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›  Race matters when awaiting trial, data shows

Black people in Ontario spend more time in jail awaiting trial than white people, even when charged with the same type of crime, according to data recently released by the province.

Government officials admit it’s yet another systemic barrier faced by minorities as they manoeuvre through the justice system, and say they are working to find solutions.

But legal advocates say Ontario’s bail system has become one of the “most onerous in the country” and the province is simply offering a “colour-blind approach to a colour-coded problem.”

“There is systemic anti-Black racism in that there are many in the legal system who are not trained, encouraged or directed to consider the systemic barriers facing African-Canadians when they call for a surety,” said Anthony Morgan, who specializes in human rights law at Falconers LLP.

A surety is a friend or family member who agrees to supervise the accused in the community and forfeit a specified sum of money if bail conditions are violated.

“If you look at the stats of socio-economic marginalization, African-Canadians are dramatically overrepresented in unemployment, underemployment and poverty rates,” he said “So when you call on that same community to have to present a surety, there are barriers.”

The data, which spans 2011 to 2016, includes more than 20 categories of crime, ranging from homicide to fraud to impaired driving. In the most recent data, from 2015-16, there were just over 6,000 cases involving Black people and more than 31,000 cases involving white people. Some of these people would have been in custody on more than one occasion.

In more than half the categories in the bail data, Black people were in jail, on average, longer than white people, although in a few cases not as long as other minority groups.

In two categories — weapons offences and serious violent crimes — Black people were in jail significantly longer awaiting trial than fellow white inmates, outstaying them by more than a month in the former category, and 45 days in the latter.

In a number of categories, such as theft and traffic offences, white people were held in remand longer. In a few categories, the difference between the two groups was an extra day or two in jail.

In some categories, such as impaired driving, those who identified as Southeast Asian were remanded for an average of 19 days, while white people stayed in jail for an average of seven. In the case of traffic infractions, those from West Asian/Arabic backgrounds waited in jail an average of 40 days, as opposed to Black people, who were held for 20 days.

The data, obtained first by Reuters news agency through access to information requests, was provided to the Star by the Ministry of the Attorney General. Ontario asks inmates to identify their race when they are jailed.

In addition to statistics for Black and white inmates, the data also included information on members of the Asian, Hispanic, West Asian/Arab and Indigenous communities, and those who declined to identify their race.

Ministry officials “recognize that racialized communities face systemic barriers and we have been and will continue to tackle these issues,” said spokesperson Andrew Rudyk.

“Bail is a critically important part of the criminal justice process,” Rudyk said, adding that last December the province created the Bail Action Plan to “support vulnerable and low-risk accused — many of whom are Indigenous or racialized — who may have otherwise been denied bail because they lacked appropriate supports like housing or programming.”

The ministry is working to expand the existing bail verification and supervision program to help “facilitate the successful release on bail of low-risk accused pending trial,” Rudyk said. It has also launched a new “bail beds” programs that “provides supervised housing for low-risk individuals in five Ontario communities, making duty counsel available at six correctional facilities across the province to allow for more effective bail hearings and developing a new, culturally responsive program to provide supports to Indigenous people going through the bail and remand process,” he added.

The ministry has also appointed three prominent legal experts to provide “advice on modernizing Crown policies on bail,” he said.

“This includes providing advice on the use of sureties and bail conditions which we know disproportionately impact vulnerable populations and racialized communities,” said Rudyk. He says the ministry is also working with partners to provide training in diversity and unconscious bias to those who administer the justice system.

Cash bail was largely eliminated in the 1970s to make the bail process less burdensome on the poor. But some critics say Ontario’s heavy reliance on a surety as a condition of bail has become just as taxing for poor and marginalized people.

“The province’s solutions don’t go far enough, because they don’t explicitly identify anti-Black racism as a problem within our justice system, within how decisions are made at every level,” said Morgan, who has worked at the African Canadian Legal Clinic. “Until we get there . . . no one-size-fits-all program is going to help adjust these very particular disparities affecting African-Canadians.” he said.

A recent Supreme Court decision called Ontario’s surety system one of the “most onerous forms of release” and noted a justice or judge should apply less onerous bail conditions unless the Crown can prove a need for tougher terms.

The ministry says the numbers, while up to date, “should not be considered to be a comprehensive representation of the remand population,” as inmates self-identify, and the same individual may be admitted multiple times. Moreover, the court tracking system does not track racial identity, and therefore there is no data on rates or types of bail or conditions.

›  A Toronto imam was accused of hate-preaching against Jews. But that wasn?t the whole story

Ayman Elkasrawy got the phone call late on a Sunday night in February. An incredulous friend was on the line, with a strange and troubling question.

“Did you pray for the killing of the Jews?”

The friend sent him an online article about Masjid Toronto, the downtown mosque where Elkasrawy worked as an assistant imam. It included a video: rows of Muslim worshippers standing under fluorescent lights, their eyes closed and hands cupped. At the front of the crowded room was Elkasrawy, dressed in white and praying to God in Arabic.

“O Allah! Count their number; slay them one by one and spare not one of them,” read the article’s translation of his prayers. “O Allah! Purify Al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews!”

Elkasrawy remembered the scene, filmed during Ramadan eight months earlier. He also remembered praying for Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, a bitterly contested holy site.

But he was shaken by the English translation. “I was surprised,” he says. “When I (saw) that, I even doubted myself. Did I say that?”

Elkasrawy woke up the next morning feeling calamitously misunderstood. He was bursting with things he wanted to explain, but he also realized he had made serious mistakes, for which he needed to apologize.

“Neither I, Masjid Toronto or the congregation harbour any form of hate towards Jews,” he wrote on Twitter later that day. “And so I wish to apologize unreservedly for misspeaking during prayers last Ramadan … I sincerely regret the offence that my words must have caused.”

His apology only fanned the flames. Elkasrawy was suspended from his mosque and fired from Ryerson University, where he worked as a teaching assistant. Toronto police opened a hate crime investigation and condemnations rained down, from Parliament Hill to the National Council of Canadian Muslims. Elkasrawy also became a bogeyman in the federal Conservative party leadership race, cited in campaign literature as an example of Muslim extremism.

“We need to clarify what is going on at this mosque,” Meir Weinstein, head of the far-right Jewish Defense League of Canada, told the Toronto Sun. “Is this a den of worship or a den of hate?”

Eight months later, the story is crystallized online as a putative reminder of the hatred that can fester within Canadian society. A Google search for “Ayman Elkasrawy” — once yielding just a smattering of academic papers and social media profiles — now turns up pages of hits that brand him a genocidal anti-Semite.

Offline, however, new layers of the story began to reveal themselves.

Elkasrawy went quiet soon after his Twitter apology, advised by everyone in his life to stop talking. But a month after the scandal broke, he reached out to a stranger for help.

Bernie Farber is a household name in Toronto’s Jewish community, the former head of what was once Canada’s leading Jewish advocacy group. Both affable and combative, the white-goateed Farber has spent most of his career tackling anti-Semitism. For the past two years, until his retirement in early October, he also ran the Mosaic Institute, a non-profit that promotes diversity.

Farber opened his email one day to discover an unusual request: would the Mosaic Institute help Elkasrawy learn from his mistakes? Farber immediately said yes, assembling a team of experts and planning a cultural sensitivity curriculum.

But after meeting the young imam, Farber was puzzled by the facts of this case. Elkasrawy was always quick to admit he made a serious mistake — it was wrong to pray about “the Jews.” But he also insisted his words were twisted, an explanation he struggled to articulate.

Farber was bothered by the discrepancy between the “quiet, dignified” man he had come to know and someone who would pray for Jewish people to be slain. Over the years, he has developed “almost a sixth sense” for detecting anti-Semites. Elkasrawy did not fit the mould.

