speaking in his native Innu-aimun language.

He said the specifics of the abuse that he suffered were locked away in his subconscious for most of his life, but that he began to wet the bed from the time of that incident until he was a teenager. He said he has also suffered through his life from paralyzing fear and anxiety.

The blockage in his memory cleared suddenly, several years ago, when Vollant was forced to undergo a colonoscopy, he testified.

“That’s when it came back to me . . . as if I was in a dream . . . . That’s when I saw the priest hurting me, putting it inside of me,” he said, without providing further explanation.

Vollant told the commission that even when he worked as a police officer for about a decade, he lived in fear.

“Every time the telephone rang . . . I was very anxious. I’m scared. I ask myself what is happening, is there a murder? What’s happening there? Is there a fight?” he said. “The word fear was always in my head. Always, always, always, always. Always in my life.”

In 2012, he was hired by a community agency that works on native fishery and environmental conservation issues. He was employed to co-ordinate training programs that are available to members of seven Innu communities in the region, according to an annual report.

The charges against Vollant are the most recent blow to the community of Uashat-Maliotenam, adjacent to Sept-Îles, and home to nearly 3,500 people along the rugged north coast of the St. Lawrence River.

In June, Chief Mike McKenzie, the elected head of the community, temporarily stepped down from his post after he was charged with sexual assault for alleged incidents involving a child under the age of 14 between 2000 and 2001. The case has not yet been tried in court and McKenzie returned to work in August after a two-month absence.

There was also a provincial coroner’s inquest in the community last summer into the death of five people from the community who died by suicide in 2015.

Three of those people were women who claimed that they had been sexually assaulted, leading friends and family to wonder whether these traumas might have played a role in their decision to end their lives, the inquest heard.

Vollant was not involved in any of the cases. But he was in the audience at the inquest, according to photographs posted to Twitter. News reports of the inquest said Vollant’s wife testified that she had provided assistance to a woman who had been assaulted. The victim later killed herself.

When the Star sought an interview with McKenzie about the charges against Vollant, a spokesperson declined on his behalf, saying: “We are in a process of healing within the community that is very heavy.”

In his testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Vollant said he considered himself a “survivor” of the residential school system, but had seen in his own life how behaviours he experienced at the residential school had been passed down to his children.

He said that as a father he had the habit of yelling at his children in an aggressive manner, bringing his face close to theirs. Vollant said that was what he was exposed to at the residential school and now he saw his children doing the same to their kids.

Normand D’Aragon, a Montreal psychologist who works closely with indigenous communities, explained that intergenerational trauma can result in victims perpetrating damaging behaviour to which they have been subjected.

It’s a term psychologists refer to as trauma re-enactment, in which victims will repeat the act as a way of subconsciously resolving their distress.

“Repeating the trauma can be the only way to deal with it or get rid of it,” D’Aragon said.


Support for federal Liberals plummets, new poll shows

Sat, 10 Dec 2016 06:00:00 EST


OTTAWA—After soaring in public approval for more than a year, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals tumbled last month in a new poll that reflects a prime minister and key ministers struggling to balance ambitious electoral promises and the hard realities of governing.

A new Forum Research poll conducted at the beginning of the week shows the Liberals dropped from 51 per cent a month ago to 42 per cent nationally.

Much of the erosion for the federal Liberals appears to have come in B.C. and Ontario, where the Liberals and the Conservatives find themselves nearly tied for support.

In the past month, the Conservatives’ national approval rating under interim leader Rona Ambrose ticked up to 34 per cent from 28. That narrows a recent gap between the Liberals and the Conservatives — who do not yet have a permanent replacement for Stephen Harper — from 23 percentage points to just eight points.

There was no significant change for the New Democratic Party, which stands stalled at 12 per cent, nor for the Greens at 6 or the Bloc Québécois at 5 per cent.

