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U.S. officials admit they haven’t analyzed the economic effects of ending NAFTA

WASHINGTON—American policy-makers admit they have not worked to analyze the economic impact of the end of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

That absence of research applies to both the Trump administration and to the Congress.

A research unit for Congress, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, tells The Canadian Press it has not received any requests from lawmakers for an impact assessment.

It’s the same thing for U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade czar. Robert Lighthizer said this week that he hasn’t done the research.

He says there hasn’t been any analysis about the economic impact of a pullout because he’s still focusing on getting a deal.

Duncan Wood, a Washington trade-watcher with the Wilson Center, isn’t so sure — he says the U.S. is acting like it’s preparing for a pullout, and he takes no comfort from the fact the government hasn’t examined the potential impact.

Judge dismisses doctor’s testimony in legal battle to revoke death certificate for Brampton woman on life-support

A judge has decided not to allow the testimony of a retired American physician brought to court by the family of a Brampton woman who was declared dead in September but has remained on life support.

Dr. Paul Byrne, a specialist in pediatrics, was brought in by Taquisha McKitty’s family to serve as an expert. He has written about brain death and has testified in court in cases about brain death in the U.S.

Judge Lucille Shaw ruled on Friday that she would deny Byrne’s testimony over his lack of understanding of the Canadian medical guidelines, and his “lack of independence, partiality and bias” on the subject of brain death, which constitutes death in Ontario.

“Dr. Byrne cannot be an independent witness . . . when he opposes the concept of brain death,” Shaw told the court.

Byrne is the president of Life Guardian Foundation, a Christian organization he co-founded, which disagrees with the concept of brain death.

Byrne told court earlier this week he thinks brain death is a made-up concept meant to facilitate the collection of organ donations.

He testified that he would never pronounce someone dead solely because their brain has stopped functioning, even though he recognized that is a respected medical opinion and legal standard in the U.S.

Shaw ruled that Byrne has never reviewed the Canadian medical guidelines on determination of death before the case, and has never applied them.

Brain death in Canada, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, requires “the irreversible loss of the capacity for consciousness combined with the irreversible loss of all brain stem functions . . . including the capacity to breathe.”

McKitty, a 27-year-old mother of a young daughter, was declared dead on Sept. 20 by Dr. Omar Hayani at Brampton Civic Hospital after he determined that her brain had ceased functioning.

Shaw granted a two-week injunction to keep McKitty on life support on Sept. 28.

McKitty’s family argues that she is moving voluntarily, and that she is not brain dead, and hopes to have her death certificate revoked.

Hugh Scher, the lawyer for McKitty’s family, intends to seek another expert, ideally a Canadian neurologist.

With files from The Canadian Press

U.S. says 2 more government workers hurt in Cuba attacks, raising the total to 24

WASHINGTON—Two more U.S. government workers have been confirmed to be victims of invisible attacks in Cuba, the United States said Friday, raising the total to 24.

The tally has inched upward since the U.S. first disclosed in August that embassy workers and their families in Havana had been harmed by unexplained, mysterious incidents affecting their health. The Trump administration later said it had determined the incidents were “specific attacks” that are ongoing, but investigators have not yet identified a weapon or a culprit.

The disclosure that 24 people have been harmed suggests that nearly half the American government workers serving in Cuba have been attacked. The U.S. had roughly 50 personnel posted to the Embassy in Havana until earlier this month when, in response to the attacks, the State Department pulled out roughly 60 per cent of the staff. Yet some of the victims were spouses of U.S. workers, and several were temporary workers who rotated in to Cuba for short-term stints.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the two additional victims “do not reflect new attacks.”

“The assessments are based on medical evaluations of personnel who were affected by incidents earlier this year,” Nauert said.

Nauert said the most recent attack is still believed to have been near the end of August. A U.S. official told The Associated Press previously that attack occurred Aug. 21. The official wasn’t authorized to disclose the exact date and requested anonymity.

“Our personnel are receiving comprehensive medical evaluations and care,” Nauert said. “We can’t rule out additional new cases as medical professionals continue to evaluate members of the embassy community.”

The United States “can’t rule out additional new cases as medical professionals continue to evaluate members of the embassy community,” Nauert added.

Read more:

Tourists to Cuba wonder if they were also targeted by mysterious sound attacks

Trump says Cuba ‘is responsible’ for attacks on U.S. personnel in Havana

U.S. to ask Cuba to cut embassy staff by 60% following mysterious health attacks

The attacks started last year and affected American diplomats, intelligence officials and their spouses in Havana. They began in staffers’ homes in Havana, but the AP disclosed in September that they later occurred in hotels as well. The attacks in hotels began after the U.S. complained to President Raul Castro’s government, and Cuban security officials dramatically increased patrols around the U.S. workers’ homes, officials said.

Cuba has vehemently denied any knowledge or involvement in the attacks, emphasizing its eagerness to co-operate with the investigation being led by the FBI. The United States hasn’t blamed Cuba or any other actor of perpetrating the attacks, but has faulted Castro’s government for failing to stop them, arguing it’s Cuba’s responsibility under international law to protect foreign diplomats on its soil.

“I do believe Cuba’s responsible. I do believe that,” U.S. President Donald Trump said last week. “And it’s a very unusual attack, as you know. But I do believe Cuba is responsible.”

A few Canadians were also affected by the attacks, which caused a variety of physical symptoms. The U.S. has said that vestibular, cognitive, vision and other problems have been reported by the victims, with some experiencing memory and balance issues, headaches and ringing in the ears. The union that represents American diplomats has said some have been diagnosed with permanent hearing loss and mild traumatic brain injury, known as concussions.

