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›  Crane climber released on bail


A woman who was arrested after spending hours perched high above Toronto on a crane Wednesday morning has been granted bail.

Marisa Lazo, 23, was ordered released on a $500 deposit, but may not enter any construction sites or go on any rooftops as a condition of her bail.

Lazo, who is a U.S. citizen, was also ordered to surrender her American passport.

She’s scheduled to return to court next month.

When she arrived in the courtroom at Old City Hall around midday Thursday, a man in the back shouted, “Marisa, you’re an angel.”

Before the hearing, a woman who identified herself as a “good friend” described Lazo as “an adventure seeker.”

“It was not her best decision but the fact that she did it was not a shock to me or that she had the ability to do it,” Sara Burton told reporters outside the court.

“People are speculating that mental health played a role but I don’t believe that.

“She’s just an adventurous girl.”

Burton also identified Lazo as the owner of an Instagram account which includes photos that appear to show Lazo standing on the edges of rooftops with the Toronto skyline in the background.

Following the hearing, Lazo made no comment to reporters gathered outside the court as she walked out.

Lazo was charged with six counts of criminal mischief after a daring rescue around 8:30 a.m. yesterday, more than four hours after police were first alerted to a woman on the crane near the corner of Wellesley St. E. and Church St.

Firefighter Rob Wonfor, a 52-year-old acting captain, climbed the crane and placed Lazo in a safety harness before securing her to him and rappelling to the ground.

Hundreds of people gathered to watch the rescue, which began at around 6 a.m., and lasted for 2 ½ hours.

Lazo was handcuffed after reaching the ground, and loaded into an ambulance.

She was taken to hospital for a checkup and spent the night in police custody.



›  Landlords who evict tenants for their own use will have to offer compensation, proposed legislation says


Ontario landlords would have to compensate tenants they evict for their “own use” under the province’s proposed rental legislation.

The highlights of the new protections were presented as part of the province’s housing affordability plan last week.

But details of the “Rental Fairness Act,” which amends the Residential Tenancies Act and is in second reading, are now public.

Landlords would have to offer tenants a new unit or compensate them with one month’s rent, if the bill passes as written.

Read more: Tenants at two west-end condos see rent double

Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations said this will “disincentive landlords from acting illegally, which is great.”

It’s hard to know how many people are evicted yearly based on these grounds, as the forms landlords use to do it, the N12, are not tracked. But tenant advocates say it’s a widespread issue.

Landlords will also have to put in writing to the Landlord and Tenant Board that they need the unit for at least a year and are acting in “good faith.”

Read more: New tax, rent controls part of Wynne’s plan to protect tenants and homebuyers

That means if your landlord evicts you so that he or she or a family member can live in the unit and then you see it on Craigslist two months later for higher rent, it’s on them to explain to the Landlord and Tenant Board.

“Right now when that happens the tenants have to prove the landlord acted in bad faith, now what they’re doing is reversing the onus,” said Dent.

Landlords are unhappy about the new rules.

“This will have a very significant impact on small landlords and a very significant impact on condominiums,” said Jim Murphy, president of the Federation of Rental-Housing Providers of Ontario.

Read more: Tougher rent control in Ontario puts new supply at risk, say owners

He believes the “tight” new rules will result in some small investors selling off units because they don’t see them as worth the extra trouble.

“That again will be bad news for tenants because there’ll just be less supply,” he said.

What else you need to know

The new legislation gets rid of the “1991 exemption” and expands rent control to all units, not just those built after that year.

That means your landlord can’t raise rent higher than a certain guideline set by the province each year. That was 1.5 per cent in 2017.

Once the legislation is passed the new rent control rules come into effect as of April 20, 2017.

Landlords can still raise rents “above the guidelines” if they apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board.

But they won’t be able to do this for increased utilities costs.

You can still have an oral tenancy agreement, but if you want a written lease it needs to be a standard government one.

That’s to prevent unscrupulous landlords from sneaking in illegal clauses, like prohibiting pets or demanding security deposits, into leases.

The legalisation also makes it an offense for landlords to go after tenants for rent for the period after they leave the unit (as in rent they’re not owed), or other illegal charges like key fees.



›  Trump just said he was serious about withdrawing from NAFTA, but then Trudeau called


WASHINGTON—Donald Trump’s administration had hinted Wednesday afternoon that he was about to sign an order that would begin the process of withdrawing the U.S. from the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump announced Wednesday night, though, that he would not be doing so.

What happened?

Trump offered a remarkable explanation on Thursday. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto called him, he said, and asked him not to proceed.

