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Provincial watchdog to probe Durham police, citing ‘crisis of confidence’ in top brass

A provincial police watchdog is opening an investigation into the Durham Regional Police Service after receiving “credible information” that the force’s top brass, including the chief, “might have” participated in alleged criminal conduct.

Citing a “crisis of confidence” within Durham police for Chief Paul Martin and his senior leadership, the Ontario Civilian Police Commission has issued an order appointing a retired deputy chief of the Toronto police to oversee the beleaguered Durham force while the commission investigates allegations of corruption and abuse of power.

“The Commission has received credible information that suggests certain members of the Service’s leadership might have covered up, attempted to cover up, allowed, tolerated, encouraged or participated in the alleged misconduct or criminal conduct … and that they may have interfered in previous external and internal investigations,” reads the May 23 order, signed by Linda P. Lamoureux, executive director of Tribunals Ontario.

Lamoureux’s order says the commission does not yet have enough information to make any formal findings. “However, it is clear that the Service’s morale suffers from a prevalent perception that advancement and preferential treatment within the Service is restricted to individuals favoured by certain members of the Service’s leadership,” she writes.

These favoured individuals are known within the service as the “untouchables,” Lamoureux writes. They are “believed to be impervious to workplace harassment complaints, and to allegations of criminal activity and/or misconduct due to their relationship to the Service’s leadership.”

Neither Durham police nor a lawyer representing senior officials, including Chief Paul Martin, immediately responded to a request for comment.

Lawyer Sean Dewart previously described the allegations against Martin and senior brass as “false and defamatory,” adding that a “handful of disgruntled individuals within (or formerly within) the DRPS have been proffering baseless allegations to try to destroy the reputations of members of the force’s management and command.”

The commission’s investigation is part of growing turmoil engulfing Durham police, Canada’s 10th-largest municipal force, which patrols the region east of Toronto, including the cities of Oshawa and Pickering.

Martin and other top officials within the Durham force were accused of serious misconduct by several veteran officers who filed complaints to the province, as previously revealed by the Star. The complaints include allegations that senior command threatened officers with trumped-up accusations of misconduct in attempts to intimidate or dig up dirt on those who had fallen out of favour with the management, and allegations of lying under oath to cover up for the chief.

Worried that officers would not come forward out of fear of reprisal by senior command, the commission has appointed Mike Federico, a retired deputy chief with Toronto police, as administrator, who will oversee the Durham force during the oversight agency’s investigation.

Federico’s responsibilities will include approving promotions and overseeing all internal discipline, the order said. Durham police must reimburse the commission for the cost of the administrator.

The other senior Durham officers named in the complaints are Deputy Chief Dean Bertrim, former deputy chief Uday Jaswal and chief administrative officer Stan MacLellan. Dewart also represents Bertrim, Jaswal and MacLellan, who have said the allegations against them are baseless and defamatory.

Lamoureux said the Commission has already discovered a widespread “sense of mistrust in the judgment, integrity and capacity of the Service’s leadership and the (Police Services) Board’s oversight abilities.”

“The most commonly expressed reasons for mistrust are allegations of cronyism manifested as favoritism with respect to a variety of decisions made by the senior administration of the Service,” she writes, adding that senior officials were alleged to have been “willfully blind” to harassment, intimidation and “retaliatory discipline.”

Ontario’s solicitor general asked the commission, an independent police watchdog, to investigate the allegations after receiving complaints from at least three longtime officers with the police service. The complainants include a recently retired inspector, a veteran sergeant and a former president of Durham’s police union.

In one complaint sent to the solicitor general, Durham police Sgt. Nicole Whiteway alleges police brass demanded she dish out unsavoury information about other Durham police employees in order to resolve what she said were baseless internal discipline charges against her.

Another complaint was filed by Insp. Bruce Townley, who has since retired. Townley presided over internal disciplinary proceedings for the police service and alleged that at one such hearing, a senior officer lied under oath to protect the chief. The officer was subsequently promoted to deputy chief. Townley alleges the police board was aware of the allegations of his “false testimony” when it gave him the promotion.

The commission is also reviewing how the force’s senior command handled the case of a veteran cop who external investigators concluded misled Durham police about his marijuana side gig. The Ontario Provincial Police concluded in 2017 that Const. Phil Edgar committed multiple counts of professional misconduct and was “deceitful” when he sought approval from police brass to own a medical marijuana dispensary for which he didn’t have a licence.

In an interview with the Star, Edgar had said he did “absolutely nothing wrong” and that he would strongly defend himself if given the opportunity.

The OPP concluded that Durham police failed to do basic due diligence and should not have approved his request. Edgar’s superiors were aware as of June 2016 that the dispensary did not have a licence but had not initiated disciplinary charges, the report said.

Kevin Ashe, chair of the Durham police services board, said in an email that he had “not received any official notification of any order” from the Commission as of end of business Friday.

“The Board strives for transparency and looks forward to being in a position to comment further,” he said.