Some of the cases involved mysterious, blaring sounds that led to investigators to consider whether a sonic weapon was involved. The AP last week released a recording of what some American workers heard.

Trudeau says Quebec shouldn’t tell women what to wear and what not to wear

ALMA, QUE.—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau again waded into the debate on Quebec’s Bill 62 on Friday, saying governments should not be telling women what to wear and what not to wear.

“I will always stand up for Canadians’ rights,” he said in Alma, Que. “I will always stand up for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is what Canadians expect of me.

“As I’ve said a number of times as well, I don’t think it should be the government’s business to tell a woman what she should or shouldn’t be wearing.

Bill 62, which was adopted in the Quebec legislature Wednesday, bans people from providing or receiving public services in the province with their faces covered and is widely seen as an attack on Muslim women.

It also prohibits people from taking public transit if their face is covered.

“We know there is going to be many weeks and many months of discussions on this, on what the implications are,” Trudeau said as he campaigned ahead of a federal byelection Monday.

“And as a federal government, we are going to take our responsibilities seriously and look carefully at what the implications are.”

Asked if that means taking the law to court, Trudeau replied, “this means looking carefully at the implications of this law and how we continue to stand up for Canadians’ rights.”

Read more:

Quebec and its niqab legislation should have stayed out of women’s closets: Paradkar

Quebec lawmakers pass religious neutrality bill banning face coverings

Ontario MPPs denounce Quebec law targeting Muslim women

On Thursday, Trudeau asserted it is not up to the federal government to challenge its constitutionality.

The law, meanwhile, has been unanimously condemned in the Ontario legislature, with Premier Kathleen Wynne calling religious freedom “part of our identity.”

“Forcing people to show their faces when they ride the bus, banning women from wearing a niqab when they pick up a book from the library will only divide us,” she said Thursday.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has defended the law by saying it is necessary for reasons related to communication, identification and security.

Toronto councillor explains reason behind ‘poop smell’ in the city

The mystery of the overwhelming stench in Toronto has been solved, according to a city councillor, who says the smell is not an accident.

People have taken to Twitter in the past 24 hours asking why Toronto smells like poop. Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) tweeted that organic fertilizer is being applied to sports field across the city.

Layton, who jokingly identified himself as the “poop-councilor” explained that the city regularly fertilizes sports fields with manure, in anticipation for the upcoming spring season.

“I am no manure laying expert, but I know that ward 19 is doing this in Christie Pits Park, Hamilton Park, Trinity Woods Park, the sports field at George Ben and Stanley Park — so all the huge corridor parks in the west end have had fertilizer applied,” said Layton.

A Reddit user says that they left their office at Yonge St. and Bloor St. and it “stank.”

“Got off the subway at Davisville, and it still smelled like crap…so glad it wasn’t just me,” they wrote.

Complaints online regarding the smell came from users living in the downtown core, to Thornhill and Mississauga.

Layton said that his recent visit to Christie Pits Park on Friday morning was successful in that he could no longer smell the manure.

Kathleen Wynne serves Patrick Brown with libel notice

Premier Kathleen Wynne has served Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown with a libel notice for claiming she’s on “trial” in the Sudbury byelection bribery case.

Having given Brown the requisite six weeks to apologize for his statement on Sept. 12, the premier’s lawyers served the Tory leader with the legal papers on Friday at his Orillia constituency office.

“You have refused to retract or apologize for those defamatory statements and have made further defamatory statements about Premier Wynne,” lawyers Jack Siegel and Sheldon Inkol of Blaney McMurtry LLP said in a four-page letter.

The notice is the next step toward a defamation suit being filed in court.

It stems from Brown telling a Queen’s Park media scrum that Ontario had “a sitting premier sitting in trial” and that Wynne “stands trial” in Sudbury.

His comment was made the day before the premier testified as a Crown witness in a Sudbury courtroom where Patricia Sorbara, her former deputy chief of staff, and Liberal activist Gerry Lougheed are on trial for alleged Election Act violations, which they deny.

“Your statements above are false and defamatory. The express meaning of these statements is that Premier Wynne was on trial for bribery, which was not the case,” wrote Siegel and Inkol, adding Brown had the “intention of further harming Premier Wynne’s reputation.”

“A further implied meaning of these statements is that Premier Wynne is unethical and was under investigation by the police for a criminal act.”

The lawyers said Wynne, whose legal bills are being paid by the Ontario Liberal Party, could seek an “award of aggravated and punitive damages” if the case proceeds to court.

An unrepentant Brown accused the premier of using the libel notice “to deflect from news that 180 pages of emails and documents were released to the public yesterday during one (of) her two political corruption trials.

“Her Liberal government is also under fire from an explosive report on hydro from the auditor general,” said the Tory chief, a lawyer by training.

“Make no mistake, it is political corruption that’s on trial. And the premier is oblivious to the fact that her party is politically corrupt,” he said.

“It was a sad day for Ontario and truly a sorry spectacle that the premier of our province testified in a trial,” said Brown.

“No one wants to see the premier of our province debased or humiliated. Regrettably Kathleen Wynne compounded this with baseless legal threats against me.

“Her baseless threats will be ignored.”

Speaking to reporters in Windsor, where she was co-hosting the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Wynne urged Brown to recant.

“An acceptable outcome for me is to have a debate about the truth — whatever the subject we’re talking about — to talk about the facts and to talk about the substance of the issues,” she said.

