Liberals to block opposition attempt to probe SNC-Lavalin affair

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OTTAWA—The Liberal government appears likely to block opposition efforts to probe allegations of political interference in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, while insisting that discussions on the matter with former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould were above board.

Justin Trudeau’s government will not yet waive solicitor-client privilege, which would give Wilson-Raybould latitude to speak about the allegation, nor will it permit a parliamentary committee to proceed with its own investigation, the Star has learned.

Wilson-Raybould has remained silent since the Globe and Mail reported Thursday that senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office pressed her to seek mediation instead of pursuing criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin.

The former justice minister — who was moved from her post in January — has refused to confirm or deny the allegations, saying she is bound by solicitor-client privilege.

A senior government official, speaking to the Star on the condition they not be named, said Saturday that the government will not waive the privilege — as demanded by opposition MPs — because SNC-Lavalin’s potential criminal trial remains before the courts. A second government source confirmed that the potential criminal trial, as well as SNC-Lavalin’s appeal of prosecutors’ denial of a mediation deal, makes waiving privilege unlikely.

Justice Minister David Lametti told CTV’s Question Period that he believes nothing about the affair so far merits an investigation.

“The prime minister has said that these allegations are false. We haven’t had any corroborating evidence there. There hasn’t been anything to my mind that justifies a committee investigation,” said Lametti, who is also on the listed of proposed witnesses.

Lisa Raitt, deputy Conservative leader, said she was “horrified” by Lametti’s claim that he had satisfied himself there was no improper influence based solely on the prime minister’s public statements.

“That’s insane … that’s not upholding the independence of the attorney general’s office,” Raitt said in an interview.

Any hint that of political interference in criminal prosecutions should spark an investigation into “what the hell happened,” she said.

“It’s a serious enough issue that this needs to have clear light on it and we need to understand exactly what happened,” said Raitt, MP for Milton and a lawyer.

She said the Conservatives will seek to pressure the Liberals to agree to the committee hearings, though she conceded the effort will likely be voted down.

Lametti was not available to speak Saturday. His spokesperson, David Taylor, said the minister will appear before the committee if called to testify. Wilson-Raybould, through a spokesperson, said she was unavailable for an interview.

From the initial hours after the allegations broke, Lametti has echoed the prime minister’s denial that no direction was given to Wilson-Raybould on the issue.

“We don’t know what evidence or facts he has. Maybe he has spoken to the people in the PMO. Maybe he has facts such that he is very confident in what he is saying,” said former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant.

“Or he sees this as part of his political role and he doesn’t need to be quasi-judicial and independent,” Bryant said.

The justice minister also serves as Canada’s attorney general. The ministerial guide sets out the two roles for the cabinet post: The justice minister is responsible for federal laws and development of new policies and programs. The attorney general is chief law officer for the federal government and has responsibility to uphold the “Constitution, the rule of law, and respect for the independence of the courts.”

Trudeau has denied “allegations” that PMO officials put pressure on Wilson-Raybould to abandon criminal charges against SNC in favour of what’s called a “deferred prosecution agreement” — a new tool introduced by the Liberals last year that allows corporate wrongdoers to avoid a criminal trial in favour of fines and corporate governance reforms.

Montreal-based engineering company SNC-Lavalin has been facing criminal fraud and corruption charges based on allegations it paid millions in bribes to win government business in Libya between 2001 and 2011. It has argued that the individuals behind the charges have left the company and that punishment to the firm, resulting in a ban on government infrastructure contracts, would result in major job losses in Canada — and Quebec in particular.

Wilson-Raybould was involved in the internal debates about how to deal with the SNC situation last fall, the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed Saturday. A government source would not say at what level those discussions were held — whether with Trudeau’s entire cabinet, with a subcommittee, or informally between ministers. It’s not clear who initiated the discussions.

The PMO also confirmed that Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s principal secretary and close friend, discussed the matter with Wilson-Raybould in December 2018, but said Butts suggested Wilson-Raybould bring it up with Michael Wernick, the clerk of the Privy Council and Canada’s top bureaucrat.

