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›  Massive crowds at women?s marches greet Trump presidency with historic defiance


WASHINGTON—Massive crowds of women thronged the streets of cities across America and around the world Saturday to demonstrate against Donald Trump, marking the divisive president’s first full day in office with a dramatic grassroots outpouring of disapproval and defiance.

In Trumpian parlance: the women’s marches were huge, everywhere. The main event in Washington drew perhaps 500,000 people, more than Trump’s own inauguration the day prior. In Chicago, the mass grew so giant that the planned march had to be turned into a stationary rally.

Thousands gathered in downtown Toronto, thousands more in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and Winnipeg. There was even a march in Antarctica. In all, more than two million people participated.

RELATED:

Stars pause Sundance Film Festival to march, protest Trump

Photos: Women’s March on Washington draws global support

Michelle Obama said goodbye with grace (and a little side-eye): Mallick

While the U.S. crowds were biggest in major cities in Democratic states, they were large, too, in places like Boise, Idaho; Lansing, Michigan; and Lexington, Kentucky. Altogether, they served as a reminder of the size and intensity of the liberal opposition to a Republican who won the election with fewer votes than his opponent and who remains disliked by more than half of the country.

They also sent a loud message to Trump from Hillary Clinton’s slice of America: they had not forgotten his sexism and alleged sexual assault, they would not cede him respect just because he prevailed at the polls, and they were not planning to sit silent if he tried to repeal progressive laws or trample on hard-won constitutional rights.

“We’re going to fight him tooth and nail,” said Patricia Tyson, 69, a retired union official, on the National Mall in Washington. “It’s almost déjà vu, but it’s a bad dream: we have to re-fight all the fights that we fought in the ’50s and the ’60s. This is the first time that we have had a president that wants to take us back. We’re not going.”

The global scope of the protests was unprecedented for the day after an inauguration, a historic rebuke of a presidency that has barely started. The Washington event, which began as an impromptu post-election Facebook post by a retired Hawaii lawyer, was a kind of rebuttal to Friday’s surreally traditional festivities on the same grass near the Capitol, in which a candidate who demeaned minority groups, lied without remorse and spoke of groping women “by the pussy” was bathed in all the usual patriotic pageantry.

“This is not normal,” read the sign carried by Kat Whitlock, 52, who flew in from Kokomo, Ind., with her 82-year-old mother. Neither of them had ever protested before.

“We’re going to make sure that this never happens again,” Whitlock said. “Never.”

The giddy gathering on the Mall was a dizzying shift from the festivities of a day prior. The ground occupied Friday by men in red “Make America Great Again” baseball caps was taken over Saturday by women in knitted, cat-eared pink “pussyhats,” intended as a statement of support for women’s rights and resistance to Trump.

The marchers came from across the country, tens of thousands arriving by bus and carpool and sleeping on the couches of strangers. They swamped subway trains that had been quiet for the inauguration, smashing organizers’ original forecast of 200,000 attendees. They were compelled to attend, many said, by Trump’s sheer odiousness.

“He makes me sick,” said Laura Dale, 39, of Cincinnati. “He makes me sick to my stomach.”

The crowd was predominantly white, but there was far more racial diversity than at Trump’s festivities. And tens of thousands of men participated, though women made up the overwhelming majority.

“Just for the support of all these women. I have a twin sister,” said Kerrol Hermit, 20, a Florida State University student who carried a sign reading “Will swap 1 Trump for 10,000 refugees.”

The march was advertised as “intersectional,” and there were signs advocating everything from police reform to transgender rights to the protection of Obamacare, Muslims and illegal immigrants. Thousands of women carried messages demanding that Trump respect abortion rights, which he has vowed to curtail, and Planned Parenthood, the abortion and health services provider he has vowed to defund. Thousands more bore slogans about women’s equality.

But more than any policy matter or statement of feminist principle, the focus was Trump himself. With signs and chants and self-made shirts, they denounced, mocked and pleaded with the new president, taking aim at his authoritarian rhetoric, his cosiness with Russia, his treatment of women, even his hands and hair.

“This pussy grabs back,” read the sign carried by Julia Bohan, 28, a designer in New York City.

Francine Cournos, a doctor also from New York, held a sign that said “Super callous fascist racist extra braggadocious.” She is 71, and she had not protested since the Vietnam War.

“There’s never been a worse moment in American history during my lifetime,” she said.

The Washington marchers were joined by the kinds of high-wattage celebrities who shunned Trump’s inauguration. Madonna delivered a profanity-laced speech in which she said “it took this horrific moment of darkness to wake us the f--- up.”

“And to our detractors that insist that this march will never add up to anything: F--- you,” she said. “It is the beginning of much-needed change.”