Two Star reporters and a columnist were in Brown’s Sept. 12 press scrum along with journalists from CBC, Radio-Canada, The Canadian Press, The Globe and Mail, QP Briefing, Global, CP24, CTV, TFO, Queen’s Park Today, Fairchild, CHCH and Newstalk 1010.

Prior to the 2014 election, Wynne launched a $2-million libel action against former Tory leader Tim Hudak and MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton) over their comments about her alleged role in former premier Dalton McGuinty’s cancellation of gas-fired power plants in Oakville and Mississauga. That matter was settled out of court in 2015.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has called on Brown to “absolutely” say sorry to Wynne.

“People are human beings. You make a mistake, you apologize. There’s not enough of that in politics,” Horwath said last month.

Mother takes tech giants to court to get passwords for her dead son’s social media accounts

A mother’s desperate search for answers over what led to her 23-year-old son’s sudden death in Toronto has resulted in what experts are calling an unprecedented court order for Facebook, Apple and Google to hand over his passwords.

Maureen Henry wants to know what her son Dovi was doing, and who he was in contact with, in the weeks leading up to his death.

“I am at a loss because I love my son, absolutely adore him,” Henry, 55, said from her Ottawa home. “I have to find out what happened to him so I can put that part to rest and I can cherish him. The grief doesn’t go, but I will be able to carry it better.”

So little remained of Dovi’s body, when it washed up on rocks near the Ontario Place marina one late summer afternoon in 2014, that the coroner couldn’t determine how he died.

Henry, who was representing herself, secured the court order Oct. 11 for the three tech giants to release Dovi’s passwords for his accounts and iPhone as well as data including messages and emails. The companies have yet to comply.

Judge Martin James also ordered Bell Mobility to turn over phone and text records, which it has done.

Henry’s case is unprecedented in Canada, said Ann Cavoukian, executive director of Ryerson University’s Privacy and Big Data Institute and former Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner.

“It could set a precedent that theoretically, parents could access their kids’ data even in non-tragic events, not involving a death,” Cavoukian said. “I honestly don’t know which way this could go.”

Toronto estate lawyer Daniel Nelson, who focuses on digital legacy, said Henry’s case will demonstrate, for the first time in Canada, how social media and technology companies deal with individuals who are investigating a family member’s death.

“I’d be shocked if these companies didn’t appeal this court order,” Nelson said. “The nub here is the judge ordered disclosure of passwords and that’s going to be a big problem.”

Dovi’s passwords for his accounts are equivalent to his signature on a contract or cheque. From the perspective of Facebook, his death is not reason enough for his mother to have access to his “signature,” Nelson said.

Facebook, Apple Canada and Google Canada can move to vacate Henry’s order, arguing the court’s endorsement is overbroad, Nelson said. If they don’t respond at all, Henry could bring a motion for contempt. If they’re found in contempt, a judge could impose a jail sentence or fine, although the latter is more likely.

Henry said Apple Canada told her that it is processing her request, while Facebook and Google Canada have yet to respond. None of the three companies appeared at the hearing earlier this month in the Superior Court of Justice in Ottawa.

They also declined to comment to the Star.

“These entities (Apple Canada, Google Canada, Facebook and Bell Mobility) are rightly concerned that they have a responsibility to protect personal information even when the customer is dead,” James wrote in his endorsement. “In the circumstances here, however, I think the applicant has demonstrated a reasonable basis for requesting access to the records.”

* * *

Toronto police said the case is listed as a sudden death occurrence, not a homicide cold case. Henry said they told her Dovi’s death was by suicide, but she wants proof.

“I know he wouldn’t just jump in Lake Ontario. He’s not somebody who’d have the idea of suicide. He didn’t have any mental health issues growing up,” Henry said. “The only thing that could’ve happened is an accident or foul play.”

A couple years before his body was found, Dovi was studying linguistics at the University of Toronto. A budding poet, he was passionate about his writing.

“He loved life and was a curious person, intellectually gifted,” Henry said. “I used to tell him, ‘I love you as far as the sky and as deep as the ocean.’ ”

Dovi did not make friends easily at the University of Toronto and, as a Black man, felt like he did not belong, Henry said. By 2012, Dovi had dropped out of university and moved back and forth between Toronto and his hometown Ottawa, working as a tutor.

He stayed briefly with his aunt in Toronto, but abruptly left at the beginning of March 2014, leaving his iPhone plugged into the wall. His uncle saw and spoke to him in Ottawa mid-May. That was the last time anyone heard from him.

Dovi’s body was found July 24, 2014, but was not identified for two years. In that time, Henry frantically searched for her son — in jails, shelters and morgues. She gained access to his bank records, and followed up on leads as far away as Germany.

Finally, on April 27, 2016, Henry saw a posting on the Ontario Provincial Police website about an unidentified body in Toronto that matched her son’s description. Henry sent in Dovi’s dental records. Two days later, OPP officers knocked on her front door.

It was Dovi.

“I was in shock, it’s really hard to understand, even now,” Henry said. “A part of me is still in shock.”


In two instances reported by media, Apple reset iPads, belonging to deceased individuals, to their factory settings so their family members could set up new accounts. But it did not release passwords or account data.

When Apple was asked by the U.S.’s Justice Department to unlock the iPhone used by one of the shooters in the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack, Apple quickly resisted, the Washington Post reported. Apple argued unlocking the phone would violate the company’s constitutional rights and weaken privacy for users.