At a time when white supremacists are mobilizing across North America, the fight against anti-Semitism has taken on renewed urgency. But this is a story that is far more tangled than it first appeared.

It is about an imam who made hurtful mistakes that he could not adequately explain. But it is also about the slipperiness of language — especially in a climate of viral misinformation, polarized debate and geopolitical conflicts that have found fresh battlegrounds in Canada.

Elkasrawy’s prayers were undeniably problematic, but they were also distorted to fit a certain narrative that gave his words added potency amid rising anti-Islamic sentiment.

In a controversy that hinges on his words, a central question was never fully investigated: Did Elkasrawy really say Jews were filth? Did he really call for them to be killed?

According to several Arabic experts contacted by the Star, the answer is no.

“I’ve learned a personal lesson throughout this entire process,” Farber says. “Do not take anything for granted. Not even words.”

Ayman Elkasrawy prefers not to speak at all, whenever he can help it.

At about six feet and 285 pounds, the bearded and bespectacled 32-year-old has an understated presence for someone who looms so large. He speaks softly and hesitantly; in the presence of strangers, he tends to fade into the background.

“I’m not so good at being social,” he says. “The more you talk, the more you make mistakes.”

Born and raised in a devout family in Egypt, Elkasrawy has dual Canadian citizenship through his father, an agronomist who immigrated here in 1976. He spent three summers with his dad in Toronto, “a different planet” in the eyes of a 13-year-old kid from Cairo.

After university, he moved to Canada to continue his education and is now at Ryerson pursuing a PhD in electrical engineering. While he sometimes wears traditional dress at the mosque, at Ryerson he blends easily with the campus crowd — just another grad student riding his Bike Share in jeans, sneakers and a backpack that looks slightly shrunken on his broad frame.

Elkasrawy and his wife, Somaia Youssef, found a religious community in Masjid Toronto (“Toronto Mosque”) on Dundas St. W., located in an old bank building near the bus terminal. The mosque opened in 2002 but did not hire a resident imam until 2015, so it sometimes asked Elkasrawy — who had memorized the Qur’an — to lead prayers or Friday sermons.

He was timid at first, even avoiding eye contact with congregants, but received positive feedback and was officially hired as an assistant imam in 2015. Elkasrawy sees this work as a spiritual duty and found himself spending hours at the mosque nearly every day — not just leading prayers, but also teaching and planning events, such as networking socials for Muslim professionals. “I felt that’s like my second home,” he says.

Over the years, Canada has become home for Elkasrawy as well. But as with many immigrants, an invisible umbilical cord connects him to the part of the world where he was born. His Twitter feed is dominated by Egyptian and Middle Eastern politics. He mostly retweets accounts he follows, including one called “Friends of Al-Aqsa.”

The silver-domed Al-Aqsa mosque is located on an elevated limestone compound in East Jerusalem. The compound — known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif and to Jewish people as the Temple Mount — is Islam’s third holiest site (after Mecca and Medina), and Judaism’s holiest.

Over the past century, the compound has become an explosive flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In 2000, a provocative visit by Israeli politician Ariel Sharon sparked clashes that escalated into the deadly Second Intifada. This summer, the mosque was at the centre of some of the worst violence, and biggest demonstrations, Jerusalem has seen in years.

For many in the Muslim and Jewish diasporas, stories about the holy site are front-page news. On June 26, 2016, the latest headlines were about a skirmish between Israeli police and Muslim worshippers.

What people understood about the incident depended in part on the media they consumed. According to the Arab press, Israeli officers “stormed” Al-Aqsa mosque, beating worshippers and deploying tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets. According to Jewish newspapers, “masked Arab assailants” were arrested after hurling rocks, chairs and slurs at Jewish tourists.

For Muslims, the Al-Aqsa violence was particularly alarming because it broke out during the last 10 days of Ramadan, an especially sacred time in Islam’s holiest month. So Elkasrawy decided to include the mosque in his prayers at Masjid Toronto. “I thought maybe this will help, praying together for this place,” he says.

It was nearly midnight by the time he finished reciting the Qur’an and began his supplications.

Unlike sermons, which are more like religious lectures, supplications are invocations to God; during prayers, they are recited by imams who face away from the congregation. While made in the highly technical style of Quranic Arabic, and typically in a rhyming scheme, supplications are often improvised.

Elkasrawy spent 10 minutes thanking God and asking for help — for protection from evil and greed, for beneficial knowledge to humanity, for good health, empathy, benevolence and love of the poor.

He then prayed for victimized Muslims around the world. He thought of Syria, a recurring topic of prayer at his mosque, invoking a quote from the Hadith (reports of the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions). He also prayed for Al-Aqsa, repeating a supplication he had found on the internet earlier that day.

Meanwhile, someone was filming. This didn’t bother Elkasrawy; prayers are sometimes recorded for worshippers unable to attend. When the mosque posted the video on YouTube, he scanned various parts, curious about his performance. Then he forgot about it.

The video sat there in its corner of the internet, barely seen. The next time Elkasrawy watched it was eight months later, when he got the phone call: “Did you pray for the killing of the Jews?”

On a sunny morning in May, Elkasrawy rode an elevator to the 34th floor of a Bloor St. office tower, where two prominent members of Toronto’s Jewish community awaited him.

Dressed in jeans and an electric blue sweatshirt, Elkasrawy sat across a boardroom table from Bernie Farber — the one-time CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress — and Karen Mock, a former director with B’nai Brith Canada and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. He was also joined by his mosque’s senior imam and officials from the Muslim Association of Canada, which owns Masjid Toronto.

Everybody was there for Mock’s anti-racism workshop, one of five sessions Farber had organized to educate an accused anti-Semite. The mood was friendly and relaxed, with pleasantries and business cards exchanged.

But those abhorrent words loomed over this group of newly acquainted Muslims and Jews: “Purify Al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews!”

When it comes to Jewish-Muslim relations, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the ever-present “elephant in the room,” Farber says — even in Canada, where both minorities share the burden of religious discrimination. According to Statistics Canada, Jewish people are the most frequent targets of police-reported hate crimes, while attacks against Muslims are the fastest-growing.

But there is also enormous diversity within both groups, which are sometimes the source of one another’s pain. There is mounting concern over anti-Semitism in certain corners of the Muslim world; meanwhile, Jewish people on the far right are among the loudest voices in the anti-Muslim movement. Israeli-Palestinian debates also have a tendency to slide into accusations of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia.

Farber, who once ran for the provincial Liberals, says Muslim issues have become a divisive topic among Jewish Canadians. He says he has received criticism from right-leaning members of his own community for defending Muslim Canadians and for supporting M-103, the parliamentary motion to recognize and condemn Islamophobia, which prominent Jewish advocacy groups opposed.

But he remains a vocal ally of Canadian Muslims. After the Quebec City mosque shooting in January, he joined people who gathered at mosques to form “rings of peace” across the country — an act of solidarity spearheaded by a Toronto rabbi that was covered by media outlets around the world.

But just two weeks later, that feeling of solidarity crumbled. “Supplications at Masjid Toronto Mosque: Slay them one by one and spare not one of them,” read the headline on a story published by CIJ News, an obscure right-wing website that has since been taken down.

Elkasrawy’s prayers quickly gained widespread coverage, from the Star and Sun to the CBC and the Canadian Jewish News, the country’s largest Jewish weekly. B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish advocacy group, also wrote about the incident after urging Ryerson to fire Elkasrawy from his job as a teaching assistant.

The imam became a topic of heated discussion around Farber’s Sabbath table. “I was very troubled by it,” he says. “I was hearing a lot of anger. I was also hearing a lot of ‘How could this be? Just last week I was involved in a circle of peace, and now this happens.’”