It was unclear whether the day’s events would spark any kind of lasting movement in the vein of the conservative Tea Party groups that formed to oppose Barack Obama’s Democratic administration. But many women in attendance said they would return home newly energized, finally out of the funk that overtook them after Trump’s surprise win.

“I’m terrified, but we’re here,” said Genevieve Kersten, 33, of Los Angeles. “The conversations we were having on the train on the way made me feel like we’re not alone, that there’s still hope.”

Still, there was an undercurrent of despair amid the sea of smiles. Nancy Gilbert, 57, a lawyer in Reno, Nev., said she was afraid of what appeared to be a shift “away from democracy.” Nancy O’Brien, a government employee in Florida, carried a sign that read “Putin put you in, pussy will take you out,” but she was less optimistic than her message.

“He’s such a vile man that there’s no hope,” she said.

Trump and his administration spent part of their first day at the White House lying. After a church service at the National Cathedral, he visited the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency — and dishonestly raged at the media for its coverage of the size of the inauguration crowd, which he falsely claimed “looked like 1.5 million people” and falsely claimed stretched back to the Washington Monument.

His press secretary, Sean Spicer, then delivered an extraordinary official briefing in which he forcefully and falsely claimed Trump had drawn the biggest inauguration crowd of all time, “period,” then left without taking questions.

It was the kind of brazen deceit that validated the central premise of the marches: this president is not like the others, and he requires a different response. On the Mall, though, there was considerable ambivalence about the fact that the gatherings seemed necessary at all.

One message carried separately by dozens of strangers: “Can’t believe we still have to protest this crap.”



›  Penny Oleksiak takes a rare moment off to accept Lou Marsh Trophy


Even after Penny Oleksiak’s four-medal performance at the Rio Olympics vaulted her from talented teenager to national star, her coach, Ben Titley, issued an edict: No missing practice to do media.

He might have made an exception Saturday, as Oleksiak appeared at the midway point of an all-day swim meet at the University of Toronto to accept the Lou Marsh Trophy, an award bestowed annually upon Canada’s outstanding athlete.

A panel of sports journalists selected Oleksiak from a short list of 12 contenders last month, including Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby and Olympic triple medallist Andre De Grasse.

But Oleksiak’s standout performance in Rio elevated her above even that accomplished crowd. In addition to winning gold in the 100-metre freestyle, Oleksiak earned silver in the 100-metre butterfly and bronze medals in two relays.

Since then the 16-year-old has mostly succeeded at returning to her normal life, but her Olympic success and rising public profile have shifted her definition of normal. Sometimes that means overriding the impulse to act like a teenager.

“When I got to swim meets and events where people know who I am . . . I realize I actually remind myself of what I’m doing,” Oleksiak said. “Sometimes I’m a goof and I don’t really focus on that and I do my own thing.”

Oleksiak is the eighth swimmer to win the Lou Marsh Trophy, and the first since 1992, when Olympic gold medallist Mark Tewksbury won it.

As Oleksiak accepted the trophy from Torstar board chair John Honderich, a group of young swimmers gathered a few metres away, waiting for autographs. Older swimmers trickled in through a nearby door, arriving early before their afternoon competition.

In some ways Oleksiak’s workload is the same as any other teenager’s. She’s enrolled in grade 11 at Monarch Park C.I., taking classes in law, science and history.

But at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre in Scarborough, she trains like the world-class athlete she is. Oleksiak says she has spent the last few weeks dealing with a minor shoulder injury, but is ramping up training ahead of her return to competition later this year.

Until now, Oleksiak and her coaches have struck a productive balance between school and swimming. Four months after Rio, she won two golds, a silver and a bronze medal at the world short course championships in Windsor, Ont.

Oleksiak hopes to race again in March in Indianapolis, then plans to compete a month later at the Canadian trials in Victoria B.C.

But as she returns to the world-class swim scene Oleksiak also realizes her rising profile might force some changes to the routine that led to the success that made her famous.

“My coach gets really angry whenever I miss a practice for media but I usually end up making it up,” Oleksiak says. “I don’t really miss practice.”



›  Public health officials say nearly 200 affected by mystery illness at Humber College


The number of people sickened by a mysterious outbreak at Humber College has risen to nearly 200 as officials race to figure out its cause, Toronto Public Health said Saturday.

The illness first broke out on Thursday at Humber’s north campus, near Hwy. 427 and Finch Ave. Symptoms so far have included stomach pain, vomiting, cramping, nausea and dizziness.

“This cluster of illness may be due to a food source or is something that is being passed from person to person,” said Dr. Michael Finkelstein, Toronto Public Health spokesperson, via email.

“Once certain viruses are in environments such as student residences, where individuals live close together, preventing the spread of easily transmitted seasonal viruses like norovirus (stomach flu) becomes challenging,” Finkelstein added.