The question of undue influence and political interference hinges on the nature of the discussions Wilson-Raybould had on the options for the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

Some discussions are permitted. The Privy Council’s rules for Open and accountable government state the attorney general may consult “cabinet colleagues … in order to fully assess the public policy considerations relevant to specific prosecutorial decisions.”

Craig Forcese, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, says that clear political advice is “one thing.”

“But a political executive ‘direction’ to the (attorney general) in a criminal justice matter would exceed” judicial standards and dictate that the attorney general refuse and resign, Forcese said.

“The murk lies where discussions fall short of ‘direction,’” he wrote in a blog post.

Bryant said the involvement of the prime minister’s aides — the very people he said have power over a minister’s political future — in such discussions would not be appropriate.

“It creates the perception and the reality that if she doesn’t do what they tell her to do, then there will be political consequences for her, and that means that you are politicizing the prosecution,” Bryant said in an interview Saturday.

“These are the most political animals in the country, the PMO … They advise the prime minister, who controls the fate of a cabinet minister,” said Bryant, who is now the executive director and general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

With files from The Canadian Press

Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier

Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier

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Senneville residents block condo development but could lose trees to house construction – Montreal

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It’s back to the drawing board for a residential real estate developer in Senneville, Que.

Residents in the small, rustic municipality on the western tip of the Island of Montreal recently stopped a proposed housing project from being approved.

More than 160 signatures were registered to oppose a developer who planned to build condominiums off of des Anciens-Combattants Boulevard.

The developer then withdrew the plan, which would have allowed more than 60 condominiums to be built in a village that is solely made up of single-family homes on large plots of land.


READ MORE:
Senneville council votes to rezone area slated for controversial condo project

“Senneville is not a condominium community. It really isn’t,” Bill O’Brien, a longtime resident of the area, told Global News.

O’Brien lives on Elmwood Avenue, and his house backs onto the wooded area where the housing project was proposed.

“In the event that the condos had gone through, it could have set a precedent for the rest of Senneville so in the future, if a big piece of property had come up for sale, somebody might be able to say, ‘Hey, look, it’s been done before. Why can’t we do it again?’” he said.

WATCH: New Senneville Residential development proposal has residents voicing their disproval






The land is now zoned for eight single-family houses.

But the construction of single-family houses would risk cutting down even more trees than the proposed condominium project.

“This forest behind us acts as a climatic regulator for this town. It also shields this town from noise pollution (and) light pollution,” Senneville resident Martin Gauthier told Global News.

Though it’s a smaller town now, there used to be 1,400 people living in Senneville in the late 1960s and early ’70s, and the mayor argues the town could have handled an influx of people had residents supported the condo project.


READ MORE:
‘I want nothing at all’: Senneville residents unhappy with potential housing project

“The town could absorb more citizens and still keep with the small-town feel,” Senneville Mayor Julie Brisebois told Global News.

Brisebois says the original project would have saved a majority of the trees, while the single-family home proposal puts a lot more of them at risk.

“I think it’s too bad,” she said.

“I think we were saving 80 per cent of that wooded area without having to spend a dollar.”

It’s now up to the real estate developer to decide whether to go ahead with the single-family home project, which would maintain the look of the village but potentially come at a huge environmental cost.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Tories introduce legislation to block strike by power workers

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The province has introduced legislation to end the Power Workers’ Union’s job action at Ontario Power Generation, but there are no plans to deem the employees an essential service, which would forbid them from ever striking.

As the legislature resumed for an emergency sitting Monday to prevent the first hydro work stoppage since 1985, Energy Minister Greg Rickford said the labour situation is “a very serious matter,” but that “essential service does not and has not formed any part of the legislation or our discussions.

