Former judge unveils panel tapped to review Toronto police missing-persons probes in wake of McArthur case

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The retired Ontario judge leading an independent examination of Toronto police missing persons investigations has announced an advisory panel to help conduct the wide-ranging review that was struck in the wake of deaths linked to alleged killer Bruce McArthur.

The tasks of the eight-member team — which includes experts in LGBTQ issues, law, policing and more — include outreach, particularly to members of vulnerable and marginalized groups, and generating community feedback on recommendations that will arise from the review.

“They will also assist me in ensuring that everyone who wants to be heard is indeed heard,” said retired Ontario Court of Appeal justice Gloria Epstein in a statement Tuesday.

Epstein was last year tapped by the Toronto police board to perform an external review of how Toronto police conduct missing persons probes — an independent examination struck amidst mounting criticism over police handling of the disappearances of men now alleged to be victims of McArthur.

The 67-year-old landscaper is charged in the deaths of eight men between 2010 to 2017, most of whom had ties to the city’s Gay Village and were from South Asian or Middle Eastern communities.

Three of McArthur’s alleged victims were previously the subjects of a missing person’s probe dubbed Project Houston, an investigation that examined the disappearances of Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi, and Majeed Kayhan, who went missing from 2010-2012.

But the probe ended after 18 months, when police could find “no evidence to suggest criminal activity.” It is alleged that McArthur went on to kill five more men after Project Houston wound down.

The review will not examine the police probe into McArthur, in order to not compromise the ongoing criminal trial set for January 2020. But it is looking into how Toronto police investigated the men’s disappearances before McArthur came onto police radar, as well as other disappearances where community concerns have arisen.

Specifically, it will review whether the missing persons investigations could have been impacted by systemic bias or discrimination and whether the policies and procedures currently in place within Toronto police provide sufficient protection for members of the LGBTQ community or marginalized groups.

The advisory committee includes: Ron Rosenes, a health researcher and consultant working in the HIV and the LGTBQ community; Haran Vijayanathan, the executive director of the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP); Christa Big Canoe, an Indigenous lawyer with Aboriginal Legal Services; Monica Forrester, program co-ordinator at Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project and a transgender woman of colour; Brian Lennox, former Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice; Michele Lent, a former New York police officer, member of the Gay Officers Action League who has trained of officers on investigative techniques; Andrew Pinto, a lawyer specializing in workplace human rights; and Angela Robertson, the executive director of Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre.

Epstein told the Toronto police board last year that she would launch a “broad consultative process” to include public and private meetings. She and her team have also begun collecting and analyzing documents, according to an update posted on the review’s website.

“In my opinion, the work of the review is of critical importance to our diverse communities within Toronto and specifically to how missing persons investigations are done, and should be done, particularly as affecting marginalized or vulnerable communities,” Epstein told the Toronto police board this summer.

McArthur is due back in court next week.

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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Feds should consider making some criminal pardons automatic: public safety panel – National

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OTTAWA – A panel of MPs wants the federal government to look at making criminal pardons automatic for some offenders who have served their sentences.

The House of Commons public safety committee also suggests lowering the $631 fee for a pardon and simplifying the often complex process for applicants.

Committee members say in a recent report that a criminal record can hinder a person’s ability to get a job, find housing, go to school or travel.

READ MORE: Supreme Court rules mandatory payments for minor offences unconstitutional

Under changes brought in by the former Conservative government, lesser offenders – those with a summary conviction – must wait five years instead of three before they can apply for a suspension.

Offenders who have served a sentence for a more serious crime – an indictable offence – must wait 10 years instead of five.

WATCH: Gov. to move forward with ‘free and rapid pardons’ for simple marijuana possession charges







In addition, the application fee quadrupled to $631 from $150 to ensure full cost recovery.

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Waterfront Toronto, advisory panel want Quayside master plan delayed

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Waterfront Toronto and members of a group of tech, data and privacy experts advising the corporation on Sidewalk Labs’ proposal for a data-driven neighbourhood on the east waterfront want a master plan for the project delayed.

Members of the digital strategy advisory panel and Waterfront Toronto met Thursday with Sidewalk Labs to discuss a set of proposals released by the U.S.-based firm Monday afternoon. The proposals outline strategies for handling privacy, and the collection, control, and access to data that would be collected from a “smart-city” neighbourhood Sidewalk Labs wants to build on a 12-acre site near Parliament St. and Lake Shore Blvd. E. called Quayside.

The issue of collecting data concerning residents and visitors to the neighbourhood has been a controversial one. In the new proposals, Sidewalk Labs has pledged not to control the data collected at the site and is calling for a special civic data trust to do so based on “responsible data use” guidelines.

