TORONTO STAR

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Wynne housing plan likely to cause pause in home buying: Report

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 06:00:00 EDT


New provincial measures to cool the rollicking Toronto region housing market could finally prompt harried home buyers to take a breath and figure out how the new rules affect their personal circumstances long-term.

It is difficult to predict how the 15-per cent foreign buyers’ tax announced by Premier Kathleen Wynne will impact the market, says the Re/Max 2017 Spring Market Trends Report published Tuesday.

While a similar tax turned down the heat in Vancouver, Toronto is a bigger city and foreign investment isn't considered to be as big a factor here, although data is scarce.

Re/Max says it's safe to assume, however, that the new Ontario measures that apply to the Greater Golden Horseshoe will impact the middle class as well as the luxury end of the market.

"It's a shock to the market," said Pamela Alexander, CEO of Re/Max Integra Ontario-Atlantic Canada.

"Whenever there's any kind of shock to the market — whether they raise interest rates or put new mortgage rules in — there's always this pause," she said.

"This is probably going to have its period of a few months of adjustment and then the market will return to its new normal," said Alexander, who praised most of the measures in the Liberal government's 16-point plan.

She expressed reservations, however, about the expansion of rent controls to units occupied after 1991.

Some investors who have been buying condos over the last 15 years may see this as a trigger to exit the market, said Alexander.

"People may say, 'I've had a great run, I've capitalized on the upward swing, but I don't know how much further that upward swing is going to go and I don't know if I can manage this with a profit with the new caps in place,'" said Alexander.

In the Toronto area, where the cost of a home rose $200,000 on average in the first quarter of this year over last — to $873,631 — buyers are on the hunt for affordability, says the Re/Max report.

A survey of about 7,000 of the company's active agents and brokers in the Toronto-region suggests that increasingly means looking outside the downtown.

Purchasers are increasingly frustrated with the lack of homes on the market and the high costs, said Alexander.

"They're realizing after being let down they are just at this point of time they're not going to be able to find what they're looking in the area they most desire and they're just going to have to expand the sphere of where they're looking," she said.

That trend is driving prices as far away as Windsor and Kingston, says the report.

In Windsor, prices rose 17 per cent on average year over year in the first quarter, up $35,554 to $246,775. In the same period, Kingston home prices rose 11 per cent to $323,343 on average up $32,751.

New taxes aimed at curbing speculation by foreign buyers helped push Greater Vancouver prices down 11 per cent in the first quarter since the same period last year. The average price there was $969,900, according to Re/Max.

An online Leger panel of 1,570 Canadians showed that 68 per cent of Ontario residents consider the location of their home to be more important than the style or size of the residence.

Price followed by access to green space and parks, and proximity to work were the primary home-buying considerations, according to the poll respondents.

Among millennials (aged 18 to 34), proximity to work edged out access to green space as the second most important factor in purchasing.

Forty-six per cent of Canadians and Ontarians said they felt like they could buy the kind of home that suits their families' needs.

The Leger survey, conducted between March 27 and 30 is considered accurate within 2.5 per cent 19 times out of 20.

Ontario home markets

  • Kitchener-Waterloo

Average first-quarter price: +29% to $468,877

Average first-quarter condo price: +21% to $280,872

Driving the market: Increased transit access thanks to expanded GO train service and a new LRT. Detached, single-family homes saw the most activity.

  • Hamilton-Burlington

Average first-quarter price: +23% to $575,004

Average first-quarter condo price: +26% to $391,770

Driving the market: Move-over buyers from the Toronto region comprised 23 per cent of all purchases. Investors were snapping up small detached houses and townhouses to use as rentals.

  • Barrie

Average first-quarter price: +39% to $525,830

Average first-quarter condo price: +33% to $323,622

Driving the market: Local move-up buyers and purchasers from other parts of the Toronto region went looking for value. That is expected to continue as those buyers and foreign investors continue to be attracted by the development in 2018 of thousands of acres of farm land.

  • Oakville

Average first-quarter price: +32% to $1.3 million

Average first-quarter condo price: +38% to $606,169

Driving the market: Foreign buyers are particularly interested in luxury homes in the $3-million+ market. Sellers are increasingly cashing in their equity and leasing their homes back to live in.

  • Brampton

Average first-quarter price: +35% to $731,798

Average first-quarter condo price: +35% to $401,620

Driving the market: Move-up and move-over buyers from around the region, as well as foreign purchasers, are attracted by the relatively affordable prices of detached homes. Homes move quickly here — within seven days on average.

Source: Re/Max 2017 Spring Market Trends Report


Why prick the housing bubble?: Richler

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 06:00:00 EDT


Here’s the rub about the red-hot housing market in Toronto: it’s not foreign buyers that are driving it. Even proponents of the provincial Liberals’ new “speculation tax” conceded it accounts for only five to eight per cent of purchases.

The major explanation for mismatched supply and demand is domestic — new homes not keeping pace with Toronto’s 1.6 per cent annual immigration rate (an increase in population of over 100,000 a year), a local economy that’s actually doing quite well, and the irruption into Toronto of an ascendant set of values that can be attributed to an already landed, prospering immigrant class.

The latter is not a racist suggestion — as, to an extent, the “foreign buyers” charge is — but the tail end and proof of the arguments we use to justify welcome new arrivals, typically portrayed as hardworking and with the drive to augment Canadian prosperity.

To wit: one of my wife’s daughters has been looking for a property for a year. When finally she rented, it was from a “new Canadian” who believed (as a certain fictional character in my own family’s past did) that “a man without land is nobody.” A university professor, he’d bought properties in the city for himself and for each of his children — present ages six and four — and these are the ones he is renting. She encountered versions of this story several times. So what’s to blame, “foreign buyers” or the rationale of Canadian immigration policies actually working?

And, besides, why is the rise in the price of houses and homes in Toronto, in fact, distressing? If we take a holistic view of economic laws following their course, then what is bad for some parts of the GTA is good for other communities — as is proved by the Golden Horseshoe stretch of areas to be affected by finance minister Charles Sousa’s new tax — and, indeed, for other underperforming parts of the province and country.

