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Canada shouldn’t use teenage Saudi refugee as a ‘political football’: ex-ambassador – National

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Canada did the right thing by granting asylum to Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun but should take steps to ensure that the case doesn’t cause irreversible damage to relations with Saudi Arabia, says Canada’s former ambassador to Riyadh.

Dennis Horak has first-hand knowledge of the two countries’ testy relationship, having been expelled from Saudi Arabia in August in the wake of Canada’s criticism of the kingdom’s detention of women’s rights activists.

That relationship faces renewed challenges following Canada’s decision to grant asylum to Al-Qunun, the daughter of a Saudi governor, who fled Saudi Arabia and accused her father and other male relatives of abuse.

The 18-year-old arrived in Toronto on Saturday after resisting her family’s attempts to have her returned to Saudi Arabia from Bangkok, where she barricaded herself in an airport hotel room and launched a Twitter campaign to plead for asylum.

READ MORE: ‘A very brave new Canadian’  Saudi woman who fled family arrives in Toronto

“I think [granting her asylum] was the right thing to do but it’s going to have an impact in Saudi Arabia in terms of their views towards Canada. They’ll see this as yet another example of our ‘interference’ in their internal affairs,” Horak told Global News.

“If we make her a political football to use this case to bash the Saudis to make our point on Saudi human rights, I think that would exacerbate the situation even further. And it wouldn’t do her any good either.”

Horak said that while it’s inevitable that the Al-Qunun case will worsen tensions in the short term, Canada could mitigate the damage by maintaining an open line of communication with Saudi Arabia.

“I think at this point, it’s time to let her settle in and then work and talk with the Saudis and explain to them why we did what we did, and perhaps that can mitigate some of the damage that may occur,” said Horak.

WATCH: Saudi teen fleeing family granted asylum in Canada







The case has also sparked concerns about possible Saudi retaliation against the 20,000 Canadians who live in the Arab world’s richest country.

Last month, two Canadian men were arrested in China amid tensions between Ottawa and Beijing over the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor remain in Chinese custody after being arrested on suspicion of spying and endangering national security.

READ MORE: Chinese ambassador pens op-ed on Canadian detainees, slams ‘Western egotism and white supremacy’

Horak said it’s unlikely that Saudi Arabia would resort to similar tactics, although he stated that Canadian expats in the kingdom might encounter other difficulties.

“In my view, a lot of the Canadians that are there are doing valuable work, so I don’t think I would see them being arrested for example as we’ve seen in China,” he said.

“They may encounter — and I think some have already since the summertime — difficulty with things like visa renewals or contract renewals… or if they’re looking for new jobs with other companies, Canadians may not be the preferred citizenship for prospective employers.

“But I wouldn’t be overly concerned about arrests and things.”

WATCH: Ottawa delegation in China as two Canadians remain detained







Horak said it’s vital that diplomatic relations don’t become strained to the point that Canada and Saudi Arabia shutter their embassies in each other’s territories.

“That would certainly not be in Canada’s interests and I don’t think that’ll happen,” he said, although he cautioned that “overreaction cannot be ruled out” on the part of the Saudis.

“It’s important that Canada be there, it’s important that Canada have an embassy there to offer protections, normal consular services and consular protections that are best delivered when there’s an embassy on the ground,” he said.

A man stands outside the Canadian embassy in the Saudi capital Riyadh, Aug. 7, 2018.

Nasser Al-Harbi/AFP/Getty Images

Concerns of diplomatic tensions aside, Horak credited Al-Qunun’s case for shining a spotlight on Saudi Arabia’s guardianship laws which curtail women’s freedom.

“When I was there, Saudi women talked to me a lot about the guardianship laws. The West was talking all about driving and they said, ‘no that’s fine, I’m driving, that’s fine’ but the real issue for them is the guardianship laws,” he said.

It’s possible that Al-Qunun’s case will spur a renewed examination of guardianship laws, Horak said, although he warned it could also spark a conservative backlash, with families further tightening restrictions on daughters.