Energy Minister Greg Rickford says the provincial government is “focused on creating a fair mechanism through arbitration as a result of this legislation to make sure that Ontario’s electricity supply continues uninterrupted.”
Energy Minister Greg Rickford says the provincial government is “focused on creating a fair mechanism through arbitration as a result of this legislation to make sure that Ontario’s electricity supply continues uninterrupted.”  (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star file photo)

“We’re focused on creating a fair mechanism through arbitration as a result of this legislation to make sure that Ontario’s electricity supply continues uninterrupted,” Rickford said.

The minister emphasized that the Progressive Conservative government was moving swiftly to end the dispute after the unionized workers voted twice this year to reject the OPG contract offer.

“We understand constitutional rights, but we’re here to talk about the lights — specifically, keeping them on,” said Rickford, adding it was “irresponsible” for the opposition New Democrats to try to prolong the strike.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, however, said the government has been “unnecessarily alarmist” about the possibility of a strike by OPG workers because it knows “that’s never going to happen” with the PC majority in the legislation easily able to pass the bill preventing any stoppage.

“The government didn’t even try to solve this problem … they went to the biggest hammer available,” said Horwath .

“There will be no rolling blackouts.”

New Democrats oppose the legislation because Horwath says it infringes on the Charter rights of workers to collective bargaining.

NDP MPPs refused to give unanimous consent for its passage Monday, meaning it will be debated Tuesday and Wednesday before the PC majority can get it through the house, likely by Thursday.

That means members, who rose Dec. 6 for the winter break, will be at Queen’s Park all week.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser blamed the Tories for the standoff, saying they “should have been doing more” to prevent the crisis.

“For 33 years we’ve never had a labour disruption with the generation of electricity, specifically with the nuclear plants,” said Fraser.

“People send us to Queen’s Park and say, ‘Take care of the things that are important to me.’”

Labour Minister Laurie Scott noted that 98 per cent of all union negotiations in Ontario are resolved at the bargaining table.

But Scott stressed the government had to intervene because OPG generates about half of the province’s electricity.

“We want to see a fair deal reached between the parties,” said Scott, adding her legislation “will remove the risk of widespread power outages and allow dispute resolution to happen appropriately.”

The 6,000 PWU members, who operate the Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations as well as 66 hydroelectric stations, rejected OPG’s offer of a 6.6 per cent wage increase over three years.

On Friday, that triggered a 21-day period in which the utility and its employees take steps to begin shutting down the plants.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

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NDP vows to stall Ford government legislation to block hydro strike

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New Democrats are vowing to stall back-to-work legislation aimed at preventing a strike by 6,000 hydro workers when MPPs are called back to Queen’s Park Monday, interrupting a Christmas break that began a week ago.

Premier Doug Ford short-circuited any chance for a negotiated settlement when his government indicated the bill will be introduced, Deputy NDP Leader Sara Singh said Saturday.

Ontario Power Generation runs the Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations among other electricity operations.
Ontario Power Generation runs the Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations among other electricity operations.  (STEVE RUSSELL / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)

“The premier maybe spoke too quickly,” she added. “We will do what is necessary to fight this piece of legislation. We’re going to do what we can and use whatever tools we have at our disposal.”

It’s expected the bill will pass by Thursday.

The government signalled the legislation is necessary to keep the lights on over the holiday season after the Power Workers’ Union rejected a final contract offer of a 6.6 per cent wage increase over three years from Ontario Power Generation, which runs the Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations among other electricity operations.

OPG received a strike notice from the union Friday, as required under the collective agreement, triggering a 21-day period in which the company and the workers take steps to begin shutting down the nuclear plants and 66 hydroelectric stations.

Read more:

Tories recalling legislature before Christmas to zap power workers’ strike

How Doug Ford massively outspent Hydro One’s ‘Six Million Dollar Man’

Ontario Power Generation boss Jeff Lyash tops Sunshine List of public sector earners at $1.55 million

Given that the nuclear plants supply 40 per cent of Ontario’s electricity, the province’s Independent Electricity System Operator warned a strike would mean Ontario “would not have the generation needed to meet consumer demand and customers would begin losing power.”

Energy Minister Greg Rickford said that could hit industries as well as families.