What we are really seeing here is a 21st century phenomenon that we can do very little about. Demographics of urban organization that used to be local — wealthy people on the breezy hilltop, working people on the flats — are now reorganizing themselves nationally.

The few cities in Canada that rank as such — Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, maybe Calgary and Edmonton — are the new hilltops, and the Prairie and Atlantic Provinces are the new flats. But is this a bad thing? Is this not an opportunity for other cities? Did not the sold soul of Manhattan give life to Brooklyn, and has not the proliferation of beautiful empty apartments made other London boroughs swell?

Go to New Orleans to see that youth are actually able to afford a house (after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina supposedly made the city unliveable) and can utterly transform a place, make it a hub of innovation and multi-faceted productivity, as so many lesser Canadian cities yearn to be. To imagine that we can hedge against these global tides is to make like King Canute.

The flip side of the real estate boom is that it is enriching the province — an estimated billion dollars accruing to the province this year (of which $625 million is accounted for by Toronto action).

What a chance this is! For as much as affordable homes, the livable city depends upon shared amenities rendering all communities within it content — poorer people because they actually use them, and the wealthier because they do not, then live in a city exacerbated by social division.

Build the transit, parks, schools and amenities that compensate for low wages and contribute to a city’s harmony. The new tax is appealing because it provides new revenue streams that can be put into play by a government appearing to act benevolently. But it will do nothing to stimulate new supply and infinitely less than, say, finally instituting a long overdue national child care policy.

The latter would afford women, in particular, the chance to work and grow their families without exhausting their incomes or worrying about their children in inexpensive and unsafe facilities and many more families would be accorded the chance to rent or buy than will be aided by a tax on foreign buyers. (And, umm, do not Canadians also “speculate’?)

If Toronto does not have the will to enact the social measures that will make a difference, then watch as people and companies, move elsewhere. Let the laws of economics work themselves out. This is no bad thing. A more equitable distribution of prosperity is what will likely result.

Noah Richler is a Toronto writer. His latest book is The Candidate: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.


Better Raptors revert to the Norm: Arthur

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 22:19:00 EDT


The seven-foot Brazilian with the sea anemone hair and the non-stop smile listened intently, his face sober and serious. Lucas (Bebe) Nogueira would joke later that he asked Raptors teammate Norman Powell to adopt him when he gets his next contract, because Bebe always jokes. But mostly, his dinner-plate eyes wide, he listened.

“I just ask him, how,” said Nogueira, after Toronto’s 118-93 blowout of the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5 of their first-round series. “Because I think he’s the best value in the league. He makes $900,000. And tonight he plays like a $20-million player. I struggle with my focus and my confidence, and I see him in here every day. Every day. He doesn’t play, but he never complains. I’m not saying that just because I’m in front of you. He never complains. And he’s an inspiration to me. He is really an inspiration.”

Powell had just exploded for a playoff career-high 25 points, along with four rebounds, four assists, three steals, one block on 8-for-11 shooting. He was fearless, defiant, effective. It was the defining game of his young career, and he sat in his leather chair in a white shirt and an off-white jacket waiting to join his all-star teammates on the post-game podium. And Bebe, the joker, came over to ask advice.

“He’s talked to me about how he’s proud of me and how I motivated him,” said the second-year Powell, in a quiet moment. “But he really came to me about how he feels about me, and everything I’ve been through, and how I came to work, and my focus, and my potential. So I just tried to give him a little motivational words to keep his focus ... I just told him about keeping goals in mind, setting expectations for himself, no matter what anybody says. Seeing the bigger picture and working towards that, no matter what happens.”

Powell wasn’t the only reason Toronto won the game, but he was a reason. This team has struggled with its confidence in this series, especially moving and shooting the ball in the face of Milwaukee’s long-limbed blitzing. Houston coach Mike D’Antoni likes to say that the ball finds energy, and when it does, it changes everything. It’s the mysticism of basketball, the intangible, the ineffable, but not the ineff-up-a-ble.

And in this game, with point guard Kyle Lowry working through back stiffness, and DeMar DeRozan off to a cold start, it was the other Raptors who set the tone. Serge Ibaka opened with a three and a driving dunk. DeMarre Carroll was even hitting floaters.

And Powell, with his don’t-ask-questions style, never seemed to have a moment of doubt. Early in the game Powell, who is six-foot-four in shoes, drove and tried to score over Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is approximately 19 feet tall with his arms outstretched. It didn’t work, but I bet Norm Powell wouldn’t blink if he opened a door and found a tiger on the other side.

And as the game went on, with the Raptors moving the ball, Powell found more cracks than anyone. Powell started 18 games when DeRozan was injured, and then was put back under glass: he played a combined six minutes in the first two games of the series. He’s at a combined 68 the last two games.

“I think Powell has come in with a lot of energy on both sides of the ball,” said Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd. “They are feeding off of that ... he’s picked them up here in the last couple of games, just with his energy and his spirit. Somehow we have to match that. We’ve got to have someone who can match his spirit to give us a chance.”

Despite some hiccups the Raptors led nearly wire to wire, and looked like the team they are supposed to be. When they made shots, they seemed more likely to share the ball, starting with Lowry and DeRozan. The ball found energy, and eventually everyone joined in. This was the Raptors team that is better than the Bucks, and should know it.

“I think that’s the biggest thing and the most important thing, is just sharing the ball, and the more you share the ball the more guys get confidence in themselves and the more Kyle and DeMar trust us,” said Carroll, who had 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting. “So we just got to keep doing it, keep trying to gel.”

It is also the deepest Raptors team in franchise history, and Powell is one of the pieces. After his three-pointer to make it 70-55 with eight minutes left in the third — the sixth of seven straight made three-pointers over two games — he stared down the Bucks bench. Confidence. With 4:42 left and the game almost out of reach, he drove baseline and dunked over approximately 27 combined feet of Milwaukee Bucks. Norm. He dunked one last time with 36 seconds left, a valedictory. Finally, a real Raptors playoff blowout.