Cavoukian has a similar mind set. While she said she feels for Henry, she also views this case as “a slippery slope.” If Apple releases Dovi’s phone password, it would make room for parents to request similar access for less serious reasons — to find out more about a boyfriend or girlfriend they don’t like, for example — which in Kevorkian’s view would be “completely unacceptable.”

Facebook has also been reluctant to hand over data from accounts. In 2013, a family from Virginia implored Facebook to allow them to access their 15-year-old son’s account, after he died by suicide, the Washington Post reported. Facebook refused to give his family his password, but released some data.

Companies like Facebook, Apple and Google need to come up with processes for dealing with unique requests like Henry’s, said Nelson, the estate lawyer. Having a judge sign off on companies releasing private information of deceased clients might be the right way to go, to balance competing interests of protecting user privacy versus helping loved ones.

But ultimately, these companies are going to protect passwords, Nelson said.

“If I was advising Dovi’s mom, I would have sought an order that didn’t ask for his passwords,” Nelson said. “Why get into that fight?”

Police discover an arsenal of guns and a note promising ‘bloody revenge’ in a Florida home

DUNEDIN, FLA.—Sheriff’s deputies conducting a child porn raid on a Florida home on Wednesday found an arsenal of guns and explosives and a homemade silencer, along with a note promising “bloody revenge.”

Investigators found the weapons — including an AK-47 assault rifle, a 50-calibre pistol, a baseball bat with nails jutting out and 2,300 rounds of ammunition — in a locked closet in the Dunedin, Florida, home where 24-year-old Randall Drake lived with his parents, said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

During a news conference on Thursday night, Gaultieri said that even more “troubling” is that investigators found aerial images of two schools and a water treatment plant in nearby Tampa. There was also the note written by Drake that promised he’ll have his “bloody revenge” and “the world will burn burn.”

“I don’t know what his plan was,” the sheriff said. “He had all kinds of books and all kinds of gun powder and if he had taken those devices put them in something else and put a bunch of nails and screws and other things, he could have caused some serious damage. Because it’s the shrapnel that hurts and kills everybody.”

The sheriff said he notified law enforcement and school officials in Hillsborough County, but so far investigators believe Drake was working alone.

His parents told authorities they didn’t know what he kept in his locked closet, the sheriff said. Drake had no criminal history. He was fired in 2015 from Florida Firearm Academy in New Port Richey after he came to work with guns strapped to his thighs, officials said. He also was an Explorer with the Tampa Police Department when he was younger.

Drake’s parents told deputies he was home-schooled.

Gualtieri compared Drake to Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock in the way he seemed to be acting alone.

“These are the people who are most concerning to us,” he said. “What we call the lone wolves, the sleepers who are out there, the people who are not on our radar, the people who have fallen under the radar or off of it. You don’t know about them until they engage in devastating acts and kill a whole bunch of people.”

The note deputies found in Drake’s bedroom read: “My fury at those who imprisoned me shall be vast and without mercy. I shall have my bloody revenge, and then the world will burn burn.”

The child porn investigation that led to the search warrant this week began in January, the sheriff said.

Drake faces felony charges of possessing destructive devices. He left jail on a $20,000 bond, but an attorney isn’t listed on jail records.

Fish sold in Toronto-area stores recalled due to botulism risk: CFIA

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says a variety of fish products from two grocery stores in the Toronto area are being recalled due to a risk of botulism.

The agency says the affected products were sold at Yummy Market stores in northern Toronto and Maple, Ont., and include the store’s brand of smoked herring, lesch, mackerel, rainbow trout, salmon and sturgeon.

The CFIA says the recall was issued last week after a consumer complaint and was recently expanded after a food safety investigation.

It says there have been no other illnesses reported that have been linked to the recalled fish products.

The CFIA advises people to throw out the recalled products or return them to the store where they were purchased.

Food contaminated with Clostridium botulinum toxin may not look or smell spoiled, but can still make you sick.

Symptoms in adults can include facial paralysis or loss of facial expression, unreactive or fixed pupils, difficulty swallowing, drooping eyelids, blurred or double vision and difficulty speaking.

Symptoms in children can include difficulty swallowing, slurred speech, generalized weakness and paralysis.

Racist Halloween costumes are still being sold in Toronto stores

Joy Henderson was shopping for Wolverine claws for her son’s Halloween costume last month when she saw a row of costumes at an east end store depicting her and her ancestors.

“Dream Catcher Cutie” and “Rising Sun Princess” were being sold at the Party City alongside accessories such as Indigenous headdresses and headbands, fringe shirts and plastic tomahawks.

“I was shocked. I expected some, but this was like a whole aisle’s worth,” says Henderson, a Scarborough child and youth worker whose family heritage can be traced to the Indigenous Lakota people of North and South Dakota. “Ceremonial wear is not a costume taken lightly,” she says.

Incensed, she left the store deciding to find the signature X-Men claws elsewhere. She posted on Facebook about the costumes, tagged the store and called for others to do the same. 

“We are still here, we are not costumes,” she wrote. She has not heard back from Party City and the store did not respond to the Star’s requests for comment. 

For many people of colour such as Henderson, it’s yet another season of visual assaults like this. Year after year, Black, Indigenous and other people of colour are confronted by Halloween revellers and retailers wearing and selling racist costumes depicting a culture that is not their own. This affront is not on colour necessarily, but on cultures and ethnicities.

“When people dress up as ‘dream catcher girls,’ they’re not appreciating the culture, they’re just commodifying it,” says Henderson.

Over the years, Henderson admits she became jaded with the concept of native dress-up for Halloween, but she was caught off guard by the sheer number of items on the racks at Party City at a time when cultural sensitivity is peaking.

