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›  Torontonians gather to watch solar eclipse


Monday’s solar eclipse was tough to capture with a smartphone camera, so Christine Chung sat patiently beneath a tree and sketched the fleeting moment by hand.

On soft yellowish paper, Chung carefully drew images of the sun and moon’s progression, with time stamps for each stage. Along with other viewers gathered at Exhibition Place, she waited for the three-quarter coverage that would appear only briefly.

Her sketchbook documented a celestial show that NASA labelled the first of its kind — crossing the continent from coast to coast — since 1918. In Toronto, the viewing party at the Ex drew thousands of wonderstruck visitors.

From a spot in the grass, Bob Wegner recalled he’d once heard Carl Sagan say that most humans died without knowing their place in the cosmos.

“Days like this are an opportunity for those seeds to be planted to take an interest in astronomy,” Wegner said.

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And interest was clearly budding. Kids scampered across the grass, pulling the hands of their parents to get a better vantage point. Pint-sized amateur scientists explained the mechanics of their tinfoil-and-cardboard pinhole projectors to anyone who’d listen.

They gawked, wide-eyed, at the much larger telescopes operated by scientists from the University of Toronto, who organized the free viewing event for CNE goers near the Better Living Centre.

Matt Russo, a theoretical astrophysicist who’s worked on translating the structure of planetary systems into music, was no less excited about the cosmic anomaly.

“We’ve got this incredible projection telescope that lets us look at the sun in real time,” he explained, pointing to the white space near the bottom where shadows and light painted an image of the sky.

The event wasn’t just an eclipse, he added. Viewers could also look out for a dazzling array of sunspots in Monday’s skies.

For those without a projection telescope, methods of viewing the event ranged from simple — paper-rimmed glasses, which CNE-goers lined up for — to experimental. Wielding a kitchen colander and a sifter, retired Grade 2 teacher Anna Werbowy of Mississauga demonstrated how to cast tiny shadows onto a surface below.

“I was watching the live broadcast about the eclipse and there was a young scientist interviewed,” she said.

The scientist suggested using the kitchen apparatus, but Werbowy wasn’t entirely sure how to do it. As she walked through the CNE, she stopped a group of young scientists and asked them if it would really work.

“And they said, ‘Sure, that would work!’” she said, laughing.

Together, they figured out how to use the equipment to cast shadows of “little moons, instead of a hole” onto the ground.

While viewers worked together to figure out the best ways to capture the eclipse, they also shared questions about the cosmos with friends and strangers.

“It’s just one of those things, we know so little about it,” Megan Anderson said, discussing the universe as a whole. “It’s still so fascinating.”

In a world where science can explain so much, she was mesmerized by how little of space has been explored.

As the excited calls rang out across the lawn just after 1 p.m. — “It’s starting!” — parents reminded their kids to shield their eyes with glasses. Viewers could see a small black semicircle, like a bite out of an apple, beginning to cut into the still-bright sun.

At the peak of the eclipse, the sky dimmed slightly over the CNE. The maximum coverage in Toronto was 76 per cent, but the remaining light still illuminated the lawn. By 3:49 p.m, it was over.

To those who gathered outside the centre, the big moment was worth waiting for.

Audrey Diamantakos and Travis Vrbos, who arrived at 11 a.m. to beat the lines and snag two pairs of glasses, called it a “once-in-a-lifetime chance.”

For those who missed it, the next total eclipse will be visible in parts of central Canada, the Maritimes and Newfoundland on April 8, 2024.



›  ?In the end, we will win?: Trump vows to prolong war in Afghanistan in TV address


WASHINGTON—Declaring the U.S. will win “in the end,” U.S. President Donald Trump vowed Monday night to keep American troops fighting in Afghanistan despite his earlier inclination to withdraw. But he insisted the U.S. would not offer “a blank check” after 16 years of war, and he pointedly declined to say whether or when more troops might be sent.

In a prime-time address billed as the unveiling of his new Afghanistan strategy, Trump said the U.S. would shift away from a “time-based” approach, instead linking its assistance to results and to co-operation from the beleaguered Afghan government, Pakistan and others.

Still, he offered few details about how that approach would differ substantively from what the U.S. has already tried unsuccessfully under the past two presidents.

Read the latest news on U.S. President Donald Trump

“We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities,” Trump said. “Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on.”

Ahead of his speech, U.S. officials said they expected the president to go along with a Pentagon recommendation to send nearly 4,000 new troops, boosting the total of 8,400 in Afghanistan now. At its peak, the U.S. had roughly 100,000 there, under the Obama administration in 2010-2011.

Trump said his “original instinct was to pull out,” alluding to his long-expressed view before becoming president that Afghanistan was an unsolvable quagmire requiring a fast U.S. withdrawal. Since taking office, Trump said, he’d determined that approach could create a vacuum that terrorists including Al Qaeda and Daesh, also known as ISIS or ISIL, could “instantly fill.”

Trump said the American people are “weary of war without victory.”

“I share the America people’s frustration,” Trump said at the Army’s Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from the White House. Still, he insisted that “in the end, we will win.”

Trump’s speech concluded a months-long internal debate within his administration over whether to pull back from the Afghanistan conflict, as he and a few advisers were inclined to do, or to embroil the U.S. further in a war that has eluded American solutions for the past 16 years. Several times, officials predicted he was nearing a decision to adopt his commanders’ recommendations, only to see the final judgment delayed.

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The Pentagon has argued the U.S. must stay engaged to ensure terrorists can’t again use the territory to threaten America. Afghan military commanders have agreed, making clear they want and expect continued U.S. military help. But elected officials in the U.S. have been mixed, with many advocating against sending more troops.

As a candidate, Trump criticized the war and said the U.S. should quickly pull out, but he also campaigned on a vow to start winning wars. Exiting now, with the Taliban resurgent, would be impossible to sell as victory.

“I think there’s a relative certainty that the Afghan government would eventually fall,” said Mark Jacobson, an Army veteran and NATO’s former deputy representative in Kabul.

