Renowned journalist Marie Colvin’s bravery well documented but none hold a candle to the woman she was


Marie Colvin is the journalist I wish I could have been.

Utterly fearless, stubbornly rebellious, committed to recording the suffering of civilians in conflict zones. And God she had style: Always wore La Perla lingerie underneath her combat fatigues.

Hard-drinking, chain-smoking, swore like a sailor. But wrote beautifully.

Yet here I am, on a Sunday afternoon in Toronto, in front of a keyboard. And Colvin is . . . a dead legend.

Targeted and murdered amidst the ruins of Homs seven years ago by the Bashar Assad regime after crawling through an abandoned storm drain below the city, intent on putting the lie to assertions that Syrian forces weren’t indiscriminately bombarding civilians.

A U.S. federal court judge in Washington recently found the Syrian regime guilty of murdering the London Sunday Times war correspondent, awarding her family $302 million (U.S.). Judge Amy Berman Jackson found President Assad had deliberately targeted Colvin, in an “extrajudicial’’ murder, to silence her reporting from the besieged enclave of Baba Amr in Homs during the frenzied first year of that brutal civil war.

“Officials at the highest level of the Syrian government carefully planned and executed the artillery assault on the Baba Amr media centre for the specific purpose of killing the journalist inside.

“A targeted murder of an American citizen, whose courageous work was not only important, but vital to our understanding of war zones and of wars generally, is outrageous.’’

Investigators assembled their lawsuit from interviews with witnesses who’d fled Homs and defecting Syrian officials who provided a trove of internal government documents. The Centre for Justice and Accountability, which helped to fund the case, noted it was a landmark ruling, first time the Assad regime had been held legally responsible for war crimes.

Read more:

Marie Colvin’s final piece on Syria

Early on the day that she was killed, Feb. 22, 2012, Colvin had emailed her editor: “No other Brits here. Have heard that Spencer and Chulov of the Torygraph’’ — what “Private Eye’’ dubbed The Telegraph — “and Guardian trying to make it here but so far we have leapfrogged ahead of them. Heavy shelling this morning.’’

Relentlessly competitive, you see. Get the story first, eyes-on. Never could resist a front line. Even as she railed against what the profession was becoming during a merciless war left largely to civilian journalists uploading videos because Assad had banned reporters from entering the country.

“How do I keep my craft alive in a world that doesn’t value it?’’ she told a close friend, as recounted by Marie Brenner in a Vanity Fair article three months after Colvin was killed.

“I feel like I am the last reporter in the YouTube world. I am inept with technology.’’

Colvin had snuck over the border with photographer Paul Conroy. She’d heard, while in transit (in Beirut) that the army was under orders to kill journalists. That didn’t dissuade her.

It may be that, by turning on her satellite phone to communicate with the office and send her dispatches, Colvin inadvertently led the regime to pinpoint her location — a two-room makeshift media centre in a building where the top floors had been sheared off by shelling. The bombing was a direct hit, killing Colvin and esteemed French photographer Remi Ochlik instantly, Conroy severely wounded.

Was it worth it, taking such risks? Colvin posed that question rhetorically at a 2010 church service honouring reporters killed in killing zones. “We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery and what is bravado?”

But Colvin couldn’t abide any other way of doing her job, despite having a “bad feeling” as she left for her final reporting assignment, against the advice of colleagues and humanitarian agencies monitoring the carnage in Syria.

Twice-divorced Colvin also sent an email to her lover at the time.

“My darling, I have come back in to Baba Amr, the besieged neighbourhood of Homs, and am now freezing in my hovel with no windows. I just thought, I cannot cover the modern day Srebrenica from the suburbs. You would have laughed. I had to climb over two stone walls tonight, and had trouble with the second (six feet) so a rebel made a cat’s cradle of his two hands and said, ‘Step here and I will give you a lift up.’ Except he thought I was much heavier than I am, so when he ‘lifted’ my foot, he launched me right over the wall and I landed on my head in the mud! . . . I will do one more week here, and then leave. Every day is a horror. I think of you all the time, and I miss you.’’