Farber wasn’t exactly surprised, however. This was not the first time an imam had been accused of preaching hate against Jewish people, even in Canada. Elkasrawy’s story emerged around the same time as other accusations of anti-Semitism in Canadian mosques. This summer, a Jordanian cleric was also charged by Montreal police after allegedly praying at a local mosque for Jewish people to be killed.

But something about the Elkasrawy case struck Farber as odd, and he was skeptical of the website that broke the story. “I’ve been in this business long enough to know that before judgments are made, you really need to get all the facts,” he says.

So in April, when a mutual friend reached out to Farber on Elkasrawy’s behalf, he was intrigued.

The imam said he wanted to gain a better understanding of Canadian norms and values, in the hopes of learning from his mistakes. Farber — who once helped a repentant neo-Nazi leave her white supremacist organization — agreed to help.

Given the disturbing anti-Semitic prayers Farber had read about in the news, his initial plan was to prescribe intensive anti-racism training. But he changed his mind after meeting Elkasrawy.

“We’re not dealing with a racist or anti-Semite,” he says of his gut reaction. “I really saw a young man who felt beaten down for something that he didn’t quite understand.”

Farber switched gears. He organized five workshops to help Elkasrawy develop a better understanding of Canada’s cultural, legal and human rights landscape. (The workshops were provided at no cost, though the mosque later made a small donation to the charity.)

Elkasrawy learned about anti-racism, hate crime laws and Canada’s human rights framework. He also visited his first synagogue — Beth Tzedec, Canada’s largest Jewish congregation — where he learned about Judaism and discussed interfaith issues with a rabbi and reverend.

Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl did not ask Elkasrawy to explain himself, but he expressed how his language was harmful. “We are concerned about discrimination against Muslims,” he said, as Elkasrawy nodded. “But we are also concerned about extremism that comes out of the Islamic community.

“Our people hear the extremism and when you speak that way, that’s what they hear. They become afraid. And they become angry.”

During each session, Elkasrawy listened intently and occasionally jotted notes. He also asked questions, including one he repeated several times: “How do you speak (clearly)? How do you tell things?”

When the program ended, Farber reached a conclusion. “I just do not believe that Ayman is a hateful person,” he says. “He came in here with an open heart and a real willingness to understand.”

But he still couldn’t wrap his head around the words Elkasrawy had been accused of saying, or the imam’s muddled attempts to explain himself.

Two things were clear: Elkasrawy was sorry. He also felt misunderstood.

“I made this mistake,” he said at one point. “But not that mistake.”

Translation is not an exact science. Words are like prisms, refracting different shades of meaning. A good translation is one that captures the right hue.

Elkasrawy’s prayers were first translated on CIJ News, a website founded and edited by Jonathan Dahoah Halevi.

Halevi describes himself as a retired lieutenant-colonel and intelligence officer with the Israel Defense Forces, who now researches the Middle East and radical Islam. He learned Arabic in school and university, he once explained to an interviewer.

He has also been a go-to pundit for the now-defunct Sun News Network and its offshoot Rebel News, a right-wing media website that has drawn controversy for its anti-Muslim coverage.

Halevi’s writings and statements suggest that he sees himself as a soldier in the information wars — particularly when it comes to allegations against Israel, which he challenges by using “continuous, intensive and thorough” research, according to a profile on the Economic Club of Canada’s website.

This work includes counting “Gaza fatalities in his free time,” according to a 2009 NPR article that described his “macabre hobby.” During the first Gaza war, NPR wrote, Halevi suspected Palestinians of exaggerating their civilian fatalities and spent six months scrutinizing 1,400 deaths listed by a human rights group — checking each name against a terrorist database he personally compiled and “whatever he finds on the internet.”

Halevi has also written extensively about Islam and Muslim Canadians on CIJ News, where his Arabic translations have drawn praise from the “anti-Islamist” blog Point de Bascule. “His knowledge of the Arabic language gives him an advantage when it comes to understanding the ambitions of the enemy,” the Quebec-based blog wrote last year.

On Feb. 18, CIJ News published a story about Masjid Toronto, which included his translation of Elkasrawy’s controversial prayers.

Halevi later told the Toronto Sun that he was prompted to dig up the material after reading media coverage of a rally outside the mosque.

The rally was ostensibly to protest the federal Islamophobia motion, but demonstrators brought signs that read “Say no to Islam” and “Muslims are terrorists.” The protest was roundly criticized, including by local politicians who denounced it as an Islamophobic “display of ignorance and hate.”

But in his interview with the Sun, Halevi suggested the real hate was happening inside the mosque. “The double standard and hypocrisy was appalling,” he said.

After the story broke, Masjid Toronto took all its videos offline but it was too late; a new, edited clip was posted on YouTube, crediting Halevi with its translation and referencing an extreme anti-Muslim ideology known as “counter-jihad.” The account hosting the clip also mentions “Vlad Tepes Blog” in its video description.

The “counter-jihad” is described by researchers as a loose network of people and groups united by the belief that Muslims are plotting to take over the West. A recent National Post investigation described Rebel News as a “global platform” for the counter-jihad, and linked Vlad Tepes Blog — regarded as a key website in the movement — to a frequent Rebel News contributor.

Rebel jumped on the story about Elkasrawy’s prayers, which it credited “our friend Jonathan Halevi” with breaking. In a video segment, “Rebel commander” Ezra Levant plays the YouTube clip while imploring his viewers to “look at what the folks inside the mosque were saying.”

“Look at the translation written on the screen,” Levant says in the video, which has now drawn more than 35,000 views. “Here they are talking about Jews — there’s a lot of Jews in Toronto — and how they need to be killed one by one.”

But such stories contained a glaring oversight: this was not at all what Elkasrawy said.

This is the consensus that emerged from five Arabic experts who independently analyzed Elkasrawy’s prayers at the Star’s request. The experts — from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom — are Arabic translators, linguists and university professors with published book chapters, academic papers and textbooks. None of them knows Elkasrawy.

The experts found that the imam’s prayers were not without fault, and many clarified that they do not condone or excuse some of the language he used.

But they also described the initial, widely circulated translation as “mistranslated,” “decontextualized” and “disingenuous.” One said it had the hallmarks of a “propaganda translation.”

The YouTube clip was particularly troubling for Arabic sociolinguist and dialectologist Atiqa Hachimi, an associate professor at the University of Toronto.

This is because the clip was digitally manipulated: the first two seconds were cut and pasted from a different prayer Elkasrawy had made two minutes earlier. A slanted translation then transformed this Quranic verse from “Thou art our Protector. Help us against those who stand against faith” to “Give us victory over the disbelieving people.”

“It changed their meaning in such a way as to promote the dangerous myths that violent extremism and hate are inherent to Islam,” Hachimi said.

Elkasrawy also was not referring to Jewish people when he said “slay them one by one,” a line from the Hadith that is often invoked as a cry for divine justice. This line was misunderstood as being part of his prayer about Al-Aqsa mosque; in fact, it was the closing line in a previous supplication that he made on behalf of suffering Muslims around the world, Hachimi said.

As for “Purify the Al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews,” a more accurate translation is “Cleanse Al-Aqsa mosque from the Jews’ desecration of it,” according to Nazir Harb Michel, an Arabic sociolinguist and Islamophobia researcher at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

The crucial word here is danas. Arabic-English dictionaries list several possible definitions — among them “besmirch,” “defile,” and spiritual “impurity” or “filth” — so context is key in determining the appropriate translation. Harb Michel said “no translator worth two cents” would choose the “filth” definition in the context of Elkasrawy’s prayer.