And while Trump has pledged to put “America First,” keeping U.S. interests above any others, his national security advisers have warned that the Afghan forces are still far too weak to succeed without help. That is especially important as the Taliban advance and a squeezed Islamic State group looks for new havens beyond Syria and Iraq. Even now, Afghan’s government controls just half the country.

As officers advocated for the troop increase, the Pentagon did not claim it would end the conflict. But military officials maintained it could help stabilize the Afghan government and break a stalemate with the Taliban.

The setting for Monday night’s speech, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, sits alongside Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for many Americans who have died in the war.



›  Incoming governor general Julie Payette drops fight to keep divorce records sealed


Canada’s governor general designate, Julie Payette, has dropped her opposition to a group of major media outlets seeking access to recently sealed divorce records in a Maryland court.

The media group, including the Toronto Star and CTV, went to court last month in the hope that the divorce records would shed light on Payette’s 2011 arrest on charges of assault against her then husband, Billie Flynn. The charges were withdrawn and those records, including a police report, were destroyed by court order, according to court officials.

A Maryland judge recently ruled that the divorce records Payette had sealed in July when reporters started asking questions should be public. Payette appealed, pending a mid-November hearing. She takes up her post as governor general in early October.

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On Monday afternoon, Payette issued a statement saying that she had decided to drop her appeal, paving the way for the court records to be released in the coming days.

“Not wishing my family to revisit the difficult moments we have been through, it was my hope that our privacy would be preserved,” Payette wrote. “That is why I initially sought to keep our divorce proceedings under seal.”

Read the full text of Julie Payette’s statement below

Payette, in her statement, said it was out of concern for her son’s privacy that she initially wanted the records sealed.

“In the past I have been blessed with opportunities few dream of,” said Payette, a former astronaut. “But of all the blessings I am grateful for, the most important blessing in my life is my son.”

From the outset, the media group made it clear it was not interested in matters relating to the couple’s child.

“The Star is seeking access to the court documents to determine if there is something in them of public interest in regards to Canada’s next governor general,” said Star editor Michael Cooke. “The Star has no interest in publishing private details of a child in this case. That was made very clear by the media’s lawyer in the hearing.”

Payette said Monday that “for reasons of transparency and to leave no doubt,” she said she has agreed to drop her appeal.

Other media outlets involved in the challenge include the Globe and Mail, CBC, iPolitics and the National Post.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in early July that Payette, a former Canadian astronaut, would be Canada’s next governor general, starting in October.

The legal saga that has played out quietly in a Maryland courthouse for the past month began when political website iPolitics uncovered existence of Payette’s expunged assault charge by doing a routine search using an online record check service. Though official documents and transcripts were ordered destroyed by the court at Payette’s request in 2011, an electronic ghost of the charge remained. That sent the Star to Maryland looking for information that would shed light on the matter.

The St. Mary’s County courthouse in Leonardtown, a small county seat, is an hour’s drive from where Payette and Flynn lived together for several years on the shore of a sprawling river. Chesapeake Bay is nearby. Flynn still lives there occasionally.

Something happened on Nov. 24, 2011, that brought sheriff’s deputies to the house the couple purchased the previous year.

Who called police and why has never been made public. Only Payette was charged. The sheriff’s department and state’s attorney say they are not allowed to discuss the case, since a court expunged the records at the request of Payette two weeks later, on Dec. 8, 2011.

Her lawyer at the time, Dan Slade, told the Star that the charges had “absolutely no merit” but he would not provide details. The state’s attorney who agreed to the expungement order also would not discuss the matter.

With Payette and Flynn not talking, the media group turned to the Maryland courts to see if divorce files contained any references to the expunged case.

Payette went to court to have the divorce records sealed on an emergency basis on July 18, the day iPolitics broke the story.

The media outlets joined together and hired a U.S. lawyer, arguing that given the importance of the role of governor general, the public should have access to records related to her past activities.

In their challenge, the media group’s lawyer, Seth Berlin of Washington-based firm Levine Sullivan, said that in the United States under the First Amendment, and in Maryland under the Declaration of Rights, the “press and the public have a constitutional right to observe court proceedings and to access judicial records and documents.”

When Payette filed for the sealing order, she stated in an affidavit that she wanted to protect the couple’s son, and herself. She stated that she has “reason to believe that (the media) may be trying to expose facts of this case to people in Canada in an attempt to publicly ridicule me and I believe these actions will cause irrevocable harm to not only myself but my son.”

Judge David Densford of the Circuit Court for St. Mary’s County agreed with the media group, ruling that in Maryland court files are “presumed to be open to the public for inspection.” He ordered the files opened, pending appeal, except for specific sections that dealt with the couple’s son.

A spokesperson for the Governor General’s Office told the Star that Payette was personally paying for the legal challenge.

Payette’s former husband, Flynn, is a test pilot for Lockheed Martin and the F-35 jet. Previously, as a lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Canadian Air Force, he flew 25 combat missions over Kosovo and the former Republic of Yugoslavia. At the time of the 2011 incident, Payette had left the astronaut program and was in Washington at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The couple both travelled extensively. When they purchased the Maryland house in 2010, Flynn was out of town and he gave his power of attorney to Payette to effect the purchase, paying $616,000 (U.S.) for the remote, 4,000-square-foot house and property, records show.

The Star earlier reported that a couple of months before the 2011 assault charge, Payette struck and killed a pedestrian while returning home from a trip. Police records show that after an extensive investigation, it was determined to be an accident, something the victim’s sister has told the Star she agrees with.

Flynn and Payette’s marriage broke down over the next year and Flynn filed for separation in 2013. Payette followed up by filing for divorce and the case wound its way through court over the next two years. During this time, the case was public, including all testimony and documents. Ultimately, it was resolved, just before Payette was appointed governor general.

Full text of Julie Payette’s statement to the media group:

In the past, I have been blessed with opportunities few dream of. I have had the good fortune to work on exceptional science projects, to fly in international spaceships and to see our magnificent blue planet from orbit.

But of all the blessings I am grateful for, the most important blessing in my life is my son.

Given recent media interest regarding my private life, I wish to share the following thoughts.