Colvin, a Yale graduate who made her bones on Fleet Street, was a highly complex person, driven by a yearning for truth, the thrill of the scoop and the adrenalin rush of danger. She suffered from PTSD — the real thing, not the lazy diagnosis so common today but the psychosis of witnessing more slaughter than most soldiers — and panic attacks and alcoholism.

At age 56, long in the tooth for a combat correspondent, Colvin could have slowed down, mentored younger colleagues — always generous-hearted. Instead, she kept on going, pushing herself even harder. She’d survived aerial bombings in Chechnya and a daring escape over a 12,000-foot mountain range, spent nine weeks sleeping on a medical clinic floor during the siege of Misurata, stayed behind in East Timor to help fleeing civilians, raced across the “Green Line” in West Beirut in the midst of the Lebanon-PLO conflict, under fire, to report from inside a refugee camp, and fended off the advances of Moammar Gadhafi during an exclusive interview.

I crossed paths with Colvin in East Timor in 1999 — she still had two eyes back then, later losing the left one when struck by shrapnel from a rocket-launched grenade in Sri Lanka while embedded with the Tamil Tigers, ever-after wearing a black eye patch that only furthered her rakish repute — and in Afghanistan and in Libya and in Iraq, where she infamously fell asleep with her sat phone still on, racking up a $37,000 bill. That only burnished her bona fides.

It is unlikely the Colvin family will ever see a penny of the awarded multi-millions — which her sister says would be put toward a memorial foundation. But, even symbolically, with Assad now the clear victor in the Syrian war, having crushed the rebels — at least 400,000 killed — the judgment resonates.

The Committee to Protect Journalists identified 54 journalists who died violently last year alone, 34 of them murdered in direct retaliation for their work, from Mexico to Yemen, more than a dozen in Afghanistan, which remains the most dangerous place on earth for correspondents. Reporters Without Borders puts the figure at 80, if citizen journalists and other media employees are included. None died more gruesomely than author and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, assassinated and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Khashoggi, Colvin and Austin Tice — a former U.S. marine turned freelance reporter who disappeared in Syria after being kidnapped in 2012 — were honoured in a 60-second commercial broadcast during the Super Bowl, paid for by the Washington Post and narrated by Tom Hanks. Afterwards, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted that media could avoid paying millions for a commercial to “gain some undeserved credibility . . . how about report the news and not their leftist BS for a change.’’ Because repugnant behaviour runs in the family.

Colvin’s adventurous life has been told in documentaries and books and in A Private War, a movie released last month, based on Marie Brenner’s article, with Rosamund Pike delivering a ferocious performance as the heroic and deeply traumatized journalist, with all her physical and emotional scars. But none of it can hold a candle to the blood-and-flesh woman she was.

The Star doesn’t cover wars anymore. Too costly and few reporters willing to go anyway. Easier, sadly, to just piggyback on the Washington Post and the New York Times. And maybe the data metrics show no significant audience for it. I hate news judgment in thrall to readership analytics.

Colvin’s own words, spoken when she accepted an award for her work in Sri Lanka, provide the most poignant epitaph for the greatest war correspondent of our era.

“Bravery is not being afraid to be afraid.”

Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno


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‘She was wonderful’: Friends hold vigil for Toronto woman who died in donation bin – Toronto


Dozens of people gathered with candles, flowers and picture collages Thursday night in the back alley of Toronto’s Bloorcourt Village neighbourhood, where a clothing donation bin used to sit.

Crystal Papineau, 35, is being remembered by friends in the same place she died just two days ago.

Papineau died Tuesday morning when she became trapped inside the clothing donation bin located behind a building near Bloor Street W and Dovercourt Road. Police say half of her body was still sticking out of the bin when emergency crews tried to save her.