Officials haven’t yet been able to determine what illness they’re dealing with, exactly. However, Finkelstein said figuring that out will help find the source of the outbreak.

Toronto Public Health said an inspection of Humber College Residence found “no significant food safety issues.”

Meanwhile, Humber College says it has doubled cleaning efforts and closed on-campus self serve food facilities, such as salad bars.

“Humber has increased cleaning frequency in the residences and is assisting affected students by delivering water to encourage hydration,” said a statement from the college released late Friday night.

Humber spokesperson Andrew Leopold told the Star that the school is working with Toronto Public Health as they reach out to students to figure out the cause.

“In an instance where a student is feeling ill, they are contacting their resident coordinator or resident staff and then we’re sharing the list of names and information with public health,” Leopold said.

Toronto Public Health launched its investigation of the outbreak Thursday, when roughly 120 people — mostly students — at Humber had come down with the illness. At the time, 40 of those had ended up in emergency rooms, though all but one had been sent home.

Paramedics were also called to the campus at 9:40 p.m. Friday after several students called complaining of stomach cramps and vomiting.

In the end, six ambulances and a bus transported patients to two different hospitals from a campus residence building. Twenty-nine were transported to the hospitals, and others made their own way to the emergency centres, paramedics said.

With files from Sophie van Bastelaer.



›  Fog may cause near-zero visibility in GTA, warns Environment Canada


Foggy conditions may cause near-zero visibility in Toronto and the GTA Saturday night, creating dangerous driving conditions, Environment Canada warns.

Environment Canada issued the fog advisory just before 3:15 p.m., and is expected to leave it in place until Sunday. The warning covers all of southern Ontario, though the visibility issues will likely not be so severe everywhere.

“Tonight, it could get down to zero visibility at times (in the GTA),” said Environment Canada meteorologist David Rodgers.

“It could be patchy or dense in many areas.”

By 5 p.m., visibility was already down to less than a kilometre in Buttonville and on the Toronto Islands, Rodgers said.

“This fog will clear slowly tomorrow morning,” he said.

“It might last until late morning or early afternoon. We’ll be watching this all day for sure.”

Until then, however, Environment Canada is advising drivers to be extremely careful.

“Travel is expected to be hazardous due to reduced visibility in some locations,” the special weather statement reads.

“If visibility is reduced while driving, slow down, watch for tail lights ahead and be prepared to stop.”

The misty skies might release some drizzle Saturday night, and Environment Canada forecasts rain — and possibly some snow — through next week.

Meanwhile, the warm weather Toronto has been experiencing is forecast to continue until Monday. Sunday’s high will be 8C, while Monday’s high is expected to be 4C, Environment Canada reported.

However, temperatures will likely dip to freezing again on Monday night. Though it will remain above zero during the day this week, Environment Canada says Toronto can expect cooler nights at least until Thursday.



›  Brit and Canadian trying to attend Women?s March on Washington turned away at U.S. border


A U.K. national in Canada on a student visa says he and a friend were turned away at the U.S. border because they intended to go to Saturday’s Women’s March in Washington.

Joe Kroese said he and his Canadian friend were trying to cross the border with two Americans on Thursday. They had planned on spending the night in New York, where one of the Americans lived, before heading to the rally for women’s rights in Washington, D.C.

But Kroese said the group was stopped and questioned while trying to cross into the U.S. from Quebec.

“They separated me from the other three and took my phone. They made me give my keycode from my phone and looked through it,” he said. “She went through my messages and my emails and my Facebook.”

Eventually, the Americans were allowed to go on, but he and his Canadian friend were fingerprinted, photographed and turned away.

He says they had all the right documentation — the border agent told him that he wasn’t allowed to cross because he had omitted information. Initially, he hadn’t told border agents that he’d be going to the march, but when the agent asked for more details, he said he gave a full explanation.

And he said the Canadian was told that she couldn’t cross because she was planning on attending a “potentially violent rally.”

Kroese said the Americans dropped him and his friend off in Montreal before heading back to the border and crossing.

He ended up attending the Montreal chapter of the Women’s March.

U.S. Border Services said in a written statement that it couldn’t comment on specific cases due to privacy laws, but that it admits one million people into the U.S. every day, and only turns away about 600.

The statement noted that border officials can deny entry for a number of reasons, including improper travel documents, prohibited activities or intent and travelling under the Visa Waiver Program without qualifying for participation in that program.



›  Trump, Trudeau talk economy and exports in first contact since inauguration


OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has congratulated U.S. President Donald Trump on his inauguration.

The Prime Minister’s Office says the two men spoke by phone Saturday, but it was not immediately clear how long the conversation lasted.

The PMO said in an email that Trudeau noted the depth of the Canada-U.S. economic relationship, with 35 states having Canada as their top export market.

The PMO email also said the two men reiterated the importance of the relationship between the two countries.