And he likes them, he said, so he agreed.

“I was going to terminate NAFTA as of two or three days from now. The president of Mexico, who I have a very, very good relationship, called me. And also the prime minister of Canada, who I have a very good relationship, and I like both of these gentlemen very much, they called me,” he said at the White House. “And they said, ‘Rather than terminating NAFTA could you please negotiate.’ I like them very much, I respect their countries very much, the relationship is very special. And I said I will hold on the termination, let’s see if we can make it a fair deal.”

The extraordinary story offers a measure of vindication for Trudeau’s studiously nonconfrontational approach to Trump. It demonstrates, again, the primacy of personal relationships in the impulsive decision-making of a president who has little policy knowledge or fixed political principles.

“I really hope this is just spin,” Scott Lincicome, a trade lawyer and Cato Institute adjunct scholar, wrote on Twitter.

The complete list of all 212 false things Donald Trump has said as president

It may be; it allows Trump to look magnanimous and in control. But Trump has regularly changed his mind because someone explained something to him. After claiming for more than a year that China had the power to solve the conundrum of North Korea, he abandoned that view after Chinese President Xi Jinping spent “10 minutes” explaining the situation.

Trump’s account was essentially confirmed by Trudeau.

“We had a good conversation last night. He expressed that, yes, he was very much thinking about cancelling. I highlighted quite frankly that whether or not there was a better deal to come, there was an awful lot of jobs, an awful lot of industries right now that have been developed under the NAFTA context,” Trudeau said Thursday during a visit to Gray, Sask.

“A disruption like cancelling NAFTA, even if it theoretically, eventually might lead to better outcomes, would cause a lot of short and medium term pain for an awful lot of families,” he said.

The conversation was their second about trade this week alone. Trump, long silent about trade with Canada, has ratcheted up tensions over the last 10 days, lambasting Canadian dairy and lumber policies and claiming Canada has generally taken advantage of the U.S. on trade. On Monday, his administration announced a new 20 per cent tariff on Canadian softwood lumber, a decision that was widely expected for months.

Trudeau refused to rule out retaliatory measures in response to the U.S. moves, but he said both he and Trump prefer to keep relations “positive and co-operative.”

“There’s broad range of options and paths available to us that we’re looking at but it is certainly my preference that we be able to sit down and discuss in a firm but responsible and polite way the different ways we can move forward,” Trudeau said.

Trump’s order would not have immediately terminated NAFTA. Instead, it would have initiated a six-month notice period after which the U.S. could have withdrawn or not withdrawn.

The move may have increased the pressure on Canada and Mexico. But it may have been even harder on the U.S., and Trump would have faced intense opposition from business groups and high-profile Republicans in Congress. One senator, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, had called the idea “disastrously bad.”

Trump’s late-Wednesday statement said he would not withdraw “at this time.” He went further on Thursday, saying that withdrawal would be a “pretty big shock to the system” and that “we’re going to give renegotiation a good, strong shot.”

“If I’m unable to make a fair deal, if I’m unable to make a fair deal for the United States, meaning a fair deal for our workers and our companies, I will terminate NAFTA,” he said.



›  John Fisher students can stay put if special measures taken: Report


The man behind a controversial tower being erected beside John Fisher Public School says he’s so confident about safety measures for the project that he’d be content if his own grandson attended the school while construction goes on next door.

“We have said from the outset our priority is safety,” KG Group founder Marvin Katz said in an interview Wednesday, days after the Toronto District School Board released a third-party risk assessment of the 35-storey apartment project.

Katz said he understands concerns raised by parents over the past six months who say they are worried about how construction will affect the health and safety of the 500 kids attending the French immersion elementary school.

“Of course I do. I’m a parent, I’m a grandparent,” said Katz. “I think it’s always distressing when change comes about.”

But he blamed “misinformation” for the backlash, said the project has gone through all necessary approvals and that the company has the experience, expertise and technology to ensure the highest safety standards.

Outrage over the project prompted the TDSB to propose temporarily relocating the school next fall to Vaughan Road Academy, a high school seven kilometres away and slated to close in June.

But Katz says the company never believed it was necessary to relocate the school. Local politicians have called the development unprecedented because of its size and proximity to students, Katz reiterated the company’s message that it is not the first high-rise to be built next to a school.

According to the risk assessment report released last week by the TDSB, “risks can and should be mitigated to a level where students can remain in the school during construction.”

However, “diligent monitoring and enforcement will be needed to ensure adherence to all mitigation measures,” concluded the report by ECOH, an environmental and occupational health consulting firm. And failure to do so “can have serious consequences.”