“It’s getting old. I’m surprised people still do it,” she says.

Each year, new photographs from parties around the world go viral on social media showing celebrities and drunk college students dressed in everything from Native American Warbonnets and Mexican serapes to geisha makeup and blackface.

In 2012, Toronto Maple Leafs Centre Tyler Bozak was photographed during Halloween wearing dark makeup and defended it as a “tribute” to Michael Jackson. Last year, Australian actor Chris Hemsworth dressed in a “cowboys and Indians” themed costume and then added his regrets to a slew of celebrity costume apologies. 

Disney has faced public ire since last fall when it released a brown bodysuit costume online based off the tribal-tattooed Polynesian demigod Maui depicted in the 2016 film Moana. Last month, a mommy blogger on rareconscious.org set off the debate again, questioning whether her daughter should dress as the title character, the daughter of an Indigenous Polynesian chief.

An op-ed published this month in the Star proclaiming it a young girl’s right to dress as a Pocahontas-style “native princess” received criticism on Twitter.

And earlier this week, online retailer halloweencostumes.com pulled a costume from its website that depicted young Jewish Holocaust victim Anne Frank.

Read more: Anne Frank, Harvey Weinstein Halloween costumes call for drastic measures: Teitel

While supporters cry “political correctness” and argue for free expression and “cultural appreciation,” critics denounce the costumes as racist cultural appropriation that perpetuates stereotypes. 

It’s a recurring cultural conversation that is not going away.

“It keeps happening because there’s some fundamental misconception around what people understand to be either scary or a collectively shared public joke,” says University of Toronto professor and cultural critic Rinaldo Walcott.

If these costumes are “jokes” then it is clear they’re not landing, particularly for the Black and Indigenous groups so often depicted in the most controversial of costumes.

“They are harmful and they are hateful,” says Walcott. “We understand them as not just images from a history and a past gone. Many Black and Indigenous people are still living that history today.”

When people dress up as Pocahontas, they ignore the current struggles of Indigenous people that stem from a history of colonization in favour of a whitewashed Disney narrative that presents the character as a princess among savages. When people wear blackface, they ignore the history of white minstrel performers who used the theatrical makeup in their racist depictions of slaves, and they ignore racism that still exists today, which NFL stars and Black Lives Matter activists continue to protest around the world, including in Toronto, says Walcott. 

“When we see people engage in blackface, dress up in fake Indigenous costumes and so on, we know that these things are meant to denigrate those groups,” he says. “We know deep in our cultural consciousness, those groups have been seen to be less than or not civilized.”  

Intention doesn’t matter, he says. We should know better in our highly “visual culture,” that wearing a cowboy costume can’t be separated from the colonizing history of North America, says Walcott, and that widening your behind and bust for a Beyoncé costume at Halloween isn’t respect as much as racism.

“Even when the claim is being made that it is somehow an appreciation, what it’s actually doing is reproducing stereotypes and degradations of the people that they claim they’re paying homage too,” he says.

While some stores that sell an array of these costumes have remained mum on the subject, many educational institutions have attempted to address the issue. The Toronto District School Board’s Aboriginal Education Centre provides advice to principals each year, including having further classroom discussion around Indigenous issues. “While dressing as a super hero is one thing, dressing in a way that reduces culture to caricature suggests that the culture being portrayed is less important than others,” reads a document provided by the Centre to principals. 

Earlier this month, the French school board Conseil scolaire Viamonde, which encompasses central-southwestern Ontario, circulated a memo asking “Is My Costume Appropriate?” Walcott calls the attempt to quell racist attire “admirable,” but takes issue with the language such as “urban ghetto dwellers” to describe certain costumes.

It’s an issue that stays with students well into the education system. University and college students are often the worst offenders during the season. Students unions across the country have been trying to get ahead of ill-informed costume ideas for a while now. The students union at Waterloo’s University of Wilfrid Laurier is in its fourth year of its “I am not a costume” campaign. Last year, they included transgender issues in the project when they became aware of people wearing costumes mocking Caitlyn Jenner, the former Olympian who had recently revealed she is transgender.

“Those costumes aren’t jokes for people who have those lived experiences,” says Jaydene Lavallie, volunteer and community engagement director with the Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group. Lavallie’s Indigenous heritage comes from her father, who is Michis-Cree from Northern Saskatchewan. For people of colour, Lavallie says, culture is not a costume.

“It’s not a fun thing they get to put on and take off whenever they want,” she says.

At the University of Toronto, student union vice-president of equity Chimwemwe Alao says the costume gaffes often come out of a lack of empathy and understanding, which the union’s new campaign hopes to remedy.

“Part of it comes from people not understanding how wearing an outfit that represents another person’s culture as a costume can be insulting,” says Alao, 22, who still remembers seeing someone wearing blackface in Texas when he was trick or treating as a young kid just 11 or 12 years ago. “It was fully unabashed. The person who did it had no understanding of the historical connotations.”

It shouldn’t take a history lesson to understand that these costumes are wrong if even young kids can grasp the issue, says Scarborough mom and youth worker Henderson.

Some of the Indigenous kids and teens she has worked with have taken offence to costumes meant to represent their own people, from “Native Chief” imitations to sexualized “Pocahotties.”

She’s discussed racism and cultural appropriation with her own children, who are dressing as some of their favourite film and comic book characters: Wolverine, Guardians of the Galaxy critter Rocket the Raccoon and Batman’s nemesis the Joker. It’s been instilled “from the get go,” she says, not to dress up as specific cultures and ethnicities.