As far as Al-Qunun’s future goes, Horak said it’s important to let her take her time to settle into Canadian life rather than force her to become a mouthpiece against Saudi human rights abuses.

“I think she needs to have time to settle in and if she decides down the road that she wants to be an activist and be very vocal on this, that’s great,” he said.

“But that should be up to her and not something that we push her into.”

— With files from Grant MacDonald

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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Personal Injury firm to pay an estimated $4 million to settle class-action with former clients

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A personal injury law firm has agreed to pay an estimated $4 million to settle claims that the firm double-dipped from the settlements of nearly 1,800 accident victims it represented.

The settlement between Neinstein & Associates LLP, a prominent personal injury law firm, and its clients was approved Wednesday by Justice Paul Perell.

Cassie Hodge, one of nearly 1,800 accident victims who joined a class-action lawsuit against Neinstein & Associates LLP. The firm has agreed to pay an estimated $4 million to settle the claims.
Cassie Hodge, one of nearly 1,800 accident victims who joined a class-action lawsuit against Neinstein & Associates LLP. The firm has agreed to pay an estimated $4 million to settle the claims.  (Andrew Lahodynskyj / Toronto Star)

Perell’s sign-off on the settlement effectively ends a class-action lawsuit that was certified in June 2017 but never made it to trial.

At the time the class-action commenced, lawyers working on contingency — “you don’t pay unless we win” — were not allowed to take a sum of money called “costs” in addition to a percentage of the settlement, according to the Solicitor’s Act governing lawyers.

In 2012, the roughly 1,800 class members alleged that Gary Neinstein and the law firm breached provincial law and their “fiduciary duties because they charged an amount for costs” in addition to the fee spelled out in their contingency fee agreement, according to Perell’s settlement approval decision. The firm denied the allegations.

Jeff Neinstein, managing partner of Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers, told the Star in an email his firm is “pleased that this issue has been resolved.”

“We appreciate the trust and confidence that our clients have continued to place in us and we remain dedicated to providing compassionate legal representation for all victims across Ontario.”

During a brief hearing in a second-floor courtroom at downtown Toronto’s Osgoode Hall, Perell additionally approved $1 million in legal fees and assorted charges incurred during the litigation for plaintiff lawyers Peter Waldmann and Andrew Stein, plus a $10,000 honorarium to accident victim Cassie Hodge, the 46-year-old mother of two at the heart of the case.

Waldmann, who represented Hodge and the other class members, said the settlement is “a compromise,” but he is pleased the accident victims are getting some remedy.

A Star investigation that began in 2016 found personal injury lawyers in Ontario had routinely taken their fees then also taken the “costs,” which a Divisional Court judge had called “double dipping.” As a result, the Star story said, many Ontario residents had been overcharged thousands of dollars and likely did not know it.

On the heels of the Star’s findings, the Law Society of Ontario decided to make changes to the way personal injury lawyers can advertise their services, bill their clients and charge and collect referral fees.

“When this issue was first raised, it became clear that there was confusion regarding the interpretation of the Solicitors Act,” Jeff Neinstein said Wednesday. “We took these concerns very seriously. We worked collaboratively to ensure that these issues were responsibly addressed. We are proud of the work that we do and continue to promote access to justice.”

In his settlement approval order, Justice Perell said negotiations between both sides were “intensive.” He said the settlement is “a good result for the class particularly having regard to the litigation risks and the long litigation road that would await them.”

As part of the settlement, a class member could get 30 per cent of what Neinstein referred to on his accounts as costs, the court said, provided she or he signed or amended a contingency fee agreement with the firm after October 1, 2004 and paid their fees before December 9, 2015.

Their cases must also have settled for at least $40,000 and their bills included at least $15,000 for an amount the firm called “party and party costs,” “partial indemnity costs” or another term using equivalent language.