Those measures include 14 major recommendations to reduce hazards associated with traffic, noise, air quality, cranes, falling debris, and lead and asbestos present in the building, which is more than a century old.

Stavros Rougas, who has a son in Grade 2 at John Fisher, called the risk assessment “a positive step” but says parents are waiting for a commitment from the developer and school board that recommendations will be put in place, and to see a convincing sign they are working together.

“The really big question is the enforcement mechanism,” said Rougas, adding he believes more time is needed to resolve parents’ concerns and resolve potential risks flagged in the report.

KG Group is seeking a permit to begin demolition of the existing low-rises on the site this summer.

Rougas said he and other parents are eager to hear more details from the developer at a public forum hosted by the TDSB and including participants from KG, the school board and its outside consultants, and the city, who will field questions from parents, staff and local residents.

The TDSB has also hired an engineering company to conduct a peer review of the ECOH report because “we want to make sure the information is correct, given the concerns raised by the community,” said spokesperson Ryan Bird.

The question of how much the mitigation measures will cost and who will pay remains unclear. While steps like moving the playground to the other side of the school are a direct result of the project and in the works, Katz notes the school was already badly in need of repairs and upgrades.

Recommendations in the report include replacing old windows, putting in air conditioning units and removing asbestos and lead paint prior to construction.

Under an agreement negotiated with the city and approved by the Ontario Municipal Board, which gave the project the go-ahead in early 2016, KG Group provided $1.1 million in funds for improvements in the community to be used at the discretion of local city councillor Jaye Robinson and the city planner.

Katz now says that money should go directly towards John Fisher.

Robinson was not available to comment Tuesday, but a spokesperson said changing the terms and designating the money for the school would require council approval.

Meanwhile, the uncertainty continues for Rougas and other families of kids at the school who still don’t know where they will be in the fall.

The final decision on whether to stay at the current site or move to Vaughan Road will be left to parents, who will be surveyed following the forum and the peer review of the risk assessment, Bird said.

Many are already lining up to have their kids switch to the English stream and attend their neighbourhood home schools, only to learn there are few spaces available and that they have to go out of district.

Last month, the board took the unusual step of developing a “special placement process” to determine who goes where. Details of how those decisions are made will be provided to families by May 12, said Bird.



›  Asian OCAD student?s mock resumé forces others ?to see who I am?


Stein Wang has a resumé that cannot be overlooked.

Part irony and part political statement against employers’ hesitance to interview and hire candidates with Asian names, the OCAD University industrial design graduate has created a resumé that confronts hiring managers’ biases against jobseekers with non-Anglicized names.

To be able to read Wang’s curriculum vitae, viewers must stretch their eyes outward with their hands in order to be able to recognize the letters in a font that he developed that can only be properly viewed through what he calls the “slanty eyes” that most Asians have.

“People cast others based on stereotypes and biases. Employers look past you by your name and don’t really see who you are,” said Wang, 27, referring to recent Canadian studies that found recruiters are less likely to offer job interviews to applicants with Asian names. “Now, they have to make an effort to see who I am.”

The mock resumé created by Wang, whose Chinese name is Zhenyu, is his graduation assignment — and part of Canada’s arts and design university’s annual Graduate Exhibition that will showcase the talents of its more than 900 graduating students.

This year’s show runs from May 3 to 7 across the three buildings on its downtown campus. Admission is free. Many of the pieces in the exhibit showcase the cultural diversity and experiences of the graduating class.

“Increasingly, from the public sector to large corporations, leaders are turning to artists and designers to explore the human interface of their products and services and solve problems,” said Sara Diamond, OCAD’s president and vice-chancellor.

“I’m so proud to show Toronto the accomplishments of this group of talented creative thinkers who have grown and flourished with the support of the university’s faculty and academic staff, experts in their respective fields.”

Wang, who came to Canada from China in 2009, said he was initially interested in exploring transnational parenting and intergenerational child care for his final project, given his personal experience as someone born in New York and raised by his grandparents in China before moving to Canada.

However, the potential delays in getting consent from young subjects drove him to focus on employment barriers faced by adult immigrants. Then he came across the media reports on academic studies about how job candidates with Asian names had much lower interview callback rates than others with Anglo names.

With the idea of creating a resumé as his centrepiece conceived, Wang happened to read a story about how an Asian man in Australia had his passport photo rejected because facial recognition software insisted his eyes were closed and it didn’t meet the criteria.