“She was wonderful, she was funny, she was generous, she was kind,” said Patricia O’Connell with Sistering, a not-for-profit agency serving Toronto’s most vulnerable women.

“She was compassionate and she was a great friend to the other women.”

Friends at her vigil said she was homeless and frequently depended on the city’s women’s shelters.

“She was very outgoing and had a lot of love other people and always saw the optimistic side of things,” said Victoria James, who calls herself Papineau’s best friend.

She adds that Papineau used to frequently take clothing items out of the bins and shared them with other homeless or vulnerable women.

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty says that all women’s shelters were full the night Papineau died and are using her death as a rallying cry to increase the number of resources for the city’s homeless population.

“Our group is going to be asking the mayor and the city to declare a state of emergency around homelessness so they can access other resources,” said Cathy Crowe with the Shelter Housing and Justice Network.

“The system is a mess. There are over a thousand people sleeping in overflow spaces right now.”

In response, Mayor John Tory’s staff said, “The mayor is committed to addressing homelessness in our city and its underlying causes.

“Mayor Tory and city council are already taking action to help residents in need,” said Tory’s spokesperson, Don Peat. “That is why he supported the expansion of the city’s winter respite program from one site in 2014 to nine sites this winter and adding 1,000 beds to the shelter system as soon as possible.”

The vigil ran from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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


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Military says it’s aware of 30 members who hold ‘discriminatory’ views


OTTAWA—Canada’s military is “aware” of some 30 personnel known to be part of hate groups or who hold “discriminatory” views, the Star has learned.

Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of defence staff, said the number of people who harbour such beliefs is likely higher but insists it is still a fraction of the 95,000 personnel in uniform.

“On average we detect about five instances a year where somebody expresses an opinion or does an act that would, on a range of extremist behaviour, trip our ethics wire,” said Gen. Jonathan Vance, chief of defence staff for the Canadian Armed Forces.
“On average we detect about five instances a year where somebody expresses an opinion or does an act that would, on a range of extremist behaviour, trip our ethics wire,” said Gen. Jonathan Vance, chief of defence staff for the Canadian Armed Forces.  (Matthew Usherwood / iPolitics File Photo)

“The numbers are very small. We do investigate and track. We have a fairly good system to do that,” Vance told the Star in a year-end interview.

Faced with questions about potential right-wing extremists in its ranks, the military police criminal intelligence section did an assessment last fall to better understand the scale of the problem.

That review found that between 2013 and 2018, about 55 members of the military were part of hate groups or had made statements and taken actions that “could be viewed as discriminatory.”

Thirty are still in the military. Vance said that estimate is probably low but adds, “that’s what we can see.”

“If one keeps it completely secret and it doesn’t have an impact on your workplace … we’re not going to detect it,” he said.

“But there are many who, outside of working hours, they get themselves on social media and they can be found out that way,” he said.

“On average we detect about five instances a year where somebody expresses an opinion or does an act that would, on a range of extremist behaviour, trip our ethics wire,” Vance said.

Vance first spoke with the Star on the issue in October, when he acknowledged that while people with such views aren’t welcome in the Armed Forces, some still get past pre-recruitment screening and are able to enlist.

In recent years, several high-profile incidents of military personnel associated with far-right groups have forced the Canadian Armed Forces to confront the problem. In the most prominent of the cases, five Canadian Forces members — each of them members of the “Proud Boys” movement who proclaim their “Western chauvinism” — disrupted an Indigenous protest in Halifax.

An investigation last year by Radio-Canada found about 75 Armed Forces members were part of a private Facebook group associated with anti-immigration and anti-Islam views.

But Vance again stressed that “good militaries aren’t racist.” Once detected, the Armed Forces is faced with the question of what action it should take against personnel found to have acted inappropriately. Vance admits that many advocate a “heavy-handed” approach to drum offenders out of uniform.

“You have to remember that we are also an employer that follows due process. So opportunities for rehabilitation are important. We also have all sorts of administrative measures from counselling to probation that are intended to allow some to recover,” he said.