While I understand and appreciate the role of media in reporting on past events in the lives of Canadians in the public eye, as a mother, I need to be mindful of the impact on my family.

Very few families are immune from difficult moments in life – mine included.

Divorces are about fractured relationships and often, a sad parting of ways. This is particularly difficult when children are involved, thus the importance of protecting the ones we love and care about.

Like many parents in the same situation, I have worked hard to put these difficult events behind me and move on with the best interest of my son in mind.

Not wishing my family to revisit the difficult moments we have been through, it was my hope that our privacy would be preserved. That is why I initially sought to keep our divorce proceedings under seal in the US, consistent with the legal principles in the province of Quebec and in Canada that govern matrimonial and family matters.

Though a Maryland court was currently considering an appeal to maintain our family’s privacy, for reasons of transparency and to leave no doubt, I have decided to voluntarily drop this appeal and release the divorce files. I trust Canadians and media will distinguish between matters of public interest and private life.

As I move forward, it is my son I think of first. His relationship with both his parents is paramount and this is what I will continue to safeguard.

I am deeply honoured to have been given the privilege of serving my country again and I look forward to contributing with all my energy and dedication to the advancement of a knowledge-based society that is open, tolerant, pragmatic and generous.

Kevin Donovan can be reached at kdonovan@thestar.ca or 416-312-3503.



›  Why Kathleen Wynne just won?t quit: Cohn


Sign of the times:

Journalists get a heads up that the premier will address her MPPs at a normally closed caucus meeting the next day. Immediately, reflexively, every editor in town assumes it’s a resignation story, sending reporters into a feeding frenzy.

Proof, as ever, that people don’t pay attention to Queen’s Park.

Despite endless speculation from the opposition Progressive Conservatives that Kathleen Wynne would soon quit as premier — forced out by dismal ratings — it turns out that rumours of her death spiral are political spin. She is rising from the political dead at the very time that Ontario’s Tories are losing altitude.

Any death watch has a magical effect on the media, who love a moribund politician when they see one. A phalanx of cameras tracked Wynne on her supposed death march from the premier’s office to the government caucus room (112 steps according to my fitness tracker, though I counted it out for good measure) where Liberal loyalists awaited word on their collective future.

Now, with a provincial election campaign less than nine months away, time for an update: Wynne isn’t abandoning ship because, suddenly, it’s not necessarily sinking.

As photographers rushed into position to record her exit strategy, she offered a recovery strategy. Instead of a departure speech, a pep talk.

Not the end of the road but the beginning of the campaign trail as she tries out the beginnings of a stump speech. Leaving journalists without a news story — nothing to see here.

But we may all be missing the story.

Conventional wisdom long ago anointed the little-known Patrick Brown as premier-in-waiting. He came from out of nowhere — years of backbench obscurity in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government — to capture the provincial leadership in 2015.

Today he remains a political unknown, because voters have no idea what his ideas are. With Brown vacillating on public policy, he is oscillating in public opinion polls.

It’s not that Wynne is invincible, he’s just invisible.

Groggily and angrily, voters are awakening and focusing — slowly. By all accounts this will be a change election, but the electorate has already shown a remarkable propensity to change its mind.

What did Wynne have on her mind as she walked in, wired with a clip-on mic, speaking without notes for a heart-to-heart with a nervous caucus? If it is to be a change election, then the premier will reposition herself as a change agent.

Changing economic times and financial uncertainty? Change is coming, and the government will grapple with it, she argued:

A $15 minimum wage. Free pharmacare up to age 25. Free tuition for many college kids. Smoothing out hydro rates. All of which are proving remarkably popular in recent polls.

Behind the pep talk was policy talk, and a promise to drive yet more change: “We can’t pretend that either we’re there, or when we finish implementing this plan we’ll be there. There is more to do.”

By contrast, the Tories are just politicians clinging to the past, who “think that if we could just go back, if we could just go back to the way it was...”

It’s an attempt to get out in front of the change train without being run over by it. And a recognition that her unprecedented unpopularity need not be politically fatal if the campaign can be framed as a contest of policies, not personalities.

Monthly polling by Campaign Research shows that two thirds of Ontarians believe the government should be changed. Even voters who think the government has done a good job are yearning for a change in power.

But in politics, as in life, the only certainty is uncertainty. Earlier polling by Campaign Research showed Brown’s Tories with a commanding 50 per cent share of the vote last January, with the Liberals languishing at 28 per cent and the NDP at 15 per cent.

By May, Wynne’s Liberals had recovered the lead with 37 per cent, as the Tories tumbled to 34 per cent and the NDP recovered to 22. A summer sounding in July found the PCs at 38 per cent and the Liberals at 30, with the NDP parked at 24.

Given the 3 to 4 per cent margin of error in their polling, that suggests a statistical tie between Liberals and Tories for the moment. All of which tells the tale of why there was no resignation story this month.

Wynne personal ratings are irredeemable yet irrelevant. It matters little that NDP Leader Andrea Horwath enjoys the highest personal support, given that her party attracts the least votes. As for Brown, he can no longer depend on anonymity for popularity.

Which is why, when journalists watched Wynne walk into that caucus meeting the other day, they didn’t get a resignation story. Instead of walking away from the next election, the premier isn’t going anywhere just yet.

Martin Regg Cohn?s political column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. mcohn@thestar.ca , Twitter: @reggcohn



›  Women in small Muslim sect say they have had FGM in Canada


Women from a small Muslim sect called the Dawoodi Bohras have reported that female genital mutilation has been performed on them in Canada, a study given to the federal government reveals.

The first research of its kind to probe the practice within this tightly knit South Asian community, the study found that 80 per cent of Bohra women surveyed have undergone FGM and two of the study’s 18 Canadian participants said it happened within Canada’s borders.

In Canada, FGM was added to the Criminal Code under aggravated assault in 1997. The study does not provide additional information on the two cases it uncovered.

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Most commonly associated with communities in sub-Saharan Africa, FGM is also practised among members of this Muslim sect who trace their roots to Yemen in the 11th century and who migrated to Gujarat, India, in the 1500s.

