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›  Report links accused killer Bruce McArthur to Toronto man missing since 2010

Accused killer Bruce McArthur was reportedly romantically involved with missing man Skandaraj Navaratnam, who disappeared from Toronto’s Gay Village in 2010.

According to a CBC News report, which quoted two of Navaratnam’s friends, the missing man met McArthur in 1999 and he worked for McArthur as a landscaper. Their relationship began in the early 2000s.

Both Kevin Nash and Jean-Guy Cloutier told CBC that McArthur was still a part of their friend’s life in or around 2008.

Navaratnam’s still-active Facebook account appeared to be linked to that of McArthur at the time of McArthur’s arrest last week. McArthur is facing charges of first-degree murder in the presumed deaths of Andrew Kinsman and Selim Esen, who went missing on different days in 2017 from the area around the Church-Wellesley Village.

The news of the relationship between McArthur and Navaratnam comes as Toronto police told the Star that McArthur was never a suspect during their task-force investigation into Navaratnam’s disappearance — or the disappearances of two other men from the same area.

Police spokesperson Meaghan Gray confirmed that McArthur was not a suspect for Project Houston investigators, who probed the disappearances of Navaratnam, Majeed Kayhan and Abdulbasir Faizi starting in late 2012. All three men frequented the Village, and all went missing between 2010 and 2012.

Navaratnam has been missing since Sept. 6, 2010. The Sri Lankan refugee was last seen in the early hours of that morning, leaving Zipperz — a gay bar formerly at Church and Carlton Sts. — with an unknown man.

His friends told the CBC that Navaratnam was generally attracted to older men, so his involvement with McArthur made sense. Nash noted that their relationship was non-monogamous. The last time he bumped into Navaratnam was at a nightclub in 2008, he said.

“He was still doing the landscaping, was still dating or was still with Bruce at the time, and that’s where we ended the conversation,” Nash told the CBC.

Read more:

Project Houston focused on three missing men in gay village

Accused killer Bruce McArthur’s 2003 assault conviction led to DNA order

‘He would not kill anybody,’ says sister of man charged in Gay Village slayings

Police also said Tuesday that three properties under investigation because of links to McArthur have been returned to their owners.

Police have been present at multiple properties in Toronto and another in Madoc, Ont., as part of an ongoing investigation into the disappearances of Kinsman and Esen.

“I can confirm that two properties have since been released back to the owners — the property in Madoc and the property on Conlins Rd. (in Scarborough),” Gray said in an email.

“Five locations have been identified as part of the ongoing investigation. What role, specifically, they play will not be disclosed at this time.”

Later Tuesday, Gray confirmed a third property on Concorde Place, near the Don Valley Pkwy. and Eglinton Ave. E., was released.

Police remained at a Thorncliffe Park residential building near Overlea Blvd. and Don Mills Rd. on Tuesday, with two vehicles parked outside, including a forensic identification services van.

Multiple Toronto police vehicles were also outside a Leaside house on Mallory Cres., near Bayview and Moore Aves., including a forensic identification services truck and two police dog service vehicles.

With files from Fatima Syed

›  Canada, 10 Pacific-region nations, finalize sweeping trade pact

OTTAWA—Canada has joined 10 other Pacific region countries in a sweeping new trade deal, one that Ottawa touts as a progressive step forward but critics warn puts the country’s auto sector at risk.

The revised Trans-Pacific trade deal, called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, was finalized in Japan on Tuesday, a reality few thought possible a year ago when President Donald Trump pulled the United States from the agreement.

But the remaining nations, led by Japan, revived the pact with negotiations producing a finalized trade agreement, billed as the largest in the world.

“It’s a great day for progressive trade around the world,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a business audience in Davos, Switzerland, where he is attending the World Economic Forum.

“The agreement reached in Tokyo today is the right deal,” said Trudeau, who stayed away from a meeting of TPP leaders in November in order to press for better terms.

“Our government stood up for Canadian interests, and this agreement meets our objectives of creating and sustaining growth, prosperity and well-paying middle-class jobs today and for generations to come,” Trudeau added.

Trudeau said Tuesday he was pleased with the work Canada had done to make the deal “more progressive and stronger” in the areas of intellectual property, culture and the automotive sector.

When finalized, it will give Canada favoured market access to the TPP member nations. Japan is seen as the most valuable market, but the partnership also includes Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and Mexico.

Read more:

Opinion | Thomas Walkom: Canada takes out insurance against NAFTA’s collapse with Pacific trade deal

Canada, TPP members strike trade deal without U.S.

Opinion | Jennifer Wells: How Justin Trudeau missed his moment at Davos

It may have initially been a political and psychological boost to the Canadian team in Montreal as a sixth round of trade talks with the United States and Mexico to rewrite the North American free trade pact get underway in earnest.