The Queen’s Regulations and Orders sets out expectations for those in uniform. In the section on personal conduct, it makes clear that officers and non-commissioned members are barred from saying or doing anything in public that “might reflect discredit on the Canadian Forces or on any of its members.”

A navy commander is apologizing to Indigenous people after video emerged showing Canadian Forces members disrupting a Mi’kmaq ceremony in Halifax. Rear Admiral John Newton says the navy is taking the Canada Day incident “very seriously.” (The Canadian Press)

Vance was careful to make the distinction around any acts that could be considered criminal. “If it’s criminal, we would take action instantly.” But he said education has proven effective in countering such views and that some of those already identified have been counselled.

“I think sometimes people just don’t know what is really crossing the line,” he said.

Vance stressed that the small number doesn’t diminish his concern for the problem and its potential impact on the military.

“It’s a huge concern for us for a variety of reasons but the reputation of the Armed Forces as a symbol of what the country stands for is important. This country doesn’t stand for that extremist view. We don’t,” Vance said.

He said extremist views are corrosive and undermine the military’s “warrior ethos” that is designed to “ensure cohesiveness and morale in combat.”

“We’re warriors. We’re designed to work in teams where everyone around you you can trust. That’s a warrior ethos that I hold dearly and most people in Armed Forces do,” he said.

“We have to reinforce that. It’s a very, very powerful thing,” he said.

Still, Vance said the issue has sparked discussions in defence headquarters about more “robust training” for new recruits to better instill values that will help stamp out not only what he called “dangerous” extremist views but sexual misconduct and harassment, another problem the military has been grappling with.

“We do it now. We may need to add some more to our training,” Vance said.

“As we bring in people to the Armed Forces, I’m actively considering right now for the future perhaps a more robust beginning period, that before we teach you the military arts and virtues, we need to have a period of baseline acceptable behaviour, not just from the perspective of the Armed Forces, but just acceptable behaviour,” he said.

With files from Alex Boutilier

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


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Montreal-area Muslims hold out hope for new cemetery in Vaudreuil-Dorion


The Montreal-area Muslim community could soon be getting another place to bury its dead, as plans are underway to build a new cemetery in Vaudreuil-Dorion, an off-island suburb of Greater Montreal.

The land is currently zoned for agricultural use and will have to get the go-ahead from Quebec’s commission to protect agricultural land to rezone it for a burial site.

The plan already has the backing of the municipality, the regional planning body and Quebec Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

Currently, there are only six Muslim cemeteries in Quebec, five of which are in the Montreal area.

The site in question is located right next to a Catholic cemetery on Saint-Antoine Road, near where Highways 20 and 30 intersect.

The site is an empty field on Saint-Antoine Road, near where highways 20 and 30 intersect, next to a Catholic cemetery. (CBC)

Mehmet Deger, president of the Dorval mosque, said there is a pressing need for more space where people of the Muslim faith can bury their dead.

Deger was involved in several previous projects to set up Muslim burial sites around Montreal and said he’s faced pushback in the past.

This time, he’s hoping to see more tolerance and understanding.

« When we have a loved one who has departed from this Earth, we have to bury them somewhere, » he said. « It is very difficult to find a place to bury our people. »

The municipality of Vaudreuil-Dorion did not return CBC’s request for comment.

Mehmet Deger, president of the Dorval mosque, said there is a need for more burial space for members of the community. (CBC)

In 2017, a similar project to set up a Muslim cemetery was halted not by a zoning issue, but by a public referendum. 

After public pressure from some residents in St-Apollinaire, Que., south of Quebec City, a vote was held on whether the zoning change would go through to establish the cemetery on the outskirts of the town.

Of the 36 people who voted, 19 were against the project.

The project had been spearheaded by the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, the mosque that was the site of the fatal shooting in January of that same year, which killed six men.


