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Did the IMF cause a famine?

Did the IMF cause a famine? Malawi faces starvation—after, it seems, heeding Western advice on managing food stocks - Features - InternatioDid the IMF cause a famine? Malawi faces starvation—after, it seems, heeding Western advice on managing food stocks - Features - International Monetary FundAs the world food summit ended in Rome this month in a drizzle

The land of plenty runs dry:

The land of plenty runs dry: Argentina was once so prosperous that poor Europeans emigrated there. Now, children starve and thousands scavenge for foodSitting on a bench outside her rough wooden shack, Mercedes Medina looks down at her five grandchildren playing at her feet, and sighs.

Vote for the devil you know:

Vote for the devil you know: Serbs, now trying to elect a new president, still can't shake off Milosevic. For many of them, catching up with western Europe involves higher food and fuel prices, as well as lost jobsSlobodan Milosevic, in his Hague cell, must be grimly satisfied as he ponders the fallout from the scuppered elections for a Serbian president.

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What we know about the victims of the London attack

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:31:00 EDT


Constable Keith Palmer was unarmed and at his normal post outside Parliament. Like many of his fellow officers in the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Squad, he had become a friendly face to the politicians, journalists and tourists at Westminster.

On Wednesday, the 48-year-old father lay mortally wounded from a stab wound as rescuers tried desperately to save his life. His attacker left at least two other people dead and more than two dozen injured before being killed outside Parliament.

A wide variety of British politicians paid tribute to Palmer, a 15-year veteran of the police force. Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, said Palmer died while “protecting our city and our democracy from those who want to destroy our way of life.”

James Cleverly, a Conservative member of Parliament for Braintree, said on Twitter that he had known Palmer for 25 years, as they had served in the British army together. “We served together in the Royal Artillery before he became a copper,” Cleverly wrote. “A lovely man, a friend. I’m heartbroken.”

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Another MP, Tobias Ellwood, had tried to save Palmer as he lay on the ground after the attack. Ellwood, who had served as a captain in the Royal Green Jackets from 1991 to 1996 and previously lost his brother in a terrorist attack, gave a mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and applied pressure to the wounds to stem the blood flow. Speaking to the Sun after the attack, Ellwood said the death of Palmer was “very sad.”

Colleagues of Palmer’s have described him as a warm man. A woman who said she was a former police officer phoned London’s LBC Radio to say that Palmer had once saved her from a car accident, adding that she “owed him everything.”

“He was a wonderful dad and a wonderful husband to his wife,” said the caller, who gave her name only as Nina. “He was fun, he was a laugh, he cared. I know everyone, when someone passes, why do they always say he was such a lovely person, but he actually really was.”

Two other victims were killed in the attack.

The U.S. State Department initially declined to comment on reports that Americans had been involved in the incident. However, it was later confirmed that a couple from Utah, Kurt Cochran and his wife, Melissa, had been on Westminster Bridge in London when the attack occurred.

In a Facebook post, Melissa’s sister said that Kurt Cochran had died of his injuries, while Melissa had several broken bones. “While we are glad she survived, our hearts are broken and will never be the same after losing our dear uncle, brother-in-law, father,” Melissa’s sister wrote. “Kurt, you are a HERO, and we will never forget you.”

In a statement released through the Mormon Church, the Cochran family said that the couple had been in London celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary and had been scheduled to return to the United States on Thursday.

“We express our gratitude to the emergency and medical personnel who have cared for them and ask for your prayers on behalf of Melissa and our family,” the statement said. “Kurt will be greatly missed, and we ask for privacy as our family mourns and as Melissa recovers from her injuries.”

The other victim, Aysha Frade, a 43-year-old mother of two, was reportedly walking on Westminster Bridge on her way to pick up her children when she was hit by the attacker’s Hyundai 4x4.

The Spanish newspaper La Voz de Galicia reported that Frade, a Londoner of Spanish heritage, worked at DLD College London, where she taught Spanish. DLD College released a statement confirming that Frade died in the attack. “All our thoughts and our deepest sympathies are with her family,” Principal Rachel Borland said. “We will be offering every support we can to them as they try to come to terms with their devastating loss.”

Twenty-nine other people were reportedly injured in the attack, seven listed as critically injured, according to British police. Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, Prime Minister Theresa May said 12 Britons had been injured. Three police officers had been injured, two seriously. May noted that they had been returning from an event commending their bravery.

Westminster, the site of Parliament and the iconic Big Ben clock tower, is one of London’s most popular spots with tourists, and many victims appeared to be visitors to London. May said Thursday that the victims included three French citizens, two Romanians, four South Koreans, one German, one Pole, one Irish, one Chinese, one Italian, one American and two Greeks.

French officials have said that three schoolchildren were injured in the attack as they crossed Westminster Bridge. French newspaper Le Télégramme reported that the children were visiting from the Lycée Saint-Joseph in Brittany, France. Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve tweeted that the students and their family and friends had the “full support” of the French state.

The Romanian Foreign Ministry confirmed that two Romanian citizens had been injured in the attack. Dan Mihalache, Romania’s ambassador to Britain, told Romanian media that a female victim had been knocked into the River Thames from Westminster Bridge and was later recovered by rescuers and taken to a hospital, where she is in critical condition. A Romanian man also injured had a broken leg, Mihalache said.