“To develop the font (for the resumé), I put tape on my eyes and stared at things. There was a lot of eye-stretching,” Wang said with a chuckle. “I made different fonts and tested them on my friends, three Chinese and one Caucasian. It’s a lot of trial and error.”

The OCAD show also includes multimedia exhibits such as the imagery by grad student Mariam Magsi that focuses on women in burkas, the full-cover veil worn by some Muslim women.

Magsi, who grew up in Pakistan with a mother who loved photography, said she was fascinated by women wearing the burka.

“I love travel photography. The scene that I couldn’t get out of mind was a family of women in burkas walking on an unpaved road, carrying grocery bags in hand. What drew me to them was the rhinestones on their shoes and embroideries on their burkas. That’s the way they expressed themselves,” she recalled.

“Here in Canada, we have so much hatred against the people who wear identity markers like burkas and hijabs.”

During her research, not only did Magsi discover from her family that her own maternal great grandmother was a burqa-wearing matriarch, but she travelled to Pakistan, Morocco, Dubai and across Canada to photograph and interview women in burkas.

The result was her photography collection called “Purdah,” which means “to veil, to wear enveloping clothing” in Persian and Urdu.

“Photography has the power for social change and it can shift perceptions,” said the Karachi native, 31, adding that she hopes the storytelling and images can inspire viewers to question their own assumptions and biases against women in burkas.

Grad student Thomas Haskell, a European creole born and raised in Trinidad, said the Carnival is big part of his life and he was shocked when he first came to Toronto in 2008 and his white friends would not take part in the Caribana because “it is a black festival.”

“It struck me because it’s not about black culture but Trinidadian culture. It’s made up of Africans, Indians, Chinese, Europeans. Everyone just comes together to celebrate in a beautiful way,” said Haskell, 28.

To enlighten his Canadian audience, he created the “Mas-Queer-Raid” collection of sculptures that are inspired by the folklore of the annual carnival showing his multi-faceted heritage.

The piece he is showing at is called Colonalisa, which features the crowns and Columbus ships that symbolize colonialism and the trailing blood and sugarcane that represent the history of slavery and plantation.

“The Caribbean identity is always a process in making,” said Haskell. “There is always the entanglement and criss-crossing of history.”



›  Russian warship sinks after colliding with freighter in the Black Sea


MOSCOW—A Russian naval reconnaissance ship sank Thursday after colliding with a freighter off Istanbul, but all crew members were rescued, the Defence Ministry said.

Turkey’s coastal safety authority said all 78 personnel from the Russian frigate Liman were safe, as were all crew aboard the freighter, the Togo-flagged Youzarsif H. The freighter was carrying livestock.

The Defence Ministry said a hole was punched in the starboard side of the Liman during the collision, which occurred around midday Thursday about 40 kilometres northwest of the Bosphorus Strait. The cause of the collision wasn’t immediately clear.

The Liman was part of the Black Sea Fleet. The Interfax news agency reported that it spent much of the winter in the Mediterranean off the coast of Syria and returned to the Black Sea to monitor NATO exercises in February.

The rescued Russian sailors were all aboard a Turkish rescue vessel and would be picked up by a nearby Russian cargo ship, the Ulus Star, the ministry said, without specifying the number of crew members. It said the cargo ship would deliver the sailors to the home base of the Black Sea Fleet, which is on Crimea, the peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.



›  Senate ethics committee poised to make final decision on Don Meredith


OTTAWA—The Senate’s ethics committee is poised to make a final decision about what punishment awaits Sen. Don Meredith over his sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl.

Committee members are meeting behind closed doors today in a bid to finalize a report that will detail their deliberations and conclusions, but any decision won’t be made public until the report is tabled in the Senate.

Committee chair Raynell Andreychuk says she is confident the committee has covered all of its bases, including legal and Senate issues, in its review of Meredith’s actions.

Read more:

Don Meredith’s sex liaisons used public paid-for hotel rooms, office

Senator Don Meredith's new lawyer says sex scandal outcry isn't racist

Senator Don Meredith’s conduct is nothing but shameful: DiManno

Ethics officer Lyse Ricard concluded last month that Meredith didn’t uphold the “highest standards of dignity inherent to the position of senator” and acted in a way that could damage the Senate itself.

According to Ricard, Meredith began a relationship with the girl when she was just 16; it progressed from flirtatious online chats to fondling and sexually explicit live videos and, eventually, to sexual intercourse — once shortly before the teen turned 18 and twice after.

Meredith has acknowledged the relationship but maintains he only had intercourse with the teen after she turned 18.