Afterwards, Powell talked about studying tapes of Kyle Korver and Larry Bird to improve his three-point shooting, which wasn’t a strength when he came into the league. He talked about extra work and adjustments, but also shooting it like he meant it.

And before that Bebe wandered over, and asked his 23-year-old teammate for advice.

“It means a lot,” said Powell. “He’s very open, expressive about his feelings, and I didn’t know what he was going to talk about. It’s something special when the guys around you see your work, and see everything that you’re going through, and how you’re pushing, and being an inspiration to them. It means a lot. It definitely hit home for me. It just makes me want to be that much better teammate to him, and to the rest of the guys.”

Norm couldn’t get over Antetokounmpo when he tried, but the Raptors could. They should know they are the better team, now. All they need to do is believe it.


Elite teen soccer team suspended after ‘roughhousing’ video surfaces

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 00:29:00 EDT


An elite youth soccer team was temporarily suspended after video surfaced that appeared to show players beating a teammate.

The Vaughan Soccer Club suspended its team of 14- and 15-year-olds while staff tried to find out what happened and who was involved, said club executive vice-president Pat Di Rauso.

After meeting with parents and players Monday night, club staff determined that the incident began as roughhousing and “got out of hand,” Di Rauso said.

Club staff will meet Tuesday to discuss possible punishments for the individual players involved.

“They’re good kids,” Di Rauso said, adding that he does not want to see any of the players unfairly labelled as troublemakers.

The video shows several teenage boys laughing and mugging for the camera in a hotel hallway.

“Let’s get him,” says one boy.

The door to one of the hotel rooms opens and a shoving match appears to break out between a boy who was in the room and some of the boys in the hallway.

At least three of the boys end up on the bed inside the room. Punches appear to be exchanged. Eventually the boy from the room is pinned by one of the others. Near the end of the video, he is seen lying on the bed holding his stomach and groaning while the other boys leave the room.

Di Rauso told the Star that the incident took place while the team was in Italy for a tournament between April 8 and 18.

“When I left these kids, these guys were singing and hugging. These guys were a team,” Di Rauso said. “When I saw this (video) I went, ‘Where did this come from?’ ”

The trip was chaperoned by coaches and the players’ parents, said Di Rauso, who accompanied the team on the first half of the trip.

“All the parents were present,” Di Rauso added. “That’s why we don’t understand ... Why did none of the children go to the parents?”

Club officials were first made aware of the video late Saturday night, after a media outlet showed it to them, said Di Rauso.

It seems that one of the players sent the video to a friend, whose mother saw it and notified the media, he said.

Di Rauso said that the club has not contacted police about the video and that, to his knowledge, no one else has either.

“If the parent wants to press charges, we welcome them,” he said.

The team seen in the video is part of the Ontario Player Development League, a prestigious program for teenage soccer players working their way towards college scholarships, a spot on provincial or national teams or even a professional soccer career.

Registration fees at the Vaughan Soccer Club are approximately $3,600 per year, said Di Rauso.


Ontario urged to track foster kids after they leave care

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 05:00:00 EDT


If Ontario is serious about putting children at the centre of its new child welfare legislation, it must commit to track what happens to them when they become adults, says a new report.

And the government should use that information to improve the “consistently poor” outcomes faced by youth raised in the care of children’s aid societies, says the report’s author Jane Kovarikova, a former foster child and PhD candidate in political science at Western University.

“I understand that the government is focused on having a child-centred system, which is an excellent step in the right direction,” she said in an interview.

“But I would like it to be an evidence-based, or an outcome-based, child-centred system,” she said, “because if you don’t measure what’s happening to the youth you have been serving . . . how do you know if your policies or reforms are having any impact?”

Limited Canadian and international research “overwhelmingly” shows people who grew up in foster or group home care experience low academic achievement, high rates of homelessness, early parenthood, unemployment, conflict with the law, mental health problems and loneliness, says the report.

“It is tempting to suggest that traumatic backgrounds and personal characteristics of youth are the ‘cause’ of these poor outcomes,” Kovarikova says in her report released Monday by Irwin Elman, Ontario’s Advocate for Children and Youth.

“However, the findings from this study suggest structural factors and professional practices inherent in the child protection system may contribute significantly to poor outcomes for youth aging out of care,” she concludes.

Since Ontario’s child protection system is designed without consideration of youth outcomes when they become adults, it is impossible to assess if the policies and services are working properly, she says.

Ontario should partner with academic institutions and other provinces to study youth over time after they leave the care of children’s aid, to track the problems they face and suggest ways to improve the system.

“An evidence-based child-protection system focused on youth outcomes is essential for effective intervention in the lives of vulnerable children and families,” the report says.

Elman praised Kovarikova’s report for its “potent combination of lived experience and academic rigour.

“It is the type of wisdom we simply have to be listening to in order to create change,” Elman said. “We are very proud to partner with Jane on this work.”

Like many of her peers, Kovarikova left foster care in the Barrie area to live on her own at age 16 and dropped out of high school due to the financial and emotional stress. She later learned she could take upgrading courses at college so she could apply to university.

Kovarikova credits mentors in the education system for helping her achieve her academic dreams, which included completing a Master’s degree in human rights at the London School of Economics. But she knows her experiences are rare among youth who have grown up in foster care.

“This issue has great personal significance to me,” said Kovarikova, 33, who has worked as chief of staff to former Barrie MPP Rod Jackson and currently serves on the board of Simcoe-Muskoka Family Connexions, which provides child protection services for the area.

“It is my wish to raise the greatest public awareness possible on improving the child protection system so that every young person can achieve the best outcomes possible.”

Ontario’s $2.5 billion annual child protection system serves about 17,000 children and youth a year, including about half who have been permanently removed from their families by children’s aid societies.

Every year, about 800 to 1,000 so-called Crown wards “age out” of care at either age 18 or 21. About 16 per cent of 16- and 17-year-olds live independently with minimal support at a time when most Canadian youth do not begin to live independently until well into their 20s, the report notes.