“Those Halloween costumes are not depicting cultures. They’re making mockeries of them,” she says. “Kids are picking up on this. Maybe adults should listen.”

Julia Roberts at 50 makes us smile a little wider: Govani

In this, the half-century of Julia Roberts, you can pretty much take your pick of her zeitgeist-prickling moments.

The Julia, say, who puts a Rodeo Drive store clerk on notice with the words “Big Mistake. Big. Huge!” when her character in Pretty Woman gets the snooty treatment. The Julia who later sublimates her own celebrity in Notting Hill when she so solemnly declares, “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” Or even the Julia who — in a moment out of her real-life sizzle reel — winds up leaving Kiefer Sutherland a few days before their wedding in what remains one of Hollywood’s most notorious arcs of disengagement.

For me, a career-defining moment came in the not-talked-about-enough Mike Nichols flick Charlie Wilson’s War. It’s the movie in which Roberts pulls out her Texas twang playing the role of real-life socialite and power-broker Joanne Herring (helping to persuade a congressman played by Tom Hanks to arm Afghanistan’s resistance against occupying Soviet forces). In what is one of her all-time best scenes, the actress — long saddled with the title of “America’s Sweetheart” — sits in front of a mirror, carefully combing the mascara from her eyelashes . . . with a harrowing-looking safety pin.

It’s quintessential Julia because she’s not only wholly insouciant about the de-clumping procedure (she makes it all look easy!), but also because she’s just so cavalier using the sharp end (the sharpness of Julia being the key to her spitfire persona, rather than the aforementioned glucose). And with the actress’s 50th birthday shuttling towards us fast — on Oct. 28 — it’s the one scene I’ve preferred to have looping in my head.

The first woman to reach $1 billion at the box office. Heck, the first woman to reach $2 billion at the box office. The first actress to command a $20 million paycheque per film (the equivalent at the time of the highest paid actor). The first actress to sign a beauty contract worth $50 million (thank you, Lancome). One of a very few to be nominated for an Oscar in three consecutive decades.

What’s left to say about Ms. 1967 that hasn’t already been amply combed through with the eye of a safety pin?

For a solid half of her life, she’s been first-name-only famous, an all-American entity every bit as brand-able as Mount Rushmore and Big Mac and “Beat It.” From the vantage point of 2017, what’s perhaps even more remarkable? That the unmatched stretch she enjoyed between 1990 and the early aughts is one she mounted — unlike female toppers of the moment — without ever glomming onto a franchise tentpole (think: Jennifer Lawrence and the ensemble-hedging X-Men films) or relying on the obligatory two-step with a congruous male star (think: Emma Stone’s fame-frisson with Ryan Gosling in La La Land).

The only thing Julia was leveraging as she made her climb was her Julia-ness, with the men in her movies (think: a Campbell Scott or a Dermot Mulroney) merely ponds with which to reflect that Julia-ness.

Speaking of the latter, here’s some trivia: in 1997, after a gap that’s sometimes referred to as her “period” period (the actress then taking on mopey roles in films like Michael Collins and Mary Reilly), she doubled down on Brand Julia by breaking a record with My Best Friend’s Wedding, which earned $21.7 million in its opening weekend (toppling a prior record held by Sleepless in Seattle), and ultimately making worldwide bank of $300 million.

The movie not only “made” Cameron Diaz, but it cemented the cultural precept of the “Gay Best Friend” a la Rupert Everett and is further notable today for two reasons.

One, the movie hangs on the idea of a pact that Julia’s character has made with her straight male best friend that if they’re still single at all of 28, they’ll get hitched. TWENTY-EIGHT! I repeat: TWENTY-EIGHT. Using the spectrum of Julia Roberts movies as a lens into demographics, what’s even crazier, when you consider it in this post-Girls culture, is that a presumably “old maid” Julia was exactly 28, too, when she filmed the project. Age has clearly become so much more nebulous, even in the last 20 years.

Two, My Best Friend’s Wedding remains one of the more subversive rom-coms because it dared to make its female protagonist a crackbrained anti-heroine and even, at times, a rhymes-with-witch.

It’s an on-screen tension that’s often been at the heart of Julia’s best performances — a quality keyed in via a Daily Beast article around the time of one her meatier recent turns, August: Osage County opposite Meryl Streep. “Roberts,” the writer opined, “has always been at her acting best when she gets combative, flipping two birds to our perception of her. Much as in Erin Brockovich (the film that brought her an Oscar) or Closer, her turn in August: Osage County is a brilliant riff on her squeaky-clean image. . .”

Many have tried to un-pretzel the idea of Ms. Mystic Pizza, chiefly among them David Edelstein of New York magazine, who when writing about her debut some years back on Broadway, argued that the very reason she’s magnetic on film (“the close-up is her voodoo”) is why she underwhelmed, relatively, on-stage. Other critics, he said, sometimes “discuss Julia Roberts with a certain amount of condescension. No one claims she’s not a true movie star, but is she much of an actress? Her industry colleagues gave her an Oscar for Erin Brockovich, but Laura Linney snagged all the critics’ prizes that year for You Can Count On Me. To critics, Julia was just being, you know, Julia. . .”

Going on to call her a “thoroughbred,” he mused, “It’s not that she’s an icon of glamour. This is a woman who was once married in bare feet, and part of her charm is that she doesn’t move especially gracefully. It’s not that her features are refined, either. They’re outsize, even freaky: that friendly, un-patrician nose . . . that smile that’s wider than most people’s heads. It’s that somehow those clown-princess features coalesce into one of the best faces ever captured on the big screen. She’s plainly gorgeous in still photos, but it’s in motion that the real magic happens. She can entrance you with the tiniest shifts in expression. And does she know it!”