Authored by Sahiyo, an organization of anti-FGM activists and members of the Dawoodi Bohra community, the study was completed in February. Preliminary results went to officials from Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department in June 2016. The federal government says it is looking into the issue.

The researcher’s findings show that more than 80 per cent of the 385 Dawoodi Bohra women surveyed — including all 18 Canadian participants — want the practice to end and would not do it to their daughters.

Female genital mutilation, also known as female genital cutting or female circumcision, is a procedure that intentionally alters or causes injury to external female organs. It can be inflicted on girls as young as 1 and varies in severity from partial removal of the clitoris to excising the clitoris and labia and stitching up the walls of the vulva to leave only a tiny opening.

Khatna is the South Asian term for genital cutting and, according to the study, the sect’s practice of removing a woman’s clitoris is done for reasons including “religious purposes,” to curb sexual arousal, for cleanliness and to maintain customs and traditions.

The Dawoodi Bohras have recently made FGM-related headlines. A Detroit emergency room doctor charged in April with alleged performing of FGM on 100 young girls is a Dawoodi Bohra. The doctor, Jumana Nagarwala, is in jail awaiting trial. In 2016, a Dawoodi Bohra priest in Sydney, Australia, was convicted for his role in performing FGM.

“The findings (of the study) demonstrate that FGC (female genital cutting) is deeply rooted in the community’s culture,” the authors write. Sahiyo means “friends” in Gujarati.

“Understanding the complex social norms and cultural values systems that shape the meaning and significance of the practice within this community is critical work of anti-FGC advocates.”

For this story, the Star also spoke with three local Dawoodi Bohra women who described what it’s like to undergo khatna in their native countries of India and Kenya at the hands of “practitioners,” not doctors, in non-medical environments such as kitchens, with unsterile razors.

A continuing Star investigation has revealed that Canadian girls have been taken overseas to have the procedure and that thousands more could be at risk of being sent abroad to be subjected to FGM.

Practitioners who perform FGM are “almost certainly entering Canada” to engage in the practice, says an internal report from Canada Border Services Agency, as reported by Global News in July.

FGM is a cultural practice dating back hundreds of years, and organizations including the United Nations say that although it is often perceived as being connected to some Islamic groups, it also occurs in other religious communities, including Christians, Ethiopian Jews and certain traditional African religions.

In Ontario, some women have asked their doctors to reverse the most severe type of FGM. Provincial records show that in the past seven years, Ontario has performed 308 “repairs of infibulations,” a surgery that creates a vaginal opening where it has been sewn mostly shut. There are currently no known procedures in Canada that replace tissue.

Canada has recently given $350,000 to a small Quebec organization to fight FGM in at-risk communities, but critics say little has been done to understand the problem’s scope and that Canada is lagging far behind other developed countries in prevention. Experts say there is a lack of support services available for women living with the physical and psychological effects of FGM, regardless of when and where it happened to them.

An email exchange between federal Foreign Affairs officials in Canada and India discussing the report said it will be “helpful” as the government is “in the midst of examining how Canada can engage on this file internationally. One government lawyer, the emails state, is “looking at the domestic implications of this practice.”

Considered progressive in some areas, Dawoodi Bohras have a “high level of education and wealth,” according to the federal emails, and the community has “political and cultural influence that exceeds its size.” The emails — correspondence between government officials over the past two years — were released to the Star through an access to information request. They reference cases the government is aware of in which Canadian girls have undergone or are alleged to have undergone cutting abroad, in addition to the report about the Dawoodi Bohras.

The emails say officials learned from the report how over the past two decades there has been a regression of gender equality in the Dawoodi Bohra community worldwide and there is “significant hidden violence against women.” There are roughly 20,000 to 40,000 Dawoodi Bohras in Canada, according to the federal emails.

Titled “Understanding Female Genital Cutting in the Dawoodi Bohra Community,” the Sahiyo study surveyed 385 Dawoodi Bohra women across the globe, including women in Canada, the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom, in an attempt to shed light where “little or no data” exists. It aims to inform policy makers and health professionals in order to “end the practice,” the study said, that has left most of its participants with emotional scars — anger, haunting memories and frustration in their sexual lives.

“I feel robbed and cheated of my sexuality,” one respondent told the study’s researchers.

Shaheeda Tavawalla-Kirtane, Sahiyo’s Canadian co-founder, who works in India to raise awareness about FGM, said she has been tweeting to Canadian ministers because Canada should be aware this “crime” is happening on its soil. The Sahiyo study suggests creating a hotline for at-risk girls and education about FGM for front-line workers, such as teachers.

Some of the study’s participants reported that, typically at the age of 7, they were told they were having the procedure to remove a “worm” and that khatna was part of the religion.

The religious justification for this practice may come from passages in the Da’aim al-Islam, a sacred Islamic text that informs the tenets and traditions of the Dawoodi Bohras. According to The Pillars of Islam, a respected translation of the text, cutting will lead to “greater purity.”

Though most study participants said they do not want the practice to continue, breaking the cycle is a challenge because women are afraid of the backlash they’ll face if they don’t keep up with the social norm, Tavawalla-Kirtane said.

Worldwide, there are an estimated 1.5 to two million Dawoodi Bohras, living mainly on the west coast of Gujarat and Maharashtra states in India, and in Pakistan.

The sect’s India-based spiritual leader, referred to as the Sayedna, enjoys centralized power and access to the properties and assets of his communities around the world, the federal emails state.

As Dawoodi Bohras settled in the GTA, the Sayedna in the early 1990s notably tried — but failed — to incorporate himself in Canada as a “corporation sole,” a company of one person. The designation may have given the Sayedna decision-making power over the resources, land and money, of the Dawoodi Bohra communities in Canada.

A local member of the Bohra community, writing to a Canadian senator about the issue at the time, said the Canadian Dawoodi Bohras had questionable practices, including “actively enforcing” female genital cutting. The writer alleged that “a lady with medical background or qualifications visits Ontario regularly to conduct these procedures on little girls of the community.”