In Ontario, only 44 per cent of Crown wards complete high school compared to 81 per cent of students in the general population. Fewer pursue post-secondary education and of those who go to university, fewer finish their studies compared to their peers. A university graduate earns over $1 million more in a lifetime than someone who did not complete high school, the report says.

A British Columbia study found that as many as 90 per cent of youth in care were on welfare within six months of aging out. An American study found 56 per cent of former youth in care were living in poverty by age 23 and 24. And up to 30 per cent youth who had aged out of care reported being homeless, according to another U.S. study.

Youth in care are detained by police at higher rates than their peers despite the lack of evidence showing youth in foster care committed more frequent or severe crimes.

Early interaction with the criminal justice system is self-reinforcing, leading to later criminality, the report notes.

In B.C., researchers found women who grew up in foster care were four times more likely to become pregnant by age 19. And as many as 35 per cent of these women said the pregnancies were wanted.

One third of Ontario’s Crown wards have a mental health disorder, the majority report having special needs and half rely on psychotropic medication, the report says.

Many youth submissions to the Ontario legislature in 2012 cited loneliness as an inevitable outcome of growing up in foster care.


Toronto cop guilty of assault made Sunshine List while suspended

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 18:37:45 EDT


An incident in which an on-duty Toronto police sergeant assaulted a man in a Scarborough parking lot and then drove away, leaving the victim collapsed on the ground, came to light after an account from a bystander and Toronto Community Housing Corporation surveillance footage, according to recently filed court documents.

Last week, Toronto police Sgt. Robert Goudie pleaded guilty to assaulting Hamza Sheikh, then 47, outside the man’s residence in October 2015, an incident that began with Goudie approaching Sheikh believing he had been driving while impaired.

In January 2016, Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) charged Goudie with assault causing bodily harm and failing to provide the necessities of life; the latter charge was dropped at the request of the Crown prosecutor, while Goudie pleaded guilty to assault.

“The defendant’s application of force to Mr. Sheikh was unjustified and excessive,” reads an agreed statement of facts filed in court last week.

The veteran police officer has been given a conditional discharge, meaning he is now subject to six months’ probation, which includes a ban on contacting Sheikh. He was also ordered to pay a $100 victim surcharge to Sheikh.

Goudie has been suspended with pay from the Toronto Police Service since November 2015. Nonetheless, he made Ontario’s Sunshine List in 2016, earning $116,000.

Meaghan Gray, a spokesperson for the Toronto Police, said in an email the suspension is under review now that the criminal case has concluded and the police service can proceed with a related disciplinary charge. Goudie faces one count of discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act for being charged with a criminal offence.

According to the summary of facts filed in court, Goudie was alone on patrol just after 4 a.m. on Oct. 31, 2015, when he spotted Sheikh’s vehicle and believed he was an impaired driver.

Goudie, driving a marked police vehicle, followed him into the parking area near 10 Gordonridge Place, near Danforth and Brimley Rds., then approached Sheikh after he parked his car, the court document states.

Surveillance footage, though low quality and shot from a distance, captured a 33-second discussion between Goudie and Sheikh, who was standing near his car with the driver’s side door open.

Then, Goudie “took hold” of Sheikh and forced him to the ground on a grassy boulevard near the cars, then pinned him with his right knee for 20 seconds and “appeared to search him.”

Goudie got up off of Sheikh, shone his flashlight into the man’s vehicle, then removed a crutch from inside and “tossed it towards” Sheikh. Court heard that Sheikh had pre-existing spinal injuries.

Sheikh “remained prone and motionless on the ground” at this time, according to the documents.

The officer then walked back to his car and drove off. Goudie never reported the stop or arrested Sheikh, although he had reasonable grounds to do so, according to the court documents.

“(Goudie) believed at that time that Mr. Sheikh was conscious,” according to the statement of facts.

Sheikh remained on the ground in the same position for 30 minutes, until a Toronto police car and ambulance arrived in response to an emergency call.

Paramedics found Sheikh on the ground wearing a neck brace, and noticed a strong odour of alcohol and signs of impairment.

The court documents do not explain who made the emergency call, but a document filed with the Toronto Police Services Board agenda last week states police and paramedics were summoned to the scene by a 4:13 a.m. call reporting an officer had assaulted a member of the public. Police and paramedics arrived at 4:34 a.m.

According to the police board document, which summarizes the internal probe that must take place after every SIU investigation, the officers who responded were then directed by a superior to leave and “the incident was abandoned without further investigation or documentation,” the report states.

That superior was later identified as Goudie, according to the police board document.

In an interview Monday, Goudie’s lawyer Gary Clewley vehemently disputed the contents of the Toronto police board document, saying that whoever wrote it “had nothing to do with the investigation.”

“I can tell you this much for sure: officer Goudie did not terminate or interfere with the investigation of this incident. Period.”

Clewley also stressed that the court did not find as fact that Sheikh lost consciousness following the assault.

According to the court document, Sheikh was taken to a hospital, where he refused assessment and voluntarily left before he saw a doctor. The Crown prosecutor was unable to prove Goudie’s use of force caused Sheikh any bodily harm, according to the court document.

Sheikh claimed that he had no memory of the incident. At a medical appointment three days after the incident, Sheikh exhibited no signs of a head injury, the court document states.

Sheikh said he contacted police to complain about the incident only after he was informed about what transpired by the neighbour who witnessed it.

Sheikh’s complaint generated an investigation by the Toronto police Criminal Investigations Bureau. Two weeks later, Toronto Community Housing informed police about the contents of its surveillance footage of the incident, according to the police board document.

The SIU was contacted the following day and took over the investigation. Goudie was suspended the same day.

The sergeant’s professional misconduct hearing continues.

Wendy Gillis can be reached at wgillis@thestar.ca


Trudeau says his father used connections to help brother Michel avoid criminal record after pot charge

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 22:58:00 EDT


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his younger brother, Michel, was able to avoid a criminal record after he was caught with marijuana because of his father’s connections.

Trudeau revealed the little-known fact about his brother, who died in a B.C. avalanche about 20 years ago, during a broadcast interview with Vice Media on Monday night about the government’s plan to legalize marijuana.