“We will not allow Ontario families and seniors to spend their holiday season in the dark or to go without heat,” the government said in a statement.

The Power Workers’ Union president Mel Hyatt said the workers at OPG are deciding on their next move in the job action, noting the most recent offer from the company was no improvement on an earlier one rejected last summer.

“We are disappointed.”

The last contract expired in March and bargaining began three months earlier.

“Our goal was to negotiate a fair and reasonable agreement with PWU, which we believe we did in June. We continue to be willing to go to arbitration to secure an agreement,” said Ontario Power Generation chief executive Jeff Lyash.

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Unions ramp up pressure to block back-to-work bill for Canada Post employees

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Union leaders are mounting fierce opposition to Liberal legislation that would force Canada Post employees back to work.

Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff and Canadian Union of Postal Workers president Mike Palecek are holding a news conference at 10 a.m. ET on Parliament Hill today, and CBCNews.ca will carry it live.

Palecek called the back-to-work bill « unconscionable » on Thursday, and said it flies in the face of the Liberal government’s stated support for organized labour.

MPs will also continue debate this morning on a motion to fast-track the bill in the House of Commons. It’s not yet clear when the actual bill could be up for debate, but the Senate is prepared to sit on the weekend to consider any bill that may clear the House of Commons.

In 2011, the former Conservative government passed back-to-work legislation for Canada Post workers which was subsequently challenged on constitutional grounds.

Five years later, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled in favour of the postal workers, finding the legislation unconstitutional because it violated the workers’ freedom of association and expression as guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

‘Dramatically different’ approach

Asked why the Liberal legislation would not also violate those constitutional rights, Labour Minister Patty Hajdu said Thursday the Liberals have taken a « dramatically different » approach from the Conservatives’ legislation. The former government did not allow for labour disruption and took pre-emptive action that was harmful to the labour movement, she said.

« We have taken every effort over a long period of time to assist these parties to come to a negotiated agreement, » she said.

Canada Post is in its fifth week of rotating strikes by thousands of unionized workers, with no sign yet of a breakthrough in contract negotiations.

Hajdu said those strikes are negatively impacting small business, people in rural and remote communities and low-income Canadians relying on cheques to pay their bills.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers is ramping up pressure against the Liberal government’s legislation to force employees back to work. Postal carriers have been staging rotating strikes across the country for five weeks. (CBC)

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Canada must block Russia’s leadership and abuse of Interpol

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On Wednesday, Interpol will be electing a new president to head the international criminal policing agency and a member of the Putin regime is currently the lead candidate. Should Interpol confirm the Kremlin’s candidate, the move would be akin to letting a ravenous fox out in the international human rights hen house.

While Interpol’s charter forbids it from engaging in political activity, this hasn’t stopped the Kremlin and other repressive regimes, from trying to subvert Interpol’s mandate to help them achieve their political objectives.

Among the tools available to Interpol member states, are the Red Notice and Diffusion notices, which are formal requests, made by one member state to all other Interpol members, to arrest and extradite an individual. These are important tools when used by law abiding nations but have terrifying potential when abused by regimes that engage in political repression — such as Russia, China, Venezuela and others.

The number of Red Notices and Diffusions have exploded over the past decade, doubling since 2016. Activists believe that many of them are frivolous or politically motivated according to Fair Trial, a U.K.-based rights group.

The leading candidate to become head of Interpol is a Russian, former Major-General Aleksandr Prokopchuk. The previous president, Meng Hongwei, was kidnapped by his own government when visiting China in the September and a letter of resignation from Interpol was delivered the next month.

Among them, is investor and global human rights activist, Bill Browder, who has been aggressively pursued by Kremlin authorities since 2008. Vladimir Putin tried him in absentia in 2017 on politically motivate charges aimed at silencing the global Magnitsky human rights campaign he leads.