He has since apologized publicly for what he called a moral failing but has rejected near-universal calls from fellow senators for his resignation.



›  Family of late Toronto filmmaker Rob Stewart backs ban on shark fin imports


The family of late Toronto filmmaker Rob Stewart joined two city councillors on Thursday to call for a federal ban on the import of shark fins.

City council is to vote Thursday afternoon on a motion by Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam which recommends that city council support a federal bill by Conservative Senator Michael MacDonald to create a law prohibiting the importation of shark fins in to Canada.

“Shark finning” in Canadian waters has been illegal since 1994, but the sale and importation of shark fins is not.

The practice involves cutting the fins off living sharks and then throwing the animals back into the ocean. Unable to swim, the sharks sink to the bottom of the ocean where they are eaten alive or die of suffocation.

Stewart died while diving off the coast of Islamorada, Fla. in January. The 37-year-old was filming a sequel to his 2006 documentary Sharkwater, which aimed to draw attention to the practice of “finning” sharks for soup and its impact on the ocean’s ecosystem.

“Since Rob’s first film Sharkwater, over a billion sharks have been killed,” said his father Brian, joined at city hall Thursday by Rob’s mother Sandy and sister Alexandra.

“If we allow sharks to disappear from our oceans, we’re taking the key ingredient that’s been around for 450 million years,” he said. “That balance would be gone. (If) the balance is gone, the oceans will die. If the oceans die, mankind goes with it, so this is not just about saving sharks.”

Brian Stewart said this cause was his son’s legacy.

“Rob’s belief was he had to show people the beauty of the ocean,” he said. “He had to show them that this is worth fighting for and worth saving, and in his case, worth dying for.”

Wong-Tam’s motion, seconded by Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker, also asks the premier to consider a ban on the sale of shark fins should the federal bill fail.

In 2011, Toronto council voted to ban the possession, sale and consumption of shark fin by a margin of 38-4.

“My heart has all the warm butterflies inside,” Stewart said following the vote. “I couldn’t feel better.”

But an Ontario Superior Court judge overturned the ban, calling it “highly intrusive” and ruling the city overstepped its powers because the bylaw banned consumption by Torontonians in their own homes.

Chinese-Canadian merchants and restaurateurs had protested the ban, arguing shark fin soup was a delicacy in Chinese restaurants and the ban would cause them to lose significant business.

But Wong-Tam said shark finning is a quickly fading Chinese cultural practice.

“It’s not cultural in any way and if it was to be categorized as cultural, I can tell you there’s certain things that we would do culturally that we don’t do anymore,” she said. “We no longer bind women’s feet in Chinese culture. We also don’t have multiple wives and that is not part of what Chinese culture is today.”

Wong-Tam noted that 17 Canadian municipalities have already banned sale of shark fin and related products, including London, Newmarket, Oakville, Brantford and Pickering.

De Baeremaeker said an estimated 280 million sharks have been killed in the last four years since Toronto’s ban was overturned.

Read more: U.S. coast guard continues search for missing Sharkwater filmmaker

Council bans sale consumption of shark fin

Sharkfin ban resurfaces as Toronto council backers seek new narrower rule

“This slaughter, happening in every ocean on this planet is happening because we, Canadians and others around the world, eat shark-fin soup,” said De Baeremaeker, arguing it has no nutritional value, doesn’t taste good and is overpriced. “This slaughter can stop if we simply stop eating shark-fin soup.”

Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who was also present at the announcement, said Canada is responsible for two per cent of shark fin consumption around the world.

“It’s no different from the ivory trade. It’s as cruel as it is wasteful,” Erskine-Smith said.

He noted this was the third attempt to ban the import of shark fins at the federal level, following his own efforts and those of NDP MP Fin Donnelly which were both defeated. Erskine-Smith said he was confident MacDonald’s bill would be successful because of its support among all three major parties this time.

“It is a non-partisan issue,” he said.



›  Canadian businesses pull money out of tax havens


For the first time since 2011, Canadian businesses pulled their money out of tax havens, ending a five-year run when more than $120 billion was stashed in the 10 most popular low-tax or no-tax countries.

The newly released Statistics Canada numbers provide the most concrete evidence yet that the Panama Papers may have had a chilling effect on the use of tax havens to minimize corporate taxes.

“This could be a sign that global efforts to curb corporate profit shifting to tax havens may be paying off,” said Dennis Howlett, executive director of Canadians for Tax Fairness, a group that lobbies for the closure of loopholes that encourage the use of offshore tax havens.