It’s that “magic” that’s been hooking us for years now — a crack algorithm of both dizzying expression and knowing self-possession. Two-plus decades of scene-cuts, on-screen and off. Remember her alliterative marriage to Lyle Lovett? Her equally alliterative Benjamin Bratt phase? Or how about the greatest straight-up embrace of herself as a icon when she nabbed that Academy Award in 2001 — dressed in Valentino vintage — during which she all but declared that the rules didn’t apply to her, telling the rising orchestra trying to shoo her off to shush. She even threatened the conductor.

Practiced in the hokum of being a celebrity, she once told Oprah that her status is “all a projection, and projection is very changeable. Projection comes not so much from what I’m doing but from the point of view of the person perceiving me. So it’s like a joining of two things, one of which I have no control over or understanding of.” (Smart — or what?) Julia came to fame pre-social media, of course. And it’s funny to imagine what the chute of internet outrage would have made of her during the years when she was loving and leaving.

“I’ve never seen Facebook,” she remarked a little while back with a smidgen of pride, “but I did see The Social Network. I’ve never had Twitter.”

Having drifted some from the blue-flame of her fame in recent years — partly because aging is circuitous for any woman in Hollywood, but mainly because the mother of three seems to be focused on Hazel, Phinnaeus and Henry — Mrs. Danny Moder has had her share of clunkers (Larry Crowne, anyone?), but also become a more interesting actress (how urgent was her performance in the HBO’s The Normal Heart?).

Of course, that ginormous, almost ridiculous, beam endures — rising from the collective skyline as surely as the Empire State Building. Happy 5-0, lady.

69% of refugees who illegally cross the U.S. border are being granted asylum here, data show

Almost 70 per cent of refugees who illegally cross the U.S. border into Canada are granted asylum here, despite the widespread public view that these border-crossers are not real refugees in need of protection.

The data were released this week by the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Since January, The RCMP have intercepted more than 15,100 people entering through unguarded border entry points from the United States, after President Donald Trump came into power and issued a series of executive orders to expedite deportation of foreign nationals and ban immigration from certain countries.

Of the 10,790 asylum claims received from March to September of this year, the refugee board has processed 592, or 5.4 per cent. Of those claims 69 per cent, or 408 cases, were granted asylum, while 141 were rejected. Forty-three other claims were either abandoned or withdrawn.

The acceptance rate for the border-crossers is even higher than the 63-per-cent overall rate for asylum-seekers in 2016.

One expert said the group’s high acceptance rate could be skewed if the refugee board is prioritizing cases from countries that tend to have stronger claims.

However, academics and refugee advocates also emphasize the data show the border-crossers have a legitimate need for protection.

“The numbers show that the majority of the so-called border-crossers have genuine asylum claims. The message I take is that the Canadian refugee system is working. It is doing its job,” said Queen’s University immigration and refugee law professor Sharry Aiken.

Aiken and others are concerned that only a small fraction of the claims have been processed so far.

“The refugee board is under-resourced despite the spike in the number of claims. With the U.S. temporary protection of the Haitians in the country ending in January, Canada will see another spike of border-crossers and we need to be ready for it,” she said.

The experts also question the validity of the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which is based on the assumption the two countries have comparable asylum systems and bans refugees from seeking asylum in both.

The agreement doesn’t apply to those who cross into Canada at unmarked points along the border, which critics say encourages asylum-seekers to make dangerous treks through no man’s land, most commonly in Quebec, B.C. and in Manitoba.

A recent Ipsos poll found many Canadians doubted if border-crossers are legitimate refugees, with 67 per cent saying these migrants were trying to bypass the legal immigration process.

A separate poll by Angus Reid found that 57 per cent of respondents disapproved of Ottawa’s handling of the border-crossers, with 53 per cent of the participants in the survey saying Canada was being “too generous” to the asylum-seekers.

In recent months the majority of the border-crossers have been Haitians, who have been staying in the U.S. under a special immigration designation by the Department of Homeland Security. However, their special status is due to expire by the end of the year and the 58,000 Haitians there must leave the U.S.

The refugee board has been pushing for additional resources to deal with surge in claimants, a request that so far has been ignored by Ottawa. On Wednesday the board took the unusual step of publicizing the processing data of the “irregular” border claims.

“Whether a refugee is admitted at a border crossing or makes a refugee claim after having entered Canada is irrelevant to whether she is in danger in her country,” said Raoul Boulakia of the Refugee Lawyers Association of Ontario.

“It is troubling that public discourse has fallen into discussing these refugee claimants as if they are different. They are refugee claimants. That means the refugee claimant’s case must be adjudicated fairly and impartially, and the question for the refugee board to answer is whether she is at risk in her country.”

According to the refugee board, 160 of the 10,790 border-crossers have been detained because they are deemed a danger to the public, are unlikely to appear for examination or are “inadmissible” on grounds of security and criminality, or simply for failing to provide proper identification.

Among the 61 people who were deemed inadmissible, 34 have been ordered to be removed from Canada; one was prohibited from seeking asylum; three were allowed to stay in the country; and six withdrew their claims. One person failed to show up for the admissibility hearing. The rest are awaiting a final decision.

Janet Dench, of the Canadian Council for Refugees, believes the relatively high acceptance rate is likely the result of the refugee board’s policy to expedite claims from certain priority countries, including Afghanistan, Burundi, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

However, so far, the data do seem to the vindicate border-crossers, who are viewed as illegal economic migrants by some Canadians. “The statistics highlight the fact that the majority of those crossing the border for asylum need our protection,” Dench said.