The Liberals would still win a smaller but comfortable 10-seat majority government with those numbers. And regardless of party preference, when those surveyed were asked how good a job they think the three main party leaders are doing, Justin Trudeau has the approval of 51 per cent. More than a year in, he enjoys sky-high approval among Liberal voters and nearly half of NDP voters approve of the job he’s doing as prime minister.

But it is nevertheless a fall to earth politically after a 13-month post-election honeymoon high that had seen partisans of all stripes enthusiastically embrace the young prime minister and his gender-balanced government.

“I think the Trudeaumania, whatever you want to call it, last year that pulled some Tory supporters onto the Liberal bandwagon, that’s probably done now,” said Forum president Lorne Bozinoff.

The poll comes as Trudeau and his ministers have endured a barrage inside and outside the Commons over tone and substance on a range of questions including its approval of two major oil pipelines and how it would handle protests, its dismissal of a parliamentary report urging electoral reform, and its response to the death of former Cuban president Fidel Castro.

The poll, conducted Tuesday and Wednesday, plumbed public reaction to those issues:

  • On pipelines:

The poll found 47 per cent agreed with Trudeau’s approvals of an expanded Trans Mountain Edmonton-Burnaby, B.C. pipeline, and of an Alberta-to-Wisconsin pipeline extension known as Line 3, as well as Trudeau’s rejection of the Northern Gateway Alberta-to-northern B.C. coast pipeline project. Another 20 per cent of those surveyed said they didn’t know whether they agreed or disagreed with the decisions, while 33 per cent opposed.

  • On electoral reform:

The poll found strong support for a referendum and for a change from the current “first-past-the-post” voting system.

The survey shows 64 per cent support the idea of a referendum before changes are made to the way we elect MPs. Opposition to a referendum was just 23 per cent and 14 per cent said they didn’t know. Even a majority of Liberal supporters — 55 per cent — supported a referendum.

  • On Trudeau’s statement about Fidel Castro:
  • Most Canadians appear untroubled by Trudeau’s somewhat controversial statement on the death of the former Cuban leader days after the prime minister visited Cuba.

    The poll found 41 per cent approved, and 21 per cent said they did not know, while 38 per cent disapproved.

    Predictably, the highest opposition was among Conservative supporters — 69 per cent disapproved. Most Liberals (59 per cent) and nearly half NDP supporters (46 per cent) approved Trudeau’s reaction.

    Trudeau was blasted on social media by Conservatives and some Liberal supporters after expressing “deep sorrow” at the death of Cuba’s “larger-than-life” though “controversial” former president.

    Castro, a Communist leader who executed some opponents, jailed critics, and cracked down on homosexuals and press freedom, died Nov. 25 eight years after handing over power to his brother, Raul Castro.

    Trudeau’s reaction prompted Florida Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, of Cuban descent, to call the statement “shameful and embarrassing.”

    Yet when asked a second question — if they felt “embarrassed” — 52 per cent surveyed said no. That indifference was even stronger among older Canadians who might be more familiar with Castro’s abysmal human rights record.

    Only 29 per cent expressed embarrassment while 18 per cent said they didn’t know, and unsurprisingly, there were more Conservatives who were embarrassed than among the other parties’ supporters.

    Bozinoff said neither of the latter issues, electoral reform (“it’s an inside beltway thing”) or the Castro statement, are big drivers of public opinion. Yet he said there was a sense the government had “fumbled” its responses.

    The more cleaving question is the pipeline debate in B.C., where the population is deeply divided and the issue is a “no-win” for the federal government, he said. And in Ontario, he suggested, the drop in federal support may be tied to the “severe unpopularity” of the provincial Liberal government under Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is mired at 13 per cent in public opinion.

    In Ottawa, some Liberals privately concede the federal Liberal government has hit a rough patch and is struggling to clearly articulate its messages in Parliament. But a government official refused to comment on a poll, pointing to another “metric” — the number of enthusiastic people who continue to turn out in droves to see or hear the prime minister speak.