South Korea announced that five of its citizens were wounded in the attack and the country’s Foreign Ministry is moving to offer them support. The citizens, all in their 50s and 60s, had been injured during a stampede after the attack, the Foreign Ministry said.

Australian media reported that a German citizen who lives in Australia had also been injured by the car on Westminster Bridge. A statement from the Chinese Embassy released on Thursday said that a Chinese citizen had been wounded in the attack but did not offer more detail.


Exiled Russian politician shot dead in Ukraine

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 07:12:00 EDT


KYIV, UKRAINE—A former Russian lawmaker who became a vociferous critic of Moscow following his recent move to Ukraine was shot and killed in Kyiv Thursday, prompting another war of words between the two countries.

Denis Voronenkov, who testified to Ukrainian investigators and criticized Russian policies after his move to Kyiv last fall, was shot dead by an unidentified gunman near the entrance of an upscale hotel in the Ukrainian capital.

During the attack, Voronenkov’s bodyguard, who fired back, was wounded. Both were hospitalized but Ukrainian officials said the gunman, who they claimed was a Ukrainian citizen, later died from wounds in his chest and head.

Footage following the exchange of gunfire showed the three men lying on the sidewalk. Voronenkov’s bodyguard, a Ukrainian security services officer, was seen rolling on the ground and then being helped to an ambulance by paramedics.

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The killing prompted an angry exchange between the two countries whose relations have soured badly in recent years following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine and the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Voronenkov’s killing was an “act of state terrorism” that “clearly shows the handwriting of Russian special services shown repeatedly in various European capitals in the past.”

In a statement released by his spokesman, Svyatoslav Tsegolko, Poroshenko described the victim as a key witness who gave testimony about “Russian aggression” to the Ukrainian authorities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, dismissed the claim as “absurd” in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova went further, saying the “killer regime” in Kyiv “will do its best to make sure that no one will ever know the truth about what happened.”

Several hours after Voronenkov was killed, a team of investigators and police were seen working at the front door of the Premier Palace hotel, which is frequented by Kyiv’s rich and powerful. The patch of the pavement by the door where he died was wet from water utility workers had used to wash away bloodstains.

Ukraine’s chief prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, said Voronenkov was killed shortly before a meeting with another fugitive Russian lawmaker, Ilya Ponomaryov. Both men were scheduled to give testimony later in the day at Ukraine’s Military Prosecutor’s Office. The purpose of the testimony was not immediately clear.

Poroshenko said it wasn’t accidental that Voronenkov’s killing came on the same day as a fire that erupted at a Ukrainian military arsenal in the Kharkiv region, which Ukrainian officials say was caused by sabotage.

Voronenkov, 45, a former member of the communist faction in the lower house of Russian parliament who had obediently toed the Kremlin line, moved to Ukraine with his wife, singer and fellow lawmaker Maria Maksakova.

Voronenkov, who had reportedly told journalists he feared for his life and was said to be under the protection of the Ukrainian security services, claimed he had to leave Russia because of persecution by Russian security agencies. He had been granted Ukrainian citizenship after renouncing his Russian status.

He has testified to Ukrainian investigators as part of their probe into the activities of the nation’s former Russia-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted by popular protests in February 2014.

After his move to Ukraine, Russian investigators filed fraud charges against Voronenkov in connection with his business activities. A Moscow court earlier this month sanctioned his arrest in absentia.

Prosecutor Lutsenko said investigators were looking into Voronenkov’s role in exposing a contraband ring in Russia which cost several senior security officers their jobs, and his testimony on Yanukovych, as possible motives for his killing.

Volodymyr Fesenko, a political analyst in Kyiv, said Voronenkov’s testimony was important to Ukraine because of his level of access in Russia. “He was a member of the parliamentary committee on national security,” said Fesenko, and he had access to “state secrets.”

Russia’s Peskov said Putin had been informed about the killing and voiced hope the Ukrainian authorities would solve the crime. He added that Voronenkov’s widow was welcome to return to Russia.

Vladimir Isachenkov and Howard Amos in Moscow contributed to this report.


U.K. police identify London attacker as Daesh claims responsibility

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 06:18:04 EDT


LONDON—Daesh, also known as ISIS, claimed responsibility Thursday for an attack by a man who plowed an SUV into pedestrians on one of London’s famous bridges and then stabbed a police officer to death at Britain’s Parliament. In a sombre but defiant statement, Britain’s prime minister declared that “we are not afraid.”

In a sweeping speech before the House of Commons, British Prime Minister Theresa May said the man who killed three people Wednesday before being shot to death by police was born in Britain and once came under investigation for links to religious extremism.

British officials named the attacker as Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old with criminal convictions who was living in the West Midlands, which includes the central city of Birmingham.

Police raided properties in London and Birmingham, and made eight arrests.

A Utah man visiting London with his wife for their 25th anniversary and a British woman who was a school administrator were killed by the SUV attack on Westminster Bridge and 29 others were hospitalized, seven critically. Others were injured and treated at the scene.

May set an unyielding tone Thursday, saluting the heroism of police as well as the ordinary actions of everyone in the British capital who went about their lives in the aftermath.

“As I speak, millions will be boarding trains and airplanes to travel to London, and to see for themselves the greatest city on Earth,” she told the House of Commons. “It is in these actions — millions of acts of normality — that we find the best response to terrorism. A response that denies our enemies their victory, that refuses to let them win, that shows we will never give in.”