But critics say it actually undercuts their attempts to work out a better deal with the U.S.

Canada’s minister of international trade, François-Philippe Champagne, said the Trans-Pacific Partnership will make Canada part of the largest trading agreement in the world, covering 500 million people, representing about 14 per cent of the global economy.

He said it will provide billions of dollars in economic benefits to Canadians.

While declining to link the announcement to the troubled NAFTA talks, which formally resumed Tuesday, Champagne said the announcement couldn’t have come at a better time.

“The United States is our largest trading partner and will always be there… our relationship is providing millions of good, middle-class jobs. But when you have more than 70 per cent of your exports to one country, I think people realize that it’s in Canada’s best interest to look west and to look east, Champagne said.

“When you are looking at a fast-growing economy like Vietnam, like Malaysia, Japan, the third-largest economy of the world, I think it makes sense for Canada as a Pacific Nation to position itself for success for decades to come,” he told reporters at a Toronto news conference.

“We wanted to make sure that Canada would be the first mover in one of the fastest-growing regions in the world, ensuring not only our current prosperity but obviously for decades to come.”

He pointed to specific industries in Canada that will see improvement: Vietnam’s steel tariff will drop to zero in 10 years from about 40 per cent today. Aluminum tariffs will go down by 30 per cent.

News of a deal sparked a range of reactions across Canadian business. Pork producers — who already export 70 per cent of their products to 100 different countries — cheered the agreement, saying it would open up new markets. The Forest Products Association of Canada said their industry stands to benefit too by knocking down tariffs as high as 40 per cent across Pacific nations.

But Unifor President Jerry Dias condemned it as the “worst trade deal ever.”

“Rebranding of TPP as Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership is a joke. With this deal it’s the same old story. Shameful broken trade promises. This isn’t progress for workers it’s a mockery,” he said on Twitter.

Speaking in Montreal after being briefed on the deal, Dias said he was furious and said “everybody” in Canada’s automotive industry feels the same.

He now fears Canadian autoworkers will have to compete with “cheap labour” in Asia and suggested Toyota and Honda would be thrilled because they’ll be able to make cheaper cars in Japan and ship them for sale in North American markets.

“We have such a trade imbalance with Japan right now it’s ridiculous. For every car we ship to Japan, they send 600 back, so this doesn’t change it at all,” Dias said.

“So now I’ve got Ford, GM and Chrysler saying, ‘why would we invest in Canada when they continue to sign trading deals with other nations that completely undermine the investments that we’re making?’” he said.

That concern was echoed by other auto sector stakeholders who said the federal government needs to ensure reciprocal access to foreign markets. And until those concerns are put to rest, they want autos excluded from the trade pact.

“We’re going to insist on it,” Flavio Volpe, president of the ‎Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association.

He said rules of origin for autos and parts under TPP mark a “much lower barrier to entry” and will allow imports to be sourced from foreign markets, likely China.

“You’ve just handicapped your own domestic market,” he said in an interview.

Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, said terms of the TPP could in fact lead to job losses as auto manufacturers move production to lower cost jurisdictions.

“All indications are that it fails miserably... it will disadvantage companies that have invested in job-sustaining manufacturing,” he said in an interview.

Moving ahead with TPP is not helpful at a time when Canada is trying to negotiate new trade rules with the U.S. and Mexico under a new North America trade arrangement that will also include autos, he said.

Champagne tried to tackle those worries head-on, saying the revised pact includes improved arrangement on autos with Japan, including an effort to dismantle non-tariff barriers that have stood in the way of selling Canadian-made autos in that market. Canada’s regulatory standards, for example, will now be recognized the same as the United States and the European Union.

“We have provided the auto sector for the first time, meaningful market access by removing these trade barriers that were present,” Champagne said.

Jacques Lefebvre, head of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, said Canada’s agreement to open up its dairy sector in the TPP when the U.S. isn’t part of it “doesn’t make sense.”

He noted that Canada’s original concessions — to allow an additional 3.25 per cent of foreign imports of dairy — were made when the U.S. was at the table.

He said “the markets available to us through TPP today are 60 per cent smaller than what they were with the U.S. How is that going to create options or opportunities for Canadian dairy?”

He said he hoped the Liberal government would uphold the previous government’s promise of a $4.3 billion, 15-year compensation package for farmers hurt by the TPP.

Christopher Monette, spokesman for Teamsters Canada which represents 125,000 workers in affected sectors such as dairy and transportation, expressed surprise at the deal.

“We’re disappointed Canada is giving away even more dairy market access. The government is going to have to make sure dairy workers in processing plants are fairly compensated just like dairy farmers.”