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LIVE: Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders to hold end-of-year news conference this morning


Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders is expected to address the public and the media at a year-end news conference at police headquarters Thursday morning at 10:30 a.m.

He is expected to face questions about Toronto’s record homicide numbers, the police investigation of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur, police participation in the 2019 Pride Parade and the recent Ontario Human Rights Comission report that found Black people are “grossly overrepresented” in cases in which Toronto police have used force, especially fatal shootings.


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Yukon grizzly’s necropsy could hold clues to tragic mauling of mom and baby


Officials in the Yukon have now conducted a necropsy on the grizzly bear that fatally mauled a 37-year-old mother and her 10-month-old infant daughter.

Valé​rie Thé​orêt was killed outside her cabin, some 400 kilometres north of Whitehorse, on Monday.

Her husband, Gjermund Roesholt, was charged by the same bear upon returning from his trap line. He shot the grizzly dead, before making the horrifying discovery that his family was dead.

WATCH: Grizzly bear that killed Yukon mother and baby undergoing necropsy

Environment Yukon spokesperson Roxanne Stasyszyn said conservation officers and the coroner’s office hope the necropsy will provide some answers in the tragedy.

Yukoners say bush life still safer than the city after grizzly kills mom: ‘We prepare, we’re aware’

“It helps us understand the broader health, whether or not the animal was suffering in some way, if it was plagued by a disease, perhaps, that was affecting its ability to move or think or eat in the normal way that a bear would,” she said.

“It allows us to see what the bear had been eating in the last little while, that could help us deduce what had changed in its behaviour, so a necropsy really is an autopsy but for wildlife.”

Fatal human-bear conflicts are rare in the Yukon, according to Stasyszyn — there have been just three in the last 22 years.

WATCH: Whitehorse remembers victims of grizzly bear attack

“In 2014 and in 1996 they were what we would call predatory attacks, and in 2006 it was a defensive attack where an individual was doing what we call line-cutting for exploration work … and literally stumbled on a den that had a sow with cubs.”

‘They were living the dream’: Community reels after Yukon mom and baby killed by grizzly bear

According to Stasyszyn, it is not unusual to see bear activity this late in a year, even with a cold winter.

She said grizzlies can resist hibernating if the foraging remains good, can stay awake if they lack the fat or nutrition to hibernate or can be roused if they lose their den.

That echoes some of what trappers Charles Nadeau and Brian Melanson told Global News Thursday.

WATCH: Victims of Yukon grizzly attack were ‘living the dream’ says friend.

“What I heard from a few communities is that the fruit is very rare,” said Nadeau, who said temperatures in the region had topped 7 C in recent days.

“This is the most dangerous time to be out in the bush without protection,” Melanson said.

“They’re hungry. Any bear that’s up right now is looking for those last few calories he’s going to get before he dens up for the winter.”

However, any answers from the necropsy will have to wait. While the primary work has been completed, Stasyszyn said there’s no clear timeline for results.

“There’s many factors to consider, so even with a necropsy, for example, there could be things that the chief vet or the conservation officers or the coroner need to send south for further examination.

“Our conservation officers are working to do this as quickly as possible, as we appreciate that people need answers and they’re grieving at this time.”

In the meantime, investigators remain at the site of the family’s remote cabin, while family members have gathered together to support Roesholt in Whitehorse, where the family was based when they weren’t trapping.

A crowdfunding campaign has also been launched in the memory of Thé​orêt, a popular teacher, and to help the grieving Roesholt.

“It hits home when it’s your neighbour,” said Melanson.

“Someone you know and someone you looked up to and had respect for as a bushman, not just his wife and daughter.”

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


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Jewish communities across Canada hold vigils to remember Pittsburgh shooting victims


MONTREAL – Jewish communities across Canada are gathering to commemorate the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and condemn what what one rabbi is calling “an outrageous act of evil.”

Rabbi Reuben Poupko, who is originally from Pittsburgh, says no Jewish community has been left untouched by the shooting that left 11 people dead.