Jesse McLean is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @jesse_mclean

Brendan Kennedy is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @BKennedyStar

Foreign student faces deportation for ‘working too hard’

An international student from India, who says he was struggling to pay for college, is facing imminent deportation for working 40 hours as a long-haul truck driver during a school week — twice the amount that’s allowed under immigration law.

Jobandeep Singh Sandhu, a Canadore College student, was stopped by Ontario Provincial Police for a routine inspection near Cornwall, Ont., in 2017. His driver log book revealed he had worked more hours than permitted under his student visa. No charges were laid, but he was reported to federal authorities for the immigration breach. Sandhu is scheduled to be deported on June 15.

On Friday, dozens of his supporters gathered in front of Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office in Toronto to deliver a petition containing more than 50,000 signatures of people calling on the government to lift its restriction on the number of hours international students can work and to issue Sandhu a temporary resident permit to remain in Canada.

“It makes no sense to arbitrarily pick a random number and limit people like Jobandeep’s ability to work to just those hours,” said Syed Hussan of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, a national umbrella group advocating for agricultural and domestic workers and students.

All students, domestic or foreign, should be able to work as much as they want and can, he added. “We can’t have a multi-tiered economy or different laws for different people.”

The Alliance also called for permanent residence status to be granted to all migrants, including international students, upon their arrival in Canada.

Sandhu, 22, arrived from Punjab in 2015 on a student visa to study in the mechanical engineering technician diploma program at Canadore College’s Mississauga campus. He began working for a truck company in 2017.

“I went to all my classes. I passed all my courses. I only worked on weekends, and my education wasn’t affected,” said Sandhu, who was caught just days before he completed diploma program. “My first priority in Canada was to study, but I had no other option. I would have to stop my studies if I didn’t work to pay for school.”

Immigration department spokesperson Beatrice Fenelon said foreign students must abide by the conditions listed on their study permits and are required to actively pursue studies.

“This regulation tries to ensure that study permit-holders are genuine students. Limiting off-campus work to 20 hours per week while class is in session reflects that the student is genuinely pursuing their studies, while continuing to offer the opportunity to gain valuable workplace experience in Canada and earn some money,” she explained.

“A person seeking to work full-time would have a primary purpose of working, not studying, and should seek a work permit.”

There were 572,415 international students in Canada at all levels of study in 2018, most are enrolled in language training and post-secondary studies. Full-time foreign students at publicly funded colleges and universities are charged three times more than their domestic peers for tuitions. Under their visa, they can work up to 20 hours off campus while enrolled full-time. No restrictions on employment hours are in place during school breaks.

“Students workers are suffering. We pay all the taxes, but are excluded from healthcare and decent housing. We face wage exploitation and abuse,” said Varunpreet Singh, a migrant student organizer. “Everyone, including migrant students should have the same rights, and that means full labour rights.”

Sandhu said his parents borrowed money to cover the first-year tuition of his two-year, $28,000 program, and he must work full-time to support himself and help pay off his debt. Sandhu declined to reveal his employer’s name or his salary, saying those were not at issue. However, he said it has been his intent to apply for immigration after his studies.

He has unsuccessfully fought against his deportation since 2017. In January, he applied for a temporary residence permit to remain in Canada. A decision is pending, but may not come before his scheduled deportation.

“I came to Canada with a dream, to study, to settle here, to build a life for me and my family,” he told the Star in an interview. “Now I’m being punished for working too hard.”

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

Bumped off a flight or lost your bags? You could be compensated up to about $2,000 under new federal rules

OTTAWA—Air travellers who suffer flight delays and lost bags will soon be entitled to new compensation under rules that take effect this summer.

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau confirmed Friday that the government’s new passenger rights rules — first unveiled in December — will now take effect in phases, beginning in July, to ensure that airlines keep travellers up-to-date when flights go awry and provide compensation when warranted.

Garneau said the “balanced” regulations will help ensure that airlines “live up to their commitments that they have made to travellers.”

“The regulations that I’m announcing today outline standards of treatment and compensation that an air carrier will need to provide during delays, cancellations, over-bookings and other situations,” he told a news conference at Pearson International Airport.

The regulations will apply to flights to and from Canada as well as domestic flights. Airlines won’t have to pay compensation for delays that are safety-related or caused by issues beyond their control, such as weather or air traffic control tie-ups.

Ottawa is moving ahead with the new rules despite pressure from the airlines, which had urged a delay. In April, the National Airlines Council of Canada complained that the government was pushing ahead with the changes with “little consideration for their impact on the commercial airline industry and the passengers it serves.”

Yet in a nod to those concerns, the government is phasing in the changes over this year. Starting July 15, airlines will be required to provide:

  • Regular updates to passengers when flight delays and cancellations occur and provide “simple, clear” information on their rights.

  • Compensation of up to $2,400 for bumping passengers off a flight for reasons within their control.

  • Service to passengers during lengthy delays on the ground, and allow them to leave the airplane if the delay is longer than three hours and there’s no prospect of an imminent takeoff.