    Senior Conservatives, on the other hand, concede that Trudeau is still a strong draw and potent symbol for the Liberal government, but as one said: “One thing he does not do well is Parliament. That’s why it’s an advantage for us the longer we sit.”

    The firm surveyed 1,304 randomly selected Canadians by telephone using an interactive voice response poll. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage point, 19 times out of 20.

    Where appropriate, results of the survey have been statistically weighted by age, region, and other variables to ensure the sample reflects the actual population according to the latest census data.

    Forum houses its complete results in the data library of the University of Toronto’s political science department.


    25 dead after bomb explodes at Coptic Christian cathedral in Cairo

    Sun, 11 Dec 2016 08:03:34 EST


    CAIRO—A bombing at a chapel adjacent to Egypt’s main Coptic Christian cathedral killed 25 people and wounded another 49 during Sunday mass, in one of the deadliest attacks carried out against the religious minority in recent memory.

    The attack came two days after a bomb elsewhere in Cairo killed six policemen, an assault claimed by a shadowy group that authorities say is linked to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Islamic militants have targeted Christians in the past, including a New Year’s Day bombing at a church in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria in 2011 that killed at least 21 people.

    Egypt’s official MENA news agency said an assailant lobbed a bomb into a chapel close to the outer wall of St Mark’s Cathedral, seat of Egypt’s Orthodox Christian church and home to the office of its spiritual leader, Pope Tawadros II, who is currently visiting Greece.

    Egyptian state TV and the Health Ministry gave the casualty toll.

    Witnesses said the explosion may have been caused by an explosive device planted inside the chapel. Conflicting accounts are common in the immediate aftermath of attacks.

    The blast took place as a Sunday mass being held in the chapel was about to end and coincided with a national holiday in Egypt marking the birth of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Most of the victims are thought to be women and children.

    State television aired calls by several Cairo hospitals treating the wounded for blood donations and President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi declared a three-day state of mourning.

    “The pain felt by Egyptians now will not go to waste, but will result in an uncompromising decisiveness to hunt down and bring to trial whoever helped through inciting, facilitating, participating or executing this heinous crime,” a presidential statement quoted the Egyptian leader as saying.

    An Associated Press reporter who arrived at the scene shortly after the blast saw bloodstained pews and shards of glass scattered across the chapel’s floor. Men and women wailed and cried outside. AP photos showed a broken pair of ladies’ spectacles on the ground next to a girl’s boots with leopard spots and a pink ribbon.

    “I found bodies, many of them women, lying on the pews. It was a horrible scene,” said cathedral worker Attiya Mahrous, who rushed to the chapel after he heard the blast. His clothes and hands were stained with blood and his hair matted with dust.

    “I saw a headless woman being carried away,” Mariam Shenouda said as she pounded her chest in grief. “Everyone was in a state of shock. We were scooping up people’s flesh off the floor,” she said.

    “There were children. What have they done to deserve this? I wish I had died with them instead of seeing these scenes,” she added.

    There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s attack, which has drawn a flurry of condemnations by government and religious leaders as well as assertions of unity between Egypt’s Muslim majority and Christians, who account for about 10 per cent of the country’s 92 million people.

    An angry crowd of several hundred people gathered outside the cathedral, chanting anti-government slogans and calling for the sacking of the interior minister, who is in charge of security. Scuffles broke out with the police when the protesters tried to push through their barricades, but there were no immediate reports of arrests. Police in full riot gear later arrived at the scene.

    Egypt has seen a wave of attacks by Islamic militants since the military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi, a freely elected leader who hailed from the Brotherhood, in 2013. Many of Morsi’s supporters blamed Christians for supporting the overthrow, and scores of churches and other Christian-owned properties in southern Egypt were ransacked that year.

    The authorities have since 2013 waged a sweeping crackdown, jailing thousands of mostly Islamist dissidents and killing hundreds in clashes sparked by demonstrations.

    Egypt’s Christians have long complained of discrimination in Egypt, contending they are denied top jobs in a wide range of fields, including academia and security apparatuses. Many Christians were relieved when Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood were ousted in 2013 after just one year in power.