When danas is used in reference to a holy place — like Al-Aqsa — the common definition is “desecration,” the experts agreed. “He does not say ‘the filth of the Jews,’” said Jonathan Featherstone, a senior teaching fellow at the University of Edinburgh and former Arabic lecturer with the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

But what did Elkasrawy mean by “desecration”? Again, context is instructive. Days before his prayers, he and his congregants were reading reports of Israeli police deploying tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets inside Al-Aqsa mosque — actions many Muslims would consider to be a desecration of the site, especially during the 10 holiest days of Ramadan.

Elkasrawy now realizes how wrong it was to mention “the Jews,” especially since his intention was to pray for the mosque, not against people.

“If I could say it in a more clear way,” he says, “it would be ‘O Allah, protect the Al-Aqsa mosque from occupation. Or preserve the sacredness of the Al-Aqsa mosque from violation.’”

He said “Jews” is widely used in the Arabic-speaking world to mean “Israeli forces” or “Israeli occupiers,” not as a sweeping reference to all ethnic and religious Jews. But he acknowledges this common usage is problematic. And, he asks, “How is it perceived in my (current) community? It’s something I didn’t take into account.”

“I have never thought of anything against people of Jewish faith,” he says. “In Islam, we believe that no one should be forced into any religion. We cannot hate any people, any group, because of their ethnicity or their religion.”

Halevi declined requests for a phone interview but, in emailed responses, he stood by his original translation of Elkasrawy’s prayers. He did not answer specific questions, including why he chose the “filth” definition, but sent links to various websites and Arabic-English dictionaries.

He also did not answer questions about the source of the digitally manipulated clip, saying only that the original video was available on his website until the mosque deleted its YouTube channel.

But Halevi provided context that he considered important: excerpts from Islamic books that promote praying against disbelievers; translations of violent, aggressive or anti-Semitic statements made by other Muslims; links to CIJ News, which Halevi took down shortly after being contacted by the Star.

“Canadian imams deny any rights of the Jews over the Temple Mount or in (the) Land of Israel/Palestine,” Halevi wrote.

B’nai Brith Canada said two Arabic experts independently verified the original translation before the group urged Ryerson to fire Elkasrawy. B’nai Brith said it also reached out to the imam on Facebook but did not get a response. (Elkasrawy deleted his account shortly after the story broke.)

“Statements like this have been made in many parts of the world and it’s actually been used directly as incitement,” said B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn. “Jewish people have lost their lives over statements like this.”

Mostyn rejects the linguistic opinions obtained by the Star, in one case accusing an expert of having an anti-Israel bias. But he would not identify his own translators, citing concerns over their safety. The Star’s request to interview them anonymously was also declined.

In response to the Star’s questions, B’nai Brith solicited a third opinion from Mordechai Kedar, an assistant professor with the Arabic department at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.

In a phone interview, Kedar did not remember being asked to evaluate Elkasrawy’s entire supplications, just the phrase that referred to “Jews” and danas. But he said he didn’t need any context to interpret Elkasrawy’s prayers because “when it comes to what Israel is doing, it is the worst meaning of the word.”

“Nobody should give them the benefit of the doubt that they mean something else, because they don’t,” he said. “(They want) to make the mainstream media in the free world believe them that they are the targets, when they are the problem in the whole world.”

Like Halevi, Kedar is a former Israeli intelligence officer and media pundit. His views have also drawn controversy, and Kedar once served on the advisory board for Stop Islamization of Nations — an organization co-founded by the anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller and designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a U.S.-based civil rights watchdog.

Kedar argued Elkasrawy’s language was “meant to create a religiously charged rage and anger against the Jews.”

“Reacting violently against (Jewish people) in revenge for their deed is almost a required reaction,” he wrote in an email. “You can call it, in one word, terrorism.”

B’nai Brith Canada has not gone so far as to allege verbal terrorism, and said it is glad Elkasrawy has undergone cultural training, but its position remains unmoved: “Mr. Elkasrawy’s message at the mosque was irrefutably offensive and anti-Semitic.”

Farber feels differently. He says Elkasrawy chose his language poorly, especially when he referred to “the Jews,” and failed to understand the harmful impact of his words.

But he now believes Elkasrawy’s prayers were misrepresented to the public. Like many people, Farber accepted the initial translation unquestioningly, but now says “if people were going to take that and ruin lives, we should have been a lot more careful.”

“He said something that’s highly charged and highly political and could be anti-Zionist — but it’s not anti-Semitic,” Farber says. “And that changes the flavour of this.”

In the rush to condemn Elkasrawy’s prayers, Muslim organizations were among the first in line.

“Unacceptable” and “inappropriate,” his mosque said in a statement. “Appalling and reprehensible,” wrote the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the country’s largest Muslim advocacy group.

There was much to disapprove of, in addition to the mention of “Jews.” Many Muslim Canadians disagree with praying negatively and feel frustrated when religious leaders speak in ways that reinforce harmful stereotypes.

Prayers like “slay them one by one” also have no place inside a Canadian mosque, says Mohammad Aboghodda, a lecturer with the Understanding Islam Academy, an educational charity in Mississauga. Aboghodda was one of the Arabic translators consulted by the Star.

This quote from the Hadith has a specific reference to ancient Islamic struggles but is sometimes used in prayers for divine justice; Elkasrawy says he invoked it on behalf of Syrian people killed and tortured by the government regime or by Daesh (ISIS) terrorists.

But Aboghodda finds this language inappropriate, even if well intentioned — it would be like a priest delivering a Sunday sermon and quoting Bible verses that say “wrongdoers will be completely destroyed.”

“That’s a very common old prayer, but it implies violence that we don’t need,” he says. “I think many young and novice imams go to the old books and just copy these from it.”

These were some of the concerns Muslim groups had in mind when they denounced Elkasrawy’s prayers — public statements that many took as an implicit acceptance of the initial translation. But those statements did not reveal whether the Muslim community thought the translation was accurate, or whether they understood Elkasrawy’s words at all.

How many Canadian Muslims speak Arabic? Contrary to assumption, only about 20 per cent of the world’s Muslims are native Arabic speakers; according to the latest census, 1.2 per cent of Canadians cite Arabic as their mother tongue. Quranic Arabic, which Elkasrawy used in his prayers, is also notoriously complex and difficult to deconstruct.

Hachimi pointed out that several Arabic-language newspapers also clearly relied on English reports of the incident, because when they back-translated the word “filth,” they chose a different Arabic word — najas — from the one Elkasrawy used in his prayers.

And who bothered to check the original video? The translation was not verified by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, executive director Ihsaan Gardee confirmed in an emailed statement.

He said the organization is now “deeply troubled” to learn that the widely circulated clip of Elkasrawy’s prayers was manipulated and the translations called into question. But in the fast-moving aftermath of the scandal, he said, the organization “could only respond to what was being reported” — in other words, it reacted to the CIJ News translation.

“Unfortunately, we are living in a time where the very worst is believed about Canadian Muslims — contrary to the reality that the vast majority are contributing positively,” Gardee wrote. “So when a story like this emerges that contains the words of religious leaders speaking in a way that is understood — rightly or wrongly — to be promoting hatred against anyone, it is critical that human rights advocates be quick to condemn such language.”

Officials from the Muslim Association of Canada said their first priority was to reach out to the Jewish community and apologize for their employee’s inappropriate language, which violated the mosque’s stated policies.

But that doesn’t mean they considered the translation to be accurate — they didn’t. “We avoided this detail because a clear position was required so that there will be no confusion of our stand on this,” spokesperson Abdussalam Nakua wrote in an email.

Elkasrawy’s prayers exploded into view at a particularly fraught time.

Only weeks had passed since a gunman stormed into a Quebec City mosque and massacred six Muslim worshippers. The United States had just inaugurated a new president who campaigned on a Muslim travel ban. The acrimonious debate around the Canadian Islamophobia motion had reached a fever pitch, with Liberal MP Iqra Khalid even receiving death threats.