He said six months before Michel’s death, he was charged with possession of marijuana after he was involved in a collision on the highway while he was driving home to Montreal from the West Coast. Police had found a Sucrets box with a couple of joints inside when they were helping him collect his belongings that were scattered across the highway.

Trudeau said his father contacted his friends in the legal community to get Michel a good lawyer.

“He was very confident that we were able to make those charges go away,” Trudeau said of his father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. “We were able to do that because we had resources, my dad had a couple connections and we were confident that my little brother wasn’t going to be saddled with a criminal record for life.”

Trudeau used the anecdote to highlight how minorities and people with little means often don’t have the option to clear their name in the justice system — something he said legalizing the drug will help fix.

“That’s one of the fundamental unfairnesses of this current system is that it affects different communities in a different way,” he said.

Trudeau stuck to his government’s stance that the move to legalize marijuana for recreational use by July 1, 2018, doesn’t mean lax law enforcement during the transition period.

However, he suggested that the government will look at ways to help people charged with marijuana possession. Although he did not give specifics, he said the government would only look into the matter once the laws have been changed.

“Until we actually change the law, we can’t take steps towards moving retroactively,” Trudeau said.

“In the meantime, our focus is on making sure we’re changing the legislation to fix what’s broken about a system that is hurting Canadians ... and then we’ll take steps to look at what we can do for those people who have criminal records for something that would no longer be criminal.”

The newly tabled legislation will allow people 18 and older to publicly possess up to 30 grams of dried cannabis, or its equivalent in non-dried form.


Lawyer’s group wants hard cap on referral fees

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 06:00:00 EDT


Most referral fees paid between lawyers will be under $5,000 if a recommendation to the Law Society of Upper Canada is accepted, a report reveals.

And clients who were previously in the dark over referrals and the fees associated with them will now see the payments as part of an agreement all parties will be asked to sign. A recent Star investigation found that some lawyers, particularly in the personal injury business, were farming out clients and taking hefty fees as a referral payment, while another firm did the work.

“We want clients to know their rights and make their own choices,” said Malcolm Mercer, chair of the Law Society of Upper Canada working group that has been studying the issue.

The recommended plan suggests that the referral fee will be calculated with a “sliding cap.” The referring lawyer will get 15 per cent of the first $50,000 of the legal fee and 5 per cent of the legal fee over that. Given that lawyers often make about $30,000 in contingency fee cases — you don’t pay unless they win — the referral fee would typically be $5,000 or lower.

“We want to make sure that the cost of legal services are not increased by referral fees and that service is not impaired by referral fees. We want to ensure that clients aren’t misled by deceptive advertising,” Mercer said.

A transparency recommendation suggests creation of a “referral agreement” that must be signed by everyone involved in a referral, including the referring lawyer, the lawyer getting the file and the client.

The Star found that some law firms advertised so heavily that they received more business than they could handle. These files were farmed out to other law firms for a fee that was not regulated or controlled. Clients who called one firm would learn they had been shunted to another firm only when a new lawyer called them to arrange an appointment.

Mercer said his group’s responsibility is not to target particular firms with the cap on referrals fees but to distinguish between legitimate referral fees and inappropriate fees paid to other lawyers, which may affect clients.

The law society will vote on the proposals at its Thursday Convocation meeting. If approved, the proposals would apply only to referral arrangements entered into after April 2017.

The recommendations come less than two months after the law society’s elected “benchers” voted to cap referral fees — rather than ban them outright — and make the referral fee process more transparent.

It also comes on the heels of part of the Star’s ongoing investigation into Ontario’s personal injury lawyers. The Star has found some personal injury lawyers take hefty referral fees, including “up front” fees paid when the referral is made — long before a settlement has been reached.

Often, the accident victim was unaware that a referral fee has been paid, the Star found.

In some cases, the Star found that referral fees were requested “up front,” before the case was passed on to another firm.

In February, the law society also voted to ban “up front” referral fees in addition to cracking down on lawyer marketing, including mandating that lawyers can no longer advertise for services they don’t intend to provide.

In the 11-page report released Monday, the working group said referral fees can only be paid when a settlement is reached and outlined its rationale for capping referral fees rather than banning them.

The working group believes that by making the referral fees transparent, and by instituting a cap, they will facilitate access to legal services and address the problem of “excessive” referral fees that may be the result of law firm advertising and reduce the risk that unqualified lawyers will keep files they can’t handle.

In explaining its decision to recommend banning of up front fees, the working group stated these fees can be “very large” and risk misaligning the interests of the lawyer and the client. These fees run the risk of “detrimentally impacting the quality of service the client may receive.”

In its deliberations about how much to cap the fees at, the report’s authors said they considered taking referral fees back to historic levels, between 10 and 15 per cent of a lawyer’s legal fees, but noted that “too low a cap would have the same effect as a ban, and that this result would be inappropriate.”

Rather, the working group proposed that lawyers take 15 per cent of the first $50,000 of their fee after a settlement has been reached and 5 per cent of any additional fees recovered as part of the settlement up to a maximum of $25,000.

For example, in a case that settles for $100,000, the legal fee would be about $33,000 and the referral fee would total $5,000, the report said. The calculations assume that lawyers are working on contingency — you don’t pay unless the lawyer’s win — and charge 33.3 per cent as their legal fee.

A case would have to settle for more than $1 million for a lawyer to receive the maximum referral fee. Those cases are rare. According to a 2014 auto insurance study, the report said, 69 per cent of claimants got settlements less than $100,000. In cases where the client recovers $50,000, the referral fee would be $2,500.

The Law Society group has prepared a document about referral fees called “What Clients Need to Know.” In it, they provide an explanation of referral fees and clients’ rights. It warns that when it comes to referral fees, these fees are “not permitted to increase the amount of the legal fees charged to you.”

Claire Wilkinson, president elect of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, which represents more than 1,600 of Ontario’s personal injury lawyers, clerks and staff, said OTLA is pleased the law society is trying to provide greater clarity and transparency to the consumer. “It’s a good idea that’s in the public interest,” she said.