    The church and many Christians have since rallied behind el-Sissi, although there have been growing voices of dissent within the community, arguing that little has changed in their lives under his rule, with their churches and property frequently attacked or torched by mobs of villagers led by militants in provinces south of Cairo.


    Panama Papers revelations have already delivered results

    Sun, 11 Dec 2016 06:00:00 EST


    International heads of state named on the rolls of clandestine companies in tax havens.

    Canada’s big banks facilitating tax avoidance through thousands of offshore enterprises.

    Strawmen fronting businesses to mask the identities of the real owners.

    After a year-long investigation into 11.5 million leaked tax haven documents, the Panama Papers were finally made public last April — and they landed like a bomb.

    Laying bare the secretive world of offshore finance, reports detailed the secretive flow of billions of dollars in a parallel offshore economy.

    It was the biggest journalistic collaboration in history. Worldwide, more than 4,700 articles have been published on the contents of the leak, documenting revelations that have claimed the careers of heads of state, triggered at least 150 inquiries and audits in 79 countries and prompted criminal investigations into more than 6,500 companies and individuals.

    The leak of documents from the law firm Mossack Fonseca — obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists through German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with more than 100 media partners, including the Toronto Star and the CBC — are still reverberating in Canadian halls of power.

    The Star has published more than 50 original reports in the past eight months, exposing tax evasion and avoidance, lax government enforcement, secret commissions, schemes and UN embargo violations.

    More than ever before, these articles pulled the curtain back on how an estimated $100 billion in undeclared money has been siphoned from Canada into offshore tax havens.

    Since the first investigations were published, the federal government has invested almost $500 million in the Canada Revenue Agency aimed at tougher tax enforcement, launched investigations into 85 Canadians identified in the Panama Papers and compelled banks to divulge their offshore tax haven client lists.

    “The Panama Papers were a revelation to many people, revealing how widespread the use of bank secrecy and tax secrecy jurisdictions are and how they obfuscate money flows,” said Peter Dent, former president of Transparency International Canada. “It adds evidence to the case that these tax havens are not inert. They are the bedrock for people to move illicit funds and the proceeds of crimes around and allow them to use them for their personal enjoyment.”

    Beyond raising awareness, the Panama Papers have also sparked anger at the two-tiered tax system that allows the wealthy to opt out of paying tax.

    “The Panama Papers, and the journalistic efforts here as well, have caused public outcry and regulators to take action,” said Richard Leblanc, a corporate governance expert and professor at York and Harvard Universities. “Regulators are strengthening disclosure and transparency of true (actual human) ownership.”

    The reports have also shone a light on the role of intermediaries — the lawyers, accountants and financial institutions — who provide access to the offshore system.

    “These firms and professionals are now doing thorough background checks on prospective clients, and internally, are exceedingly careful of reputational and other types of risk that accompany highly aggressive tax advice,” he said.

    Here’s a sampling of the Canadian revelations so far:


    Canadian faces in the data: Wealthy Canadians emerged from the millions of names contained in the leak revealing new insights into the offshore money industry.

    British-Canadian billionaire Victor Dahdaleh, publicly honoured by three Canadian universities for generous contributions, was identified for the first time as the mysterious middleman in what U.S. authorities called a “corruption scheme” that triggered one of the largest-ever financial penalties issued by U.S. authorities. The Panama Papers confirmed Dahdaleh was the man behind a British Virgin Islands company that allowed him to “enrich” himself with $400 million (U.S.) in mark-ups, the U.S. Department of Justice found, while paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes to Bahraini officials.

    Dahdaleh, through a spokesperson, said he has not been involved in any wrongdoing nor convicted of any offence “in any court in the world.”