But some members of the committee advising Waterfront Toronto threatened to resign this week, saying Sidewalk Labs’ proposals don’t go far enough.

There was no talk of resignations after Thursday’s meeting. Instead, there was a general call for both further meetings to discuss the proposals and a delay of the draft master plan Sidewalk Labs was hoping to deliver early next year. The panel members said more time is needed to grapple with the myriad issues and questions raised by the data issue.

“We need to have the time to do this properly,” he said.

Clement said he wants to know how data collection will impact individuals at Quayside as well as the broader community.

“Will all public spaces (there) be subject to video surveillance?” he asked.

The meeting heard that a lot of the specifics around how data will be used in real-time scenarios at Quayside are still being worked out.

Sidewalk Labs officials apologized for the delay in getting the proposals to the digital panel.

“Some of this (was) just taking more time for us than we hoped, and we are sharing our progress as we go,” spokesperson Micah Lasher said.

Waterfront Toronto, which owns the land in question and is overseeing the project, is mulling over the digital governance proposals and also calling for a delay of the draft master plan, Kristina Verner, vice-president, innovation, sustainability and prosperity for Waterfront Toronto, told the meeting, held in the corporation’s boardroom.

Waterfront Toronto will have the “final evaluation” over the Quayside project and “nothing will proceed” without the corporation’s approval, Verner said.

“We are currently re-examining the timeline for receiving the (draft master plan) to ensure there is appropriate time for the (digital advisory panel) and others to review the whole proposal and engage in meaningful public consultation,” Verner told the meeting.

Michael Geist, chair of the panel and Canada research chair in internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, kicked off the meeting criticizing the time the panel had to digest Sidewalk Labs’ digital governance proposals this week.

“I’m not convinced that the initial proposals, tabled about 72 hours ago, meet the vast majority of privacy and data concerns that have been (expressed about Quayside),” he said.

“Part of the frustration is that the panel hasn’t been able to engage in substantive review and provide real feedback and advice,” around data, he added.

But after the meeting he struck a more conciliatory tone.

“It was a really positive meeting. I think going in there has been a lot of controversy associated with this project, and I think a lot of questions whether a panel like this could provide real value and help influence some of these policy issues. I came away feeling that the door is open to that now,” he said in an interview.

He said timelines around the master plan were “a bit aggressive” given the many questions around data governance.

The meeting heard that “civic labs” — forums for detailed explanations of topics pertaining to the Quayside project such as digital governance, cyber ethics, privacy and intellectual property — will be held next month, and those meetings will inform public round tables scheduled for December. The roundtable discussions will feed into the master plan.

Craig Nevill-Manning, one of Sidewalk Labs’ lead engineers, told the meeting that the firm’s main goals for Quayside aren’t centred on data or digital technology, but instead increased mobility for residents — there are plans for automated cars to serve the neighbourhood — climate sustainability and improved building design.

Lasher said he couldn’t immediately say after the meeting what the calls for the delay in the drafting of the master plan mean for the project’s timetable.

“I think we recognize there is a lot of work to be done here, a lot for Sidewalk Labs, Waterfront Toronto, and the public to work through and we have to make sure that’s done right. That’s more important than any timetable,” he said in an interview.

Donovan Vincent is a housing reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @donovanvincent

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Tech expert resigns from advisory panel on Sidewalk Toronto over data ownership concerns

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A member of an expert panel guiding Waterfront Toronto on Sidewalk Labs’ “smart city” proposal has resigned in large part because she wants to see the city, rather than a private company, control potentially valuable data linked to the project.

On Thursday, tech entrepreneur Saadia Muzaffar became the second member to recently resign from the advisory panel, formed in late April to assist Waterfront Toronto with how best to deal with data privacy issues, digital systems, as well as ethical and safety issues around the use of technology in its Sidewalk Toronto plan — a partnership with Manhattan-based Sidewalk Labs, an urban innovation firm and sister company of Google.

Muzaffar, a founder of TechGirls Canada, a hub promoting women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), resigned her position on the panel amid her concerns that financial benefits stemming from the project will all go to a U.S. company — Sidewalk Labs — rather than local innovators or the general public.

In her resignation letter, she blasted Waterfront Toronto, a corporation representing the city, province and federal governments, for showing “apathy and an utter lack of leadership” on the Sidewalk Toronto project.

“The most recent public roundtable in August displayed a blatant disregard for resident concerns about data and digital infrastructure,” she said in her letter. Muzaffar said she wants to see the data around Sidewalk Toronto end up in the hands of the City of Toronto.