Critics have been calling on Ottawa to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement, which was introduced in 2004 to limit refugees to making an asylum claim in the first of the two countries they arrive in, in order to avoid duplicate claims that would clog both systems.

“The agreement is not functional. Guarding irregular border-crossing is straining our resources,” said Queen’s University’s Aiken. “If the government wants to have a grip of the (refugee) flow, they should suspend the agreement and have people come through the regular port of entry.”

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The refugee board declined to comment about the Safe Third Country Agreement, but said it currently has 40,800 claims in the backlog, including 5,300 pending cases filed under the old rules before December 2012. Claimants are expected to wait 17 months for an asylum hearing.

Correction – October 20, 2017: This article was edited from a previous version that mistakenly said the refugee board has 40,800 claims in backlog, in addition to the 5,300 pending cases filed under the old rules before December 2012.

‘I just wanted to crawl in a hole and never come out’

Motherisk’s flawed hair-strand tests tainted thousands of child protection cases across Canada, but was every parent who tested positive for drugs or alcohol potentially harmed in some way? How much is that harm is worth? And what’s the best way to determine who should pay?

These are among the complex questions that were debated in a Toronto courtroom this week in the high-stakes battle over the fate of a proposed national class-action seeking millions in damages for families affected by the litany of failings uncovered at the Hospital for Sick Children’s Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory.

Whether the class-action will proceed is now in the hands of Superior Court Justice Paul Perell, who reserved his ruling on Thursday. His decision will play a key role in shaping what promises to be years of legal wrangling in the fallout from the problems at Motherisk. Already, some 275 plaintiffs are named in a series of individual lawsuits against Sick Kids and the major players at the lab, the court heard.

“This class-action is for the thousands of families who have received an apology but no compensation,” Rob Gain, a lawyer for the plaintiff, told the court, at the outset of the two-day hearing to determine whether the case meets the bar for class-action certification.

The proposed class includes anyone who had a positive Motherisk hair test between 2005 and 2015, the period during which a government-commissioned review by retired judge Susan Lang concluded Motherisk’s results were “inadequate and unreliable” for use in legal proceedings. (Close family members of those who tested positive are also included.)

Gain argued that a class-action is the best way to ensure access to justice to a vulnerable group of people who suffered a shared harm due to Motherisk’s faulty tests, ranging from parents who briefly came under the scrutiny of a child welfare agency to cases where children were removed permanently.

“When you’re dealing with the child protection regime . . . and there’s a test result from the lab showing drug or alcohol abuse, it is not discretionary what a Children’s Aid Society does. They must act,” he said. “That act is common to the entire class.”

However, that rationale was rejected by the defendants, who include Sick Kids, Motherisk’s founder and longtime director, Dr. Gideon Koren, and former lab manager Joey Gareri, who argued that a class-action is not appropriate because the circumstances in each case are highly individualized.

Koren’s lawyer, Darryl Cruz, told the court that his client “obviously opposes certification.”

Cruz said a negligence claim may be valid in some individual cases, but only if the plaintiff proves there was a false positive Motherisk result, and that result led to negative consequences.

“The link between what happened at Motherisk and these outcomes . . . is absolutely crucial, and not simple,” he said. “In each and every claim, one needs to consider, who are the various players? How do they relate to one another? How does the outcomes flow from the various players?”

Sick Kids lawyer Kate Crawford said the hospital is “very willing to engage in discussions about compensation with the appropriate people in appropriate circumstances,” but does not accept that there are “any common issues” that could be litigated through a class-action.

Although much of Motherisk’s hair-testing was performed at the request of child welfare agencies, some of the lab’s tests were ordered by physicians for clinical purposes, which shows the relationships between the lab and the proposed class members are “different in every case,” Crawford said.

Complicating matters further, the lab’s practices were “not consistent” and changed over time, as did the internationally accepted standards for hair-testing, which evolved as the science advanced, she said.

The proposed lead plaintiff is a mother whose access to her son was “repeatedly interfered with as a result of unreliable (Motherisk) hair tests” from 2009 to 2012, according to the plaintiff’s written arguments.

If the class-action is certified, the members of the class, however it is defined, will have to choose whether they want to pursue individual claims or join the class proceeding.

The hearing did not deal with the merits of the case. In a statement of claim, the plaintiff argues the defendants were “negligent in (their) operation and supervision” of Motherisk, and were responsible for the consequences that followed. In his statement of defence, Koren denied the claims, arguing the tests were “accurate and reliable for their intended purpose” of providing clinical information “relevant to the medical care and safety of children.” In a joint statement of defence, Sick Kids and Gareri also disputed the claims, and said that if custody decisions were based on the tests, which they denied, children’s aid societies were responsible.

Queen’s Park appointed Lang to probe Motherisk in late 2014 after a Star investigation exposed questions about the reliability of the lab’s hair tests. Sick Kids initially defended the reliability of Motherisk’s testing, but reversed course in the spring of 2015 after the hospital learned it had been misled about Motherisk’s international proficiency testing results, and closed the lab.

Sick Kids CEO Michael Apkon issued a public apology in October 2015. Koren retired in June of 2015, and is now working in Israel.

An independent commission is now probing individual child protection cases in Ontario to determine whether Motherisk’s hair tests had a significant impact on individual decisions to remove children from their families.

Rachel Mendleson can be reached at rmendleson@thestar.ca

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