    Vancouver businessman David Ho, appeared in the database thanks to a company he registered in the tax haven of Seychelles in 2011 while facing criminal charges of unlawful confinement, cocaine possession and illegally possessing a loaded Glock 9-mm handgun. Ho faced little resistance to his incorporation from Mossack Fonseca despite his legal challenges, revealing how easy it is to access the offshore world.

    Ho’s lawyer told the Star “there was no relationship or connection between the offences with which Mr. Ho was charged and the possible misuse of an offshore company.”

    Canadian lawyer Hélène Mathieu appeared throughout the Panama Papers as Mossack Fonseca’s Dubai agent, registering nearly 900 shell companies, including some that were targeted with sanctions for supplying fuel to the Syrian government, which U.S. authorities believe was used to attack Syrian citizens. Despite internal inspections by Mossack Fonseca that found “serious failings were evident in procedures or controls” and “urgent remedial action is required,” she continued to register companies with the firm until the Toronto Star/CBC stories were published. After briefly shutting down her website, it is now back online.

    “We regret any misuse of companies that we incorporate or the services we provide and take steps wherever possible to uncover and stop such use,” Mathieu’s firm told the Star in a statement.


    Banks:

    The Panama Papers revelations have sent banks and other financial institutions scrambling to determine their risks in suspicious offshore activity.

    According to a global survey conducted by accounting firm KPMG, more than 80 per cent of financial firms have conducted internal reviews of their exposure to Mossack Fonseca and entities identified in the Panama Papers. Half of those firms surveyed said they had been contacted by authorities and more than one-quarter of respondents said they had reported a suspicious transaction to authorities.

    The Panama Papers have also inspired a renewed spirit of vigorous tax oversight by the Canadian government. Only days after the first stories broke in early April, the revenue minister announced a $444-million investment in Canada Revenue Agency’s enforcement ranks and has targeted the gateway into the offshore industry: Canada’s banks.

    In May, the federal government sought a court order to compel the Royal Bank of Canada to reveal the identities of clients with “relationships or connections” to Mossack Fonseca. The Royal Bank did not oppose the request.

    In July, a Federal Court judge ordered RBC and Citibank to disclose their dealings with a major bank in the Cayman Islands.

    In September, a new leak of Bahamian corporate registry documents showed three of Canada’s big banks — CIBC, Royal Bank and Scotiabank — registered nearly 2,000 offshore companies and private foundations in the Caribbean tax haven.


    Corporations:

    The Panama Papers also revealed details in SNC-Lavalin’s saga of secret payments for overseas business. The Canadian engineering giant, which has been charged with bribing a foreign public official and fraud for its business practices in Libya in the 2000s, also signed contracts for more than $21 million with an anonymously owned company in the BVI to gain access to Algerian markets during the same period, documents in the data showed.

    Vancouver businessman Fred Sharp and his Belize-based Bond & Company helped create 1,167 companies and foundations, consulting with Mossack Fonseca officials about ways of structuring companies “so that no taxable income accrues,” according to internal MF documents. Among Sharp’s colleagues was convicted fraudster Michael Ritter, who registered 60 companies through his former firm — Newport Pacific Financial — in tax havens such as Niue, the British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas.

    It is “no secret that my firm created hundreds of offshore corporations through Mossack Fonseca,” Ritter said.

    “Tax planning is a global reality that results from international competition and inefficient governmental regulation,” Sharp told the Star. “It promotes efficiency and is legal.”


    Global fallout:

    Transparency International has found that the rate of incorporations in the British Virgin Islands has dropped by 30 per cent since the Panama Papers were first published.

    Internationally, nine Mossack Fonseca offices have shuttered — in the British dependencies of Jersey, Isle of Man and Gibraltar, as well as Peru, Sao Paolo in Brazil, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Lugano, Switzerland, and Nevada — since the revelations were published, and the law firm has been fined close to $500,000.

    After the database was published online, an ICIJ analysis estimated $135 billion had been wiped off the value of nearly 400 companies associated with the Panama Papers.

    Many of the more than 6,500 tax evasion and fraud investigations initiated after the Panama Papers leak continue. To date, they have recouped at least $110 million in unpaid taxes and asset seizures.