According to the government’s official foreign direct investment statistics, Canadian businesses reduced their holdings in the top 10 tax havens from $272.4 billion in 2015 to $261 billion at the end of last year, bringing home $11.4 billion.

This reversal could be due to a number of different factors, including reforms in Ireland that make it harder to exploit that country to avoid taxes, Howlett said. But investment reductions in Luxembourg and Bermuda point to a wider trend.

“We know that public attention to this has affected calculation of risk, so companies are being more cautious now because of the potential for a public relations backlash,” Howlett said.

Allan Lanthier, a retired senior partner at Ernst & Young and former chair of the Canadian Tax Foundation, cautions against reading too much into the numbers, as the majority of the reduction in foreign holdings in 2016 can be attributed to the fact that the Canadian dollar rose against the U.S. dollar, the currency in which most international investments are made.

“The cumulative amount of Canadian investment in these countries is significant, but the amounts appear to have been fairly stable for the last couple of years,” Lanthier said. “And there’s been no substantive Canadian legislative change to address corporate tax base erosion that would account for a change in the behaviour of Canadian multinationals.”

After the U.S. and U.K. the most popular destinations for Canadian foreign investment are Barbados, Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, all of which have very low or no taxes.

“It’s still shocking that the top destinations for Canadian foreign direct investment abroad are tax havens,” said Toby Sanger, an economist with the public sector union CUPE who has been tracking the foreign investment numbers for the last five years.

Sanger said that the billions that flow into tax havens “are robbing government of money needed for public services.”

“There’s less economic activity happening in Canada as well,” he added.

The numbers made public this week capture only a fraction of tax haven use. For example, Howlett said, the official figures don’t reflect “the secret money.”

“Roughly two thirds of the problem is corporate abuse of tax havens, most of which is done legally,” he said. “And one third of the problem is wealthy individuals, most of which is done illegally.”

The Panama Papers investigation, based on a massive leak of tax haven records, revealed the kind of illicit activities that go on behind the closed doors of law offices and banks in tax havens like Panama, Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands.

Other than massive tax fraud, the international collaboration of more than 100 news organizations, including the Star, exposed how tax havens have facilitated the payment of bribes to obtain foreign contracts, provided cover for shady deals in African diamond mining, allowed corrupt politicians to hide their pilfered wealth and arms dealers to circumvent trade embargoes.



›  Trump?s former national security adviser was warned not to accept foreign government money. He did it anyway


WASHINGTON—U.S. President Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was warned by authorities when he retired from the military in 2014 not to take foreign government-sourced money without “advance approval” from the Pentagon, according to documents released Thursday by the ranking Democrat on a House oversight committee.

Flynn, a former U.S. army lieutenant-general and Defence Intelligence Agency chief, was later paid tens of thousands of dollars for his work on behalf of foreign interests, including Russia’s state-sponsored RT television network and a Turkish-owned company linked to Turkey’s government.

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

Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings also said the Pentagon’s acting inspector general has launched an inquiry into whether those payments qualify as coming from foreign governments and whether Flynn properly informed military authorities about them.

Both Cummings and Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, have previously said they planned to ask the Army to rule on whether Flynn properly informed and asked permission for the payments from Russian and Turkish entities.

A key document released Thursday by Cummings showed that Flynn was warned by a Defence Intelligence Agency official in October 2014 that he would need clearance from the agency before he could accept any earnings linked to foreign governments. Flynn was explicitly told in the document that the U.S. Constitution’s emoluments provision prohibits any monetary payments or gifts “from a foreign government unless congressional consent is first obtained.” The letter explained that such “advance approval” would need to come “from the relevant service secretary.”

The committee’s leaders reported earlier this week that they found no evidence that Flynn asked for permission for the payments he received or informed the military that he had accepted them. Army spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith Thursday also said “we have found no records of LTG(R) Flynn requesting permission from the Army for foreign employment.”

In comments to the AP, Chaffetz said that Flynn “had an obligation to seek approval to take money from a foreign government. We found no evidence that he did that.” Chaffetz, however, did not join Cummings at the Thursday news conference, unlike their bipartisan appearance earlier in the week announcing the results of the committee’s inquiry into Flynn’s dealings with authorities before and after his foreign earnings.

The committee’s inquiry is one of several congressional investigations into Flynn’s contacts with foreign officials before and during his brief stint as Trump’s top national security aide. Trump fired Flynn for failing to inform senior administration officials about his contacts with Russian officials — contacts that are being examined as part of the wider inquiries into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.