Elkasrawy’s prayers were quickly taken up by politicians. A month after they emerged, MP Steven Blaney — who was then running for the federal Conservative party leadership — cited Elkasrawy in a campaign email seeking donations to “stand against violence and radicalization.” (“Should Allah kill all the Jews? I don’t think so but frighteningly, some do.”)

Right-wing groups also latched on to the story and Elkasrawy’s picture was used on a poster at a rally against M-103. A hate crimes complaint was filed by the Jewish Defense League, which has been active in anti-Islamic protests. (A local JDL member is himself facing possible hate crime charges in the U.S. in connection with an alleged assault on a Palestinian-American man in Washington, D.C., earlier this year.)

“We’re dealing with a community in fear,” Farber says of Muslim Canadians. “Even if the community itself might feel that ‘Well no, this translation isn’t exactly right … we don’t want to make people more angry.’ In the end, I’m not particularly surprised that the mosque and others involved said, ‘Let’s shut this down and apologize.’”

Elkasrawy said his first priority after the story broke in February was to apologize to the Jewish community. He worried, too, about further inflaming the situation. “I feared for the people inside the mosque, that they might be attacked because of this.”

He decided to let things calm down before attempting to explain himself. But within days, posters were plastered around Ryerson’s campus, where Elkasrawy had been a teaching assistant on and off since 2008, a job that partially funds his graduate studies.

The posters had a picture of his face and the words “Fire him now” — a demand that was echoed by B’nai Brith Canada. The student who led the postering campaign, Aedan O’Connor, recently announced on Facebook that she is now working with Rebel Media.

Ryerson and its new president, Mohamed Lachemi, were already under pressure to respond to previous reports of anti-Semitism on campus. A meeting was quickly called between Elkasrawy and the dean of Ryerson’s engineering department.

Elkasrawy attended the meeting and brought a more accurate translation of his prayers, assuming this would be a first step in the university’s investigation. According to Elkasrawy, his translation was disregarded and Ryerson officials deliberated for about 15 minutes before handing him a two-page termination letter.

Ryerson declined to be interviewed for this story, stating that it does not discuss human resources matters.

For Elkasrawy, this was the moment that killed any hope he had of eventually explaining his side of the story. The YouTube clips, the media coverage, the public statements, his suspension, the police investigation, the termination — it all braided together into a knot that felt impossible to unravel. It all happened in 10 days.

Elkasrawy says he agreed to speak with the Star because “I have nothing to hide.” He has contemplated leaving Toronto or changing careers, but for now, he wants to move forward.

He has returned to his mosque, which conducted its own internal probe into the incident. He has applied, unsuccessfully, for new teaching jobs at Ryerson. And while the hate crime complaint against him remains active, Elkasrawy says he has yet to be contacted by police.

When asked what this experience has been like, Elkasrawy sighs heavily, his eyes drifting to the floor of his modest downtown apartment. He explains in a wavering voice that he has tried to take an Islamic point of view.

“People go through difficult times, hard times, in which they have to be patient and have some forbearance,” he says. “You have to listen to people and learn from this experience.”

He is holding tight to the lessons he’s learned, including those from the Mosaic Institute. Chief among them: when you speak, your meaning has to be clear — not just in your own head or to the people in front of you, but to Canadians of all backgrounds.

“Once the word comes out, even if the person who was hurt later understands your meaning, it will leave something in his heart,” Elkasrawy says. “It will not be the same as before.”

The translators

The Star consulted five Arabic experts for this story. They are:

  • Mohammad Aboghodda, Understanding Islam Academy

›  How a man was acquitted of sexually assaulting his wife because neither knew he needed consent: DiManno

What if an accused, charged with beating a dog to death, told the court: I didn’t know that was against the law.

Preposterous, obviously.

Who would be unaware that such cruelty towards a defenceless animal is a crime?

Who would be afforded judicial latitude for ignorance?

The crime is the crime.

Now imagine instead that a man is charged with raping his wife. Actually you don’t have to imagine it because such a man went on trial for the alleged crime in Ottawa some four months ago. And was acquitted last week.

Neither husband nor wife understood that sexual assault — “rape” no longer exists in Canada as a specific charge — was an offence under the Criminal Code.

It was an arranged marriage, to which the woman consented reluctantly but dutifully, as was the practice in her culture. Raised in Kuwait by Palestinian parents, arriving in Canada in 1989 as a teenager, age 22 at wedlock, after she withdrew from university.

She believed she had no choice. That is how some females still lead their lives of quiet desperation in this country, in our midst, in a kind of shrouded existence, denied basic human rights and treated as property.

Like a dog.

Couldn’t say no to her parents. Couldn’t say no to her husband when he forced her to have sex against her will.

In court documents, the woman is identified only as “Z.”

“I . . . accept Z.’s evidence that the accused believed that as her husband he had the right to have sexual relations with her when he wished,” Justice Robert Smith writes in his reasons for judgment.

“Z. testified that there were many instances during her marriage where she did not consent to having sex with the accused but that he went ahead anyway in the circumstances where they both believed he had the right to do so. She was unaware that she could stop her husband from having sex with her without her consent. Their sexual relationship continued in this manner from 1992 until Jan. 1, 2013.”

The marriage had been performed in Gaza. Children were born to them here.

In time it became an unhappy union and the couple separated in 2013.

A change had come over her husband, the woman testified, after he returned from a 20-month visit to settle family estate matters in Gaza. He became aggressive, had no patience and “was no longer kind to her.”

Speaks volumes, that phrase, doesn’t it?

It wasn’t until later in 2013, when police attended at the couple’s home — they were arguing over access issues — that Z. discovered she could have indeed refused her husband’s sexual demands over all those years.

That has been the law in Canada since 1983. Prior to then, rape was considered an offence only outside of marriage, meaning a husband could not be charged with raping his wife and a wife could only have her spouse charged with indecent assault, common assault or assault causing bodily harm.

A year previous to the revised legislation, NDP MP Margaret Mitchell was mocked about the issue — laughed at by other MPs — when she rose in the House of Commons and demanded the government take action to stop domestic violence.

Bill C-127, which came into effect Jan. 4, 1983, made sexual assault against a spouse an offence under the Criminal Code. A spouse could also be charged with aggravated sexual assault if the crime included a beating.

That was scarcely 35 years ago. In some patriarchal countries, it’s still not a crime.

Z. recalled one incident in particular which became the basis of the sex assault charge against her husband and it dated to an episode from 2002, when he grabbed her by the wrist, pulled her on the couch, tugged down her pants and had sex despite Z. asking him three times to stop. “She closed her eyes and prayed for it to end and then took a shower,” Smith writes.

Now, anyone with experience of sex assault trials would instantly recognize the frailty of the case — so long ago, no witnesses, no independent corroboration, he-said she-said accounts.

Except the judge believed Z., found her entirely credible. “She answered questions in a straightforward manner. Her evidence that the accused believed he had a right to have sex with his wife was not contradicted. The accused acknowledged that he exercised control over his wife’s body by refusing to allow her to have an abortion when she became pregnant …

“I find that the accused probably had sex with his wife on many occasions without her specific consent, as both he and she believe that he had the right to do so.”

Z. told the court she fulfilled her connubial role because she believed it was her obligation as his wife.

By comparison, the accused “was argumentative and evasive when cross-examined and often did not answer the question posed. I find that his evidence was not believable and did not raise a reasonable doubt.”

Smith was especially skeptical about the husband’s claim that he clearly remembered not having sex at all with his wife during the period of the alleged assault — because he’d had a hair transplant and, he said, the doctor had told him to avoid sexual activity for two weeks. No medical evidence for that advice was presented; it’s nonsensical.

And yet. And yet.


Because the Crown had not proven mens rea — a guilty mind, the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime — beyond reasonable doubt.