He flagged the labour protections in TPP as weak.

“Canadian workers are now going to be competing with cheap labour from around the Pacific Rim, especially in Vietnam and Malaysia. This signals a race to the bottom for wages, working conditions, environmental standards.”

›  Transit priority plan could replicate King St. pilot on other TTC routes

Is King St. just the beginning?

While controversy is still swirling around the pilot project to give priority to streetcars on the busy downtown street, the TTC and city are in the early stages of exploring emulating the idea elsewhere.

According to the transit agency’s new corporate plan, which will be debated at a special meeting of its board on Thursday, the city and TTC plan to collaborate on “a comprehensive Surface Transit Priority Plan” that would “let buses and streetcars move more quickly on key corridors without getting stuck in traffic.”

Read more:

King St. business owner appeals to public to shut down streetcar pilot project

Yonge St. bike lane plan for North York to be debated next month

TTC unveils strategy to grow transit ridership

The document has yet to be endorsed by the board, but it states the plan would be executed over the next five years. It describes the King pilot as a “first step.”

The transit priority plan is still in its infancy, and the TTC stresses no modifications are planned for any specific streets at this time.

Agency spokesperson Stuart Green said transit priority measures have already been implemented at various places throughout the city, including specially-timed traffic signals, dedicated bus lanes at busy intersections, and high occupancy vehicle lanes on some major streets.

“Giving transit a priority in Toronto is not uncommon at the moment,” he said.

“And if there’s a way we can explore ways to continue making transit a priority to move 1.8 million people around the city more efficiently and more effectively, we will do that.”

According to the corporate plan, prioritizing transit service could help make transit more attractive, and the proposal has been included in the agency’s ridership growth strategy that aims to draw more customers after three years of stagnating growth.

Possible measures that could be used to prioritize TTC service include additional physically separated right-of-ways of the kind already in place for the 510 Spadina and 512 St. Clair streetcar routes.

The city could also add more “queue jump lanes” at intersections, which would allow buses to bypass private vehicles at traffic lights.

Toronto’s former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, who helped develop the King project, said that replicating the idea on a wider scale would be a way for the city to achieve some “quick wins” on the transit file.

“We have this astounding ridership that’s happening at grade on buses, on streetcars right now,” she said.

“There are significant improvements that we can make simply by transforming the way we’re using existing infrastructure.”

While public debate around improving transit often focuses on building expensive new subway lines, close to 60 per cent of the roughly 535 million annual trips on the TTC are made on buses or streetcars.

Smaller, inexpensive changes improve service on those routes could have significant benefits, Keesmaat argued.

As examples she cited Bathurst St. or Finch Ave., which are wide enough in some sections to dedicate a traffic lane to buses. That could dramatically improve commutes for the tens of thousands of riders who use those routes every day.

If the King project is any indication, additional efforts to prioritize transit at the expense of private vehicles will be controversial.

Although the pilot has improved streetcar service in the two months since it was installed, a group of local business owners says restricting car traffic in the area has hurt sales. They’re waging a campaign to cancel the $1.5-million project, which is currently scheduled to last until December, after which council is expected to vote on whether to make it permanent.

Transit blogger Steve Munro cautioned there may also be logistical challenges to prioritizing surface transit.

He argued that King is unique because it has extremely high transit ridership and is located close to numerous parallel routes drivers can use as alternatives.

The situation is different for routes like the 29 Dufferin bus, which carries 40,000 people a day and is often cited as a line where service needs improving.

It would be difficult to add dedicated bus lanes on the street because it’s narrow and passes through residential neighbourhoods where curbside parking demands are high.

“There ain’t room to put a reserve lane on it and have anything left for anybody else,” Munro said.

“There may be specific locations where (a transit priority plan is) applicable, but it is not an across-the-board fix.”

›  ?Serial shooter? charged with seven counts of attempted murder in five separate shootings

The details are perplexing. Five separate shootings over the span of two weeks in Etobicoke. Seven victims ranging in age from four to 47. One suspect, but no apparent motive.

A 20-year-old Brampton man is facing dozens of charges, including seven counts of attempted murder, in a case Toronto police are calling “mind-boggling.”

Supt. Ron Taverner said the frightening thing is the “randomness of it,” saying that this appeared to be someone “virtually terrorizing people in this area of the city.”

“There’s no links between the victims whatsoever, we have no motive,” he said. “As far as we’re aware, (the suspect) knew none of them . . . which is even more disturbing.”

Consistent descriptions of the suspect and a vehicle he was seen driving let police connect the dots early on and understand that they were looking for one person.

The first and the last shootings were both on Rathburn Rd., near The West Mall and Renforth Dr. respectively, only two minutes’ drive away from each other. The three shootings in between those two were all in the Finch Ave. W. and Islington Ave. area.