A leading source of foreign investment to Russian in the early 2000’s, Browder’s company, Hermitage Capital, was the target of a $230 million tax fraud, committed by organized criminals working with Kremlin officials. In 2008, Hermitage lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky was detained, after he reported the theft by Russian officials. He died in prison a year later from systematic negligence and being viciously beaten by prison officials. Since his death Browder has embarked on a campaign to bring his killers to justice by promoting international sanctions legislation targeting global human rights abusers with visa bans and asset freezes in the West, including Canada.

Browder’s human rights campaign has become a major threat to the oligarchs who keep Vladimir Putin in power and the Russian president himself. It became a central theme of the Putin-Trump summit in Helsinki this summer, and is at the core of the Mueller Russia probe. It has also put Bill Browder in the Kremlin’s crosshairs, along with other prominent Russian pro-democracy and human rights activists, including those in Canada.

The Kremlin’s toolbox of political repression has expanded over the past decade, to include legislation that crudely restricts various forms of freedom of speech and allows the Kremlin to prosecute violators both in Russian and abroad.

Among the most severe is the Russian “gay propaganda” law. The draconian anti-LGBTQ law makes advocacy for gay rights or any public support for gay issues, a crime. The law also applies to foreigners who promote gay rights in Russia.

Most worrying, is that the Kremlin has prosecuted and convicted many individuals in absentia. An Interpol led by the Kremlin, would allow Putin to apply Interpol Diffusion and Red Notices on its critics and those of its allies, without any hesitation.

Canadians have also been targeted with Kremlin repression. In March 2016, the Kremlin lawyer at the centre of the current Mueller probe, Nataliya Veselnitskaya, brought Russian government attention to a memorial event I organized for assassinated Russian opposition leader and my friend, Boris Nemtsov, at the University of Toronto. The event included a panel discussion with Bill Browder, opposition leader, Vladimir Kara-Murza and Boris Nemtsov’s daughter Zhanna. Within days, a formal request into the event and my involvement by the Office of the Prosecutor General, Yuri Chaika, was made by a Russian Duma member, Georgy Federov.

There is no reason to believe the Kremlin would not expand its abuse of the Red Notice system to silence international critics once its candidate takes control of the organization, including those in Canada and in the nations of our allies.

The Canadian government and all lawmakers must be alert to the serious threat that the Kremlin’s takeover of Interpol poses to international human rights. Canada can join calls by other nations, including Ukraine, to suspend Russia from the organization and actively seek a new international alternative to form a new international law enforcement body among law abiding nations.

Marcus Kolga is an expert on disinformation ,human rights and sanctions. He is a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s Centre for Advancing Canada’s Interests Abroad.

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With new labour laws on the chopping block, what’s at stake for Ontario’s workers?

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There was a time in Ontario when workers could be fired for being sick, could be terminated for not taking a last-minute shift and routinely lost thousands of dollars to wage theft.

The year was 2017.

It’s a set of circumstances that north Etobicoke resident Abdullahi Barre calls “unacceptable.”

“Our community elected Doug Ford,” he said. “But we did not support freezing the minimum wage and repealing Bill 148.”

Premier Ford calls the recent labour reforms a “job killer” and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce has called on the Progressive Conservative government to eliminate them — warning of a “$23-billion cost challenge” to businesses.

The bill was enacted by the previous Liberal government after a two-year labour law review concluded Ontario had “too many people in too many workplaces who do not receive their basic rights.”

Research conducted for the review found a province where 1.6 million workers did not have a single unpaid, job-protected sick day. Where workers lost $47 million to wage theft over six years, of which just $19 million was ever recovered by the government. Where workers had almost no protection against erratic scheduling. And where employers were prosecuted in less than 0.2 per cent of cases where they were found guilty of monetary violations.

“What Bill 148 did was start to make our basic rights a little bit stronger,” said Deena Ladd, of the Toronto-based Workers’ Action Centre.

At a mosque on Rexdale Blvd. backing onto an industrial zone buzzing with transport trucks, not all Ford supporters agree with plans to scrap it.

Imam Abdirahman Hassan said he voted for Ford, whose man-of-action reputation needs little burnishing in this neighbourhood.