The two leaders also spoke in November after Trump’s stunning election victory and Trudeau invited the then president-elect to visit Canada at the earliest opportunity.

Saturday’s email said the two men “looked forward to meeting soon.”

Some of Trudeau’s top advisers have met with Trump’s camp in the weeks leading up to Friday’s inauguration as Canadian officials have been concerned about how Trump’s plans for the American economy might effect Canada.

Among other things Trump has vowed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and Trump’s incoming White House press secretary recently suggested Canada’s automotive sector might not be spared from a border tax. Trump has also threatened to impose tariffs on foreign vehicles built in Mexico.



›  Michelle Obama said goodbye with grace (and a little side-eye): Mallick


The always gracious Michelle Obama didn’t look constantly happy on Friday, I’ll put it that way. And do you know, I’m not going to do what men have done to women since forever and say, “Smile!”

I’m going to let this terrific woman have the day that she had.

She welcomed Don Trump, a foul-mouthed groper of women, into her home of eight years on the very day she said goodbye to it. Melania Trump handed her a big ole’ tacky Tiffany box that looked like it contained a photo frame or a silver sick bag.

Michelle’s expression said, “The moving vans have left. I’ll see if I can stick it under a short piano leg.”

God knows how their little coffee event went. “Here, Donald, have eight sugar cubes. “1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. Plop.”

She then had to listen to a big yellow-haired rube attack the civilized world her husband had worked so hard to help build. She did everything right, but threw delicate, beauteous, almost imperceptible shade.

So here were Michelle’s expressions on the last day of A-First-Lady-Has-to-Grin-and-Bear-It. As Trump made his speech, Michelle looked blank with a hint of sardonic. You just need an eyebrow tilt.

As Trump shook hands and said a few words to basically everyone but Hillary Clinton, Michelle looked daggers and even cheerful Jill Biden looked as though she’d done a Home Alone, i.e., stepped on a nail.

Michelle gave Trump the side-eye, also known as the Hairy Eyeball. Perhaps he’d been talking about “American carnage.” I’m good at this one.

Then she did that thing where you don’t look because your eyeballs are too precious for what they are compelled to behold. She looked down.

And then, pièce de résistance, she and Hillary exchanged looks. No narrowing of eyes, nothing fancy, just looks.

“Hey, girl.” “I know.”

As Don and Melania waited with Barack and Michelle for the helicopter, Michelle distanced herself ever so slightly. The stance said, “I am done here.” Its most effective practitioner was the late Princess Diana, whenever she was stuck standing next to Charles, who was cheating on her with a very dubious choice of mistress.

It was a masterful performance, easily denied in The Court of You Totally Did That but enough to please her most observant fans. It was Waiting for Godot, except Godot showed up. This ruined the play of course, not to mention the next four American years.

And in a final blink of an eye, the great Michelle Obama was gone.



›  Marijuana growers look to cut costs as prices fall


The increasing supply of legal marijuana is turning into a major buzz kill for growers as prices plunge — and an opportunity for companies that can help cut production costs.

Prices are tumbling as formerly illicit cultivators emerge from the shadows to invest millions of dollars in massive pot factories. In Colorado, the average price sought by wholesalers has fallen 48 per cent to about $1,300 a pound since legal sales to all adults started in January 2014, according to Cannabase, operator of the state’s largest market. Supply is surging as growers expand and install the latest agricultural technology.

“Anybody that is investing in this sector or starting a business in this sector needs to be doing so with the understanding that the price of cannabis is going to drop precipitously,” said Troy Dayton, chief executive officer of Oakland, California-based Arcview Group, a marijuana investor consortium. “The agricultural technology space is already booming and now they get to lay their hands on the cannabis industry.”

The focus on efficiency can cut production costs for some indoor growers to less than $300 a pound from more than $1,000, said John Chandler, vice president at Urban-Gro in Lafayette, Colorado. His company sells machinery originally developed for tomato greenhouses, such as automated feeding and watering systems from Israel’s Netafim Ltd. and France’s Dosatron International.

“If you want to compete on a price game, you have to use versions of our technology to do it,” Chandler said. “Everybody is putting in irrigation systems, so that’s good for us.”

Urban-Gro also sells high-efficiency lights from Canada’s PL Light Systems, which compete with Gavita, a Dutch company purchased this year by Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. Scotts has been on a buying frenzy over the past two years, gobbling up leading companies that provide specialty fertilizers, lighting and other supplies for hydroponics, the indoor method of growing crops favoured by U.S. cannabis cultivators.

Retail prices also are dropping, though not as fast as in the wholesale market. Marijuana shops in Colorado collected an average $6.61 per gram in November, down 25 per cent from the first quarter of 2014, according to BDS Analytics, a research firm.