“Seven days a week we’ve been on this case,” Taverner said. “We recognize how dangerous this individual was. We knew we were dealing with someone who was a serial shooter. We were on it. On it big time.”

The shootings began on Jan. 9 when a man fired multiple shots at two teenagers standing in the hallway of a residential building. A 15-year-old girl was not hurt, while a 19-year-old man sustained non-life-threatening injuries, Taverner said.

One week later on Jan. 16, a 47-year-old man was standing on the sidewalk outside his home when police allege the accused walked up and shot him before fleeing the scene.

The next shooting took place five days later as a 20-year-old man was walking past a vehicle in which the accused was seated. Police said he came out of the car, allegedly shooting at the victim before driving away from the scene, leaving the man unharmed.

The following day, Taverner said a 35-year-old man and his four-year-old daughter were sitting in their vehicle after dropping someone off when they were attacked.

Taverner said the suspect came out of a nearby vehicle and fired multiple shots at the father and daughter “at close range” before fleeing. Luckily, both escaped injury.

One hour later, however, a 19-year-old man was less fortunate, police said. This final shooting on Jan. 21 was the most deadly: the victim sustained life-threatening injuries when the suspect drove up beside the man as he walked down the street, rolled down the window and allegedly opened fire. The man suffered life-threatening injuries and remains in hospital, Taverner said, although his condition has improved.

Of the five shootings, three resulted in injuries, but Taverner said it is “lucky that we’re not dealing with potentially seven homicides or more.”

And although four of the victims escaped bodily harm, physical wounds aren’t the only concern with these crimes.

“I think we have to keep in mind, even if (they) weren’t injured, put yourself in that perspective of (having) someone coming up and shooting at you. The psychological trauma that you’d suffer, from just that.”

Until forensic analysis is done on a firearm recovered in the investigation, they won’t be sure whether other weapons were involved, but Taverner says they “believe that was the gun that was used in all of (the shootings.)”

Although the number of confirmed shootings in January (as of this past Sunday) are at 28 compared to 18 at the same point last year, Taverner does not believe the public should be concerned about an overall rise. While one person committing five shootings alone is “unbelievable,” it does explain some of the rise in numbers.

Police are not disregarding the possibility that the accused may have been involved in other shootings.

“We can go about our business in investigating previous cases now and not be so concerned that this individual is going to be out shooting and possibly killing other people,” Taverner said. “The main focus for us was to arrest this individual and stop this crime spree. It’s so outrageous that this has happened, quite frankly.”

Adam Abdi, 20, of Brampton faces a total of 48 charges.

With files from The Canadian Press

›  Toronto firefighter who died in snowmobile accident remembered as a family man and ?practical joker?

A Toronto firefighter with a “larger than life” personality is being remembered as a family man and “practical joker” by coworkers, family and friends following his death.

Earl Strong, from Courtice, Ont., died after he was snowmobiling on Jan. 20 and ended up in the water in Sturgeon Lake. His body was found a day later after an underwater and helicopter search. He was 48.

“He was one of my best friends,” said Strong’s next-door neighbour, Kim Churchill. “We really lost one of the best.”

Strong was married with three sons. He was also a Toronto Fire acting captain at Station 211-B in Scarborough. He served as a firefighter for about 26 years.

Initial reports said Strong fell through the ice along with another snowmobiler, but the Ontario Provincial Police later said they accidentally drove into open water. The other man was taken to hospital with severe hypothermia-related injuries.

Police said an autopsy is being conducted this week to determine Strong’s cause of death.

Toronto Professional Fire Fighters’ Association vice-president Kevin McCarthy told the Star that he was a close friend of Strong’s and that he has known him for more than 10 years.

“He was a great firefighter and that’s not something I say often.”

McCarthy said the flags at all fire halls across Toronto are at half mast until Strong’s funeral on Monday.

He said Strong was “well-liked” by everyone because of his smile, jokes and ability to become friends with anyone.

“He was larger than life. He had a strong personality; you knew when he walked into the room.”

McCarthy said he and Strong would also get together at hockey games when both their sons played together. He said Strong was a “family man” who was very active in his sons’ lives.

Churchill said she’s lived next to Strong for about 12 years when they moved into their Courtice neighbourhood at the same time. She said over the years she’s been going over for get-togethers by the pool, birthday parties, New Year’s celebrations and just sitting on the porch having a drink.

She said he was always outside playing with his sons and dogs, chatting with people passing by, or shovelling everyone’s driveways in the winter.

“He was also a practical joker. He was either spraying me with the hose or trying to come up and scare me,” said Churchill. “The neighbourhood won’t be the same.”