READ MORE: Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victims included 97-year-old woman, couple in their 80s

He says a vigil set for tomorrow at Montreal’s Beth Israel Beth Aaron synagogue will be a chance for community members to give each other hope and strength.

In Ottawa, mourners will gather in front of the Human Rights Monument late this afternoon for what is being described as a solidarity vigil against anti-Semitism and white supremacy.

WATCH: Vigils held for Pittsburgh synagogue shooting


The organizers said in a statement that the event will be both an act of mourning and a demonstration against acts of racism and bigotry around the world.

Another demonstration is taking place in front of Montreal’s Holocaust museum this afternoon, while events are also planned in Halifax and Vancouver.


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Ministry of Labour puts hold on proactive workplace inspections, internal memo says


The Ministry of Labour has instructed staff not to initiate any new proactive inspections aimed at preventing wage theft and other employment standards violations, according to an internal memo obtained by the Star — a day after the Progressive Conservative government introduced a bill that will significantly roll back recently enacted labour protections.

The memo, which is signed by the ministry’s acting director of employment standards, Joe Boeswald, says that as of Sept. 3, staff should “not initiate any new inspections.” It also says the ministry will defer inspection and prosecution training for staff who have not yet received it.

Protesters, some with the Ontario Federation of Labour and others with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, joined a Day of Action in Oakville last week urging the Ford government to keep its hands off the proposed $15 minimum wage. On Tuesday, the province took steps to freeze the minimum wage at $14 and roll back other gains for workers.
Protesters, some with the Ontario Federation of Labour and others with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, joined a Day of Action in Oakville last week urging the Ford government to keep its hands off the proposed $15 minimum wage. On Tuesday, the province took steps to freeze the minimum wage at $14 and roll back other gains for workers.  (Graham Paine / Metroland)

Employment standards inspections deal with basic workplace issues such as unpaid wages and overtime. Proactive inspections, which are initiated at the behest of the ministry, are far more effective at recovering unpaid wages, including public holiday pay and overtime, than when individual workers file complaints, according to the ministry’s own data.

Andrew Langille, an employment and labour lawyer with East Toronto Community Legal Services, called the move “very troubling.”

“Inspections are important because they are the backbone of enforcement of the ESA (Employment Standards Act),” he said. “It’s really the only way to detect widespread violations of the minimum social standards other than employees reporting violations themselves.”

According to the memo dated Aug. 30, the move is motivated by a significant backlog of employment standards claims filed by workers — exacerbated by a “discretionary spending freeze and subsequent suspension of recruitment” at the ministry.

In response to questions from the Star, a ministry spokesperson said the “measures taken are temporary and will be re-evaluated as wait times decrease.”

“The Ministry of Labour continues to identify and conduct proactive Health and Safety inspections and other safety initiatives on specific industry sectors to raise awareness and help prevent injuries and fatalities,” spokesperson Janet Deline said in an email. “We also continue to conduct reactive investigations in response to workplace fatalities, critical injuries, work refusals and complaints.”

“Any inspections that are underway will be completed in the normal manner,” she added.

As first reported by the Star, a commitment by the Liberals to double its complement of employment standards inspectors by hiring 175 new staff was iced after the Conservatives were elected in June.

The memo says to deal with increased wait times, inspectors will have to focus on claims and should not initiate any new inspections. The memo does not specify for how long.

Bill 47, introduced in the legislature Tuesday, will repeal other Liberal measures meant to tackle precarious work, including a minimum wage bump, sick days, and equal pay provisions for temporary workers. It also reduces the maximum penalties for employers who break the law.

Responding to worker claims could still require inspectors to visit workplaces, but the memo means all future proactive blitzes — for example, of high-risk sectors like temp agencies — are on hold.

Last year, the government recovered only one-third of the wages owed to individual workers after they filed claims, according to documents obtained by the Star through a Freedom of Information request.