“There is nothing innovative about city-building that disenfranchises its residents in insidious ways and robs valuable earnings out of public budgets,” she said in the letter.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Muzaffar said she feels that Waterfront Toronto’s responsibility to the public as guardian in the Sidewalk plan is being undermined by Sidewalk Labs, whose duty is to their shareholders and profits.

“Sidewalk is a vendor. You can’t design public policy with a vendor,” she told the Star.

Muzaffar, a “tech activist” and co-founder of Tech Reset, a “pro-growth, pro-innovation group” that monitors how urban data is collected and turned into a commodity, is the second member to step down from the advisory panel, which originally included 15 leading experts in Canada on digital technology, privacy and governance.

Two members of Waterfront Toronto’s senior leadership also resigned recently amid tensions surrounding Sidewalk Toronto.

Muzaffar said when she first came on the panel she was “open minded” about the process, but has since been turned off by Waterfront Toronto’s “anti-democratic” public engagement process regarding Sidewalk Toronto.

Dan Levitan, a spokesperson for Sidewalk Labs, said Thursday that the “panel is independent from (Sidewalk) and the resignation of a long-standing critic of the project is not a surprise. But we take seriously questions about data and expect in the months ahead to present and consult with the public on a comprehensive plan for data collection, use, and governance.”

Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa where he is Canada research chair in internet and e-commerce law, said the panel’s work will continue.

“We are committed to helping shape the future of data and digital policy in Canada, and I will be working with Waterfront Toronto and my fellow panel members to make sure that (the panel) can achieve what it set out to do, namely to provide expert advice on emerging issues related to privacy and data ownership,” Geist said in a statement.

Added Michael Nobrega, acting CEO of Waterfront Toronto: “we are unwavering in our commitment to serving the public interest and look forward to receiving the advice of the panel.”

He went on to say, “we are also well supported by external privacy and legal experts.”

In May, Sidewalk Labs released a responsible data use policy framework, including a promise to make data collected as part of the project “open and accessible” without breaching privacy.

In terms of data stewardship, Sidewalk says it continues to explore “conventional approaches to data ownership in cities, the responsibilities that come with “owning” data, the technological and economic advantages of storing data in Canada, and innovative models of governing urban data, such as establishing a non-profit data trust.

Donovan Vincent is a housing reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @donovanvincent

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Fort McMurray region’s Indigenous groups support oilsands mine, company tells review panel

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The company that hopes to build a massive oilsands project north of Fort McMurray says it has secured the support of all 14 Indigenous groups in the region.

On the first day of hearings before a joint-review panel, company officials said Teck Resources Ltd. has signed participation agreements with the Dene, Cree and Métis communities whose traditional territories intersect with the proposed mine.

The company’s $20.6-billion Frontier oilsands mine project is undergoing public hearings in Fort McMurray before the Alberta Energy Regulator and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

The mine’s lease areas, 110 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, overlap with traditional Indigenous lands and the territory of the threatened Ronald Lake bison herd.

But the land for the mine, a total of 292 square kilometres, or an area about half the size of Edmonton, would not be disturbed all at once.

Map showing the location of the Ronald Lake Bison Reserve in relation to a proposed oilsands mine planned by Teck Resources Ltd. (CBC News Graphics)

At Tuesday’s hearing, Teck officials announced the final Indigenous group from the region, the Mikisew Cree First Nation of Fort Chipewyan, had signed an agreement.

No company has ever obtained more such agreements before a public hearing to review the environmental and socio-economic impacts of an open-pit oilsands mine, said Kieron McFadyen, vice-president of energy for the Vancouver-based company.

Chief: ‘I used to be anti-development’

Archie Waquan, chief of the Mikisew Cree, told CBC News the agreement marks a personal change for him. 

« I think Teck has learned from Suncor and Syncrude and they want to do better, » Waquan said. « I used to be anti-development. I have to say if I don’t get on the train, I am going to be chasing the train. »

Waquan would not divulge details about the agreement but said it would allow Indigenous groups to hold Teck to account if the company doesn’t follow through on its promises to protect the environment.

Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Archie Waquan attends the opening of Fort Hills oilsands mine on Sept. 10, 2018. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Some of the region’s Indigenous groups say they still have concerns about the project.

Waquan said his First Nation will call on the federal government to create a buffer zone around Wood Buffalo National Park and a protected area for the free-roaming Ronald Lake bison herd.

Teck officials told the panel the company will support adding those requirements to its application.

Bullying Indigenous groups?