Churchill said there has been a string of visitors to see Strong’s wife and children to bring food and express their condolences. She said there will be a celebration of life gathering on Sunday to remember Strong fondly.

“He was always smiling, joking. He had so many friends.”

›  Daughter of Winnipeg couple killed in Jamaica faces hurdles bringing bodies home

WINNIPEG—The daughter of a Winnipeg couple killed in Jamaica says she is facing several challenges as she works to bring their bodies back to Canada.

Debbie Olfert says she is waiting on a signature from the coroner’s office in Jamaica to release her parents’ bodies.

After that, she says, it will cost about $13,000 — plus airfare — to transport them to Winnipeg.

Melbourne Flake, 81, and his wife Etta, 70, were found dead in their Saint Thomas vacation home on Jan. 9.

Jamaican police have confirmed they are investigating the deaths as homicides.

Olfert told CTV Winnipeg in a telephone call from the Caribbean island that Interpol and the RCMP have offered to help, but the Jamaican Constabulary Force has turned down the offer.

“Because I have been informed that there are some strong leads that the police are following, I am extremely encouraged. However, I do understand the police department is extremely stretched,” Olfert said Tuesday.

She said a family of three, including a five-year-old girl, was also killed around the same time as her parents.

“I am grateful they have these leads on my parents’ behalf ... but when we asked for help in the initial stages, I’m not sure why they said no, being so overwhelmed with these crimes.”

The Canadian government is warning travellers seeking sun in Jamaica to “exercise a high degree of caution.”

Last week, Jamaican authorities imposed a military lockdown in the area of St. James Parish following 335 murders in 2017 — twice the tally of any other parish.

Olfert previously said that her mother was suffocated and her father was beaten in an apparent botched robbery at their home. Family members believe the couple is likely to have been killed by someone they know, because the home was secure.

The Flakes had lived in Winnipeg for 53 years after immigrating to Canada with their two daughters, including Olfert. They had two more daughters and a son.

Melbourne Flake retired as a carpenter with the Department of National Defence and his wife retired after years as a nurse.

The couple had been spending their winters in either Florida or Jamaica, Olfert said, and started spending more time in Jamaica after her father built a home there a few years ago.

Read more: ‘It’s a bad dream’: Daughter in disbelief after Winnipeg couple killed in Jamaica

›  Metrolinx targeted by North Korean cyberattack

Metrolinx says it was the target of a cyberattack originating from the reclusive dictatorship of North Korea.

The provincially-owned transit agency that operates GO Transit and the Presto fare card system confirmed the attack Tuesday, after it was first reported by CTV News.

The agency detected the threat roughly a week ago, and believes that although the attack did breach a firewall, it infected a system that was not related to employee or customer data.

“At no time was customer private information compromised — so that’s very good news — nor were any of our safety systems,” said Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins.

“We responded to it very quickly.”

As part of a joint security operation with the province, Metrolinx employs a team of “ethical hackers” whose job it is to detect and trace cyber threats. The team traced the attack to a source in North Korea, but believes the attack was routed through Russia.

Metrolinx has more than 3.2 million Presto cards in use in Ottawa and the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Roughly 2.1 million of the cards are registered, which requires customers to provide the agency with personal and financial information.

It also operates roughly 75 million trips every year on GO Transit and the Union Pearson Express.

Despite being politically isolated and the majority of its citizens having no access to the internet, in recent years the avowedly communist North Korea has demonstrated the capability to carry out sophisticated cyberattacks.

Last month, the Trump administration blamed the country for unleashing the “WannaCry” virus, which according to Reuters infected more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries.

Pyongyang has also been blamed for the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which came after the company produced a comedic movie about a plan to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Dr. Simon Pratt, a visiting researcher at Georgetown University and a University of Toronto lecturer who specializes in national and international security, said hackers from North Korea, as well as China and Russia, “routinely probe the systems of adversaries or competitor states” looking to gather information on vulnerabilities.

“It’s possible (North Korea) wanted to determine whether transit agencies are easy targets, and are testing something out on us, but that is conjecture,” he told the Star.

Pratt said it’s possible Metrolinx was aided by Canadian security services to trace the origins of the attack. He said this could have been traced through multiple server locations and tracing unique coding. “Or if attackers are especially sloppy, by finding linguistic artifacts in that code indicating what language attackers were speaking.”

He said it appears the attack was routed through Russia, and he believes that the Communications Security Establishment, Canada’s electronic intelligence agency, would have been monitoring cyber traffic from there as well.

›  Around half of all doctors appointments start late, studies find

The cure to late doctors’ appointments is better scheduling, according to studies by Brock University that found around half of all doctors appointments do not start on time.