  • Provide compensation for lost or damaged baggage of up to $2,100 and a refund of any baggage fees.

Further rules kick in Dec. 15 that will require airlines to provide compensation of up $1,000 for flight delays and cancellations within an airline’s control that are not safety-related. They will also be required to rebook or refund passengers when flights are delayed and provide food, drink and accommodation during the delay.

As well, they will be required to facilitate the seating of children under 14 close to an accompanying adult at no extra charge.

Scott Streiner, chair and CEO of the Canadian Transportation Agency, said the regulations will “for the first time, lay out airlines’ minimum obligations to air passengers.”

Massimo Bergamini, the president and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada, said the phase-in period will give airlines some breathing space but cautioned that they still have much work to ready computer systems and train personnel even for the July changes.

“It’s just the reality of putting in place systems to translate those regulatory requirements into actual outcomes,” he said in an interview Friday.

He also urged the government to remain open to amending the legislation if problems are found after the new rules come into effect. “It’s critical from our perspective that this be looked as an ongoing process,” Bergamini said.

The Canadian Automobile Association said it was pleased some rules will be in place for the busy summer travel season but expressed disappointment that travellers will have to wait until December before the full protections are in place.

Read more:

Canadian air travellers to get compensation for delays, cancellations

How much should an airline pay for bumping a passenger? Now you can have your say

“It was over three years ago that the government committed to putting a real passenger rights regime in place, so we find this latest delay really disappointing,” said Jeff Walker, CAA’s chief strategy officer.

Walker added that the package itself, while far from perfect, is a solid advance for consumers.

“We will have uniform, accessible rules for all travellers instead of a patchwork of policies carriers wrote themselves, and largely keep out of sight,” he said in a statement.

Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier

A Toronto woman donated her house when she died. At-risk youth will soon see the benefits

It was a modest brick and mortar gift, bequeathed to Canada by a Toronto resident, and one expected to have a lasting impact on young lives for many years.

Maria Scutti’s life and generosity was celebrated on Thursday as part of a public announcement that the little house Scutti left to the federal government in her will is just a few months away from reopening as a transitional home for at-risk Toronto youth.

The brown-brick bungalow, near Jane St. and Wilson Ave., was the platform for that public praise and the future site of a plaque honouring Scutti’s gift and one housing advocates praise as a compassionate solution to one part of a citywide homelessness crisis.

National charity Raising the Roof was given the property by the federal government, transferred through the Surplus Federal Real Property for Homelessness Initiative, which is part of a broad national housing strategy and focused on reducing homelessness through the disbursement of federal lands.

Raising the Roof’s director of community initiatives and interim chief executive officer, Elisa Traficante, said the use of Scutti’s house is a “shining example” of how one person’s decision can have a meaningful and lasting impact on the lives of many vulnerable people.

The Star learned of Scutti’s name and story only through the federal release and by press time had yet to determine if she had living relatives, or connect with people who could share more about her life.

The house is expected to be reoccupied in August, outfitted to meet the needs of three youth upstairs and ready to accommodate a fourth person in a separate basement unit with a background in social work who will act as a cross between a house monitor and permanent roommate.

Toronto provided financial support for renovations by agreeing to a one-time $50,000 increase to the already approved 2018 operating budget for shelter support and housing, and agreed to exempt the property from certain municipal taxes.

The City of Toronto considers anyone between the ages of 16 and 24 to be a youth. The people who move in will have been identified as being at risk of becoming homeless without proper supports and will be referred by an agency with expertise in that area. They will also, Traficante said, be enrolled in school or some kind of vocational training. Rent is $440 per person and bathroom and kitchen facilities are shared, she said.

How this one house factors into larger efforts to combat homelessness is through their Reside initiative, she said. The goal of that project is to secure and set up at least 10 properties to provide low-cost rental housing for people at risk of homelessness, then use any earnings from that rent to expand.

“Rather than focus on the emergency response and building large shelters that are hard to maintain we are just focusing on building affordable housing units,” Traficante said.

When asked by the Star, she said they would accept donations. Including properties.

“Yes. We would love that. Very much so.”

Any future homes will provide another way for young people to advance and gain more security in life. Any youth interested in the trades can be involved in renovations, under supervision, to help them determine what type of apprenticeship they might want to pursue.

Adam Vaughan, parliamentary secretary to the minister in charge of housing, said the initiative that was used to transfer Scutti’s house to Raising the Roof has already sourced 160 potential properties across the country, including about a dozen in Toronto and one “very promising” site in Toronto’s Danforth neighbourhood. He said the full details will be released after a deal is finalized. The goal, he said, is to disperse $200 million worth of federal land over 10 years.

“When you take the land values out of the mix in Toronto affordable housing becomes very easy,” Vaughan said.

Small, supportive houses across Toronto could be possible if the city decided to “embrace and lean into” the idea of creating a bylaw that would make room for this type of housing, Vaughan said.

Emily Mathieu is a Toronto-based reporter covering affordable and precarious housing. Follow her on Twitter: @emathieustar

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