Because he believed he had the right.

It is to weep. It is to rage against the madness of the courts.

Little wonder women don’t report. The standard of proof is too high. While it should not be lower for sexual assault, it sure as hell shouldn’t be higher.

This was not a woman caught in a web of lies. She didn’t collude to support her claim. She submitted because we clearly have done a wretched job of informing women about their rights. And then a judge found her credible narrative wanting, falling as it did within this crevice of perverse woman-hating culture.

The judge also acquitted the defendant on charges of assaulting his daughter — seizing her by the neck — and threatening the girl, though both she and her sister testified about how their father had returned from Gaza more fervidly religious, setting limits on what his daughters could wear, which resulted in family disputes.

“I will end you,” the girl testified her father had said to her in Arabic during the argument, after even the accused admitted he’d gone upstairs to “straighten her out.”

Girls and women: Who were they to challenge his authority?

The judge had prefaced his decision with this observation: “Marriage is not a shield for sexual assault; however, the issue in this trial is whether considering the whole of the evidence the Crown has proven the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Here, the doubt was profoundly unreasonable.

Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

›  Dozens of women accuse writer-director James Toback of sexual harassment

LOS ANGELES—Writer and director James Toback, who received an Oscar nomination for writing Bugsy, has been accused of sexual harassment by 38 women in a report published Sunday in The Los Angeles Times.

In the report, many of the women allege that Toback approached them on the streets of New York City and promised stardom. His meetings would often end with sexual questions and Toback masturbating in front of them or dry-humping them, according to the accounts.

The 72-year-old denied the allegations to the Los Angeles Times, saying he never met any of the women, or if he had it “was for five minutes and (I) have no recollection.”

Thirty-one of the women spoke on the record including Louise Post, who is a guitarist and vocalist for the band Veruca Salt, and As the World Turns actress Terri Conn.

Actress Echo Danon recalled an incident on the set of his film “Black and White” where Toback put his hands on her and said that he would ejaculate if she looked at his eyes and pinched his nipples.

“Everyone wants to work, so they put up with it,” Danon told the Times. “That’s why I put up with it. Because I was hoping to get another job.”

The Los Angeles Times also reported that Canadian actress Chantal Cousineau alleged that Toback made sexually explicit comments in a Toronto hotel room when she was asked to meet him for an audition in 2001. She also alleged during a subsequent rehearsal that Toback was masturbating just off the set.

Read more:

Weinstein scandal will accelerate Oscar housecleaning: Howell

How #MeToo lets any woman speak out on sexual harassment: Teitel

TIFF left grappling with Harvey Weinstein’s legacy

On Sunday afternoon, Times reporter Glenn Whipp said the number of accusers had doubled since the story had published.

Toback hasn’t responded to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

The report comes amid the ongoing downfall of producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by over three dozen women. He was fired from the company he co-founded and widely denounced by his Hollywood peers.

“James Toback damn you for stealing, damn you for traumatizing,” tweeted Weinstein accuser Rose McGowan on Sunday.

Another Weinstein accuser, actress-director Asia Argento, tweeted, “So proud of my sisters for bringing down yet another pig” in response to the Toback report.

Though less widely known than Weinstein, Toback has had a successful four-decade career in Hollywood and has a devoted following who have praised him for his originality and outsized, deeply flawed characters.

A New York native, Harvard graduate, creative writing professor and compulsive gambler, Toback used his own life as inspiration for his first produced screenplay, “The Gambler,” which came out in 1974 and starred James Caan. The film was remade in 2014 with Mark Walhberg and Brie Larson.

He also wrote and directed the Harvey Keitel film “Fingers,” the loosely autobiographical “The Pick-up Artist,” which starred Robert Downey Jr. and Molly Ringwald, “Two Girls and a Guy,” also with Downey Jr. and Heather Graham, “Harvard Man,” with Sarah Michelle Gellar, and the Mike Tyson documentary “Tyson.”

His one and only Oscar nomination is for writing the Barry Levinson-directed and Warren Beatty-starring “Bugsy.”

Toback’s upcoming film, “The Private Life of a Modern Woman,” stars Sienna Miller and Alec Baldwin and debuted at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year.

Like Weinstein, reports of Toback’s alleged behaviour toward women have been around for decades. Spy magazine wrote about him in 1989, and the now-defunct website Gawker also published accounts from women in New York who had had run-ins with Toback.

But in the past few weeks, amid the Weinstein scandal and the rise of the #MeToo social media movement, in which women are revealing instances of sexual harassment and assault, more reports have emerged about the conduct of many working in the entertainment industry.

Just days ago, top Amazon Studios executive Roy Price resigned following sexual harassment allegations made by a “Man in the High Castle” producer.

On Sunday, a few in Hollywood began denouncing Toback on social media, including “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig, who tweeted that Toback “Is a disgrace.”

“One of the main jobs of a director is to create a safe environment for the actors,” Feig wrote.

“Doctor Strange” director Scott Derrickson added, “If there is a Hell, James Toback will be in it.”

“Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn wrote a lengthy Facebook post Sunday about the allegations, saying that he has personally met at least 15 women who have said they have had these kinds of encounters with Toback, including three women he has dated, two friends and a family member.

“For over twenty years now, I’ve been bringing up James Toback every chance I could in groups of people,” Gunn wrote. “I couldn’t stop him, but I could warn people about him.”

›  Portaging an ancient footpath ? through downtown Toronto

A group of travellers hunched under canoes set off along a 23-kilometre trading route to portage from the Humber to the Don River.

They carried everything they needed for the journey on their backs — clothing, food and firewood — and planned to arrive before dark.

Unlike early Indigenous hunters, fishers and traders, the portagers didn’t have any wild animals to worry about, but then again, the Davenportage is all about sticking to tradition.

On Sunday afternoon, about 30 “historian athletes” and “voyageur philosophers” carrying 10 canoes travelled along Davenport Rd. — or Davenport Trail — to recognize Toronto’s rivers, history and Indigenous people.

Dating back thousands of years, the trail connected Indigenous settlements with hunting and fishing grounds and trade routes tied to the Great Lakes, Atlantic Canada and the Midwest, according to Heritage Toronto. In Objibwe, it was named Gete-Onigaming meaning “at the old portage.”

In 2014, four friends mapped out and followed roughly the same route, portaging through downtown Toronto. That’s when the Davenportage was born. They’ve continued it every year since, boasting that everyone who tries it comes back the next year.

“The Davenportage is a joyous and interesting way to experience the city, using traditional modes of transportation — feet, paddling and portaging,” said Nicholas Brinkman, co-founder and organizer.

European traders, missionaries and soldiers discovered the trail in the 1600s. By 1793, when the Town of York (now Toronto) was established, it had been transformed into a road for wagons and horses.

“What appealed to me the most is connecting to Toronto’s past, forming a visceral connection,” said Bethany Reed, who was participating for the first time.

The portage started at Étienne Brûlé Park with a sacred smudging ceremony and opening prayer, led by Mike Ormsby of Curve Lake First Nation.

“Think of the Indigenous people you’re following, you’re walking in our footsteps” Ormsby said to the group before they set off. “I really respect what you guys are about to do.”

Along the way, Davenportage participants dropped off canned goods at the Yorkville Fire Station and stopped for split pea soup, coffee and tea at the Tollkeeper’s Cottage at Davenport Rd. and Bathurst St. A Community History Project, the tollgate operated from at least 1850.

They made their way down Davenport Rd. until it turned into Church St. Then they followed smaller streets and finished at the Evergreen Brick Works, along the Don River.

A group of eight, including Brinkman, started the trek earlier, with a 15-kilometre run to the Don River, followed by a paddle to Lake Ontario and up the Humber River to the park.

“The experience is spiritual and ridiculous,” Brinkman said.