Toronto lawyer suspended over handling of Roma refugee cases

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 06:00:00 EDT


A Toronto lawyer who has been found guilty of professional misconduct in representing Roma refugee claimants will be suspended for six months and placed under supervision for at least one year if he is to continue practising refugee law.

The professional disciplinary action against Joseph Stephen Farkas followed similar penalties handed out earlier by the Law Society Tribunal against lawyers Viktor Hohots and Elizabeth Jaszi.

Hohots was suspended for five months and barred from practising refugee law for two years while Jaszi was fined and disbarred.

According to an Osgood Hall Law Journal article, the three lawyers represented a total of 986 Hungarian Roma refugee claimants between 2008 and 2012.

Five of Farkas’ complainants retained new counsel, while at least one client was denied statutory stay of removal and deported in 2012 after the lawyer failed to file an application for leave in a timely fashion, according to the tribunal ruling.

The tribunal said Farkas’ suspension will take effect at the end of April and ordered him to pay $200,000 in costs to the Law Society of Upper Canada within two years.

“Upon resumption of his practice, Mr. Farkas shall practise refugee law only in association with and under the supervision of another lawyer . . . Both the plan of supervision and the supervisor shall be approved by the Law Society’s Executive Director,” said the tribunal order.

“The approved plan of supervision and the supervisor shall continue for a definite period of one year and then indefinitely until the Executive Director is satisfied that the plan and the supervisor are no longer required.”

Farkas faced complaints from 10 former clients who claimed the lawyer was not directly involved in assisting them in their asylum claims, which one expert witness said “were vague, lacked important details and contained mistakes in spelling and grammar.”

Advocates for Roma refugees have for years blamed the group’s low asylum acceptance rates on the poor legal representation they received during the asylum process. Most Roma claimants say they face ethnic discrimination and persecution.

Related: Federal government urged to help Roma refugee clients of disciplined lawyers

Farkas testified he recalled being directly involved in the preparation process for many of the complainants. The tribunal said it heard “conflicting and inconsistent” evidence from the lawyer’s two Hungarian interpreters, Szilvia Sztranyak and Tamas Buzai, about his involvement.

Farkas’ current lawyers, Marie Henein and Kenneth Grad, did not respond to the Star’s request for comment for this article. His former counsel, Samuel Robinson, said before the disciplinary order was handed down that his client intended to appeal the guilty verdict by the tribunal.

In disregarding the law society’s request to revoke Farkas’ licence, the tribunal said it took into consideration that the lawyer had no prior disciplinary record and expressed remorse, as well as changing his refugee law practices to become more directly involved with his clients.

“In ordering a six-month suspension as opposed to the revocation of licence, we are by no means endorsing the view that because no money has been stolen and no financial fraud has been committed, the lawyer’s conduct is thus not serious enough to warrant the harshest of penalties,” the tribunal said.

“The panel is fully aware that refugee claimants in general are vulnerable persons whose very life, liberty and security interests are at stake every time they are engaged in a legal process . . . The action of an incompetent refugee lawyer can have far more devastating impact than a dishonest lawyer who steals from his or her clients.”


Two men executed in Arkansas on same gurney, hours apart

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 07:47:54 EDT


VARNER, ARK.—After going nearly 12 years without executing an inmate, Arkansas now has executed three in a few days — including two in one night.

Jack Jones and Marcel Williams received lethal injections on the same gurney Monday night, just about three hours apart. It was the first double execution in the United States since 2000.

While Jones, 52, was executed on schedule, shortly after 7 p.m., attorneys for Williams, 46, convinced a federal judge minutes later to briefly delay his execution over concerns about how the earlier one was carried out. They claimed Jones “was moving his lips and gulping for air,” an account the state’s attorney general denied, but the judge lifted her stay about an hour later and Williams was pronounced dead at 10:33 p.m.

In the emergency filing, Williams’ attorneys wrote that officials spent 45 minutes trying to place an IV line in Jones’ neck before placing it elsewhere. It argued that Williams, who weighs 400 pounds, could have faced a “torturous” death because of his weight.

Intravenous lines are placed before witnesses are allowed access to the death chamber.

An Associated Press reporter who witnessed the execution said Jones moved his lips briefly after the midazolam was administered, and officials put a tongue depressor in his mouth intermittently for the first few minutes. His chest stopped moving two minutes after they checked for consciousness, and he was pronounced dead at 7:20 p.m.

Williams was already in the death chamber when the temporary stay was issued. He was escorted out of the chamber and used the restroom, then was brought back in after the stay was lifted.

Initially, Governor Asa Hutchinson scheduled four double executions over an 11-day period in April. The eight executions would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state said the executions needed to be carried out before its supply of one lethal injection drug expires on April 30.

Besides the two executions Monday, Arkansas put to death one other inmate last week and has a final one scheduled for Thursday. Four others have been blocked.

Before last week, Arkansas hadn’t had an execution since 2005 or a double execution since 1999.

Jones, who’d argued that his health conditions could lead to a painful death, gave a lengthy last statement. His final words were: “I’m sorry.”

“I hope over time you can learn who I really am and I am not a monster,” he said in the roughly 2-minute statement.

Williams declined to make a final statement.

Jones was sent to death row for the 1995 rape and killing of Mary Phillips. He strangled her with the cord to a coffee pot.

He was also convicted of attempting to kill Phillips’ 11-year-old daughter and was convicted in another rape and killing in Florida.

Jones said earlier this month that he was ready for execution. He used a wheelchair and he’d had a leg amputated in prison because of diabetes.

Williams’ “morbid obesity makes it likely that either the IV line cannot be placed or that it will be placed in error, thus causing substantial damage (like a collapsed lung),” his attorneys wrote in an earlier court filing asking justices to block the execution.

Both men were served last meals on Monday afternoon, Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves said. Jones had fried chicken, potato logs with tartar sauce, beef jerky bites, three candy bars, a chocolate milkshake and fruit punch. Williams had fried chicken, banana pudding, nachos, two sodas and potato logs with ketchup, Graves said.