Since 2013, this low recovery rate has resulted in some $28 million in missing wages for workers, according to 2016 research conducted by York University academics Leah Vosko and Eric Tucker, based on ministry data.

The recovery rate when the ministry inspected workplaces was almost 100 per cent.

“There’s a major problem when it comes to detecting infractions for workers who remain in the workplace,” said Langille.

“There’s a fear of reprisal, which is quite a live issue that I see in my practice quite extensively,” he said, adding that workers often have a “poor understanding” of their rights and the claims process.

Vosko and Tucker’s research found that more than 90 per cent of the approximately 15,000 annual employment standards complaints are filed by people who have left or lost their jobs.

The Star has reported extensively on wage theft and other enforcement issues across the province.

A 2016 report by two independent experts commissioned by the Ministry of Labour to review the province’s workplace standards also found that Ontario faces “serious” and extensive problems enforcing basic employment rights.

“We conclude that there is a serious problem with enforcement of (Employment Standards Act) provisions,” the report reads. “While most employers likely comply or try to comply with the ESA, we conclude that there are too many people in too many workplaces who do not receive their basic rights.”

Ministry blitzes in the past regularly found violations in more than 75 per cent of workplaces inspected.

Langille said underresourcing at the Ministry of Labour has been a systemic problem under successive governments.

“This is an issue that cuts across all governments,” he said. “This is an enduring problem that the ministry has encountered.”

Sara Mojtehedzadeh is a Toronto-based reporter covering labour issues. Follow her on Twitter: @saramojtehedz


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Rookies on Toronto city council could hold balance of power


The jockeying for votes has already begun on Toronto’s new city council as old and new colleagues look to form alliances in a much smaller arena.

On Tuesday, 32-year-old Councillor Brad Bradford’s phone was ringing off the hook just hours after he pulled off one of the narrowest victories of Monday night’s election. As one of four new faces on a 25-member council, he is now in the unique position of helping to decide the balance of power in Canada’s largest city.

Jennifer McKelvie, left, and Cynthia Lai, right, are both new councillors representing Scarborough wards.
Jennifer McKelvie, left, and Cynthia Lai, right, are both new councillors representing Scarborough wards.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

But as he fields calls from new colleagues and constituents, the rookie Beaches—East York councillor made clear on day one that he’ll gladly hear anyone out, as Mayor John Tory tries to build a majority of right-leaning, largely suburban support for the next four years.

“I’m not such a hard-line ideologue that I can’t listen to feedback and adjust a position accordingly,” Bradford said in an interview. “I think good ideas can come from the left and the right. It doesn’t really matter where they come from — we just have to move them forward.”

As of Tuesday, it is up to Tory and those elected to a leaner council — thanks to Premier Doug Ford’s mid-campaign interference — to sort out the new world order in a system where there are no official political parties and the mayor counts as only one vote. Those who will be pushing the buttons say there are lots of votes that are expected to be close.

Looking at previous vote records and past allegiances on council, it appears there are 10 very reliable votes for Tory, including his own, and seven stalwart progressives. The rest are somewhere in the middle — veteran and second-term councillors who lean either centre-left or centre-right, and newcomers like Bradford who have yet to be tested in the council chamber.

Though Tory strongly endorsed Bradford and Tory’s team went door to door to help him land a slim victory — with a margin of just 288 votes — Bradford said he believes his team worked incredibly hard, responding meaningfully to voters in the closing week of the campaign. He resisted the suggestion that he’ll be an automatic member of Team Tory.

“I would say that I’m here to represent the residents of Beaches—East York … That’s what I’m going down to city hall to do.”

Brad Bradford says he believes "good ideas can come from the left and the right. It doesn't really matter where they come from."
Brad Bradford says he believes « good ideas can come from the left and the right. It doesn’t really matter where they come from. »  (Steve Russell)

Jennifer McKelvie, who will represent the Scarborough—Rouge Park ward, said she considers herself a political “moderate” who wants to focus on collaboration with her community.