In April 2016, a sermon leaked to the media shows the current Sayedna talking about khatna and, according to the federal documents, reportedly saying: “The act has to happen. If it is a man (male circumcision), then it is right, it can be openly done, but if it is a woman then it must be done discreetly, but then the act has to be done.”

Two months later, as described in the federal emails, the Sayedna released a further statement saying that “male and female circumcision … are religious rites that have been practiced by Dawoodi Bohras throughout history” and religious texts, “written over a thousand years ago, specify the requirements for both males and females as acts of religious purity.” But he noted that Bohras must abide “by the laws of the countries in which they reside.”

Faizan Ali, a member of the Mississauga congregation who said he is overseeing the construction of the community’s new 50,000-square-foot mosque, said local Dawoodi Bohras don’t practise FGM in Canada because it is against the law.

As far as he knows, khatna is not practised in the GTA, he said, but “if someone is going at their own discretion, obviously we cannot control it.”

Ali said he does not agree with pushing the practice on a child. But if an adult woman who is 18 or older consents, he said, it is “fine.”

Unlike in other cultures that celebrate FGM, throwing parties and lavishing money and gifts onto young girls as part of the procedure, the Dawoodi Bohra practice has traditionally been done clandestinely, said Dilshad Tavawalla, a lawyer and anti-FGM activist in Toronto whose daughter is the Sahiyo co-founder.

Tavawalla, who underwent the procedure in Mumbai when she was 7, calls it “a women’s secret” even though today it is being “medicalized” and sometimes done overseas by health professionals in clinics and hospitals.

Women who openly oppose the practice are perceived as attacking the community and culture, Tavawalla said, and could face consequences such as being socially ostracized. Friends and family members cut ties — a fate that feels catastrophic in this small, loyal and closely knit religious sect, sources have told the Star.

The three Dawoodi Bohra women who spoke to the Star underwent FGM overseas before coming to Canada.

They were all about 7 years old when their mothers took them to a “cutter,” an older woman operating in a non-medical environment, such as a kitchen. The women were told to remove their underwear before the cutter swiped a razor at their clitorises.

Two of the women the Star spoke with said they tried to run when they realized what was happening but they were held down, their legs forcefully spread by female elders.

Luby Fidaali was 7 years old when her mother kept her home from school one morning and took her to someone she believed was a healer — an elderly woman who said prayers over her sore tummy from time to time when she was not feeling well.

But when she got to the cutter’s house, Fidaali was told to sit on a small kitchen stool like those traditionally used to knead chapatis, she said, and was instructed to pull her legs apart.

She glanced at the fire burning in a charcoal stove in the corner and didn’t see the cutter take out a razor blade. “Even when I think about it, it hurts,” she said recently, telling the story for only the second time in her life. She was instructed to sit near the stove and “take in the heat to help the healing.”

Fidaali’s mother told her never to speak about her experience to anyone, including her father and siblings. She doesn’t begrudge her mother, she said, because she was simply “following societal norms in order to stay in the community.”

Fidaali’s family was excommunicated several years later for challenging the Sayedna’s orders, and since, she said, she feels emboldened to speak out against an “oppressive clergy.”

“The clergy is very powerful and can intimidate their followers into all kinds of acts for fear of social boycott,” she said.

Clarification — August 21, 2017: The headline on this article has been changed from a previous version that described the Dawoodi Bohras as a sect of Ismaili Muslims. While the Bohras were part of the Ismailis, they split many centuries ago, according to Syed Soharwardy, founder and chairman of The Islamic Supreme Council of Canada. “Now they are separate and don’t consider each other as part of them,” he said.



›  Police identify man found dead on downtown Toronto street


Toronto police have identified the man found dead near College and Bathurst streets.

Khadr Mohamed, 22, of Toronto, died from a gunshot wound to the torso. His body was found near a commercial building around 8 a.m. on Sunday at Lippincott St. near College and Bathurst streets.

Det. Shawn Mahoney told reporters at the scene that people in the neighbourhood found the body on their way to work.

Police are appealing to witnesses who heard gunshots around that time or anyone with information to contact them at 416-808-7400 or Crime Stoppers at 416-222-8477.



›  OPP?s criminal investigators are now probing the drowning death of Toronto?s Jeremiah Perry


The Ontario Provincial Police have announced that their Criminal Investigation Branch will be investigating the death of Toronto teenager Jeremiah Perry in Algonquin Park last month.

The 15-year-old boy, along with 14 of his fellow students, did not pass a required swimming test, but was still allowed to go on a school canoe trip to the provincial park. Perry went under the water during the trip on July 4 and his body was located the next day. His brother, Marion, was on the same trip.

Perry was a student at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate, and the Toronto District School Board said on August 16 that it would be reviewing the rules for outdoor excursions in response to the tragedy.

The OPP investigation is being conducted under Det. Insp. Peter Donnelly, but no other information about the investigation has been released.



›  Religious groups sound alarms as hate crimes appear to be on the rise


In one part of the GTA, three schools were plastered with anti-Semitic, anti-Black graffiti. In another, a Muslim woman’s car window smashed, with “derogatory” comments spray-painted on her property.

Hate crimes are nothing new, but religious groups are sounding the alarms as they appear to be on the rise.

“We continue to see a trend of a high level of anti-Semitic incidents in Canada going back to 2012,” said Aidan Fishman, the interim national director of B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights.

On Sunday, York Regional Police were called to three different Markham schools near Highway 7 and Wooten Way, which had each been vandalized with anti-Semitic and anti-Black graffiti. The messages referenced the KKK and “white power” and also compared the Jewish Star of David symbol to a swastika.

Police believe the same suspects are responsible for all three incidents.

That same day, 28-year-old Matthew Wight was driving his car in Brampton when he unexpectedly stopped in front of the driveway of a home, made a racial slur toward a man standing there and proceeded to attack him, unprovoked.

Peel police charged Wight with assault causing bodily harm in what they called a “hate-motivated crime.” The 31-year-old victim was treated for serious facial injuries in hospital.

Two days earlier, Durham police responded to a Pickering home, where a Muslim woman’s car window had been smashed and spray-painted with graffiti, along with profane words painted on her driveway. Police are investigating it as a possible hate crime.