“These documents raise grave questions about why General Flynn concealed the payments he received from foreign sources after he was warned explicitly by the Pentagon,” Cummings said. “Our next step is to get the documents we are seeking from the White House so we can complete our investigation.”

But the White House told the committee recently that documents the lawmakers sought concerning Flynn’s security clearance would not be turned over because they contained classified information.



›  United Airlines to raise limit on payouts to bumped passengers to $10K


DALLAS—United Airlines says it will raise the limit — to $10,000 — on payments to customers who give up seats on oversold flights and will increase training for employees as it deals with fallout from the video of a passenger being violently dragged from his seat.

United is also vowing to reduce, but not eliminate, overbooking — the selling of more tickets than there are seats on the plane.

The airline made the promises Thursday as it released a report detailing mistakes that led to the April 9 incident on a United Express plane in Chicago.

Read more:

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After United Airlines incident, U.S. Senate set to introduce passenger protection bill

United isn’t saying whether ticket sales have dropped since the removal of a 69-year-old passenger by three airport security officers, but the airline’s CEO admits it could be damaging.

“I breached public trust with this event and how we responded,” Oscar Munoz told The Associated Press. “People are upset, and I suspect that there are a lot of people potentially thinking of not flying us.”

To head off customer defections, United had already announced that it will no longer call police to remove passengers from overbooked flights, and will require airline crews travelling for work to check in sooner. On Thursday, it added several other new policies including:

  • Raising the limit on compensation to $10,000 for customers who give up their seats starting Friday. That is a maximum — it’s unclear how many, if any, passengers would see that much. The current limit is $1,350. Delta Air Lines earlier this month raised its limit to $9,950.

  • Sending displaced passengers or crew members to nearby airports, putting them on other airlines or arranging for car transportation to get them to their destinations.

  • Giving gate agents annual refresher training in dealing with oversold flights. Munoz said he also wants agents and flight attendants to get more help at de-escalating tense situations.

While not a factor in this month’s incident, United also said that starting in June it will pay customers $1,500 with no questions asked if the airline loses their bag.

For United, the timing of the viral video could hardly have been worse. The airline struggled badly after a 2010 merger with Continental, enduring several technology breakdowns that angered customers. In the past year, however, the airline has flown more on-time flights and lost fewer bags. It recently rolled out plans for expanding service this summer.

Instead of being commended for those signs of progress, however, it has faced more than two weeks of withering criticism and mockery. David Dao, the passenger injured when he was yanked from his seat, is almost certain to file a lawsuit.

Munoz apologized again and faulted his own initial response, in which he defended airline employees and called Dao belligerent.

“That first response was insensitive beyond belief,” Munoz said. “It did not represent how I felt,” saying that he got “caught up in facts and circumstances” that weren’t initially clear, instead of expressing his shock.

On Thursday, Thomas Demetrio, Dao’s attorney, said in a statement that the policy changes “are passenger friendly and are simple, common sense decisions on United’s part to help minimize the stress involved in the flying experience.”

In Thursday’s report, United provided new details about the incident. It said Flight 3411 to Louisville, Kentucky, was oversold by one ticket, but a volunteer gave up his seat. After passengers boarded, four crew members of Republic Airline, which operates many United Express flights, showed up late after their Louisville-bound plane was delayed by a mechanical problem.

United said it was a mistake to let the Republic crew board late, which required removing four paying passengers; calling officers when there was no safety or security issue; and not offering enough money to entice volunteers to give up their seats.

“We could have spent a lot of $10,000s and made that thing right,” Munoz said.

United said it will reduce overbooking, particularly on flights with a poor track record of finding volunteers to give up their seats, but won’t end the practice. Munoz said if airlines can’t overbook there will be more empty seats and fares will rise. Delta CEO Ed Bastian called overselling flights “a valid business process.”

Politicians in Washington and elsewhere have called for a ban on overselling flights. Some critics have said airlines should leave a few seats empty if they think they will be needed by crew members.

How United selects passengers for involuntary bumping

In a report issued Thursday about the April 9 dragging incident involving a passenger on an overcrowded United Express plane, United spelled out how it selects passengers for involuntary bumping.

United says the process is automated — gate agents don’t decide who stays and who goes.

  • First, anyone without a seat assignment is denied boarding.

  • Passengers who paid the least for their ticket top the list for being bumped involuntarily.

  • Passengers who paid the same fare are sorted by when they checked in for the flight.

  • Customers with status in United’s MileagePlus frequent-flyer program won’t be bumped unless everyone on the plane has status, in which case the people with the lowest status get bumped first.