In two separate studies that included data from more than 650 patients, researchers found that most appointments start late because physicians were not yet available. Few were because the patients arrived late.

Around 50 per cent of doctor’s appointments start late, a news release by Brock University said Tuesday. One-third of appointments, the studies found, began early, and the rest were on time.

Scheduling would be easy if no one ever ran late, according to Brock professors Kenneth Klassen and Reena Yoogalingam, who completed the two studies in 2013 and 2014 and recently revisited their research into the ongoing problem in the Conversation, a publication focused on academics and research.

The reality, however, they said, is that health care is unpredictable due to the fact that appointments can take longer than expected, physicians may be interrupted by emergencies or people can arrive late.

Using real-world data, Klassen and Yoogalingam’s research found possible solutions to the problem using creative scheduling methods that fit with the often unpredictable reality of health care wait times.

Two new methods, the researchers said, would allow for effective appointment scheduling allowing doctors to see more patients a day and ultimately reduce the number of days people wait for their appointments by increasing capacity.

The first solution would be to schedule appointments closer together at the start and end of the day but spread appointments farther apart between the midday hours.

The second approach, the researchers suggested, is to book appointments closer together and in clusters of two or three with a bit of time in between each cluster. As the day unfolds, the time between appointments would shrink, they said, but the time between clusters would increase.

These methods, the researchers said, would keep physicians busy and enable them to see more patients per day.

›  Chantal Hébert: Female voters, millennials and Quebecers point to trouble for federal Conservatives

MONTREAL—Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s year may be off to a rough start. Two national polls published back to back this week suggest the official opposition’s fall offensive in the House of Commons has failed to make a lasting dent in the Liberal armour.

A Mainstreet Research poll based on a sample of 3,890 respondents showed Justin Trudeau’s support relatively unchanged from his 2015 victory score.

A Campaign Research poll involving 1,887 participants reported a similar pro-Liberal trend.

Read more:

Fewer than half of Canadians hold an open view of the world, poll on populism finds

Opposition stands with government on NAFTA, Conservative leader Scheer tells Washington

Opinion | Chantal Hébert: Wait-and-see stance on NAFTA best bet for Scheer and Tories

With almost two years to go to the next election, no one is going to take federal horse race numbers to the bank. Some polls have shown a softening of Liberal support. A mere eight weeks before Trudeau won a majority in 2015, his party seemed destined for another third-place finish.

On that basis, one could argue — and indeed many do — that it is just a matter of time before the Liberal failings really catch up to Trudeau in voting intentions. But the fine print of the large Mainstreet poll suggests otherwise.

It highlights a trifecta of Conservative limitations that narrow the party’s path back to federal power.

  • Quebec: Mainstreet pegs Trudeau’s lead in Canada’s second-largest province at 24 points with the Conservatives tied for second place with the Bloc Québécois at 18 per cent.

Just last week, Trudeau held a well-attended town hall in Quebec City, an area considered ground zero for Conservative support in the province. There was a time under Jean Chrétien when seniors had to be bussed in from as far as 100 kilometres away to fill a Liberal hall in Quebec’s provincial capital. These days, the crowds are younger, more diverse… and larger.

Paradoxically, the federal Liberal revival in Quebec is taking place against the backdrop of a surge in support for the right-of-centre Coalition Avenir Québec provincially. It is hardly the first time that Quebecers tilt in different directions at the provincial and federal levels. Nor is the phenomenon unique to that province.

  • Millennials: They will overtake the baby boomers as Canada’s largest voting cohort in 2019. In the last election, a higher turnout of younger voters was instrumental in the crafting of a Liberal majority. The next federal vote could see a replay of that scenario.

At this juncture, the Conservatives are favourites only among the over-65 age cohort. At the other end of the spectrum, four in 10 voters 18 to 34 years old support the Liberals. The Conservatives attract only one in four. In style as in substance, the party is acting as if that demographical shift were of no consequence to its fortunes.

It is hard to see party ads showcasing Scheer in scenes that could have been pulled from a Father Knows Best TV episode of the late 50s as designed to appeal to the millennial cohort.

The younger strata of voters is one for whom the environment tends to be a ballot box issue while Scheer leads a party that has consistently given those who promote a more activist climate change agenda from within its ranks short shrift.

  • Women: Here again the Conservatives suffer from a potentially crippling deficit in support. In the Mainstreet poll, the party lagged 13 points behind the Liberals among female voters.

Last weekend, thousands of Canadian women took to the streets across the country to march for more inclusion and gender equality. Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh used social media accounts to cheer the movement on. Scheer spent the day tweeting about a hockey game. For the most part, his party has been watching the #metoo debate over workplace sexual harassment from the sidelines.