Parliament held a moment of silence Thursday morning to honour the slain officer, Keith Palmer, a 15-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police and a former soldier, as well as the other victims. Then Parliament, which was locked down after the attack, returned to business — a counter to those who had attacked British democracy.

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In the 1,000-year-old Westminster Hall, the oldest part of Parliament’s buildings, politicians, journalists and parliamentary staff lined up to sign a book of condolences for the victims. Among them was a uniformed policeman, who wrote: “Keith, my friend, will miss you.”

The rampage was the first deadly incident at Parliament since 1979, when Conservative lawmaker Airey Neave was killed in a car bombing by Irish militants.

Some parliamentarians said they were shaken, and all were sombre. But they were also determined.

“There is no such thing as 100 per cent security,” said Menzies Campbell, a member of the House of Lords. “We have to learn to live with that.”

May later visited a London hospital to meet victims of Wednesday’s attack and to thank the hospital staff who had helped them.

The London attack echoed even deadlier vehicle rampages in Nice, France, and in Berlin last year that were claimed by Daesh.

Daesh said Thursday through its Aamaq News Agency that the London attacker was a soldier of Daesh who “carried out the operation in response to calls for targeting citizens” of countries fighting Daesh in Syria and Iraq.

Daesh militants have been responsible for numerous bloody attacks around the globe, but it has also claimed events later found to have no clear links to the group.

Police believe the London attacker acted alone and there is no reason to believe “imminent further attacks” are planned, May said, adding that he had been investigated before but police believed he was a peripheral figure at the time.

Car rental company Enterprise said the car used in the terror attack was owned by them and was rented in Birmingham.

Labour Party lawmaker Khalid Mahmood, who represents part of Birmingham, condemned the “barbaric attack” and urged his fellow Muslims to report concerns about radicalization to the police.

“We have to condemn this outright,” he said. “There are no ifs or buts. This is a hugely tragic incident. These people do not belong to any faith. They certainly don’t belong to my faith of Islam.”

Mahmood said the attacker and those like him “should be condemned by everybody and this shouldn’t serve as a tool for division within our community.”

British security forces have foiled 13 plots in the past four years. There are currently thousands of extremists in the U.K. who are known to officials but only a fraction of whom are under surveillance, according to a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about ongoing security operations. It takes dozens of officers to watch just one terror suspect.

Witnesses said the attacker went straight after the police officer after ramming into the pedestrians.

“This man got out of the car with two knives in his hands and while he was running he was stabbing people. He arrived in front of the entrance to the parliament and he started to stab a policeman,” said Vincenzo Mangiacarpe, an Italian boxer who was visiting Parliament. “You can imagine if someone was playing a drum on your back with 2 knives — he gave him around 10 stabs in the back, then he left the policeman and he came toward us.”

Metropolitan Police counterterrorism chief Mark Rowley said 29 people required hospitalization and seven of them were in critical condition. He said authorities were still working out the number of “walking wounded” from the attack.

May said people from 11 countries were among the victims, including 12 Britons, four South Koreans, three French, two Romanians, two Greeks and two Irish and one person each from Germany, Poland, China, Italy and the United States.

In fact, There were two U.S. victims. Kurt Cochran, a Utah man visiting London with his wife Melissa for their 25th anniversary, was named as among the dead by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His wife was hospitalized in the attack.

U.S. President Donald Trump was among the world leaders offering their condolences.

London has been a target for terrorism many times over past decades and the threat level for the British capital was already listed at severe, meaning an attack was “highly likely.” Just this weekend, hundreds of armed police took part in an exercise simulating a terror attack on a tourist boat on the River Thames, which winds through London.

May said the attack in London targeted “free people everywhere” and declared she had a response for those behind it: “You will not defeat us.”


Donald Trump said 14 false things in an interview about how he says false things

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 11:45:39 EDT


U.S. President Donald Trump did an interview with TIME magazine on Wednesday to discuss the subject of his untruthfulness. In the interview, he vigorously denied that he is untruthful — and said at least 14 false things. (We’ll allow him some rhetorical license on a few others. For the Star’s complete list of his false claims as president, visit thestar.com/trumpcheck.)

1. The claim: “Sweden. I make the statement, everyone goes crazy. The next day they have a massive riot, and death, and problems.”

In fact: Nobody died in the Sweden riot that occurred two days after Trump falsely suggested that a terrorist incident had occurred in Sweden the previous night.

2. The claim: “NATO, obsolete, because it doesn’t cover terrorism. They fixed that.”

In fact: NATO has long addressed terrorism.

3. The claim: “…and I said that the allies must pay. Nobody knew that they weren’t paying. I did. I figured it.”

In fact: Barack Obama, among many other Americans, chided NATO allies for failing to meet a guideline of spending 2 per cent of their gross domestic product on defence. The fact that several NATO countries do not meet the guideline was widely known.

4. The claim: “Brexit, I was totally right about that. You were over there I think, when I predicted that, right, the day before.”

In fact: Trump did not predict Brexit the day before; the day before the vote, he said, “I don’t think anybody should listen to me (because) I haven't really focused on it very much,” but that his “inclination” would be that Britain should vote to leave the European Union. This was a recommendation, not a prediction.