Perell said that he awarded Hodge the honorarium to pay her personal expenses during the case and “to acknowledge her extraordinary contribution.”

Hodge’s battle against Neinstein began in 2010 after the law firm settled her car accident case for $150,000, sending her a final account that included charges for “legal fees” of $30,326 and “costs” of $30,000. She was also charged for $48,924 of “disbursements,” charges incurred by the lawyer in the course of litigation, which included $4,008 for photocopies, $2,791 for “laser copies,” and $1,372 for “interest recovery,” according to an earlier appeal court ruling that upheld the certification of the class.

Hodge alleges she was left with a fraction of her settlement.

Hodge had retained the Neinstein firm after a 2002 accident that left her with a concussion, whiplash, a retinal tear, soft tissue injures and chronic pain.

“Justice is served,” Hodge said outside the courtroom after the hearing. “Now people are aware of what was happening at law firms, and they know that they do have recourse.”

Michele Henry is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow her on Twitter: @michelehenry

Kenyon Wallace is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @KenyonWallace or reach him via email: kwallace@thestar.ca



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Westmount Park Elementary School students to be temporarily relocated to 2 separate buildings – Montreal

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A contentious plan to split Westmount Park Elementary School students up during a two-year renovation blitz is officially moving forward.

The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) announced at a special meeting on Wednesday that students will be temporarily transferred to two different buildings for the duration of the project.

READ MORE: English Montreal School Board parents weigh in on disputed school moves

Students will be relocated to Marymount Academy in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and the former St. John Bosco Elementary School in Ville Émard for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years.

Both locations will house kindergarten to Grade 6 students in order not to split up siblings, according to the school board.

The $12.5-million overhaul of the elementary school, which was built in 1913, will fix major structural issues.

READ MORE: Parents voice concerns over relocation of students at Westmount Park School

The plan has been met with both praise and concern from parents at school board meetings. Some said they were worried about where their kids will be transferred and separated from their friends.

At a consultation meeting last week, parents of Marymount students also voiced concerns over taking in hundreds of Westmount Park students.

WATCH: Westmount Park Elementary School students will have to move out of their school for two years






New French immersion school delayed

After announcing last October it would open a new French immersion school in NDG in September 2019, the school board says those plans have now been pushed back.

The elementary school was slated to open at 4850 Coronation Ave. — but now that building could instead house students from three other EMSB schools that are currently overcrowded.

READ MORE: English Montreal School Board plans to open new French immersion school in NDG

The EMSB says it is considering its options and that it will consult with the schools and their committees.

A decision is expected to be made by the school board’s council of commissioners on Feb. 20.

— With files from Global’s Elysia Bryan Baynes

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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RCMP seek help finding Canadian actress and nephew ‘considered missing’ from Kamloops since Sunday

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Kamloops RCMP are asking for the public’s assistance locating a six-year-old boy and his 28-year-old aunt, actress Roseanne Supernault

RCMP say they received a report on Sunday to check on the well-being of Nikaeo Supernault who was being looked after by his aunt.

They say the boy and his aunt have not been in contact with the boy’s mother since Jan. 13, and the pair is « considered missing. »

Police say they believe the boy is with his aunt.

Roseanne Supernault, a Métis/Cree actress, has starred in several TV series, including Blackstone, Strange Empire and The Drive, as well as the independent film, Neither Wolf Nor Dog.

Metis/Cree actress Rosanne Supernault in the film Neither Wolf nor Dog that played in select theatres across Canada in 2017. (InYo Entertainment)

Police describe six-year-old Nikaeo as three feet six inches tall, 45 pounds with light brown hair, brown eyes and wearing a blue jacket, black pants and tan boots.

His aunt, Roseanne, is five feet seven inches tall, 190 pounds, dyed blonde hair, brown eyes, wearing a black jacket with white fur on the hood, jeans and black boots.

The Kamloops RCMP is asking anyone with information on their whereabouts to contact them at 1-250-828-3000 or make an anonymous report to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.



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