She supports a three-stop Scarborough subway, which remains a contentious issue returning early for debate this term, but promised she’ll be “looking at the evidence.”

“I am excited to work with (Tory),” she said, noting she did not seek an endorsement from the mayor but won’t be trying to create “unnecessary battles.”

“Through my community work in the past we’ve had good relationships,” she said.

Cynthia Lai won the open race in Scarborough North, and was endorsed by Scarborough Councillor Jim Karygiannis and provincial Minister of Seniors and Accessibility Raymond Cho, a former councillor in the area. She described her political leanings as centre-right and her role on council as an “independent” who plans to “fight for Scarborough” alongside councillors like Karygiannis and McKelvie.

Mike Colle, newly elected in Eglinton-Lawrence after voters chose to bounce one-term councillor and staunch Tory supporter Christin Carmichael Greb, says he is beholden to no one but his community.

“I will work with the mayor on the big issues — I want to make this council work for sure — but I don’t owe anybody anything,” said Colle, a former Liberal MPP who just barely lost his provincial seat when former premier Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals were swept out of Queen’s Park by Ford’s PC party.

“I’m not going to be an automatic vote, that’s for sure,” he said.

On the Scarborough subway, for example, Colle said he wants to look at the details closely. All of the confusing rhetoric surrounding that issue, he said, has “been like the Tower of Babel.”

Colle also noted he is a longtime friend of Josh Matlow, who has been chiefly critical of Tory’s ongoing support of the subway and who was elected in Toronto—St. Paul’s after Tory endorsed his challenger, veteran councillor Joe Mihevc.

For his part, Matlow — who has never been part of the left’s unofficial caucus or a member of Tory’s inner circle — says he won’t oppose the mayor just because Tory fought to unseat him.

“I believe my role is to work with the mayor on issues we’re in agreement on,” Matlow said. “But I also strongly believe that I should be independent and speak out if I see a decision made based on anything other than the facts and where money is spent wisely, because that’s part of my job.”

Scarborough-Agincourt councillor Karygiannis, who has not always seen eye to eye with Tory, is taking a different tack.

“I’ve reached out to Tory, the Tory campaign, and I said we are meeting. That’s where I stand,” he said. “I am individual who likes to work with people but I can also be very destructive.”

He promised to raise hell about his preference to extend the Sheppard subway in Scarborough.

“Sheppard subway — you work with me. You give it to me. Or else I will not be very happy and you won’t find me in your corner,” he said. “I will be in another corner. If I can win against Norm Kelly, guess what I can do against others? But hey, I’m looking to work with people.”

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags


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Lethbridge Fire and EMS hold live fire training simulation for new recruits – Lethbridge


A lot of professions require constant training to ensure your skill sets stay sharp, but it takes an even deeper meaning when your job involves saving lives.

On Friday, recruits wore full protective gear, fighting a simulated fire originating from a compressed gas vessel.

“This specific drill really simulates a fire that could happen in an industrial building, for example if a propane line were to rupture,” said deputy chief from Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services Gerrit Sinke. “Since the City of Lethbridge has a fairly large industrial section too, it this type of training is extremely important.”

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Ten new recruits took part in the exercise at Fire Station No. 4 on the north side of town.

“For the last 10 weeks we’ve been doing primarily our fire training,” Recruit Jason Demoskoff said. “It’s pretty intensive, very physical for the most part with fairly heavy didactic portion in the classroom, as well.

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“It’s been pretty intense,” Demoskoff added. “It’s been a lot more to it than I was expecting, for sure.”

The 12-week course focuses on both fire fighting and emergency services training.

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“Since Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services is an integrated fire and ambulance service, we look for advance care paramedics,” Sinke said. “That’s always our number one choice — to hire advanced care paramedics that have a definite interest in the fire service, as well.”

With 10 weeks under their belt, trainees will now focus on two weeks of EMS training and then write a provincially mandated exam.

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


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