Read the latest news on U.S. President Donald Trump

5. The claim: “Now remember this. When I said wiretapping, it was in quotes.”

In fact: Trump did use the word in quotation marks in two of his four tweets falsely alleging that Barack Obama had spied on him, but he also made the same allegation without quotation marks in the two other tweets.

6. The claim: “Here, headline, for the front page of the New York Times, ‘Wiretapped data used in inquiry of Trump aides.’ That’s a headline. Now they then dropped that headline, I never saw this until this morning. They then dropped that headline, and they used another headline without the word wiretap, but they did mean wiretap. Wiretapped data used in inquiry. Then changed after that, they probably didn’t like it. And they changed the title. They took the wiretap word out.”

In fact: The Times never changed its headline; it simply used different words in its print and online headlines, which is normal.

7. The claim: “I mean mostly they register wrong, in other words, for the votes, they register incorrectly, and/or illegally. And they then vote. You have tremendous numbers of people.”

In fact: Every credible expert, including Republican secretaries of state for individual states, says the number of people voting illegally is tiny.

8. The repeated claim: “Brexit, I predicted Brexit, you remember that, the day before the event. I said, no Brexit is going to happen, and everybody laughed, and Brexit happened.”

In fact: Nope.

9. The claim: On his campaign claim that Ted Cruz’s father was seen with Lee Harvey Oswald: “But that was in the newspaper. I wasn’t, I didn’t say that. I was referring to a newspaper … I’m just quoting the newspaper.”

In fact: The newspaper in question is the National Enquirer — and when he made the claim, Trump did not make clear that he was quoting the Enquirer. He said directly: “His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald's being — you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous.”

10. The claim: “I went to Kentucky two nights ago, we had 25,000 people in a massive Basketball Arena.”

In fact: The capacity of the arena is about 18,000.

11. The claim: “I said the day before the opening, but I was saying Brexit was going to pass, and everybody was laughing, and I turned out to be right on that.”

In fact: Still nope.

12. The claim: “And the New York Times and CNN and all of them, they did these polls, which were extremely bad and they turned out to be totally wrong.”

In fact: The final New York Times poll was precisely correct: it had Hillary Clinton winning the national popular vote by 3 per cent; she ended up winning by 3 per cent. CNN’s final poll had her up 5 per cent, still within the margin of error.

13. The claim: “I assume this is going to be a cover too, have I set the record? I guess, right? Covers, nobody’s had more covers.”

In fact: Richard Nixon has the record for most Time magazine covers: 55. Trump has not appeared on the cover even half that many times.

14. The repeated claim:“Wiretapped data used in inquiry of Trump aides. Ok? Can you possibly put that down? Front page, January 20th. Now in their second editions, they took it all down under the internet. They took that out. Ok?”

In fact: Still nope.


Muslim prayers in schools get provincial endorsement following intense meeting

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 10:51:42 EDT


The morning after a tense meeting at the Peel school board — where a spectator tore up a Quran and others yelled Islamophobic comments — the province has issued a statement in support of the board providing space for Muslim students’ Friday prayers.

Education Minister Mitzie Hunter and Michael Coteau, minister of children and youth services, said “we know that the Peel District School Board has been working closely with their students and the community for more than a decade on religious accommodation in their schools and we are pleased to see their commitment to inclusion.

“… Realizing the promise of Ontario’s diversity is a continuous process grounded in actively respecting and valuing the full range of our differences.”

At issue in Peel is the board providing space for Muslim students to pray as a group, on Fridays. The practice has been going on for years — as it has in some Toronto public schools — but only recently been targeted by critics by way of protest and petitions demanding the 20 minutes of group prayer, called Jummah, be banned.

Critics believe it leads to segregation among students and inappropriate exposure to religion in a secular school system.

At Wednesday night’s board meeting, police were present and had to clear the room after tempers flared.

Chair Janet McDougald said the board is “appalled … by the anti-Muslim rhetoric and prejudice we have seen on social media, read in emails and heard first-hand at our board meetings.

“It has caused some of our students to feel unsafe, to feel targeted. We must not allow hatred toward any faith group to flourish. We will not stand for that. It is not consistent with our board values, with our role as trustees, or for us as Canadians.”

She said the “concerted effort to share deliberate misinformation, to counter a known legal requirement for Peel” is unacceptable.

She went on to say that as a board, the issue is settled, and “we have said we will no longer hear delegations, nor accept public questions on this provincial requirement. We need to focus on the business of the board.”

The board has also created an information sheet that “addresses the questions we are repeatedly asked. From this point on, our “Key Facts” stands as our response,” she said. “Staff will use this sheet in response — and nothing else — in responding to questions and concerns including social media.”

School boards are required to have a religious accommodation guideline in place to help boards establish open, fair and transparent processes for considering individual requests, Coteau and Hunter also wrote.

“We encourage parents and students to have an ongoing dialogue with their schools if an accommodation is required or whether there are concerns.

“While it is our expectation that all public school boards comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code, we know that hate continues to spread, even in the most diverse regions of our province.”

The government recently announced a three-year anti-racism plan, they said, which entails a “whole-of-government approach to combat systemic racism, with specific targets to address Islamophobia. We need to all work together to strengthen relationships with racialized communities through community collaboration.

“This is an important step toward addressing systemic racism in our public institutions, as well as other forms of discrimination.”