The regulated market in North America could triple to more than $20 billion in five years, from $6.7 billion last year, after California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada legalized adult recreational pot use in November, according to Arcview. Canada’s plan to legalize marijuana this year also will contribute to the growth, Arcview said.

One caveat surrounding the booming cannabis industry is President Donald Trump’s choice for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, an ardent marijuana foe. But it remains to be seen if Trump or the Republican-controlled Congress will attempt to challenge the states that have legalized the drug.

While more than half of U.S. states permit medical use, transporting cannabis across state lines remains a federal crime, making each state a market unto itself. That means growers in cloudy coastal Oregon or frigid Maine must use technology to create the warm, sunny conditions favoured by pot plants and they need to do it as efficiently as possible.

Decades of prohibition necessitated growing marijuana in clandestine basements, warehouses and garages, making growers comfortable with indoor production, said Leif Olsen, managing partner at Denver-based Good to Great Consulting. But with legalization comes an increasing need to compete on cost and that will eventually shift the industry to efficient greenhouse production, he said.

“Growing inside is definitely an antiquated concept,” Olsen said. “It’s coming out of hiding.”

A hybrid greenhouse featuring insulated walls and a glass ceiling may consume less than half the energy of a warehouse, said Brandy Keen, vice president at Boulder-based Surna Inc. And a well-designed climate-control system can cut energy needs while also providing pure water for plants with reclaimed condensate, she said.

The drive toward efficiency isn’t cheap. Brian Lade, owner of Smokey Point Productions in Arlington, Washington, started growing marijuana in a garage at age 17. He endured police raids and a few days in jail before the laws changed. Now he’s raised $25 million to expand his 1,393-square-metre warehouse operation to 12,500 square metres.

That’s enough space to pump out 771 kilograms of buds monthly from dozens of custom-bred strains such as Dirty Girl and Cinderella’s Dream, up from 45 kilograms. He also can process almost 1,000 kilograms of purchased marijuana into cannabis oil and other concentrates for vaping.

While Lade increased production by 16 times, his employee count is up only fourfold, to 100, thanks to economies of scale and automation, he said. A machine mixes soil ingredients, pours the dirt into containers and then digs holes for young plants. A conveyor belt carries the container to an employee who does the delicate job of planting. Rather than relying on people to trim away leaves and stems from harvested pot, he’s trying out machines that automate the job.

“If you want to provide cannabis to your people, you’ve got to adapt or die,” said Lade, 40. “We are basically just going way bigger and then adding efficiencies like the machines and computer software.”

Energy-efficient Gavita lighting is installed in his old and new facilities. Computerized plumbing delivers custom-mixed nutrients to the plants. A climate-control system supplied by Surna not only maintains ideal pot-growing temperatures and humidity levels, but also helps eliminate mould problems, Lade said.

A hospital-clean environment with employees wearing uniforms washed on premises cuts down on plant pests.

“The cleaner you can be, the less chemicals you have to use,” Lade said.

Yet Lade knows he can do more to cut costs, specifically by building a hybrid greenhouse to capture light from the sun. That’s not a good option in perpetually overcast Washington, so he’s exploring the possibility of setting up shop in sunny Nevada or California, states where recreational use was approved in November.



›  York trustee apologizes for using racial slur


A long-time York Region trustee has admitted to using a racial slur against a black parent, emailing an apology for the “horribly unacceptable statement” as calls for her resignation continue.

“There is no excuse for what I said, only the explanation that I was clumsily trying to refer to your concerns as reported in the media, not to you personally,” said Nancy Elgie of the incident last November when she referred to Charline Grant as a n-----, in public, after a meeting.

“As soon as my brain registered what I had said, I was overcome with shock and dismay. I felt heartsick and deeply ashamed to have said something so hurtful — even unintentionally — and so foreign to the values I have held throughout my entire life,” wrote Elgie, 82, who represents Georgina. “It also sickened me that I could have reinforced the systemic racism that so many have experienced in our society.”

Grant told the Star that she appreciates the apology, “and I appreciate the fact that she acknowledged that she did say it, but I am annoyed at the process,” which Grant says confirms the board is still not open or transparent.

She is also upset that no steps have been taken to discipline Elgie. In the email, Elgie says she will attend the same equity training provided to all trustees.

“It’s definitely not OK, and it’s definitely not enough,” said Grant. “She didn’t hurt me privately, she hurt me publicly. She didn’t just hurt me, she hurt my family and she hurt my community.”

In an email to the Star, Elgie said she apologized “and immediately explained to the person with whom I was speaking and have now extended that apology to the parent and others affected… I was fully open with the investigator about what happened and accept her finding. Naturally, it is clear that by using such a horrible word, even inadvertently, I breeched the policy. That is why I have tried to apologize and explain.”