The structural faults in the foundation of the Conservative coalition are not recent. They pre-date Scheer’s election as leader. Far from filling the gaps in its support, the party under Stephen Harper drove wedges into them.

But as opposed to his predecessor, Scheer should not count on the New Democrats to split the non-Conservative vote in his party’s favour. These days, the federal NDP is at a low ebb in voting intentions.

With every passing year, a higher vote turnout among older voters is less likely to mitigate a relative lack of a following among younger ones.

Short of change in the paradigm of the relationship between the Conservatives, female voters, millennials and/or Quebecers, Scheer could continue to hit his head on a hard ceiling that stands to limit his party’s support to one in three votes.

Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

›  Female OPP employees say they?re being paid far less than uniformed police doing the same work

Dozens of female Ontario Provincial Police civilian employees are alleging systemic, gender-based discrimination by the province’s largest police service, claiming they have for years been paid salaries far lower than their predominantly male, uniformed police colleagues performing the same or comparable work.

A group of more than 80 OPP civilian managers and specialists has filed a human rights complaint claiming they are paid less than uniformed male officers for similar work. They allege they have reduced access to benefits and promotions, less job security, and are provided fewer professional development and training opportunities.

In addition, the group alleges they are too often the recipients of sexist comments and humiliating behaviour, according to Janet Borowy, the lawyer presenting 84 civilian employees.

Indeed, their treatment must be viewed within the context the OPP’s “deeply masculine” and “brothers in blue” work environment, she said.

“A ‘men take care of the men’ culture prevails,” Borowy alleged of the OPP in her opening statements at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario on Tuesday, inside a hearing room packed with complainants.

“We say this police culture cannot be ignored in the context of systemic discrimination,” she said.

The allegations are “firmly denied” by the OPP, said Jennifer Richards, deputy director of Ontario’s Labour Practice Group and one of the lawyers representing the OPP.

That includes the claims of gender-based harassment in the workplace raised by Borowy. While stressing that she could not say there had been no such incidents, Richards said any cases of workplace harassment were “isolated” and perpetuated by a small minority.”

“We have zero tolerance for these kinds of incidents,” she said.

Richards said no discrimination has occurred, as these employees — filling positions within human resources, finance and information technology — are compensated in line with other comparable employees within the Ontario Public Service.

In some cases, a uniform police officer may be paid more because he has specialized training and certain obligations under Ontario’s Police Services Act.

“The evidence will show (the civilian employees) were not subjected to the same hiring procedures, they did not pass the same extensive training” as police officers, said Richards.

The civilian employees involved in the human rights case perform a variety of roles, ranging from accounting and human resources work within corporate services to the maintenance of OPP property, such as its fleet of vehicles and weapons.

Some of these jobs are considered “hybrid,” meaning they can be filled by a civilian or police officer. However, the group alleges that the pay differential between civilians and officers performing equivalent or comparable work can be as high as 42 per cent.

“It makes me feel cheap,” said Lee-Anne McFarlane, a 10-year OPP employee who is a manager within the career development bureau, a role she says was previously filled by a uniform police officer at a higher salary.

McFarlane is also the president of the association representing the group, Civilian Association of Managers and Specialists (CAMS), formed in 2015 to address the fact that they were not represented by a union.

According to documents filed in support of their complaint, the group says that, unlike in Toronto, Ottawa and London, the civilian managers and specialists within the OPP are not recognized by their police force as members of their senior officers associations.

The examples of a problematic masculine culture cited by Borowy include an OPP-supported event in Waterloo last year, the annual meeting of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.

During the dinner portion of the meal, a female civilian OPP employee was allegedly cajoled by her mostly male colleagues into participating in a joke being made by one of the evening’s entertainers, not realizing she was about to be asked to participate in a “German Handshake” in front of an audience.

The game involved putting her hand inside the pants, or lederhosen, of a male actor, and “vigorously shaking” the hand of another woman through the front pocket of his pants. Many in attendance took photos, said the employee, Amanda Weaver, who works as a co-ordinator of the Respectful Workplace program within the OPP.

“I was embarrassed. I knew that it wasn’t going to go over well, but I felt like I couldn’t say no,” she told the Star in an interview Tuesday.

Among the remedies the civilian employees are seeking is a declaration that the treatment of the group constitutes systemic discrimination, and an order directing that the compensation structure be applied equally to all employees.

The hearing, which is being heard by Michael Gottheil, chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, continues in April.

Wendy Gillis can be reached at wgillis@thestar.ca

›  Police identify suspect in Etobicoke double murder

Police are searching for a man they believe may be responsible for killing two men and putting two others in hospital with life-threatening injuries on Friday.