Living in the city’s real estate bubble: Timson

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:42:17 EDT


 

A realtor I’ve known and liked for years called me and said a tad too brazenly: “You two don’t need all that space. You should be moving on.”

I jokingly told her to get a court order.

But the jokes are few and far between. Living in an astronomically valued downtown house — one that my family has thrived in for three decades — has an uneasy fin de siècle feel to it these days.

Part of it is our stage of life — two kids grown and gone.

But there’s also a housing shortage amid forecasts that the cost of existing homes will rise around 25 per cent this year, and that ever ominous prospect of the “bubble bursting.” (Idea for real estate sales campaign: “Where do YOU want to be when the bubble bursts?”)

We have the rueful recognition that the children we raised to adulthood in a once modest neighbourhood, despite good jobs, couldn’t begin to afford to live here.

Our hood’s not modest anymore — although some houses are fairly blushing with their million-dollar price tags as prospective buyers think: “You’re kidding, right?”

There is also an acute rental shortage with many vulnerable people one pay cheque away from losing their too expensive apartments, or what is now called “precarious housing.”

The budget announcement this week of $11.2 billion over 11 years to enact a “national housing strategy” seems both necessary and beside the point: renters and buyers, even nonvulnerable ones — need a roof now. Yet part of the plan — to collect real data on how house prices get driven up-seems a good and necessary thing.

In the meantime here we sit inside that bubble, no doubt looked on as selfish boomers standing in the way of millennials getting into the housing market.

It’s not our fault. Because of a decision my husband and I made more than 30 years ago, sitting in a parked car quaking with fear at the fact that the house we had fallen in love with cost about $178,000, we are now considered rich and even rapacious.

Back then we wondered how, as two self-employed people, one of whom was pregnant, we could afford it.

We did, but the dream isn’t quite what it seems. Many boomers atypically still have hefty mortgages or credit lines attached to their houses. Home Sweet ATM.

We’ve renovated this house, tried to keep up with its many repairs, celebrated every milestone in our family’s life here.

The walls may need a paint job but they are saturated with memories. The cry of new babies in the night, that middle school party that nearly got out of hand, the wedding shower for our daughter, at which her school friends, some of them now pregnant or with babies, posed for pictures in the same living room in which as teens they had whispered their evening strategy: “Tell them you’re coming to my house.”

O house. Our children have had the privilege of knowing only one family home while growing up. When each of them walks back in, whether it’s been a week for the one in town, or months for the one away, I see sheer pleasure on their faces.

We didn’t mean to stay this long. But we loved the family neighbourhood, and no dwelling ever did sunlight like ours. It pours in even on a cold winter morning. From my third-floor office I can sometimes see the CN Tower and my husband can hardly wait, as he does every spring, to obsess over his small garden.

In a sell-high buy-high market, in some ways we can’t afford to move. We both have offices in this house, and we use the space well.

The truth is, we’re not ready to enter what most of our friends call “the next phase.” Some have blissfully migrated to condos, others more realistically to rental apartments. One “downsized” to a larger house.

Housing hypocrisy is rampant. I have talked to friends in British Columbia who bemoaned the changes foreign investment was bringing to their leafy neighbourhoods — staggering prices, absent owners. But when they were ready, they slapped a sign on the lawn just ahead of new provincial taxes on foreign ownership, took the millions and ran. Wouldn’t you?

Housing has always been a generational and an emotional issue. According to Forbes magazine, the millennial wave of home buying is not crushed forever, just delayed. Most people start looking to buy in their early 30s. Two-thirds of millennials haven’t reached 30 yet.

Their stubborn dream is still to own a house. I grew up in a rented house so the fact that we own this house still astonishes me.

Last year a neighbour’s house sold after multiple bids. A young and growing family moved in.

I see us in them — adorable children, hard working parents devoted to their kids, stretching their wallets for daycare, themselves for stamina.

We had them over for brunch, along with another young couple who had renovated a house, and a middle-aged couple.

It felt like the street was moving in the right direction — toward the future.

It’s just still unfathomable to me that this future — in a neighbourhood once viewed as modest and mixed — now has a million dollar price tag.

Judith Timson writes weekly about cultural, social and political issues. You can reach her at judith.timson@sympatico.ca and follow her on Twitter @judithtimson.


High Park Zoo capybaras welcome three capy-babies

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:55:00 EDT


Toronto’s most famous giant rodents are now proud parents.

The High Park Zoo capybaras have welcomed three bouncing capy-babies.

Born on Feb. 23, the wee critters are the first offspring for the pair, dubbed Bonnie and Clyde, since they moved to the zoo.

With a gestation period of four to five months, the litter was conceived at home — not while the pair was famously on the lam.

The couple broke free from the west-end zoo last spring, roaming the city for weeks before eventually returning home.

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Now settled back into their pen for the foreseeable future, mother and babies are healthy and happy. The pups have been kept mostly indoors since the blessed event, and the new family won’t be taking visitors just yet.

“They’re South American and they’re babies, so they need to stay inside,” said city spokesperson Megan Price.

Once the weather warms up, the clan will have a proper introduction to the community, said Coun. Mary-Margaret McMahon.

Chair of the parks and environment committee, she said she wasn’t aware of the pregnancy until she got news of the birth a few days ago. (Zoo staff were also in the dark, making the birth a surprise for all.)