But an apology, via email, “is a paltry attempt at best,” said Shernett Martin of the Vaughan African Canadian Association. “Ms Grant deserves far more than Nancy Elgie’s few paragraphs asking us to see past her one racist indiscretion. This elected official who tossed the word n----- around in the presence of her colleagues as if it was deep within her personal vernacular is a disgrace to education and elected office.”

“We call on her to resign or be removed. This is not the kind of trustee any of us should want leading our school board and precious children.”

As an elected official, Elgie cannot be removed or forced to resign.

In an email, Trustee chair Loralea Carruthers said “it remains clear that our board has a lot of work to do to regain public trust and make necessary changes, and I am committed to working together with parents, students and staff to ensure we do so.”

“I am truly sorry for the hurt this incident has caused. It was utterly unacceptable. I believe the apology was sincere but I also know people are still rightfully upset and hurt by it. To that end I have strongly urged my colleague to do what is required to make this right," she said.

Elgie did not respond to questions around if she would resign.

The York board is already in hot water with the province after a string of controversies, including numerous complaints about racist incidents and Islamophobia that are ignored, as well as a lack of transparency. Education Minister Mitzie Hunter is in the midst of reviewing the board’s response to her demand that it outline how it will address racism and improve openness about trustee spending.

On Friday, Hunter said, “It’s very important to parents and a priority for me that issues of racism and discrimination are not tolerated in our education system. It is my expectation that all of our publicly funded schools are inclusive and safe places for student well-being and learning…

“Due to the severity of this issue, it is essential that I tak‎e the necessary time to review the York Region District School Board’s action plan in response to concerns raised by local parents and community organizations. I am focused on the entire board and how they intend to build public confidence in their communities on this important issue and ensure that these serious concerns are addressed in a manner that will restore public confidence in the board’s ability to meet the needs of its diverse population.”

The board is also the subject of a human rights complaint, launched by the Vaughan African Canadian Association and the National Council of Canadian Muslims on behalf of a number of families. Grant also has a separate, ongoing human rights case over alleged discrimination her son has faced.

“I am disappointed that it took so long for her to issue an apology. Why was it not issued earlier?” said human rights lawyer Selwyn Pieters, who is calling on Elgie and director J. Philip Parappally to step down. “The equity training at (the York board) is akin to a fly landing on a buffalo. It has little to no effect. What is needed is training in how not to be racist and to unpack the racism that is rampant in that school board.”

Normally, trustees are subject to a code of conduct complaint, which must be brought forward by a fellow trustee. Under the code, a trustee is investigated and can be sanctioned by colleagues. However, in this case, the director decided to pursue an independent investigation under the board’s “Respectful Workplaces and Learning Environments Policy,” intended for staff. The subsequent report, which was finished three weeks after it was supposed to have been completed, was shared internally with the staff who complained and with Elgie.

As a result of the investigation, Elgie issued the apology, but little else has been shared with anyone, including Grant, who said Elgie’s email came out of the blue.

“Why did we need to spend money on an investigation? What was the purpose of that? Can the director discipline a trustee? He knew she said it,” said Grant. “Again, (the board is) wasting money and providing little to no information or accountability to the community.”

The York board called in a third party to investigate after complaints about the slur, and Parappally has told the Star via email that “racism of any kind is not acceptable, and we have policies and procedures in place in the event allegations of this nature are made by anyone affiliated with the board, attending our schools or working for the board. This includes trustees.”

In her email to Grant, Elgie said that “my words on that day in November do not reflect how I have lived my life or conducted myself in my personal relationships, my professional capacity as a child psychologist, as school board trustee and in a variety of volunteer roles… I accept full responsibility for what I have said and can only hope that this apology can begin to mend any harm I have caused.”

Elgie is the widow of a prominent Ontario cabinet minister in the Bill Davis government in the 1970s and ’80s.

Parappally noted in a posting on the board’s website that Elgie “issued individual letters of apology to each of those involved in the matter” but added that because the incident involved a trustee “staff members are unable to make additional comments.”



›  This dog?s purpose went beyond entertainment: Menon


Dogs and cats do not want to be movie stars.

They just want to be loved. These two simple truths could go a long way in safeguarding Hollywood animals. Although four-legged stars are better off today than in the past — starting in 1903 when Thomas Edison basically made a snuff film with the horrifically self-explanatory title, Electrocuting an Elephant — controversies still occasionally bark at our conscience.

On Wednesday, TMZ obtained footage of a German shepherd named Hercules on the set of the upcoming film, A Dog’s Purpose. In the video, shot in Winnipeg two years ago, Hercules resists as a trainer tries to force him into a tank of thrashing water.

Hercules claws at the edge. He tries to bolt.

He is clearly terrified.

The human reaction to the clip was swift: PETA called for a boycott of the film. The red-carpet premiere scheduled for Los Angeles this weekend was cancelled. Amblin Entertainment and Universal Pictures said they are investigating.