“It is believed that speaking with the victim, that it is related to her religion,” said Const. George Tudos. “There has been a couple recent incidents within our region. At this point, it’s mixed, whether it’s against someone’s religious background or sexual orientation or colour of skin. Our message is that this is not tolerated within the Durham Region.”

Amira Elghawaby, a spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said hate crimes against Muslims across the country show no sign of slowing down.

“Our concern is always quite high. Whenever there is, for instance, a terrorist attack done in the name of Islam, we will notice a spike in what’s being reported,” Elghawaby said. “I don’t want to say that it’s the new normal, but it pretty much is the new normal.”

There’s been an uptick in hate crimes, or at least those that have been reported, over the last eight to10 months, according to Barbara Perry, a professor in the Faculty of Social Science and Humanities at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

“It’s in the air, the apparent freedom now to express your sentiments, whether it’s verbally or whether it’s the form of this sort of graffiti and property damage,” said Perry, who has written extensively on hate crimes.

She said some incidents are a direct result of one’s ideology, while others are perpetrated by “thrill-seeking” teenagers. A third motivator is often the notion of “defending neighbourhoods.”

“We refer to it as a ‘message crime,’” Perry said. “It is meant to send that same narrative to all members of the community, not just the individual who is targeted, to say that ‘you people need to move out of our community, you’re not valued.’”

Perry said U.S. President Donald Trump is partly to blame for such views becoming more mainstream in Canada.

“Obviously, Trump has been the latest lightning rod for that and has really enabled the rhetoric and the sentiment and the violence to flourish,” she said. “But he’s not solely to blame. We have our own history here of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and homophobia across the board.”

Last week, Durham police arrested 57-year-old William Carnahan, responsible for assaulting a 22-year-old Muslim man in Whitby on Aug. 12. The victim had been in a washroom when he was approached by Carnahan, who made several “hate-related threats” before punching him and fleeing on a bicycle.

Elghawaby’s organization keeps a running tally of anti-Muslim incidents across Canada. There have already been 57 in 2017, compared to 64 at the end of last year and 59 in 2015.

“We’re likely going to outpace last year in terms of what’s being reported to NCCM,” she said. “It only represents a very small sliver of what’s going on as two-thirds of hate crimes are not reported, according to Statistics Canada.”

A Statistics Canada report in June showed hate crimes targeting Muslims rose by 60 per cent in 2015. Jews remained the most targeted religious group with 178 incidents that year.

B’nai Brith’s annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents showed a record-breaking year in 2016 for anti-Semitism in Canada, with more than 1,700 incidents, a 26 per cent increase over 2015.

“Even though it was record-breaking as a single year, it’s part of an elevated trend,” Fishman said. “What we’re seeing so far in 2017, both in regard to incidents generally and also specifically with regard to vandalism, unfortunately there’s no breaking of that trend.”

Fishman said it’s particularly concerning following white nationalist protests last week in Charlottesville, Va., which prominently featured anti-Semitic chants and signage.

“There’s a concern that the individuals who share that ideology in Canada, even though they’re thankfully not as numerous or as influential here, will be emboldened by what has taken place in the United States,” he said.



›  Cornwall councillors seek answers as hundreds of Haitian refugee claimants arrive in Ontario


OTTAWA—As the surge of migrants pouring into Quebec hit 4,500 people — mostly Haitians — in the first three weeks of August, the federal government scrambled Monday to stem the tide with a sterner message to would-be asylum seekers and to accommodate hundreds more in the nearby Ontario border town of Cornwall.

The office of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale acknowledged the RCMP had intercepted and arrested 4,500 irregular border crossers in Quebec so far this month — on top of 3,000 that crossed in July. They are mostly Haitian and found eligible to file a refugee claim.

On Monday evening, Cornwall city councillors held a special meeting to demand answers of federal, provincial and municipal officials, saying citizens are worried about the impact of all the new arrivals, while many others want to help.

At the Nav Centre conference and hotel facility now hosting 300 people — all Haitian families — is full, and manager Kim Coe-Turner said that with upcoming conferences it cannot accommodate more immediately.

So the Canadian Forces are setting up a tent city on the Nav Centre grounds that will be an “interim lodging site” for up to 500 Haitians asylum seekers who will be directed there by border services authorities at Lacolle, Que., because Montreal’s shelters and services are overwhelmed, said Cornwall’s emergency management coordinator Bradley Nuttley.

Nuttley assured councillors that the families can be well accommodated in tents with plywood flooring, electricity and heating, while nearby residents’ concerns will be met by low-noise electrical generators, and privacy fences up to 12 feet high to be erected on three sides. In part, he said, that’s to protect children — over 40 per cent of the refugee claimants now there are children under 7 — from “noxious weeds” on nearby land.

Mayor Leslie O’Shaughnessy complained there is no lead federal agency to answer council’s or the public’s enquiries and that information “was changing by the hour.” He pressed federal officials to hold a public information meeting because “it is a federal project.”

“Whoever the lead is, hopefully they’ll get the bills,” Councillor André Rivette said. He asked if Ottawa planned to set up a field hospital so that local residents wouldn’t find themselves waiting for health services.

Stressing that no declaration of emergency had been issued because there are enough resources to meet the needs, Nuttley said almost all newcomers were quite healthy. There’d even been one birth of a “new Canadian citizen,” and a few more pregnant women are at the centre, he said, though officials see no need for anything more than a temporary clinic on the Nav Centre grounds.

“I’ve not been requested to provide any services in this emergency – ‘er this event, sorry, a little Freudian slip there,” said Nuttley.

Still, Louis Dumas, a senior federal immigration official, acknowledged “the current situation is a difficult one, we are seeing a spike” at Lacolle, Que. Refugee claimants are “entitled to due process” and the federal government’s goal “is to process people quickly,” he said.

The hope is refugee claimants will within a week complete their applications and submit them for an assessment at a joint federal-provincial processing centre also set up at Cornwall’s Nav Centre before their claims are sent to the Immigration and Refugee Board for adjudication.