“I wasn’t a doula or anything,” she joked, adding she expects the entire city will be “very excited,” as she was.

“They’re the most famous babies (at the zoo),” she said. “Not to show favouritism, but this year we’re showing favouritism to the capybaras.”

The little creatures don’t have names yet (and their gender won’t be clear until they are older), but the public will be invited to suggest ideas.

Though McMahon says hopefully they haven’t learned any lessons from their parents, her suggestion is an homage to their adventure: Houdini.


Emissions tester says Trump could be good for their industry

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:39:02 EDT


STOCKHOLM—The Swedish vehicle inspector whose technology identified emissions discrepancies in Volkswagen AG diesel engines sees Donald Trump as an opportunity-in-waiting.

While it’s generally “not a good situation for us” when a government is not pro-environment, any decision by the U.S. president to roll back fuel-consumption rules put in place by his predecessor Barack Obama means vehicle manufacturers can “sell gas guzzlers for much longer time periods than previously anticipated,” said Lothar Geilen, who takes the helm at Molndal-based Opus Group AB next month.

“The need for emissions-testing programs may actually increase as a result of that because it will mean there will be a higher polluting vehicle fleet over the next 10 years than originally planned,” the designated chief executive officer said in a March 15 interview.

Read more:

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U.S. environment chief says CO2 not main cause of global warming

Trump vowed on the same day to reinstate a review of fuel economy and vehicle emissions by spending another year scrutinizing rules that call for companies to cut gasoline consumption to an average of more than 5.6 litres per 100 kilometres by 2025. The move countervailed the Obama administration’s assertion that the standards were affordable and effective.

When announcing the decision to a crowd of workers in Ypsilanti, Mich., Trump told the CEOs of automakers including General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV that they needed to reciprocate by adding workers and building plants. Obama’s decision to preserve fuel economy rules “would have destroyed, or further destroyed, the auto industry,” he said at the time.

Opus provides vehicle-emission inspection in the U.S., including remote-sensing services measuring large volumes of vehicles as they drive past on the street. Late in 2014, about a year before VW’s emissions-cheating scandal became public, Opus and a team of scientists discovered that readings for VW and Audi vehicles with two-liter diesel engines were much higher than they should be, according to Opus’s website.

As one of the largest emission-testing companies in the U.S., Opus counts the country as one of its most important markets. The company has a market share of more than 40 per cent in the government-contracted emission-testing business there, handling almost 25 million inspections a year. Opus competes with Japan’s Horiba Ltd., which makes auto emissions testing systems and played a key role in uncovering the VW scandal.

“The bottom line is that the higher the vehicles’ pollution and the more fuel they consume, the more efficient the emission-testing program is,” Geilen said. “Indirectly, Trump is actually helping the need of an emission-testing program in the U.S. for many more years.”

Opus generated 64 per cent of its revenue last year from the Vehicle Inspection International unit, which includes its U.S. operations. The rest came from the Vehicle Inspection Sweden segment. As part of a new five-year growth and expansion strategy, the company has plans to double sales to $400 million from $200 million from 2017 to 2021, and sees 46 per cent of revenue coming from the U.S. by the end of that period.

Opus shares rose as much as 1.4 per cent in Stockholm trading on Wednesday following Geilen’s comment on the potential impact of Trump’s policies, having traded lower before. The stock closed at 7.10 kronor, unchanged from the day before.

Trump’s pledge means demand in the U.S. will “at least stay the same” rather than decline, which it may have done under Obama’s rules as emissions would then have fallen faster, Geilen said. While the CEO said he doesn’t know “what exactly Trump has in his pocket,” emission-testing programs are “probably not at the forefront of his concerns.”

“He is more worried about increasing the market position of the U.S. automotive industry, loosening up requirements for industry in terms of environmental requirements,” Geilen said. “All of that will lead to higher emissions and pollution in the country, eventually, and higher pollution will also lead to more demand for pollution-reduction schemes, like emissions-testing programs.”


TDSB won't approve new student trips to U.S.

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 11:29:55 EDT


Canada’s largest school board will not approve any new student trips to the United States in the wake of controversial travel restrictions proposed by President Donald Trump.

However, 25 trips involving about 900 Toronto students that are already scheduled for this spring will go ahead as planned unless circumstances change, the Toronto District School Board decided at a meeting late Wednesday night.

In the event that any student or staff member is refused entry at the border as a result of U.S. travel policy, everyone on the trip would return home and education director John Malloy would be permitted to cancel remaining trips for this year, according to a motion unanimously approved by trustees.

Malloy could also cancel trips if travel restrictions are put in place in the next couple of months, with the board reimbursing students for costs that aren’t covered by insurance.

The move, which means no student trips to the U.S. can be planned for the 2017-18 school year, reflects the TDSB’s commitment “to ensuring that fairness, equity and inclusion are essential principles of our school system” including when it comes to school trips, Malloy said.

The TDSB is the latest to join the growing ranks of organizations altering travel policies amid concerns that members of their groups could be turned away at the border.

Earlier this month, Girl Guides of Canada cancelled trips to the U.S. citing safety concerns and uncertainty, and to ensure all guides can participate in group travel.

This week, Ryerson University and the Greater Essex County School Board followed suit and suspended trips.