  • Unaccompanied minors and passengers with disabilities won’t be bumped.

Source: Company’s “United Express Flight 3411 Review and Action Report”



›  Canadian justice ministers plan emergency meeting as court delays threaten thousands of cases


OTTAWA—The federal Liberals came to power promising sweeping reforms to the criminal justice system, but now the provinces are championing some ideas of their own as they focus on cutting backlogs in the courts.

“I think for the most part, the provinces recognize the status quo isn’t an option and we need those changes to take place,” Manitoba Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said in an interview.

“Time is moving on and now is the time for action.”

Stefanson and other provincial and territorial justice ministers are gathering Friday in Gatineau, Que., for an emergency meeting with their federal counterpart, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to discuss how to tackle delays in the criminal courts.

It is not a new problem, but finding a solution has become more urgent.

The Supreme Court of Canada issued a groundbreaking decision last summer, R. v. Jordan, that set out a new framework for determining whether a criminal trial has been unreasonably delayed, citing a “culture of complacency” for contributing to the problem.

Read more: How an ‘invented’ Supreme Court ruling has rocked the Canadian justice system

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms says someone charged with an offence has the right to have their case tried within a reasonable amount of time. In a 5-4 decision, the high court defined that period as 18 months for provincial courts and 30 months for superior courts.

There is room for exceptions, and the ruling came with a transitional measure for cases already in the system, but a dissenting minority opinion argued the new time limits could lead to thousands of prosecutions being tossed out.

“That was a way of the Supreme Court throwing its hands up and chastising both federal and provincial governments for decades of neglect,” said New Democrat MP Alistair MacGregor, the justice critic for his party.

“The chickens have come home to roost and I think the Supreme Court has finally forced the government’s hand.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave Wilson-Raybould a mandate to work with the provinces and territories “to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system,” but her marching orders focused on solutions such as the better use of digital technology, bail reform and sentencing alternatives.

Those ideas, along with the ongoing need for judicial appointments, will no doubt come up Friday, but some provinces will also be urging the federal Liberals to change the Criminal Code to either curtail or eliminate the use of preliminary inquiries, which take place in certain serious cases to determine if there is enough evidence for a matter to go to trial.

Ontario Justice Minister Yasir Naqvi is one of those behind that idea.

“We’ve got a challenge that has been given to us by the Supreme Court of Canada,” Naqvi said in an interview. “They have said there is complacency within the system, and bold reforms are needed.”

Manitoba is also pushing hard for that change, so the province can go ahead with a four-year pilot project to replace preliminary inquiries with an out-of-court discovery process, or, for less serious cases, do away with them altogether.

Read more: Scrapping preliminary hearings ‘not going to solve’ problem of court delays

Wilson-Raybould said in a statement Wednesday that she is aware of the proposals from Ontario and Manitoba and looks forward to discussing it with them.

According to Statistics Canada, preliminary inquiries took place in less than three per cent of cases in the adult criminal court system in 2014-15, and 81 per cent of those cases were completed within a 30-month period.

The number of vacancies on the bench has also been getting a lot of attention.

“I think it’s a huge part of the problem and it’s certainly one that can be addressed,” said Conservative justice critic Rob Nicholson.

The Liberals brought in a new appointments process last fall, but as of April. 1, there were 59 vacancies for federally appointed positions.

Eric Gottardi, one of the defence lawyers in R. v. Jordan, said the problem goes far beyond empty seats on the bench.

“If they were all filled tomorrow, it’s not like the delay problem would disappear in the next three months,” he said.

The higher number of mandatory minimum sentences the previous Conservative government brought in contributed to the problem, he said, as it took away a lot of discretion from both judges and prosecutors to find ways to divert trials.

“I think in promising to take a more comprehensive look at the criminal justice system and sentencing in general, maybe (the federal Liberals) didn’t realize how big a problem it was and how far-reaching that would have to be,” Gottardi said.

“It is a huge job and that may in fact be slowing them down,” added Gottardi, who like other defence attorneys does not think doing away with preliminary inquiries is the answer.

“Some of the solutions that have been floated are more political ploys rather than thought-out justice reforms.”

James Pickard, president of the Alberta Crown Attorneys’ Association, said he is in favour of cutting back on preliminary inquiries, but would like to see more data on how that would save time in the courts.

Pickard said the issue is complicated, but most of it boils down to the need for more resources.

“There is a shortage of judges. There is a shortage of clerks. There is a shortage of prosecutors. Legal aid could use more money,” he said.

“The problem is a system-wide problem.”


 

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