›  All five living former U.S. presidents gather at concert to raise funds for hurricane relief

AUSTIN, TEXAS—The five living former U.S. presidents attended a concert Saturday night to benefit victims of recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Barack Obama, George W. Bush, George H.W Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter appeared together at the “Deep From the Heart” concert in College Station, Tx. on the campus of Texas A&M University. They called on Americans to donate to an appeal that has raised $31 million (U.S.) since it began on Sept. 7.

They avoided politics in their remarks, and none of them mentioned current U.S. President Donald Trump.

The U.S. mainland and its territories have recently been walloped by one natural disaster after another. In all, hurricanes and wildfires have killed more than 100 people and left residents with billions of dollars in damage that they have only begun to clean up.

Massive donation drives have been started, and on Saturday, they got a boost from five men who are used to being fundraiser in chief.

At the event Saturday, President George H.W. Bush did not address the crowd, but smiled and waved from the stage. The 93-year-old elder Bush suffers from a form of Parkinson’s disease and appeared in a wheelchair at the event.

Grammy award winner Lady Gaga made a surprise appearance at the concert.

Read more:

Taking on Trump while trying to right Puerto Rico — ‘My world is inside out,’ San Juan mayor says

Former U.S. president George W. Bush slams Trump’s ‘America first’ policy in scathing speech

While he didn’t attend, President Donald Trump recorded a video message for the event.

In the video, Trump says the American people “came together as one” in the wake of the series of devastating hurricanes.

He’s also thanking presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — frequent subjects of his wrath — for helping to spearhead the effort, calling them “some of America’s finest public servants.”

He says: “This wonderful effort reminds us that we truly are one nation under God, all unified by our values and devotion to one another.”

It was a brief moment of detente. Obama and Bush, who've kept relatively low profiles since leaving office, have recently criticized Trump

Having so much ex-presidential power in one place is unusual. George H.W. Bush spokesperson Jim McGrath said all five of Saturday night’s attendees haven’t been together since the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas in 2013, when Obama was still in office.

With files from the Washington Post

›  NFL reattaches cable as streaming service falters

The 75-inch TV in Wendell Waldron’s Regina home is perfect for viewing football, but these days he watches his beloved San Francisco 49ers on a small tablet. It’s the only device in his home that streams DAZN’s NFL Sunday Ticket broadcasts without pausing or cutting out.

King City resident Gianfranco Schirripa subscribed to DAZN to follow the Philadelphia Eagles, but missed the end of the team’s season-opening win over Washington when his stream crashed.

In suburban Vancouver, DAZN subscriber Sean Meade grew so frustrated with the their spotty performance he created a Twitter account — @DAZNSucks — to unite disgruntled customers of NFL Sunday Ticket’s exclusive Canadian provider and amplify their voices.

The NFL and its new partner heard them. Late last week the league and DAZN reached agreements allowing several cable providers to resume selling Sunday Ticket, a subscription-only service showing out-of-market games.

But fans say the fight isn’t over.

The new agreement doesn’t cover Bell and Telus, whose subscribers still can’t access Sunday Ticket without buying DAZN. And until streaming becomes as reliable as cable, the NFL risks alienating customers who are willing to pay but can’t find a satisfactory product.

“The mission’s not complete until every Canadian can get Sunday Ticket just like they used to be able to,” Meade said. “All these companies used to have this product . . . You want to give your telecom more money and they won’t let you do it.”

DAZN (pronounced “da Zone”) is a U.K.-based sports streaming service that entered the Canadian market with a splash this summer, beating out traditional cable providers for exclusive rights to NFL Sunday Ticket. The company threw a glitzy rooftop party at a downtown hotel to promote the arrangement, and enlisted social media influencers to extend their online marketing reach. If streaming is the future of live sports, DAZN hoped to nudge Canadian NFL fans into a new era.

But when the season started, Canadians subscribers reported a litany of problems:

  • Streams lagging as many as four minutes behind live action.

  • Downloads too slow to keep up with game action, leading to pixilated images, paused streams and outright crashes.

  • Games airing without audio, or with commentary in languages other than English.

“It’s taken away from my enjoyment of the game,” says Waldron, a Mississauga native who moved to Regina in 2013. “I was getting even more buffering issues last week . . . There’s a major problem here.”

The NFL maintains it vetted DAZN and felt confident it could deliver the content reliably, but Canadian users’ complaints echo the ones raised by fans in Japan when DAZN took over rights to J-League soccer broadcasts earlier this year.

For its part, DAZN insists its technology is sound, and that the highly-publicized glitches affected a small percentage of subscribers. The company says it didn’t account for disparities in connectivity speeds before launching in Canada, and has worked to tailor its streams accordingly.

“We have to be able to serve that customer base,” DAZN executive Alex Rice said. “We should have been ready, but we’ve made those changes now.”

Experts say the emergence of a DAZN-style provider, which merges the convenience of streaming with the popularity of live sports, is inevitable. When the Solutions Research Group polled U.S. consumers on their must-have viewing options, Netflix ranked fourth, trailing only the three major broadcast networks. Amazon Prime, meanwhile, finished 14th. Neither streaming service made the top 15 last year.

Cable sports giant ESPN ranked sixth, best among cable networks.

But SRG president Kaan Yigit says DAZN’s early struggles in Japan and Canada demonstrate how much over-the-top services still need to improve to satisfy sports fans.

“We are probably some years away from an equally robust streaming solution on a mass scale for live sports — I’d say four to five years,” Yigit wrote in an email to the Star. “I don’t know that it will ever surpass cable, but at some point it should be near parity.”

DAZN might appeal to cord-cutters who still crave live sports, but disappointed customers say the service ignores habits that define contemporary sports viewership.

While in-game tweeting has become part of the viewing experience for many fans, streaming delays can turn Twitter into a non-stop string of spoilers for DAZN customers.

“I had to shut off all my notifications,” Schirripa said. “I was relegated to using my Twitter during commercial breaks because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being told something before it actually happened.”

And where fantasy football enthusiasts often toggle quickly between games to stay updated, DAZN’s interface makes that type of channel surfing inconvenient.

While DAZN works to make its product as reliable as cable is, the NFL says bringing cable providers back into the Sunday Ticket mix made more sense than waiting for streaming technology to catch up with fans’ habits.

The agreement DAZN signed with Rogers, Shaw, Eastlink and SaskTel runs through next season, but NFL executive Michael Markovich foresees Sunday Ticket remaining available on cable beyond that.

“From an NFL perspective, it was the fan comes first, and choice is what they want,” said Markovich, the NFL’s VP of international media. “There’s a desire on the DAZN side and . . . on the cable operator side to find a way to work together going forward. I don’t view that as a short-term partnership.”

Rice says DAZN is already working to address concerns customers have raised over the first half of the NFL season, and that long-term goals include an interface that allows for TV-style channel swapping.

The company is working in the short term to mend its tattered reputation, a campaign that includes visiting dissatisfied customers.

As his @DAZNSucks Twitter feed gained followers and influence, Meade received a direct message from the company on his personal account, asking if they could spend a day watching football and addressing his complaints. The following Sunday, a DAZN executive from England appeared at Meade’s house, accompanied by a public relations rep and bearing an afternoon’s worth of snacks. They discussed Meade’s concerns while watching a Seahawks game — on cable rather than his faulty DAZN stream.

Meade appreciated the gesture but cancelled his subscription anyway.

“If I have DAZN and I have cable, I’m going to pick cable 100 times out of 100,” he said. “It’s better. I don’t want to stream my football. I’ve never wanted to stream my football. I just want to turn it on and have it there.”

›  The people tarred by Motherisk's drug test results

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

›  Liberals accused of tax grab by clawing back disability credit for diabetics

OTTAWA—Health groups joined forces on Sunday with the Conservative opposition to accuse the Liberal government of trying to raise tax revenue on the backs of vulnerable diabetics.