RELATED:

Ryerson, Essex County schools cancel U.S. trips amid travel ban

Malloy had been scheduled to provide trustees with an update on a situation that board staff are monitoring closely. But Trustee Shelley Laskin, who has heard from concerned parents, moved a motion that trustees approve his plan on the spot in order to clear up uncertainty for students, their families and school staff.

“It’s pretty clear there’s consensus that we’re not going to put our students at risk,” she said.

The move was supported by student trustee Shams Mehdi, a grade 11 student at Leaside High School, who noted that a substantial amount of time, money and planning resources have gone into trips already booked for this spring.

He called the plan “the appropriate decision to be made at this time.”


Toronto police cleared in death of man Tasered eight times in bathtub

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:29:27 EDT


Ontario’s police watchdog has cleared Toronto police in the death of a man who died after he was Tasered eight times by police in his bathtub.

Tony Loparco, director of the Special Investigations Unit, said in a news release Thursday that there are no reasonable grounds to lay criminal charges against any officers in connection to the Nov. 7, 2015 death of Rodrigo Almonacid Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, 43, a part-time cleaner at a hospital and father of two, died after an incident involving police that began after he locked himself in the bathroom, prompting his wife to call police to his family’s apartment in the west end.

More than 10 police officers responded, including a tactical squad carrying a battering ram and shields, and the incident culminated in the repeated use of two conducted energy weapons, better known as Tasers.

Gonzalez was later rolled out on a stretcher, his head was rapidly moving from side to side, according to time-stamped surveillance video obtained by the Star in 2015. He was admitted to St. Joseph’s Health Centre and died the following day.

The two unnamed Toronto police officers at the centre of the probe refused to participate in the SIU interview and did not provide the watchdog with copies of their duty notes, as is their legal right.

The civilian watchdog’s investigation included a review of a 12-minute audio recording that captured the police negotiation, security footage, medical records, data from the two Tasers used, and a post-mortem report that included a toxicology report.

According to Loparco, the SIU — which probes deaths, serious injuries and allegations of sexual assault involving police in Ontario — did not immediately take over the case because Gonzalez had suffered no serious injuries that required treatment, and toxicology tests showed the presence of cocaine. The police watchdog began investigating after Gonzalez’s death.

According to the probe, police responding to a “panicked and frantic” 911 call, upon entry, could hear noises coming the bathroom and were concerned there was a woman inside being assaulted. “As such, the officer drew his gun and demanded the bathroom door be opened. There was no response.”

An officer was ultimately able to force the door open slightly and could see that Gonzalez was alone, grasping a toilet lid above his head. Other officers soon arrived.

According to the SIU, a witness told police Gonzalez “had gone on a rampage, smashing everything in the apartment, and that he had recently consumed cocaine.”

Toronto’s police’s Emergency Task Force (ETF) arrived because Gonzalez was barricaded; one of the ETF officers then began negotiations. When Gonzalez would not open the door, officers from the ETF drilled a hole, and told the SIU they saw him inside with blood on his hands, face and head.

Concerned he may be harming himself, police forced their way into the bathroom to arrest Gonzalez under Ontario’s Mental Health Act.

One officer holding a riot shield approached Gonzalez, and claims he could see that he was holding a four- to six-inch screwdriver — a claim contested by Gonzalez’s family in a lawsuit filed against Toronto police last year.

“The officer raised his shield for protection and shoved Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez backwards, causing him to land on his back in the bathtub which had four to six inches of water in it. Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez began lashing out and punching the officers,” according to Loparco.

Two of the officers then Tasered Gonzalez a total of eight times. Police then handcuffed him, arrested him under the Mental Health Act, and took him to hospital.

Loparco said there were no concerns with officer conduct until the ETF forced their way into the bathroom, but said their conduct inside was difficult to assess because the audio recording “only offers limited insight into the precise details about what happened.”

He noted that officers are “unclear” on a vital detail: whether Gonzalez was holding an object that could be used as a weapon. Only one officer made that claim.

Loparco also said the multiple firings of the Taser while Gonzalez was wet and in a pool of water “initially caused me great concern.”

“However, the post-mortem report has assuaged my preliminary concerns with respect to the physiological effects of the CEW use” on Gonzalez, namely that the cause of death was determined to be complications of acute cocaine toxicity.

According to the SIU, the post-mortem report did not indicate that the Taser used played a role in Gonzalez’ death.

“While it is worrisome that there were eight separate discharges by two different (Tasers), some of which overlapped with one another, the evidence establishes that (Gonzalez) was able to struggle through the pain and continue to resist the officers. This would provide a basis for subsequent discharges,” Loparco said.

Loparco concludes there is no evidence to attribute Gonzalez’ injuries or death to the use of excessive force by the police, meaning no charges will be laid against the officers.

Wendy Gillis can be reached at wgillis@thestar.ca

With files from Jayme Poisson and David Bruser


Winners and losers of the 2017 federal budget

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:46:46 EDT


OTTAWA—Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government delivered its second budget Wednesday. Here’s a look at the winners and losers.

Winners

  • Cities. The budget commits $11 billion in previously announced infrastructure funding for affordable housing. That’s just shy of what the Federation of Canadian Municipalities had sought but does address a pressing need.