But once their claims are submitted, the migrants are free to leave and most are expected to head back to Montreal where a large Haitian diaspora lives. Dumas said about 10 per cent will likely head elsewhere in Canada, mostly in Ontario.

Haitians are flooding across the border because the United States administration under President Donald Trump has indicated it will revoke a temporary protected status for Haitians, issued after the 2010 earthquake, starting in January.

Dumas said Haitians should not expect Canada will automatically allow permanent entry. He noted that last year, the independent IRB turned down 50 per cent of asylum claims by Haitians, who were then ordered deported back to Haiti.

Earlier Monday Immigration Minister Ahmad Hussen and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale went before cameras at Lacolle earlier to say there is “no fast track” to refugee status for those who cross illegally and to warn against “border-hopping.”

“Trying to cross the border in an irregular fashion is not a free ticket to Canada,” Goodale said, sounding a frustrated note. “We have been making this point over and over and over again since last January and February when the, the circumstances began.”

That line is to be echoed by Haitian-Canadian MP Emmanuel Dubourg who Canadian Press reports is being dispatched to Florida to do Creole-language interviews and meet community leaders among Miami's Haitian diaspora and to speak to a slew of influential media outlets.



›  Court delays mean Radiohead stage collapse case should not proceed, court told


More than five years after a stage collapse at an outdoor Radiohead concert that killed drum technician Scott Johnson, defence lawyers argued in court Monday that charges should be stayed because of unreasonable delays in the legal process.

Charges were first laid against entertainment company Live Nation, engineer Domenic Cugliari, and contractor Optex Staging in June 2013.

After an already-lengthy case, the trial now has to start over again after a mistrial was declared this spring. Closing arguments were supposed to begin in June, but the presiding judge, Justice Shaun Nakatsuru, was appointed to the Ontario Superior Court earlier this year and decided that he no longer had jurisdiction over the case.

The new trial is scheduled to begin on September 5 and end in May 2018 — almost five years since charges were laid.

Lawyers for Live Nation and Cugliari, Jack Siegel and Scott Thompson, argued the trial isn’t happening within a reasonable period of time, violating their Charter rights to a timely trial.

“By that time, and in fact before we get there, we’ll have reached a point where any complexity cannot possibly justify the delay,” said Siegel, who represents Live Nation.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark Jordan decision last summer established new time limits on court proceedings, stating that cases heard in provincial court should go to trial within 18 months, and those heard in Superior Court should go to trial within 30 months.

This is the second time Cugliari and Live Nation have applied to get charges stayed over unreasonable delays. Last October, Justice Nakatsuru dismissed their attempt, saying the trial’s slow pace was acceptable because the highly technical evidence made the case particularly complex.

Live Nation Canada, Live Nation Ontario and Optex Staging each face four charges alleging they failed to ensure the stage structure was being built in a safe manner. Cugliari, the engineer, faces one count of endangering a worker because his advice or certification was allegedly made negligently or incompetently.

On Monday, Siegel and Thompson argued that the complexity of the case does not justify a roughly 60-month delay.

The lawyers argued that Nakatsuru’s appointment was not a “discrete event.” Under the Jordan ruling, delays caused by “discrete events” that were unforeseen or unavoidable don’t count as part of the overall delay.

Siegel said that the mistrial caused by Justice Shaun Nakatsuru’s appointment to the Superior Court could have been avoided by the justice system. The Crown could have adopted an amendment that allowed Justice Nakatsuru to continue the trial, he said; the judge’s appointment could have been postponed, or the judge could have declined or asked for a deferral.

“My submission is that all of the state actors collectively have a responsibility to ensure these delays do not happen,” said Siegel.

Crown prosecutor David McCaskill said the court should only look at the delays caused by the judge’s appointment, which he called a discrete event. McCaskill said the justice system response to the mistrial and the time allotted for the new trial is reasonable.

Siegel, however, said there’s a need to examine the whole case, and assess the delays “cumulatively.”

The 2012 collapse killed Scott Johnson, a 33-year-old British drum technician who was touring with Radiohead. Three other workers were injured after part of the stage structure came crashing down during setup for the concert at Downsview Park.

Johnson’s father, Ken, said the attempt to stay charges again is “extremely annoying.” He said the case needs to have closure, so they can know for certain what caused the collapse that killed his son, and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

“Scott, my son, he’s been waiting a long time for the answers,” said Johnson, speaking over the phone from his home in England.  

“I just feel it needs to be completed. They can’t just put it off because of the time factor, it doesn’t make sense.”

Justice Ann Nelson said the parties will be contacted about what to expect for the scheduled trial start on September 5. 



›  Mental ?fitness? of Toronto woman charged with terror offences brought into question


A judge will consider whether a Toronto woman facing terror-related charges needs a mental health assessment to determine if she’s fit to stand trial.

Rehab Dughmosh was handcuffed and held at the wrists by a pair of guards wearing helmets, facemasks and padding in her court appearance via video Monday. Her face and head were uncovered, though she has worn a niqab at previous court appearances.

The judge asked Dughmosh several questions through an interpreter, about her understanding of the court process.

“You are all infidels. I do not worship what you worship,” Dughmosh responded each time, in Arabic, without looking directly into the camera.

Later, while a Crown prosecutor attempted to speak, Dughmosh said in English, “Those people hurt me here,” appearing to nod toward the guards.

Dughmosh was arrested in June for allegedly brandishing a golf club and knife at a Canadian Tire in Scarborough. She has pledged allegiance to Daesh in court, declared that she does not believe in the Canadian legal system and said that “if you release me, I will commit these actions again and again and again.”

She has told the court she does not want legal counsel, and plans to plead guilty to her charges, which include one count of leaving Canada for the purpose of participating in a terrorist group and multiple counts each of attempted murder, assault with a weapon, carrying a dangerous weapon and carrying a concealed weapon, all “at the direction of, or in association with, a terrorist group.”

Dughmosh refused to appear in person or by video at her last three scheduled court dates, and had to be brought before a video camera by force Monday.