In recent pleadings before state and federal courts, the inmates said the three drugs Arkansas uses to execute prisoners — midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride — could be ineffective because of their poor health.

Williams weighed 400 pounds, was diabetic and had concerns that the execution team might not be able to find a suitable vein to support an intravenous line.

The poor health of both men, their lawyers claimed, could make it difficult for them to respond during a consciousness check following a megadose of midazolam. The state shouldn’t risk giving them drugs to stop their lungs and hearts if they aren’t unconscious, they have told courts.

The last state to put more than one inmate to death on the same day was Texas, which executed two killers in August 2000. Oklahoma planned a double execution in 2014 but scrapped plans for the second one after the execution of Clayton Lockett went awry.

Arkansas executed four men in an eight-day period in 1960. The only quicker pace included quadruple executions in 1926 and 1930.

Williams was sent to death row for the 1994 rape and killing of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson, whom he kidnapped from a gas station in central Arkansas.

Authorities said Williams abducted and raped two other women in the days before he was arrested in Errickson’s death. Williams admitted responsibility to the state Parole Board last month.

“I wish I could take it back, but I can’t,” Williams told the board.

In a letter earlier this month, Jones said he was ready to be killed by the state. The letter, which his attorney read aloud at his clemency hearing, went on to say: “I shall not ask to be forgiven, for I haven’t the right.”

Including Jones and Williams, nine people have been executed in the United States this year, four in Texas, three in Arkansas and one each in Missouri and Virginia. Last year, 20 people were executed, down from 98 in 1999 and the lowest number since 14 in 1991, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.


Trump threatens 20 per cent tariff on Canadian softwood lumber

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 16:52:46 EDT


The United States has fired the opening shot in a latest softwood-lumber war against Canada, with the Trump administration announcing its first batch of duties on imported wood in the neighbourhood of 20 per cent.

The move was expected: the historic dispute over lumber pricing has led to once-a-decade trade skirmishes over the issue, resulting in American duties, then the inevitable court battles, and ultimately negotiated settlements.

What wasn’t expected Monday was the enthusiasm with which the new American administration flung itself into the lumber hostilities, touting its incoming countervailing duties as an example of U.S. President Donald Trump’s tough, America-first trade posture.

Read more:

What Donald Trump’s anti-Canada rant means: Walkom

Canada in for rougher NAFTA talks than Trump suggested, trade experts say

Trump underscored the impending move by announcing it to a gathering of conservative media on the eve of the expected announcement. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross also highlighted it in an interview.

Then came a statement that said U.S. Customs will begin collecting cash deposits from Canadian logging companies because they receive a range of subsidies — most of them allegedly about 20 per cent.

“It has been a bad week for U.S.-Canada trade relations,” said Ross, in a statement that went out of its way to link this dispute to one involving dairy, and tying it all to broader complaints about NAFTA.

“This is not our idea of a properly functioning free trade agreement.”

This entire dispute will play out amid the backdrop of a bigger trade file — the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Neither lumber nor dairy are part of the current NAFTA, and different actors would want to add provisions on one or the other.

What comes after Monday’s countervailing duties is a study of possible anti-dumping duties, followed by a final determination by the U.S. Commerce Department as early as Sept. 7, and ultimately one of three possible outcomes: an agreement, a surprise retreat from the U.S. government, or a potential years-long court battle.

Canada’s government condemned the announcement. In a statement, the federal government called the move unfair, baseless, unfounded and it promised help for its industry.

“The Government of Canada strongly disagrees with (this) decision to impose an unfair and punitive duty,” said Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr. “The accusations are baseless and unfounded.”

He said the action hurts people in both countries — not only Canada’s lumber sector that employs hundreds of thousands, but also American homebuyers, who must now pay more for wood.

The buildup to this new lumber war began with the 2015 expiry of a decade-old agreement. It stems from a fundamental, long-standing dispute over whether Canadian companies’ access to public land constitutes a subsidy.

The U.S. administration delivered its long-awaited verdict Monday; it concluded Canadian companies benefit from subsidies ranging from three per cent in the case of J.D. Irving Ltd., to a high of 24.12 per cent for West Fraser Mills, with most companies coming in around 19.88 per cent.

Duties will be collected retroactively, too — the U.S. says it will gather them for the previous 90 days. Industry analysts have been expecting the combined duties, Monday’s and the upcoming ones, to range between 30 and 40 per cent.

In Canada, pressure will mount on the federal government.

The Liberals have adopted an understated, under-the-radar approach to dealing with Trump. Now they’re being pressed into an open dispute, all while dealing with multiple sensitive Canada-U.S. files: softwood negotiations, upcoming NAFTA renegotiations, complaints about Canadian dairy, and a frustrated lumber industry at home.

There are already requests for financial help for Canada’s forestry sector. A government source said conversations are underway, but there won’t be an immediate announcement on that front.

The Canadian government will wait to see the details of various punitive measures before calculating the aid amount. It took the federal government more than a year to announce the first of two aid packages after duties were imposed in 2001.

The statement from Ottawa late Monday promised immediate help through existing programs — like one that finances exporters, and an innovation-related program to develop the use of wood in tall buildings.

Ministers are also travelling to China, the United Kingdom and Europe to promote market diversification.

A federal-provincial task force intends to meet this week. Quebec Economic Development Minister Dominique Anglade urged Ottawa to help forest companies, but said Monday the province will act immediately: “Day 1, we will be there to support the industry,” she said in an interview.

Meanwhile, Ontario named former federal trade minister Jim Peterson as its chief softwood lumber negotiator on Monday. He joins former federal cabinet minister David Emerson who represents B.C. and former U.S. Ambassador Raymond Chretien who is Quebec’s negotiator.

Unifor union president Jerry Dias called on Ottawa to respond to the duties to avoid a repeat of the situation when 15,000 were laid off within months of a combined duty of 27 per cent being imposed in the early 2000s.

“It’s hard to exaggerate the impact tariffs will have on hundreds of small communities. The federal government needs to have a plan in place and act swiftly,” he said in a news release.

However, provinces aren’t in total agreement about financial support.