During cross-examination Tuesday, Indigenous groups in the Northwest Territories argued they weren’t properly consulted about the project.

McFadyen said given that the Kátł’odeeche First Nation and the Northwest Territory Métis Nation are so far from the proposed mine, the company saw no need to sign agreements with those groups.

When the joint-review panel finishes its five-week public hearing it will submit a report to the federal minister of environment and climate change. 

As of Monday, the panel had 200 working days before that report is due.

Greenpeace’s Mike Hudema, whose group opposes the project, accused Teck of bullying Indigenous groups into side deals.

Hudema said many communities were forced to compromise because they know regulators have never rejected an oilsands application and will likely approve this one. 

« That’s not living up to our commitment to Indigenous peoples and Indigenous reconciliation, » Hudema said. « When they feel forced into a decision they don’t want to make. »

Indigenous groups support Teck’s Frontier oilsands mine

Here’s a list of Indigenous groups that have signed agreements with Teck:

1. Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation

2. Mikisew Cree First Nation

3. Fort McKay First Nation

4. Fort Chipewyan Métis

5. Fort McKay Métis

6. Fort Mc Murray Métis 1935

7. Fort McMurray First Nation #468

8. Métis Nation of Alberta- Region One and it’s member locals

9. Athabasca Landing Local # 2010

10. Buffalo Lake Local # 2002

11. Conklin Local # 193

12. Lac La Biche Local # 1909

13. Owl River Local # 1949

14. Willow Lake Local # 780

Connect with David Thurton, CBC’s Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 

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Coroner’s panel calls for overhaul of Ontario child protection system

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A scathing report from Ontario’s Coroner urges Queen’s Park to step-up reform of the province’s child protection system in the wake of 12 deaths of mostly Indigenous youths in residential care facilities.

“Change is necessary, and the need is urgent,” said the report, written by a panel of experts appointed by Chief Coroner Dirk Huyer last November to examine the spike of deaths between January 2014 and July 2017.

Tammy Keeash from North Caribou Lake First Nation was living in a group home when she disappeared. Her body was later discovered in the Neebing-McIntyre Floodway in Thunder Bay.
Tammy Keeash from North Caribou Lake First Nation was living in a group home when she disappeared. Her body was later discovered in the Neebing-McIntyre Floodway in Thunder Bay.  (FACEBOOK)

“Despite complex histories and the high-risk nature of these young people’s lives, intervention was minimal and sometimes non-existent,” said the panel in a withering report released Tuesday.

“Child protection agencies seemed to be overwhelmingly concerned with immediate risk and more often than not failed to address longer term risks, which the panel often felt were both predictable and preventable,” it said.

Eight of the 12 youths were Indigenous and all were in the care of children’s aid societies or Indigenous well-being societies where they were experienced multiple short-term placements. On average, the young people were moved 12 times in their short lives.

“Ontario’s most vulnerable young people, those with multiple needs in complex environments, need a system that is intentionally designed to provide wholistic, early, ongoing and prevention-focused care and treatment that works for them, their families and their communities — and they need it now,” the report concludes.

In the wake of the report, Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler wants Ottawa and Queen’s Park to strike a committee to ensure the panel’s recommendations are carried out and that the tragedies aren’t repeated.

“This report shows the urgent need for change in the care of at-risk youth,” he said in a statement. “I thank the chief coroner and panel members for this report, which echoes our fears over the treatment of youth in the child-welfare system. I also acknowledge the families who shared the stories of these youth during this investigation, and we share their grief during this difficult process.”

The developmental and mental health challenges faced by the Indigenous youth who died were compounded by systemic barriers including inadequate shelter, water, and food in their communities, the panel found. And many of them did not have equitable access to education, health care, social services, and recreational activities, the report said.

The panel, which included a team of 13 youths with experience in the system, noted the young people who died had minimal opportunity to have a voice in their care.

Instead, “their attempts to communicate their needs were often overlooked, ignored and characterized as “attention-seeking,” the panel found.

Ontario’s Child Advocate Irwin Elman was outraged by the panel’s findings.

“Enough is enough. Enough loss of life. That young people should survive our province’s attempts to protect and support them is a low bar to set, but that is where we are,” he said.

The report comes on the heels of a Star investigation into a Lindsay-area group home fire, as well as Star stories about a rash of suicides and unexplained deaths of Indigenous youths in residential care.

Indigenous children are commonly sent as far as 2,000 kilometres away from their homes because of a lack of resources in the North.

All of the youths suffered from mental health challenges and seven of them died by suicide. One, Kassy Finbow, was the victim of manslaughter in the Lindsay-area fire.

Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb

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