    Family seeks funds for uncleâ??s funeral in Ethiopia after apparent GO train suicide

    Sat, 10 Dec 2016 13:54:41 EST


    Hewan Wondiyfraw describes her late uncle, Henok Belete, as a kind, quiet man who was very close to God.

    When the police came to her door around midnight on Dec. 1 to notify her family of his death, she says her mother was so shocked she couldn’t even cry.

    Belete, 37, had a history of depression and schizophrenia, Wondiyfraw said, and he died after being hit by a GO train at Guildwood Station.

    The family says it was a suicide — one that has taken them by surprise.

    “I had just seen him for Thanksgiving,” said Wondiyfraw, “he seemed totally fine.”

    As per Ethiopian tradition, the family would like to bury him in his home country, close to his immediate family. Since the death was so sudden, they are having trouble raising enough money for the funeral, and have started a GoFundMe campaign.

    In Ethiopian culture, it’s important that the deceased’s community and distant relatives be involved in the bereavement rituals. Unfortunately, this makes funerals extremely expensive for families abroad because of the cost of flying the body there and flights for relatives.

    The family wants to bring Belete to Ethiopia in early January, and hopes to raise $15,000 before then.

    Belete moved to Canada from Ethiopia in 2005. Back home, he was a happy bank teller, said Wondiyfraw, but began to show symptoms of mental illness after he immigrated.

    “When he moved to Canada, he encountered a new world,” says Wondiyfraw.

    Belete found work in a factory, but it is unknown whether he was still employed at the time of his death. He was unmarried and had no children, and Wondiyfraw’s family were his closest relations in Canada.

    He had been to therapy a few times, and had been prescribed medication, but didn’t like to take it, Wondiyfraw said.

    Despite the family tragedy, Wondiyfraw is glad that the TTC and Metrolinx have recently started acknowledging that suicides occur on their tracks.

    She says that while people regularly hear about an injury at track level, or that someone has been struck by a train, they aren’t as affected because the technical language dehumanizes the situation.

    “You can tell they’re (the commuters) are annoyed. They’re worried about their commute. They don’t understand that a life is gone.”

    Wondiyfraw thinks that being honest about death on the tracks will make people more sympathetic toward the victims and help destigmatize mental illness and suicide.


    Kettled G20 protesters granted leave to appeal senior officerâ??s penalty

    Sat, 10 Dec 2016 15:55:11 EST


    The hundreds of G20 protesters who were corralled, detained and arrested by Toronto police on the orders of Supt. Mark Fenton have been granted leave to appeal Fenton’s penalty, claiming it is far too lenient.

    Fenton was found guilty of three charges under the Police Services Act for his decision to “kettle” and mass arrest demonstrators outside the Novotel hotel on the Esplanade and at Queen St. W. and Spadina Ave on the notorious June 2010 weekend.

    He was sentenced in June to a formal reprimand and docked him 30 days of vacation.

    In rulings released this month the Ontario Civilian Police Commission allowed protesters from both the Novotel incident and the Queen and Spadina incident to appeal the penalty imposed by retired Judge John Hamilton.

    It was “grossly disproportionate having regard to the serious scale and nature of the respondent officer’s deliberate violation of the Charter rights of the complainants and hundreds of other persons, their unlawful arrest and detention and his lack of insight into his wrongdoing,” the Novotel complainants argued, according to the commission’s decision.

    They say Fenton should be demoted for a year and retrained, the Queen and Spadina complainants say he should be fired.

    Fenton, the only senior officer who faced disciplinary charges for his conduct during the G20 weekend and one of the few officers to face any consequences, argued that the penalty he received was fair given that he “was placed in command under immense pressure in very extreme unprecedented conditions with public order breaking down and severe violent acts occurring in downtown Toronto.”

    Fenton is appealing his convictions on two counts of unlawful arrest and one count of discreditable conduct.