And those who worked on the film expressed shock and dismay.

“While I do not know all of the details and cannot speak to the level of care and caution that went into this moment (as I was never on set for the making of this film),” wrote actor Josh Gad on Twitter, “I am shaken and sad to see any animal put in a situation against its will.”

“People have to be held responsible for this,” producer Gavin Polone told Deadline. “It was someone’s job to watch out for this kind of thing. Why didn’t they?”

That someone is usually a rep for American Humane Association, which started the “No Animals Were Harmed” system of Hollywood oversight. In a statement to E! News, the animal welfare agency said: “We are placing the safety representative who was on the set on administrative leave immediately and are bringing in an independent third party to conduct an investigation into this matter.”

So in less than 48 hours after the video surfaced, multiple investigations were launched and nobody ducked responsibility. Most workplace safety inquiries involving people don’t move this fast or with such urgency.

The reaction this week also qualifies as night-and-day compared to a time when animals were treated as studio props. The leaked footage of Hercules balking at the edge of churning water, as disturbing as it is, becomes positively upbeat when inserted into the grim catalogue of animal injuries and deaths on many films, including the 1925 version of Ben-Hur, Pink Flamingos, Cannibal Holocaust, Oldboy, Stagecoach, Land Without Bread, Manderlay and Dry Summer.

Horses detonated with dynamite. Real cockfights. Chickens decapitated. Disembowelled cows. Mutilated sea turtles. An octopus eaten alive by an actor. Donkeys slaughtered. Cats tortured. And all of this depraved abuse, it should never be forgotten, unfolded for the twin purposes of profit and entertainment.

The question becomes: should animals ever be used for our amusement?

The activists who recently cheered the end of the Ringling Brothers circus after 146 years or mourned the shooting death of Harambe or plan to boycott A Dog’s Purpose next week, will answer, “Absolutely not.” They believe animals should never be relegated to captivity or coerced performance, whether it’s inside a zoo cage or under the big top or while flanked by trainers on a film set.

But the issue is little more complex, even if you’re an animal lover, as I am.

In fact, you could counter-argue that we need more animals in popular culture precisely to remind us of those that are not. The irony of Hercules’ ordeal — and he’s fine today — is that this kind of oversized reaction often brings us as close as we ever get to thinking about the nameless creatures, in every part of the world, that are abused each and every day when cameras are not rolling.

When alarming new reports suggest half of all primates now face extinction, when we’ve never been more removed from our food sources or are generally too preoccupied with our own miserable problems to spare much concern for the other species in our midst, a loss of biodiversity in arts and recreation seems terribly unwise and potentially harmful.

It’s easier to appreciate the majesty of tigers after you see one.

The systems now in place to protect Hollywood animals like Hercules, the ones that didn’t exist when Edison killed Topsy the Elephant at Coney Island more than a century ago, serve a function beyond the immediate welfare of those animals.

When activated, when the publicity cloud descends, these systems also remind us that we are not alone, that our treatment of animals is not an abstraction. It is a reflection of our decency and, ultimately, our humanity.

In this context, however unsettling the situation, a dog like Hercules is elevated from furry actor to the role of global ambassador. He becomes a crucial aide-mémoire that reads all animals, even those without agents, are worthy of respect.

vmenon@thestar.ca



›  Tornado kills 4 in south Mississippi


HATTIESBURG, MISS. — Four people were killed, roofs were ripped from homes and churches, and trees were torn from the earth early Saturday when a tornado hitting in the dark of night ripped through a region in southern Mississippi, officials said.

Four people died after the twister blew through the city and surrounding area, said Forrest County Coroner Butch Benedict. The twister was part of a wall of stormy weather travelling across the region, bringing with it rain and unstable conditions.

Authorities have not yet released the names of the four people who died. But at least one family had already gotten the horrific news. Monica McCarty said her father died in the same trailer park where she and her boyfriend live and her son was apparently crushed to death while in bed at her mother’s house where he lived.

Standing amid the carnage the tornado had wrought, McCarty wept as her boyfriend, Tackeem Molley, comforted her.

“They couldn’t get him out of the house. They said he was laying in the bed,” McCarty said of her son.

Molley said he and McCarty were in a trailer when the storm hit. Molley, whose bare foot was bandaged, said he climbed out through a hole in what had either been the trailer’s roof or wall.

“I had a little hole I could squeeze out of,” he said.

In the surrounding neighbourhood, power company trucks were running up and down the streets. A city backhoe was plowing debris from the road. Dozens of homes were damaged.

Sheet metal was strewn everywhere. Trees turned into spindly sticks were lying across power lines, and the roar of chain saws could be heard in the background. At least three nearby churches had sustained some type of damage.