“The appeal was when he said ‘I’m standing for the people,’ ” said Hassan. “With the difficult situation that the community is facing, I said to myself, maybe he is the right guy.”

But Hassan believes the ills he sees amongst his congregants have a root cause.

“People, they work at (temporary help) agencies. It’s not a stable job. For that reason a lot of people end up separating and divorcing,” he said. “Kids up end up on the street and find their own ways. A lot of the crisis in the Somali community, it is because of that problem, of not finding a proper job.”

Turfing the new legislation will “make it easier to invest, start, and grow a business in the province as well as build an economy that connects workers to jobs,” Chamber of Commerce president Rocco Rossi said in August.

As a prominent leader in Etobicoke’s Somali community, Hassan sees a different price tag.

“(People feel) there is no future in this country. That’s what I believe is the cost.”

In addition to increasing the minimum wage to $14 in 2018 and $15 in 2019, Bill 148 provided two paid, job-protected sick days and 10 emergency leave days for all workers. Previously, employers with fewer than 50 employees did not have to provide any unpaid emergency days.

“Before Bill 148 came into effect, it was a real challenge to do things like attend a medical appointment,” said Danyaal Raza, a family doctor at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

“The two paid sick days have actually helped but are frankly not enough for people who have significant medical concerns and are struggling to make ends meet.”

“When Doug Ford says this is bad for business, when you look at the research, that’s simply not the case,” he added.

The bill also mandated equal pay for temporary, casual, and part-time workers doing the same job as permanent employees.

Hassan said he’d rather the markups charged by temp agencies on workers’ hourly wages go to workers themselves.

“If the business groups are paying the agencies more than $15 (an hour), why don’t they give to the hardworking people who are supporting their families to make ends meet?” he said.

Santha Sivanantham, a mother of three, lives in Markham — another Conservative stronghold. She has worked at the same company for two years through a temp agency; while her permanent colleagues have received salary increases, she has never received a raise except through minimum wage increases.

Because she juggles two temp agency jobs, she says new scheduling protections in Bill 148 that give employees the right to refuse a last-minute shift without retaliation are crucial. She says the wage bump from $11.60 to $14 has also allowed her to pay her electricity bills and buy snacks for her kids.

“As temp agency workers, that’s the only time we see a raise,” she said. “If there’s no increase in the minimum wage, the temp agency is not going to increase.”

The legislation also promised to double the number of Ministry of Labour inspectors in an effort to inspect one in 10 Ontario workplaces. Between 2011 and 2014, the ministry found violations in around 75 per cent of all proactive inspections.

“I think the previous government did a good analyzing of the current situation,” said Hassan. “The best thing the Ford government can do is to continue.”

Ladd says even with Bill 148, there is still more work to be done.

As it stands, two million workers are still excluded from at least one basic protection — from overtime pay to minimum wage — because of gaps and exemptions in existing legislation.

For example, those working in road maintenance are not entitled to severance pay, rest periods or termination notice.

Home-care workers are not entitled to eating periods or overtime.

Residential building superintendents are not entitled to minimum wage.

“Only 24 per cent of workers are fully covered by the Employment Standards Act,” she said. “Those are not numbers that are made up. That is from the Ministry of Labour’s own records.”

“When a worker goes to work they should have a full expectation that they will get paid and they can return home to their family at the end of the day and not be injured,” she added.

Barre, who has four children at home, says he is worried about their future.

“It is very difficult to find a job. Especially when you are Black, when you are Muslim, and when you live in some neighbourhoods that are dangerous. They are discriminated against to get good jobs.”

Bill 148, according to Hassan, started to change that.

“Since the minimum wage changed to $14, a lot of people are relieved. They start contributing to the community and for those in need. And if it’s changed to $15 it will make it even better,” he said.

“You say, ‘I am going to stand for the people,’ ” he said of Ford. “And here we are. This is what we are expecting from you.”

Sara Mojtehedzadeh is a Toronto-based reporter covering work and wealth. Follow her on Twitter: @saramojtehedz

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