The Etobicoke shooting happened on Jan. 19 in the area of West Deane Park Dr. and The East Mall, north of Rathburn Rd. around 12:40 a.m. Emergency services pronounced two men dead at the scene, and transported two others to the hospital with multiple gunshot wounds.

The two victims who were killed have been identified as Nasurdin Nasir, 26, of Toronto, and Terrell Carr, 24, originally from Toronto, but recently a resident of Calgary.

The other two victims are also in their 20s, paramedics said.

Police have put out a Canada-wide warrant for 21-year-old Ubaid Said of Toronto. He is wanted for two counts of second-degree murder and two of attempted murder. Police say they have made attempts to find and apprehend him, but have had no success yet.

He is considered armed and dangerous, and police are cautioning anyone who sees him to contact them immediately and not approach.

›  Montreal couple hired as consultants after acquittal on terror charges

MONTREAL—A young Montreal couple recently acquitted of terrorism charges is being paid by a publicly funded de-radicalization agency to share their experience on radicalization in the prison system.

Sabrine Djermane and El Mahdi Jamali, both 21, will spend the next three months at Montreal’s Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence working on a guide to help corrections officers and other workers to spot the warning signs of extremism in custody, said Herman Deparice-Okomba, head of the centre.

“We need their expertise as people who have gone through the system,” he said in an interview. He added that the guide would include how to handle and work with prisoners awaiting trial or convicted for terrorism offences.

“The second element is to have them help us document the process of indoctrination and radicalization in Quebec . . . .

“The idea is for us to develop prevention strategies.”

For this, they will receive a financial stipend of $294 a week, according to Montreal’s La Presse.

The money is intended to cover the costs of travelling to and from the centre and offsetting the wages from other job offers the couple turned down to work with the radicalization program.

“They didn’t ask for anything,” Deparice-Okomba said. “Morally, we are uncomfortable and we wanted to reimburse them.”

The Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization was created in March 2015 with initial funding of $1 million each over two years from the City of Montreal and the Quebec government.

The next month, in April 2015, the Montreal couple were arrested and accused of trying to leave Canada to join a terrorist group and for possession of an explosive substance.

They were reported to police by concerned members of Djermane’s family.

A search of the Montreal apartment the couple shared revealed a handwritten recipe for a homemade bomb that Jamali had copied from the online al-Qaeda propaganda magazine, Inspire.

The verdict in the case was reached on Dec. 19, 2017. The Crown is appealing Djermane’s acquittal on all charges. Jamali was convicted of a lesser charge of possessing explosive substances, for which he was sentenced to time served in pre-trial custody.

Tiago Murias, Jamali’s lawyer said his client and Djermane are also receiving counseling from the centre intended to help them transition back into society.

“They’ve still spent two-and-a-half years in detention before they were acquitted. That leaves a mark.”

There are psychological marks and marks on the couple’s reputation.

“When it comes to job offers, it’s not a great thing when you type in someone’s name and this (terrorism) comes up. It’s not great even if you’re acquitted, because, what people remember are the charges, not the acquittal,” Murias said.

Both Djermane and Jamali are subject to a peace bond that prevents them from communicating with anyone in Syria, consulting terrorist propaganda, using social media, obtaining passports or attending a Montreal mosque run by Adil Charkaoui, a man the federal government once suspected of being an Al Qaeda sleeper agent.

The terms of that recognizance order will be reviewed by a judge when the couple returns to court in March.

The working arrangement between the Montreal radicalization program and the young couple sparked lively reactions online when it was first reported Wednesday.

Phil Gurski, a former agent with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said in an interview that bringing the couple on as consultants could be an effective way of reaching other young people at risk of radicalization and of keeping Jamali and Djermane involved in a positive and constructive activity.

The cautionary tales of young Muslims have more credibility than white, middle aged spies, police officers or psychologists will ever be able to muster, he said.

But Gurski said there is always a risk.

“This couple, regardless of what you think of the state of the court case, are in a state of disengagement, meaning they’re not actively seeking to join the Islamic State, or plan a terrorist attack or whatever,” he said. “Disengagement is not de-radicalization. The fact that you’re not doing something about it doesn’t mean you’re not still thinking about it.”

Deparice-Okomba countered that his staff have been working with Jamali and Djermane and their families since the beginning of their legal ordeal, first behind bars, now to return to school and find a job.

The goal, he said, is “to restart life like it was before without forgetting what they’ve gone through.”

“I’m going to give the centre credit that they’ve done their homework and they’ve vetted these people properly,” said Gurski.

“The problem is that all it takes is one high-profile failure. If you go with somebody and six months from now they blow something up or something happens and it turns out that they were part of the centre . . . and it goes south, then all the good they’ve done goes out the window.”


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