Read more about the 2017 federal budget

  • Parents. The budget earmarks $7 billion over the next decade to boost the number of child-care spaces, perhaps as many as 40,000. The money is part of the social infrastructure funding announced last year. The budget proposes more flexible parental leave. Parents will be allowed to get lower EI benefits over an extended period of up to 18 months.

  • Caregivers. The Liberals have tinkered with the existing caregiver benefits, promising more flexible parental leave. Parents will be allowed to get lower EI benefits over an extended period of up to 18 months.

  • Veterans. The budget builds on past efforts to enhance programs that support veterans, including a new education and training benefit, career transition, and better support for ill and injured vets.

Losers

  • Friday night fun. The budget imposes modest tax hikes to alcohol, cigarettes and ensures that ride-sharing services such as Uber charges passengers the GST/HST.

  • Transit riders. The budget scraps the public transit tax credit that allowed riders to claim a 15 per cent tax credit on their transit passes.

  • Military. No new funding — yet. The budget offers no additional cash for the military but the government says stay tuned, promising a long-term funding plan in the coming months, after it has released a new vision for the Canadian Armed Forces.

  • Tax cheats. The budget commits $523 million over five years to crack down on tax evasion and improved tax compliance.

Read more:

Federal budget features more money for affordable housing, child care

Highlights from the 2017 federal budget


Ontario launches plan to teach high school kids financial skills

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 06:00:00 EDT


Ontario is rolling out pilot projects at 28 high schools aimed at revamping the Grade 10 careers course and laying the groundwork for financial literacy to become part of the curriculum.

About 700 students will be involved in the pilots, running until June, and their feedback along with teacher input, will be instrumental in redesigning the new course, expected to be in place for the fall of 2018.

While financial skills are a centrepiece, students will also learn entrepreneurship and digital literacy in addition to career and life planning.

The plan, to be announced Thursday by Education Minister Mitzie Hunter, comes after repeated calls for mandatory money skills to be taught in high school, including a campaign last year by the Toronto Youth Cabinet which stressed that teens are sorely lacking knowledge about everything from credit cards to filing tax returns.

The pilots represent “the first step in modernizing our careers curriculum,” and will make it more relevant by linking students’ goals for post-secondary school and the workplace with money skills like budgeting, planning and saving that will help them get there, Hunter told the Star.

They will cost the ministry $142,000.

“We want to make financial literacy relatable to students, and to their experience,” says Hunter, noting she’s heard from many youth who wished they’d learned more practical information in the mandatory careers course, which is accompanied by a half-course in civics.

“This is a good first step,” says Prakash Amarasooriya, who led the Toronto Youth Cabinet initiative and petition pushing for financial literacy in high school.

But he notes there’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure teens leave school with the basic money knowledge they need.

Amarasooriya, 24, says his own lack of money sense added a lot of stress to his teen years after both parents lost their jobs and, fearing for the future, he took on five part-time jobs. He currently works in a bank and meets young clients who don’t know the difference between a chequing account and a savings account.

Financial literacy should be part of an equitable education system, he says, because not all families have the wherewithal to teach it adequately to their children.

Both money skills and digital literacy are critical tools for high school kids and subjects they’re eager to learn about, says Kimia Kamarhie, who teaches careers at Thornhill Secondary School and is part of the pilots.

“Those two modules being tested right now by us are a great advantage because these are life skills students will carry forward even after high school,” says Kamarhie, who took two days of teacher training last month and has started to develop the lesson plans she will begin using in April.

Teachers working on the pilots, which include eight GTA schools, will get an additional two days training in May and are already comparing notes and sharing strategies through a virtual learning network.

The opportunity to provide real-life, relevant learning and boost financial literacy “can only produce good results,” says Thornhill Secondary principal David McAdam, adding that’s why the school applied to be part of the pilot.

He applauds the process for giving students input into designing the course and a voice in what material should be included and effective ways to learn it.

Toronto financial literacy expert Tricia Barry welcomed the move, saying it’s long overdue.

But she argues that mandated financial literacy lessons need to be introduced much earlier, by Grade 6, including incorporating the concepts into math class.

“Elementary students should not be left behind,” says Barry, executive director of Money School Canada, which runs workshops for children, youth and parents.

In 2011, the province announced that financial literacy would be embedded in subjects taught in grades 4 through 12 such as math, social studies and world studies.

But a study Barry co-authored and released last fall concluded the result has been “haphazard, inconsistent” learning for elementary kids, and a lack of content dealing with core money management concepts or vocabulary.

The gaps “are enormous” between what expert task forces have called for over the years, and what the ministry has put in place, says Barry.

Amarasooriya agrees that earlier is better but says getting financial literacy into Grade 10 careers was a logical fit and seemed to be “the path of least resistance” for making long-overdue changes quickly.


Broadway hit Hamilton is coming to Toronto

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 10:18:29 EDT


Hamilton, the hit musical that took New York by storm and won 11 Tony awards, will be coming to Toronto as part of the 2019-20 Mirvish subscription season.

Mirvish did not give exact dates for performances or announce which of its Toronto venues would host the show in a news release Wednesday morning.

The show tells the tale of Alexander Hamilton, an orphan immigrant from the West Indies who rose to become one of the founding fathers of the United States and that country’s first treasury secretary.

It is based on Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton, with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, direction by Thomas Kail, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and musical direction and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire.

The show features a score “that blends hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B, and Broadway,” according to the release.