British Columbia has said it is cautious out of fear that assistance will be construed by the Americans as unfairly helping the Canadian industry. B.C. producers such as West Fraser Timber and Canfor are in a stronger position to weather a U.S. trade battle because they have purchased sawmills in the U.S. and expanded exports to China.

In Central Canada, sawmills tend to be smaller, don’t have as much cash flow to pay duties and are therefore more at risk of closing, experts say. That’s why Ontario and Quebec producers have been pushing Ottawa to provide loan guarantees to help them pay duties and stay in business.


TTC subway system 10 times more polluted than outside, study shows

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 06:00:00 EDT


Waiting a long time for a subway can be annoying but a new study suggests it could do more than test your patience — it might also expose you to potentially harmful pollution.

According to a study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science & TechnologyEnvironmental Science & Technology, concentrations of fine particulate matter on the Toronto subway system are roughly 10 times the level found outside TTC stations. At 95 micrograms per cubic metre, researchers say the levels are typical of an average day in pollution-choked Beijing.

The study also found that concentrations measured on the TTC subway system were almost three times greater than those discovered on Montreal’s Metro and five times higher than those on Vancouver’s SkyTrain.

The lead author of the study, Keith Van Ryswyk, said the research didn’t measure the health effects of the pollution and the findings shouldn’t deter anyone from taking public transit.

But under some conditions, the kind of particulate matter that was measured, known as PM2.5, has been associated with lung problems, and Health Canada guidelines advise that indoor concentrations “should be kept as low as possible.”

“That is to say, there isn’t a safe level of PM2.5, so reducing it in any environment where people spend their lives every day is a good idea,” said Van Ryswyk, a researcher at Health Canada’s air health science division.

In a written statement, TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said the subway “remains a safe system for our customers and employees” and said the transit agency has been working for years to improve air quality underground.

The study was a collaboration between Health Canada, McGill University, and the University of Toronto, and was part of ongoing work to measure air quality in commuter environments, which represent a significant daily source of pollution exposure for millions of Canadians.

Over several weeks between 2010 and 2013, researchers used portable air samplers to measure the air quality on the platforms and inside the trains of rail systems in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.

The most abundant sampled element in the particulate matter on the TTC was iron, and manganese was also present. The ratios of the two substances led researchers to conclude that the source of the particulate was likely friction between the subway’s steel wheels and steel tracks.

The two surfaces rubbing together produces a metal-heavy “rail dust” that is pumped allover the platform every time a train enters a TTC station, said Greg Evans, a U of T engineering professor and one of the co-authors of the study.

“What happens is as the train moves down the tunnel, it’s like a piston that’s pushing all the air in front of it. What that does is any dust that’s in the tunnel gets re-entrained, basically gets blown around, so the concentrations in the station increase,” he said.

Concentrations of fine particulate were much higher on TTC platforms than on the trains themselves, at 140 and 80.8 micrograms per cubic metre, respectively. Evans said the trains’ ventilation systems mitigate the exposure.

The researchers concluded that the unique features of the three cities’ subway systems accounted for their differing levels of pollution.

Vancouver’s SkyTrain has steel wheels and tracks just like the TTC, but about 80 per cent of the system is exposed to the air. Concentrations of fine particulate matter on the SkyTrain were just 19 micrograms per cubic metre.

Montreal’s Metro is entirely underground, but its trains have rubber wheels that run on concrete “rollways,” and their brakes are operated with wooden shoes. The researchers determined that was likely why concentrations of fine particulate matter were found to be only 35 micrograms per cubic metre, about a third of those on the TTC.

The authors estimated that while commuters spent just 4.9 per cent of their days on the subway system, doing so contributed 21.2 per cent of Toronto riders’ daily exposure to fine particulate matter. In Montreal and Vancouver the number was just over 11 per cent.

“Considering the combined daily ridership of these three metro systems, a significant portion of Canada’s population is being exposed to these particulates on a daily basis,” the study said.

The authors recommended that in order to reduce exposure, transit systems should improve ventilation and in-car filtration systems, and conduct regular rail dust cleaning.

Green, the TTC spokesperson, said the agency was already taking steps to address air quality at the time the measurements were collected, including refurbishing HVAC systems on its older trains, introducing new Toronto Rocket subway cars with better HVAC systems, and purchasing a tunnel vacuum car equipped with at HEPA filtration system.

Green added that the TTC plans to carry out a study this year to determine whether air quality is affecting subway workers’ health.

“We will continue to work with Health Canada to monitor the steps we are already taking to improve air quality including the impact our mitigation measures have had,” he said.


Greg Spern out as head of Toronto Community Housing

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 07:45:29 EDT


The interim chief executive officer of Toronto Community Housing is no longer with the organization, the Star has confirmed.

Greg Spearn’s departure from the top job at Canada's largest social housing provider was not voluntary, according to a source with knowledge of the split who was not authorized to speak on the record.

Spearn was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

He had led TCH since 2014, when then-CEO Gene Jones resigned following an ombudsman’s report that detailed mismanagement at the senior executive level.

Kevin Marshman, who is currently vice-chair of the board, is expected to immediately take over as interim CEO with no permanent replacement in sight.

The board of directors was scheduled to meet Tuesday morning.

In his temporary role, Spearn was in charge as a task force initiated by Mayor John Tory and led by Senator Art Eggleton looked at ways to make the beleagured agency sustainable.

At the same time, hundreds of housing units have been closed amid chronic underfunding and a backlog of repairs totalling $2.6 billion, a situation which Spearn has repeatedly described as an ongoing crisis.

Spearn was a real estate executive before joining the city agency in September 2012. He was vice-president and chief development officer before being bumped into the interim CEO role.

As TCH launched a search for a new CEO, Spearn was openly in the running. However, the search has appeared to drag on while TCH awaited next steps from the city on implementing recommendations from the mayor’s task force — which could see the organization broken up into separate entities.

Spearn was cleared of misconduct allegations in 2015 after he was alleged to have used TCH staff to remove a washer and dryer from his home and install new ones.

The investigation found that Spearn had donated his old washer and dryer to a TCH family and had not violated company policies.


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