The accusation opened a new front in the ongoing opposition-waged war on government taxation policy, amid the backdrop of the conflict-of-interest controversy dogging Finance Minister Bill Morneau over whether he’s properly distanced himself from millions of dollars in private sector assets.

Diabetes Canada was among the groups that joined Conservative politicians to publicly denounce what they say is a clawback of a long-standing disability tax credit to help diabetics manage a disease that can cost the average sufferer $15,000 annually.

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre branded it as one more example of an out-of-touch Liberal government that he characterized as unfairly targeting the hardworking middle-class people it claims to support.

“His tax department tried to tax the employee discounts of waitresses and cashiers. Now his government is targeting vulnerable people suffering with diabetes with thousands of dollars in tax increases,” Poilievre said on Sunday at a Parliament Hill news conference flanked by fellow Conservative critics, a young diabetic constituent and a top official with a leading diabetes advocacy organization.

In May, the revenue department stopped approving a disability tax credit for people with Type 1 diabetes for those who had previously claimed it, he said.

People who need more than 14 hours per week for insulin therapy and had a doctor’s certification previously qualified. But other than citing a spike in applications for the benefit, the government offered no explanation for the change during initial interactions earlier this spring, said Kimberley Hanson of Diabetes Canada.

Thousands of claimants from across Canada who had previously been given the $1,500 annual benefit have been rejected in recent months, but Hanson said she can’t get an exact number from Canadian Revenue Agency and has had to file an Access to Information request to find out.

In recent months, the agency officials and Minister Diane Lebouthillier have for the most part rebuffed their overtures.

“Over the past two months, she’s stopped responding to my messages and answering some of my questions,” Hanson said, referring to one senior department official.

On Saturday, a senior department official reached out to her to reopen dialogue, she said. Poilievre said that only happened because the matter was raised briefly on Friday by the Conservatives during Question Period.

“Applicants are now being denied on the basis that ‘the type of therapy indicated does not meet the 14 hour per week criteria.’ These denials are in contradiction of the certifications provided by licensed medical practitioners and do not appear to be based on evidence,” says an Oct. 3 letter to Lebouthillier, signed by Diabetes Canada, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism and two other organizations.

In an emailed response to The Canadian Press on Sunday evening, a spokesperson for Lebouthillier writes that the “concerns brought up by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and other groups, are worrisome.”

It says the minister has initiated a “five-point plan” that included numerous consultations with “stakeholders” to better understand how the benefit is administered.

It says she wants the agency to improve its data collection and is planning to hire more nurses to work in processing centres to evaluate the claims.

This would help “to ensure that a medical professional is involved in the reviewing of individual’s applications,” said the emailed statement.

This latest complaint about the government’s tax policy comes after the Liberals were forced to reset proposed tax measures after weeks of vocal opposition from small business owners, doctors, farmers and backbench Liberal MPs.

The Canada Revenue Agency was also recently forced to withdraw a notice that targeted employee discounts after it caused an uproar.

“It’s not like I can snap a finger and this disease turns off,” said Madison Ferguson, a constituent of Poilievre’s who first raised it with her MP this summer after her claim was rejected.

She said she has to constantly calculate the effect of what she eats, while monitoring her blood sugar levels as much as four to 10 times a day, using test strips that cost $1.50 to $2 each time.

“It’s quite expensive but it’s needed because without this I wouldn’t be here,” said Ferguson. “So every moment of every day has to be calculated.”

›  Man in serious condition after stabbing near Yorkdale mall

A man in his 50s has been taken to hospital in serious and possibly life-threatening condition after he was stabbed near the GO Transit bus terminal beside Yorkdale Shopping Centre.

Toronto police said the victim was stabbed just after 9 p.m. at Yorkdale and Allen Rds. and when units arrived on scene he was conscious and breathing.

“The suspect fled the scene and after witnesses provided suspect descriptions, we were able to arrest someone nearby that matched those descriptions,” said Const. Allyson Douglas-Cook.

A knife was also located near the scene.

Toronto Fire Services responded to the scene and said the man was stabbed in the lower back.

The circumstances of the stabbing are currently unknown.

GO bus service has been suspended for police investigation.

›  Police identify man shot dead in Newmarket

York Regional Police have identified the victim of a fatal shooting in Newmarket late Saturday evening.

Cody Gionet, 30, of the Town of Georgina, was taken to hospital following the incident and later pronounced dead.

Gionet was found unconscious and suffering gunshot wounds when police arrived on scene.

While police confirm they have arrested two suspects in relation to the shooting, no charges have been laid. Police are appealing for witnesses that may have seen the shooting to come forward.

The incident happened around 10 p.m. in the area of Sheldon Ave., near Yonge St. Sheldon Ave. was blocked off for several hours after the shooting.

With files from Annie Arnone.

›  Ontario hands over huge swath of land for Rouge Park

A classic green and white Parks Canada sign now welcomes visitors to Rouge National Urban Park at a Markham entrance after the provincial government signed over its portion of the parklands to the federal government and paved the way for other public bodies to do the same.

“This has been a priority for our government since the very beginning,” said federal Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott, who represents the riding of Markham-Stouffville.

“We’re celebrating a very significant milestone in the completion of Canada’s first national urban park,” she added.

The agreement announced this weekend transfers 6.5 square kilometres of land from the province to Parks Canada. Ontario has also relinquished its interest in 15.2 square km managed by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and 1.1 square km of land managed by the City of Markham, paving the way for those bodies to also transfer management to Parks Canada.

Once that happens, the federal government will manage 80 per cent of the 79.1 square kms identified for the Rouge National Urban Park. The remaining 20 per cent of land is expected to be transferred to Parks Canada by other municipal governments in the coming months.

Ontario’s Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid thanked the various groups and people who’ve spent decades fighting to protect the area, offering a special thanks to Lois James, 94, who is often called the “mother of the Rouge,” and Jim Robb, whom he jokingly called a “pain in the butt.”

Though the provincial government endured some “political shrapnel” for delaying the transfer of provincially managed lands to Parks Canada until the ecological protections in the federal Rouge National Urban Park Act were strengthened this summer, Duguid said, “we truly believe that we’ve got it right and that makes me very proud.”

Rouge National Urban Park covers the traditional territories of a number of First Nations, including the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, which never surrendered their rights to the lands.

“It’s good to have this park so that they can renew themselves with the creator’s beauty,” said Mississaugas of the New Credit elder Garry Sault.

While decades ago the establishment of parks excluded First Nations, Louis Lesage, who spoke on behalf of Huron-Wendat Nation Grand Chief Konrad H. Sioui, said things are different today thanks to examples like Rouge National Urban Park.

He encouraged parents to bring their children to the park and to teach them the history of the lands, which were once home to the largest First Nations villages in Canada.

Some, though, are still concerned about the level of environmental protections in the park.

Jim Robb, general manager of the Friends of the Rouge Watershed, expressed concern that Parks Canada is looking at extending private leases to farmers before the park management plan is completed.

“We want them to complete the management plan in a public open forum before they extend the leases,” he said. He’s concerned that some farming in the park, which he described as “industrial” and pesticide dependent, may not be consistent with their goals of environmental protection.

There is room for other farmers in the park who take a more ecological approach though, he said.

Rouge National Urban Park Superintendent Pam Veinotte said Parks Canada hasn’t extended any of the private leases yet. Instead, they are working concurrently to finalize the management plan and examine the leases at the same time.

“Part of the character of this national urban park is that you have this mix of urban and forest,” said Anna Baggio, director of conservation planning for CPAWS Wildlands League.

“Obviously there needs to be restoration but I think we can work with the farmers to get there, they want to see this land well-managed and so do we,” she said.


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