Mayor Johnny DuPree has signed an emergency declaration for the city, which reported “significant injuries” and structural damage.

The search for the dead and injured continued as the sun rose. More than 40 firefighters from across Mississippi had gathered outside Hattiesburg police headquarters to search. Equipped with dogs and all-terrain vehicles, they were planning on doing a grid search from police headquarters to nearby William Carey University in one of the most heavily damaged areas.

On Bernice Avenue south of downtown Hattiesburg, Edna Smith was surveying what was left of the tan brick house she’d lived in since 2005.

Her parrots had been spared but the tornado ripped off most of her roof, dumping it in the backyard and alley behind her house. Her neighbour’s porch roof blew into her carport, slamming her car into a brick wall.

“It woke me up and half the roof was gone,” said Smith, who is already the survivor of one natural disaster. She moved to Hattiesburg after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina displaced her from her suburban New Orleans home.

Rain cascaded down onto the roofless house turning wallboard into mud and soaking upholstered furniture.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do now. I’m going to try to get some help,” she said.

Hours after the tornado, authorities were still concerned about downed power lines and possible gas leaks and were encouraging people to stay home, said Hattiesburg police Lt. Allen Murray.

Greg Flynn of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said “massive damage” was reported across a three-county area that was struck by a tornado at around 4 a.m.

Thousands of customers in southern Mississippi were without power. The three major power companies in the area reported nearly 13,000 customers in the dark. The bulk of those were in Forrest County where the tornado struck early morning.

A college in one of the most heavily affected areas said Saturday it was closing down and students being evacuated.

William Carey University, a Christian university with a campus in Hattiesburg, said on Twitter that the campus is closed until further notice. Its Tradition campus near the coast is still open.

Students were being escorted from the Hattiesburg campus and arrangements are being made for students who can’t go home.

The university said some students had minor injuries, and some dorms were damaged.

Photos posted on the university’s Twitter feed showed vehicles in a parking lot flipped over and parts of a brick building ripped down.

The three counties affected are Forrest, Lamar and Perry counties. Flynn said the tornado touched down in Lamar, plowed through Forrest and then struck Perry before dissipating.

The National Weather Service said three to five inches of rain have already fallen, raising the risk of flooding. More rain — one to two inches — is possible.

The front porch and a car port blew off of Harold Morgan’s house, damaging multiple vehicles that belonged to his family members. Morgan, a self-employed building contractor, said he would have to take off work to tend to his family’s needs and board up windows.

But the damage paled next to the loss of life.

“What hit me the most is that other people lost their lives. We can get a new roof. We can get new cars,” he said.



›  Canadian court issues ruling in legal battle between Ecuadorian villagers and oil giant Chevron


Both sides found positives in a Canadian court ruling issued Friday in a David and Goliath legal battle between oil giant Chevron and a group of Ecuadorian villagers.

The villagers are using the Canadian courts to try to collect on a US$9.5-billion Ecuadorian court judgment for environmental damage.

Chevron issued a news release Friday saying Ontario’s superior court has ruled the oil company’s Canadian arm isn’t a party to the Ecuadorian court decision.

Chevron said the Ontario judgment concluded that Chevron Canada is a separate entity and says it’s confident any jurisdiction that examines the facts of the case will find the Ecuadorian judgment unenforceable.

A spokeswoman for the villagers issued a counter statement saying the ruling gave the green light for the villagers to continue legal action against Chevron Corp. in a bid to seize billions in assets to enforce the court judgment. The villagers are now seeking roughly $12 billion, factoring in interest.

Karen Hinton’s statement minimized the setback with regards to Chevron’s Canadian subsidiary, predicting it would be “swiftly reversed” by an appeal court.

“Ultimately, we are confident that Canada’s courts will hold Chevron fully accountable for its outrageous and criminal conduct in Ecuador,” said Hinton, who is based in the U.S.

Some 30,000 villagers first turned to Ecuador’s justice system in 1993 alleging that Texaco, which is now owned by Chevron, dumped billions of litres of toxic oil-drilling waters into hundreds of open-air pits.

Activists have contended the affected area sees, among other problems, the highest rates of childhood leukemia in the country — 130 per cent more frequent cancer deaths than elsewhere, and 150 per cent higher rates of miscarriages.

Chevron has no assets in the South American country, so the villagers have turned to courts in several other countries in an effort to have the judgment enforced.

Alan Lenczner argued in court previously that the notion that Chevron Corp. is separate from its Canadian arm was nonsense, saying Chevron Canada is a “cash cow” that sends billions to its controlling parent.

Chevron has also derided the Ecuador court judgment contending it was the product of fraud, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. It said a U.S. court has already prohibited the Ecuadorian judgment from being enforced in the United States.

Hinton’s statement countered Chevron’s fraud claims were debunked by Ecuador’s courts.


 

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