Dughmosh was judged mentally fit for trial at her early court appearances. She was responsive and demonstrated an understanding of the role of the court and its officials, federal prosecutor Bradley Reitz told the court.

But statements by a family member, contained in the Crown’s evidence, suggest there is reason to believe Dughmosh has some form of mental illness, said Ingrid Grant, a lawyer appointed to the case as amicus — someone who assists the court by making sure all relevant evidence and arguments are properly presented, particularly when the accused represents themselves.

Based on her actions Monday, Dughmosh should be assessed by a doctor to determine whether she is still fit, Grant told the court.

The judge agreed there was enough evidence to consider an assessment, and will decide next Monday whether to order that an assessment take place.

Dughmosh’s case is one of many raising concerns among lawyers about the way the courts handle an accused person’s mental health.

“It’s so frustrating, because ever since funding cuts to hospitals, the criminal courts have become the (authority) that primarily deal with mental health,” former assistant Crown attorney Daniel Lerner said.

“And you can tell the options that criminal courts have are not pretty and they’re mainly not that effective.”

Being declared “fit” for trial requires only that the accused person has a basic understanding of the court process, what they are charged with, what it means to be under oath, who the judge, prosecutors and defence lawyers are and what they do.

“It’s a very low standard to meet,” Lerner said. “It’s very basic. You might have serious mental illnesses, you might have irrational delusions, but you might still be able to answer all those (fitness requirement) questions properly, in which case you’re fit.”

If, at any time, a judge has evidence that a person is unfit for trial, they can order that the accused undergo a formal fitness assessment by a doctor.

The fact that Dughmosh refused for so long to come to court, and does not have a lawyer to appear in her place made it difficult for the court to determine whether enough evidence for an assessment existed, said lawyer Jessyca Greenwood, who specializes in mental health-related cases but is unconnected with the Dughmosh case.

“I’ve been able to get a doctor to see my client at the jail before, when they were refusing to come to court in that case,” Greenwood said.

“But I, as the defence lawyer, was in court and explained to the judge what was going on, and then based on the (client’s) repeated refusal to come to court and the information I gave, the judge made that order,” she added.

If an accused person consents to a fitness assessment, the process can last up to 30 days, according to public information provided by Legal Aid Ontario. If they do not want to be assessed, the process is capped at five days, although in either case a judge can extend the assessment by an additional 30 days, as they deem necessary.

If the doctor performing the assessment determines that the accused is not fit for trial, they can be sent for treatment, until they are well enough to be qualified as “fit.”

That treatment could result in the accused being kept in a high-security hospital for years, Lerner said.



›  Trudeau should thank Trump for his continued popularity in Canada: Hébert


Every other year — going back to Jean Chrétien’s first mandate — I’ve tried to spend the last week of my summer vacation on Quebec’s Magdalen Islands, using part of the time to catch a glimpse of what makes some of the voters behind the polling numbers tick.

The islands are a go-to destination for visitors from the other regions of the province, making them a good place to look for insights into Quebec’s political psyche. There are worse venues to chat about politics than a beachside café!

My last visit dated back to the first weeks of the 2015 federal election at a time when the NDP was still riding high in voting intentions. I had found plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the polling data but also clear indications that Thomas Mulcair’s chances rested too heavily for comfort on his capacity to sustain the perception that he was best placed to beat Stephen Harper.

If there has been one constant over all those end-of-summer visits it has been a general willingness to spontaneously vent about the prime minister of the day. To varying degrees that was true of Chrétien, Paul Martin and Harper.

On that score, this summer’s listening tour was unlike any of the previous ones for no one seemed inclined to vent about Justin Trudeau. Quebecers are not raving about the prime minister; nor are they ranting about him in the way they did about his three predecessors.

An Abacus poll published in late July pegged support for Trudeau’s Liberals in Quebec at 53 per cent. That’s well above their election showing and almost 30 points ahead of the Conservatives, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP.

The Liberals owe part of that popularity to the low Quebec profile of the opposition parties. The Bloc Québécois’ latest leader, Martine Ouellet, moonlights as a member of the National Assembly. Incoming Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is relatively unknown outside his party’s modest Quebec circles, and the ongoing NDP leadership campaign is very much taking place under the radar.

The potential re-emergence of a Liberal juggernaut in Quebec in the 2109 election would in itself be cause for concern for the other parties. But even more worrisome from the opposition’s perspective is the fact that the main trend underlying the high Liberal score is not Quebec-specific.

Like other Canadians, Quebecers have Donald Trump on their minds, and with the American president as a baseline Trudeau enjoys a huge comparative edge.

While the Liberals have reset their governing agenda to deal with a changed U.S. reality, the Conservatives and the New Democrats have so far failed to find a footing in the new Canada-U.S. universe.

Over a summer break dominated by Trump-related developments, both main opposition parties have fallen well short of offering an effective critique of the government’s approach, let alone a constructive alternative.

Calling on Trudeau’s principal secretary Gerald Butts to publicly disown his reported friendship with then-Trump adviser Steve Bannon as Mulcair did last week only raises more questions as to how an NDP government would manage the relationship with an unpredictable White House. At last check, building bridges — not burning them — was part of the brief of senior PMO officials.

Meanwhile the Conservatives whose flirt with dog-whistle identity politics pre-dates Trump’s victory are scrambling to belatedly put much-needed distance between their party and the fallout from a toxic presidency.

While the opposition fiddles the Liberals have acquired a lot of political cover for their handling of the Canada/U.S. file. On the Conservative front, former federal minister James Moore and Rona Ambrose, the party’s recent interim leader, have both joined an advisory group that acts as a sounding board for the government on NAFTA.

Canada’s two NDP premiers as well as senior members of the Canadian labour movement are also in the trade renegotiation loop.

Despite the breaking of signature election promises ranging from the size of budget deficits to electoral reform, mounting acrimony on the Indigenous front, concerns over a sudden abundance of border-crossing asylum seekers and a cabinet team whose learning curve is proving to be steep, Trudeau — as his government nears mid-mandate — is in better shape in national voting intentions than Mulroney, Chrétien and Harper were at the same juncture. He can thank Trump for part of that.

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


 

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